Ultimate Must Have Carry-On Essentials (2022 Edition)

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COVID-19: The information in this post is updated as much as possible in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Please check the status of flights, activities etc. before you depart, as entry requirements and restrictions are constantly changing at a fast pace.

With budget airlines constantly clamping down on carry on weight and size limits, do you ever wonder what important things are a priority in your carry on travel bag, and what needs to be left out?

These days, budget travellers and backpackers alike have to make important decisions on what’s top priority in the valuable, real-estate of our tiny carry-on bag space – unless you’re paying extra for checked luggage, of course. 

And sure enough, your little overhead backpack / suitcase is bursting to the brim meeting these ridiculous airline requirements, and you’ve only just packed your toiletries and makeup so far, and a few other things.

But worry not – this guide lists the essentials for a comfortable plane journey. And if you’re worried about space in your bag, check out the amazing hack on #11 that shows you how to bypass the cabin restrictions!

And here’s another tip: instead of folding your clothes in your bag, roll them, for more space.

So, what should I put in my carry on bag?

In this post, I’ve compiled the ultimate air travel carry-on essential checklist – including the must-have items for both short and long haul flights, whilst keeping the packing as light and minimalist as possible.

Suitable for travellers of all types, this list has been fine-tuned through seven years of travelling to 40+ countries (many of them more than once), through trial and error – eliminating useless items whilst also being sustainable and eco-friendly where possible.

Scroll on to read the ultimate checklist of what to pack in carry-on for international flight for the smoothest experience, be it a short-hop journey or a long flight.

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Table of Contents

Disclosure: The links below are affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Ultimate Must Have Carry-On Essentials (2021 Edition)

The Perfect Carry-on Bag

backpacks

First and foremost, you need a strong and reliable carry-on bag that will accommodate everything you need. You’ll want to make sure this bag can fit as much as possible – without compromising on protection, and just as importantly – it needs to be comfortable to carry around.

 

#1. A good backpack:

 

For those trips where a backpack is more convenient than a suitcase – where its a month-long adventure or a day trip, or city-hopping even.

I used to travel with a top-loading backpack for years, and found them inconvenient due to fumbling around trying to get stuff out, without having to take everything out first.

These days, I always use a clamshell design backpack – which means I can lay the bag down and unzip it all the way open for complete access to everything packed inside – SO much more convenient!

The Osprey Farpoint 40L Travel & Trekking Rucksack is a favourite among backpackers worldwide and is considered one of the best rucksacks on the market. Coming in at £80 for the 40L, for a reputable brand this is excellent value for money, as it will last many years.

Osprey Farpoint 40L (US)  |  Osprey Farpoint 40L (UK)

 

The Cabin Max Backpack Flight Approved Carry On Bag is an excellent choice for budget travellers, this was my first backpack, before I upgraded to the Osprey Farpoint. It’s a super reliable backpack that’s served me well over the years.

Cabin Max Backpack (US)  |   Cabin Max Backpack (UK)

The Bare Essentials

essential items

#2. Passport, visas, and ID

 

You can’t board a plane without these, obviously.

For extra protection and a nice design that adds bit of personality, my partner and I have these matching passport covers 

 

#3. Cash and bank / top-up travel cards

 

You certainly can’t leave home without these either.

I usually have my money split 50/50 between cash and in a prepaid travel card. I use Revolut – its a travel banking app available in many different international currencies and is extremely easy and convenient to use. Not only that, you can pay in the local currency to avoid extra charges, so no need to use your personal bank card abroad.

 

#4. Your phone

 

I use an iPhone 11 which not only keeps me connected to the internet while abroad, I also keep my itineraries and many of my travel documents stored so they can scanned, so as to avoid having to print them. 

Tip: Prepare your phone before you go: download apps, music, movies, books, games, navigation, and any language translator apps you may need.

#5. A Powerbank / Travel Charger

 

What’s worse than a dead phone battery when travelling?

Following number 4, the power bank/travel charger is an absolute essential travel item. With newer iPhone models coming with ever shorter battery lifespans, I don’t need to explain its importance.

The Anker PowerCore 20100 – Ultra High Capacity Power Bank quite simply ticks all my most important boxes when it comes to choosing the best power bank. It has a huge (20,100mAh) capacity, which means you can charge everything a few times during one trip; the iPhones X-11 around six times, the Samsung Galaxy S6-S9 four times.

 Anker PowerCore 20100 (US)  |  Anker PowerCore 20100 (UK)

 

And don’t forget: bring at least two charger cables – a short (1m) cable for your carry-on, and a long (3m) cable packed in checked luggage.

Travel hack: Charge your electronics through a hotel room TV – there’s a USB port at the back of TVs in hotel rooms, so make use of these where possible.

#6. Travel Wallet & Passport Holder

 

If you’re serious about being well organised, this neat little travel accessory is the ideal must-have carry-on item.

