I’ve been traveling every couple of weeks for the past six or so months, mostly for weddings and business, and then I do what I do best – take off just a day or two of work max, and venture out and get to know a destination in a short amount of time.
Because I knew I’d be catching an Uber to the airport in a matter of days once again upon arriving at home, I found myself very unmotivated to unpack things that would make their way back into my bag so shortly after.
That’s when I realized I didn’t have to unpack. I could just keep my carry on populated by critical items I couldn’t fly without.
If you find yourself traveling often enough to store a ready-to-go carry on backpack or suitcase, it is so much easier to just throw in a couple things before dashing out rather than setting aside time to pack these must-haves time and time again.
Need some help with where to start? These are the 10 items you will always find in my carry on, no matter where my destination is.
1. Favorite (empty) water bottle
I mentioned this in a previous post on making long flights more comfortable. If you’re a frequent flyer, or like to be environmentally conservative, bringing along a reusable water bottle or canteen of choice helps you avoid buying $5 water bottles at every airport visit.
A lot of popular water bottles, like S’well and Yeti, keep your water cold for hours, too. They’re light in your backpack and don’t add any bulk. Just be sure that it’s empty before going through security, and simply fill it once you’re on the other side.
This is arguably my most imperative thing that I pack in my carry on. It’s the best multipurpose accessory you can travel with.
Are your legs cold? Use it as a blanket. You sleepy? Scrunch it up and turn it into a pillow. Does your neighbor have their reading light on? Create your own darkness.
My scarf saves me most when I’m stuck in the middle seat on red eye flights and am dying to sleep. I ball it up and shove it underneath my chin so my head doesn’t bob and my noggin can relax. It sounds silly, but after a long trip you’ll go to desperate measures to get some shut eye!
You will always find my toiletries in my carry on bag. I like to have all necessities with me above the plane for many “just in case” scenarios. This bag includes the usual, such as a toothbrush and contact solution, but also medicines like Tums and Z-Quil.
I keep my toiletries with me in case my luggage trails behind for any reason, meaning that I would be spending a night without the majority of my bearings. But having the basics with me makes unforeseen inconveniences more comfortable.
Also, when I take red eyes or travel internationally, I “get ready for bed”. When I travel a lot, I try to take my routine with me instead of tossing it to the wind. It also helps to get comfortable and get some rest in hopes of reducing jet lag.
I have a spare of nearly everything now and just keep it in a small bag that never gets unpacked.
Music is always my main source of entertainment on flights. It also helps me get to sleep. I used to be a seriously nervous flier, and bringing headphones would help tune out the unfamiliar sounds coming from the airplane.
5. Eye mask
I used to feel so silly wearing eye masks. But when we lived in China, I got used to wearing and sleeping with them since the sun rose so early.
Eye masks seriously help you get some shut eye on flights. Even if lights are on during your flight and windows are open, you can pop these on and seek some rest.
I even wear them if I am overtired from the week and am trying to sleep in later than usual on a weekend! Eye masks have a permanent place in my carry on.
6. Healthy snacks
Eating healthy while on the go is difficult. That’s a hard fact. However, I always am sure to have my staple snacks in my carry on to avoid greasy or junky options in airports.
The food that works best for me are filling snacks with protein and healthy fats, like almonds, Quest bars, RX Bars, and Lara bars. For some freshness, I will bring citrus or an apple, but I will add that in my bags before I leave the house.
These snacks are packed with nutrients and keep you satisfied for hours. They can also work for a meal replacement if needed, and breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
7. Portable charger
I received a portable charger as a gift, but wow, has it relieved the stress of having devices die on you!
If you’re on a time crunch between layovers, you don’t get the luxury of sitting plugged into the wall. Especially if you’re traveling for over a day, portable chargers come in handy.
8. My kindle
I am a lover of the book, and was completely against getting an electric reader. Oh the irony – I work in the digital sphere, but I believe that there is true value in flipping a page!
But when it comes down to your backpack weighing less, or not having time to go to a bookstore before a trip, my Kindle now has my heart. I can download a new book in a few minutes while waiting to board! I also don’t have to worry about disturbing the people around me by turning on the blinding overhead light.
I never leave for any travel without an umbrella. You could end up in nasty weather at any time. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the rain! There is nothing worse than getting soaked upon arrival, especially when you can’t get anywhere to change for a while.
10. Change of clothes (for international flights)
Speaking of changing, I always have a change of clothes for long travel. If I’m flying a red eye to my destination, I always bring something appropriate for the weather there that I can switch into quickly after I land. Otherwise I feel like I’m walking around in my PJs after being on a stale plane for hours.
Bringing even a different shirt will help you feel refreshed after a long time in transit.
What are your staples for your carry on when traveling?