Home News Travel Everything You Need to Pack in Your Carry-On, According to Expert Flyers

Everything You Need to Pack in Your Carry-On, According to Expert Flyers

Everything You Need to Pack in Your Carry-On, According to Expert Flyers

Flying can be kind of a nightmare these days. Travelers seem all too comfortable with taking off their shoes and socks during flights, fighting with flight attendants, and generally being rambunctious. Beyond passenger behavior, if you are flying in basic economy class it often feels like you are sitting on an elementary school cafeteria stool, except you and everyone else are full-grown adults. And truly, even with the most comfortable seat on the plane, there’s no way to avoid the fact that you’re flying 36,000 feet high in the air for hours on end in a tiny cabin with dry air and tiny lavatories.

Fortunately, there are ways to improve the flying experience even if you aren’t in the business class tax bracket. Below are the most essential items you should carry with you on your next flight, according to flight attendants, seasoned flyers, and career travelers. Not everyone has the same suggestions for the best things to pack for a trip, but from the dozens of people who gave their input for this article, there was an overarching theme: Your carry-on should be stocked with essentials to address the main concerns. : hygiene, skincare, tech, and comfort. You should also have a good system for organizing all of that stuff, whether in you are packing it all in your personal item or your actual carry-on suitcase.

For instance, when it comes to combat plane skinAir New Zealand’s Inflight Services Manager Ben Whatman suggests a face mist for mid-flight skin hydration, while Delta Air Lines flight attendant Lori Thompson recommends a mini humidifier.

Whether you’re traveling around the world or taking a short flight for the weekend during what’s expected to be an especially busy summer travel season, here’s what to pack to make your next trip even better.

A mini hygiene essentials kit

What your hygiene kit contains is up to you and what you define as hygiene. But the general consensus on the must haves are: toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, wet wipes, and deodorant. The specifics vary from person to person. The bottom line is that, even if all of your travel plans go up in the air, you’ll have a way to freshen up.

I suggest the following items, packed into a zipper pouch:

  • Travel-sized toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • Travel-sized mouthwash
  • facewash
  • wet wipes
  • An N-95 face mask
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • deodorant

I also like to pack spare underwear in my bag. This was also a suggestion from several other frequent flyers—clean and fresh underwear can ensure even the worst travel delays don’t leave you standing around stinky.

Products to keep your skin fresh

Beyond basic hygiene, another important component of your carry-on should include skincare that can handle the dry cabin air and long hours moving through busy airports, not getting great sleep, and stressing about making it on time to your flight connections. This goes beyond just a face cleanser. Moisturizer, toner, face masks, and even spot treatments can all make it into your mini skincare kit.

Some companies even create travel kits. Drunk Elephant, Dermastoreand Paula’s Choice offer great options, depending on your skin type and budget. To keep things simple (and more eco-friendly), you can purchase reusable travel-sized containers and fill them with your usual products. I like the small magnetic ones from Cadencebut you can also buy more affordable reusable containers.

Air New Zealand’s Ben Whatman suggests a specific product: Origins Super Spot Remover. “This is an absolute miracle product, I swear by this! I always keep one in my cabin bag—if I see a little spot or pimple appear, this will get rid of it in no time at all,” Whatman said.

Other items that were must haves? Lip balm and face mist. Whatman suggests Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1. I’m a fan of Aquaphor, and Sun Bum’s SPF 30 lip balm if I’m planning on being outside a lot. For face mists, you have plenty of options—you can even go so far as to pack a portable mini humidifier if you’re so inclined, like Delta Air Lines flight attendant Lori Thompson.

“Our hotel rooms can be rather dry, and after traveling a mini humidifier adds much needed moisture to the air,” Thompson shared with Thrillist. “This item is small and all you need is a glass or bottle of water. Feel free to add a drop or two of essential oils to freshen the air.”

I use Summer Fridays’ Jet Lag Mask after long flights, which feels like a resuscitation after basking in that musty plane air. If you don’t mind drawing a little extra attention, hydrating sheet masks like the Dr. Jart+ Ceramiden Skin Barrier Moisturizing Mask and Wander Beauty’s Baggage Claim Eye Mask can keep your skin plump and moisturized.

The tech to stay charged and entertained

Embarking on a flight with no way to drown out the sound of the chatty person three rows down and the (rightfully) rambunctious child at the back of the plane can spell certain dread for even the most levelheaded traveller. So pack ready! In your tech pouch, you should be prepared to charge the devices you are bringing on the flight. Most planes don’t have USB-C ports yet, so you’ll either want to pack a converter or dig out your retro USB charging cables.