The Campteck Travel Wallet & Passport Holder is perfect for storing up to 4 passports, ID cards, credit cards, travel money, print outs, your smartphone, keys, and anything else of value. It’s waterproof, has RFID interlining to safeguard your passport, and is small enough to fit into your mini flight bag or bumbag.

Campteck Travel Wallet & Passport Holder (US)  |  Campteck Travel Wallet & Passport Holder (UK)

 

 

#7. Travel documents and itineraries

 

I used to print out all my travel documents and itineraries and store them in a plastic folder for backup incase I should ever need them. 

These days though, while some documents are required in printed form, the rest I simply store on my phone – I have email copies and I use the TripIt and Rome2Rio holiday organiser apps for my itineraries and I keep screenshots of my passport, ID, visas etc. in my photo album for copies.

#8. Collapsible Water Bottle

 

I invested in one of these due to my frustration at plastic waste, and those tiny airplane cups certainly add to this global issue.

Enter the BPA free, FDA approved Kemier Collapsible Silicone Water Bottle 750ML. 

This collapsible silicone water bottle is perfect for refilling and reusing while out on your travels, eliminating the need to buy small plastic water bottles – which saves you money on your trips whilst being very environmentally-friendly.

And not only that – you can go through security with the bottle empty, then fill up while you’re waiting for boarding. A win-win situation!

Kemier Collapsible Water Bottle (US)  |  Kemier Collapsible Water Bottle (UK)

#9. Hand Lotion (that doesn’t count as a liquid)

 

Sometimes its handy to have some lotion for when your skin dries and cracks in extreme climates.

The best lotions are the organic, natural ones with ZERO toxic chemicals in them. And Shea butter is one of the healthiest and best things you could put on your skin. That’s why I use Organic Raw Shea Butter by Dr. Shea.

This little tub is the perfect companion for either your toiletries or flight bag, and since shea butter is a solid mass of butter (even when its hot), it doesn’t count as a liquid at airport security. Bonus!

Raw Shea Butter (US)  |  Raw Shea Butter (UK)

#10. Tissues & Hand Sanitiser

 

Tissues in case of runny noses and wiping up messes, and a decent 99.99% anti-bacterial Carex hand sanitiser to clean your hands regularly of course.

And just as importantly, you’ll need to use them both when you board the plane and arrive at your seat, and I’ll tell you why:

The fold down table is one of the filthiest parts of a plane!

So yep – squirt your hand sanitiser all over the table, leave it a minute or so, and wipe it up with a tissue. (Make sure you have plenty of tissues and hand sanitiser for your trip).

Travel Size Hand Sanitizer (US)  |  Travel Size Hand Sanitiser (UK)

#11. Sustainable Wet Wipes

 

The Biodegradable Baby Wipes are a really useful carry on addition, especially for long haul flights.

Many travellers including myself, have oily skin when sitting on a plane for several hours. A bit like waking up in the morning before a shower. So these baby wipes really help my face feel more fresh and clean. And what could be better than biodegradable wet wipes made from natural bamboo?

Eco Friendly Biodegradable Baby Wipes (US)  |  Cheeky Panda Biodegradable Baby Wipes (UK)

#12. Snacks and Water

 

Make sure you bring a snack or two, to avoid going hungry. Many short haul flights don’t provide food, and the snacks on long haul flights tend to be expensive.

And always bring water. Snacks that work well on flights include whole fruits and nuts (but avoid salted nuts which will make you thirsty). Protein Bars also work well. Other suitable snacks are whole grain salads, and dark chocolate.

Comfort & Entertainment

#13. Wheel Luggage

 

Sometimes a four-wheeled suitcase is just more convenient than a backpack, depending on what trip I’m going on.

For a city break or a business trip – if you’re leaving the suitcase in the hotel for the duration of the trip, then this is perfect.

I use my Amazon Basics Hardside Expandable Suitcase, which not only has a hard protective, scratch-resistance shell, but can also expand with up to 15% extra space, not bad.

Amazon Basics Hardside Suitcase (US)  |  AmazonBasics Hardside Suitcase (UK)

Have Checked Luggage? Be sure to request the ‘Fragile’ sticker at the check in desk. This will ensure your luggage is among the first to appear on the carousel on arrival at your destination.

(You can also tie a bright-coloured ribbon to your bag to make it easy to spot too).

#14. A Super Comfy Travel Pillow

 

I always find I can never get any sleep on flights, especially on long haul ones.

At best, I can just about manage 20 minutes of uninterrupted sleep towards the end of a 9-hour flight, and even then, my neck is aching afterwards.

 

Enter the Scientifically proven Super Soft Trtl Neck Support Travel Pillow. If you’re buying a neck pillow for those long haul flights, be sure to get the Turtl – a unique and innovative pillow that’s so comfy it really lets you get a decent sleep on the plane!

Trtl Pillow (US)  |  Trtl Pillow (UK)

#15. Multi-Purpose Infinity Scarf

 

Wherever I go abroad, I always bring a multi purpose scarf – even if I’m going on a summer vacation somewhere hot, the plane journey will still be cold.

