carry-on packing list: clear plastic water bottle with purple filter and cap
A water bottle is a must for your carry-on packing list to stay hydrated in flight

You’ve got your hands full packing for your upcoming trip. But don’t forget to also pay attention to what to pack in your carry-on for the plane ride to and from your destination.

You know about keeping the basics with you: your passport, itinerary, the address where you’re staying, additional travel documents, medications, jewelry, electronics and other valuables. But you may not remember all those other important items that will help you be more comfortable, entertain you, and keep you healthier in flight. Here’s the ultimate carry-on packing list of the essentials that will help you have a better trip there and back.

Water bottle

It’s important to stay hydrated in flight. Water helps combat the cabin’s dry air. It also helps fight the drying effect of alcohol you may consume, as well as potentially salty meals. And it may also reduce the impact of jet lag.

Of course, you can’t bring a full bottle through security. But you can bring an empty one. Fill it at a fountain or other source before you board. Any bottle will do, but consider a plastic one that folds flat to save space. Or one with a filter to remove contaminants. One caution: check that the tap water is safe before filling your water bottle abroad.


Since travel dehydrates you, you’ll want to also tend to your dry skin. Bring along a small container of your favorite moisturizer and apply liberally throughout the flight.


Many airlines don’t provide snacks in flight, especially on shorter trips. Even if they do, pretzels and cookies may not be to your liking.

Best to pack your own snack. Pick something that travels well and has protein, fiber or both. Good choices include trail mix, your favorite nuts, dried fruit, a hard cheese, and snack bars.

carry-on packing list: person squirting sanitizing gel from small bottle onto hands
Hand sanitizer can help you stay healthy in flight and on your trip

Hand sanitizer

Crowded public areas like airports – and enclosed spaces like airplanes – are breeding grounds for germs. So you’re more likely to catch an illness at the worst possible time: when you’re just starting your trip.

You don’t know who’s touched the same surfaces you’re touching. Hand sanitizer is a great defense against those germs and a must for your carry-on packing list. It’s also more convenient than finding a bathroom to wash your hands. Bring along a bottle that’s under 3.4 ounces, and make sure it’s at least 60 percent alcohol.

Antibacterial wipes

Antibacterial wipes are the companion to hand sanitizer. They work particularly well for disinfecting your surroundings. To help prevent illness, wipe down everything you’ll touch. That could include your seatbelt and seatback tray on the plane. Once you get to your destination, you can clean your room phone, remote controls, light switches and bathroom fixtures.


Those small tissue packs come in handy in several ways. Besides their intended use, you can employ them as napkins, paper towels, coasters or a wrapper for food or small objects in a pinch.


You don’t want a headache, cramps or other pain to strike when you’re in transit. Carrying painkillers at all times during your travels will keep you as comfortable as possible if aches develop.

carry-on packing list: pills in foil containers
You never know what will strike when traveling, so bring along painkillers, antihistamines, stomach medication and jet lag remedies

Stomach medication

Any number of factors can set your stomach off while you’re traveling. Food poisoning and motion sickness are just two of them. Bring along your favorite antacid or stomach medicine, and consider buying it in tablet form for convenience.


Are you prone to allergic reactions? If so, you may be even more prone when traveling. New places and foods might trigger congestion or other symptoms. Bring along anithistamines for quick relief.

Jet lag remedy

Jet lag is the bane of a long-distance traveler’s existence. Put your preferred remedy on your carry-on packing list to lessen its impact.  Two possibilities: melatonin or an over-the-counter sleep aid.

Mints or chewing gum

You need every tool at your disposal to feel fresh during a long flight. Mints and chewing gum help when you can’t get to a sink to brush your teeth. They’ll also help unplug your ears during altitude changes.

carry-on packing list: putting bandage on hand
Always keep a few bandages handy so you’re prepared for cuts, scrapes and blisters


It’s almost a law of travel. You’ll get a blister from all that walking or cut your hand. And there won’t be a drugstore in sight. Even if there is, they may charge a sky-high fee for bandages. Slip a few in your wallet so they’re there when you need them.

Something to keep you warm

Planes can be notoriously chilly. And the thin blankets airlines provide may not be enough to keep you comfortable.

Bring along layers like a sweater or jacket. Or a travel blanket. Women may want to carry on a large scarf, shawl or pashmina that can double as a blanket.

Compression socks

Compression socks increase blood flow by putting pressure on the legs, ankles and feet. That pressure causes more blood to return to the heart and not pool in the feet. When blood pools, it can cause fatigue and cramps. Or more serious circulatory problems like deep vein thrombosis, phlebitis and edema.