If you’re on a flight that offers entertainment, make sure you’ll be able to make use of your headphones. The Twelve South Air Fly is perfect for people who are very attached to their wireless headphones but still want to watch The Nice Guys on the in-flight entertainment system. The adapter fits into the standard headphone jack, with a bluetooth enabled adapter that can connect to your headphones.

No matter which kind you pack, you should plan on packing headphones. I use the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones, which block out other noise and don’t hurt after sitting on my ears for an extended period of time. Many people like NBC reporter Kay Angramsuggest AirPods—but it really depends on what feels good in your ears.

I’m less of an inflight movie person, and prefer to read through the seemingly endless supply of spicy romance novels on my Kindle. Flying is the perfect time for reading because you really can’t get distracted like you can in other settings. If you are trying to lower your screen time, you can always pack a book, or a magazine. Whatever your plan is, make sure you’ve got whatever you intend to read/watch/listen to downloaded before you leave the house, so you’re not dependent on plane or airport Wi-Fi. To recap: chargers, converters, headphones, entertainment.

All of the creature comforts

As someone who lost the ability to feel footwear shame, I’m a Crocs person at the airport. I’m sorry, but they are comfortable and easy to take off at TSA. But—and this is an important but—I never put my raw feet into Crocs for flights. I always put on socks, because the last thing I need to do is contribute to the epidemic of white people with their toes out on flights. I was not blessed with decent blood circulation, so I am always wearing a pair of compression socks when I travel. A single pair of Bombas Everyday Compression Socks has dramatically improved my flying experience.

But even if you don’t need the compression, socks are still an essential part of your carry-on. Whether it’s so you can change into a fresh pair as soon as you get off the plane, or because you have toes that tend to get cold on flights, a cozy pair of socks can be the difference between comfort and catastrophe. It’s also the acceptable middle ground between going barefoot and keeping your shoes on.

Flight attendant Lori Thompson recommends a packable blanket. “I have always had a packable blanket with me for those chilly flights. These are nice to have in case there is not a blanket available,” Thompson said. If you aren’t a blanket person, a packable sweater or jacket is a good option as well. I’m a fan of any that can turn into a pillow when I’m not wearing it.

For sleeping, writer and frequent flyer Annie Tan suggests an inflatable neck pillow, which can be deflated and tucked away when you aren’t using it. I also always pack a sleep mask, which has been one of the biggest game changers on flights for me. No matter what the lighting is like on the plane, I can keep total darkness to get every second of sleep I can on a red eye. I like using a silk onewhich feels less irritating on my skin when I wear it for long periods of time.

The ideal items on your packing list should be tailored to your needs, but products that are versatile, compact, and comfortable should be top priorities. Something for your neck, something to cover your eyes, something to keep your feet and legs comfortable, and something that can keep you warm in case of dramatic temperature changes.


Somehow, I never, ever anticipate needing a pen when I travel. But without fail, when I’m traveling out of the country, I am asked to fill out a form either during the flight or as soon as I arrive at my destination. And no one is handing out pens these days! Pack a pen or two in the front pocket of your carry-on and never be the person looking around the plane like a lost duck when it’s time to fill out your customs forms. If you want to get cute about it, I love this trio from Bando that is colorful enough to be easy to find in any bag.

Remedies for in-flight discomfort

My to-go medicine bag looks like I robbed a Walgreens. When I fly, every minor issue I deal with on land amplifies. I sniffle, sneeze, ache, and get the worst motion sickness. Depending on what you deal with, your remedies bag might look different from mine. But I always pack a headache reliever, allergy medicine, and anti-motion sickness medicine. Beyond that, I know I’ll fare better if I’m hydrated and regular on my journey. So I also pack to-go sized packets of hydrators and probiotics to put in my water or juice mid-flight. I like Liquid IV, but there are plenty of other brands on the market.

Some pouches

So, you’ve gathered all of your mini skin care items, charging cords, hydration packets, wet wipes, and socks. But if you throw that all into your bag loose, it will feel more stressful trying to find what you need than if you simply hadn’t prepared at all. To keep your stuff organized, invest in a set of zipper pouches of varying sizes. This is more sustainable than using Ziploc bags, and will also give you a chance to get something in a color that brings you a bit of joy. Calpak sells sets of three that are perfect for sorting your medicine, chargers, and skincare.

Now that you’ve assembled your Avengers lineup of flying must-haves, check out Thrillist’s guide to traveling more sustainably and the carry-on baggage we swear by.


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