When you’re sitting for so long on a plane, you’re especially prone to those issues. Make compression socks a fixture of your personal carry-on packing list. Another benefit: they’ll help keep your feet warm no matter how frigid the cabin gets.

Travel pillow

Three types of travel pillows have their fans: the horseshoe-shaped neck supports, the roll-up foam versions and the compact inflatable pillows. As you need every advantage on a plane to rest, bring along whichever suits you the best.

carry-on packing list: inflatable blue pillow, black eye mask and orange ear plugs
A travel pillow, sleep mask and earplugs will help you relax and hopefully sleep during your plane ride

Eye mask and ear plugs

It’s hard to sleep on a plane, particularly if you’re not enjoying a lie-flat bed. A sleep mask can help you relax by blocking out light. It’s also helpful if your hotel room doesn’t have blackout drapes. Although airlines sometimes hand these out, for a small investment you’ll enjoy a higher-quality mask that stays in place better over your eyes.

Ear plugs muffle the continuous hum of the plane (as well as the hum from other passengers). Later, they’ll be handy if the neighbors in your hotel are louder than you’d like, or street noise keeps you up. And both the mask and plugs take up very little space to pack in your carry-on.

Noise-canceling headphones

It’s worth investing in a good set of noise-canceling headphones or earbuds. They’ll help you mute the noises from the plane and keep you focused on your music, TV show or movie.

USB cable

Use a USB cable to run your devices and prevent the disaster of draining your battery power. Many planes today have USB plugs at every seat.

Device charger

You can’t count on having an outlet handy during your travels. Competition for spots at airport charging stations, for example, can be intense. A back-up battery pack is an essential tool for your carry-on packing list to keep your devices running in flight or while you’re traveling.

carry-on packing list: dramatic sun shot with wing out plane window
Keep your camera handy – you never know when you’ll capture a spectacular shot in flight


Dedicated amateur photographers will bring a digital camera.  Casual shutterbugs will use the one on their smart phone. Whatever your choice, make sure you have it handy at all times. You never know when you’ll get a fantastic view from the plane window. Or when you’ll need it during the rest of your trip to capture a once-in-a-lifetime image.


Load your devices before flying with music, movies, TV shows and podcasts. Not only will they keep you occupied, they’ll help drown out the noise around you.

Having something to read is a virtual necessity on your carry-on packing list. For maximum efficiency, load several books on your e-reader. Or bring a paperback, magazines or a newspaper along. You may decide to leave those behind once you’re done with them. It’ll lighten your load and let someone else enjoy them.


How are you going to fill out the government form required of arriving travelers without a pen? A pen will also help keep you entertained in flight, completing crossword puzzles and Sudokus. And if you enjoy keeping a journal (see below), you’ll need that writing implement. Bring at least two pens, because without fail one will run out of ink (or you’ll lose it).

carry-on packing list: red notebook and silver pen
Many travelers enjoy recording their impressions of the journey in a notebook

Notebook or journal

It may seem old-school in this age of electronic everything. But recording your travel thoughts by hand in a notebook or journal is a wonderful way to preserve your memories.

Some people record information like daily activities, restaurants visited and their spending. Others share their impressions of a place or what they learned along the way. Yet others enjoy making various lists as a way to capture their travels. You can also turn a journal into a scrapbook by attaching souvenirs you pick up along the way.

A bonus: you can write in it anywhere at any time. No batteries or power sources to worry about (unlike your smart phone or tablet).

Thanks to your notes, years from now you’ll be able to recall the name of that great leather shop in Florence. Or that beach in Australia. Or that steak house in Argentina. Or what you most treasured about the overall experience.

More help with your carry-on packing list

Yes, travel advisors are great with booking trips and giving you advice about what to see and do in a destination. But they also have practical tips about what should be on your carry-on packing list – and more. Seek the help of a Virtuoso travel advisor for anything trip related. You can find an expert travel consultant by clicking here.

One comment

  1. These are all wonderful tips, thank you. One tip I would like to add with regard to lost luggage. I always prepare a one page itinerary for the trip to include our name and address, cell phone #, etc. It includes details of flights, hotel address & phone #, emergency contact information. I give a copy to family members, trusted neighbor, and a copy in our carryon bag along with photos of our luggage. And most important a copy in each of our checked bags. That way in case they open the lost bag for inspection or other information, it can be sent directly to our hotel.

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