Thats why I wear the unisex lightweight infinity scarf, and this one even has a concealed zipper compartment where you can store your valuables.

If I’m going somewhere cold, like my trips to north India, I opt for the bigger cashmere blanket that really keeps me warm.

Unisex Travel Scarf (US)  |  Unisex Travel Scarf (UK)

#16. An Excellent Pair of Headphones or Earphones

 

A must-have for listening to your music, podcasts, audiobooks, and movies on those long flights.

The earphones market is pretty big so you’re stuck for choice. However, from my experience of trying various types of earphones, I like to find a balance between high quality and affordability. Good bass is important for me personally (due to my hearing loss), and for convenience, wireless bluetooth is much less hassle than cable earphones.

 

Earphones:

 

My personal preference is the SoundMAGIC E11BT In Ear Isolating Wireless Earphones – packed with top quality sound, heavy bass, and very importantly they don’t leak any noise, which is perfect for me so I can turn the volume right up without annoying the passengers seated next to me.

SoundMAGIC E11BT Wireless Earphones (US)  |  SoundMAGIC E11BT Wireless Earphones (UK)

 

 

Headphones:

 

Headphones look super fashionable to wear (both on your head and around your neck). If you’re looking to buy a really nice pair of wireless headphones with top quality sound, the Samsung AKG Y500 Wireless Headphones is one of the best options out there.

AKG Y500 Wireless Headphones (US)  |  AKG Y500 Wireless Headphones (UK)

#17. iPad/Tablet and protective case

 

I rely on my iPad Pro for watching the occasional Netflix show (but mostly for working on my travel blog, although I prefer my MacBook Pro for working, and I will sometimes bring that with me instead).

Apple iPad Pro (US)  |  Apple iPad Pro (UK)

For peace of mind, I invest in a strong and durable protective case that I keep my iPad and MacBook Pro stored in at all times. I have the for my MacBook and the for my iPad.

Apple iPad Pro Case (US)  |  Apple iPad Pro Case (UK)

#18. A decent camera

 

My camera of choice is a high quality compact mirrorless camera that’s perfect for holidays.

I used to bring a bulky and heavy Canon DSLR on my trips in the past, but it was a bit too much hassle for someone who wants to take quick and easy snaps without having to change lens.

Thats why I now use my Ricoh GRIII 24MP Compact Camera with 28mm F2.8 GR Lens – the ultimate camera for all types of photography – be it landscape scenery, portraits, action, street snaps, and even night photography. It’s perfect for those who want to take super high-quality, pro shots, but aren’t necessarily professional photographers.

Ricoh GRIII Compact Camera (US)  |  Ricoh GRIII Compact Camera (UK)

Beauty & Care

beauty and care

#19. Lip Balm

 

If you get dry, chapped lips like I do, then you’ll know of all the dry places, plane cabins are no different.

In trying to be more sustainable and eco-friendly, I now use a natural, organic lip balm, that isn’t full of chemicals that are harmful to myself or to the environment when I chuck it out.

My favourite brand is the popular Burt’s Bees, and I swear by their 100% Natural Moisturising Lip Balm with Shea Butter and Cocoa Butter. 

Burt’s Bees Lip Balm (4 pack) (US)  |  Burt’s Bees Lip Balm (4 pack) (UK)

#20. Roll-on Deodorant

 

Again, I prefer to use natural and organic products and especially when it comes to roll-on deodorants – I used to go with popular brands but became conscious of the carcinogenic chemicals my armpits were absorbing into my body.

Thats why I now use Bali Secrets Organic and Vegan Roll On for Men & Women. While I’m on my holiday, I tend to use organic coconut oil, which I pack in my checked luggage.

Natural Roll On Deodorant (US)  |  Natural Roll On Deodorant (UK)

#21. Toothbrush & Toothpaste

 

Another essential item especially for long haul flights, I always bring my plastic free, bamboo toothbrush along with organic natural toothpaste.

My preferred choice for eco-friendly toothpaste is the Georganics | Natural Mineral-Rich Whitening Toothpaste. Not only is it also vegan and fluoride-free, it comes in a glass jar with no plastic packaging whatsoever.

Georganics Natural Toothpaste (US)  |  Georganics Natural Toothpaste (UK)

Organisation & Security

#22. A Hip Belt, Bumbag or Flight Bag

 

I used to wear my Mini Travel Bag a few years ago and its quite fashionable. These days though, I prefer to wear a bumbag.

 

Mini Flight Bag or Bumbag?

If I’m going somewhere where I’ll be walking around the city or tourist traps, and there’s a high risk of theft, I wear my bumbag – because it’s virtually impossible to steal. Not even thieves on bikes can steal your bumbag, but there is a chance they can snatch your mini flight bag if your guard is down – and this does happen.

My favourite bumbag is the Eastpak Doggy Bag Money Belt – this one is excellent as its simple, durable, looks good with anything, and has all the compartments needed to store all my important items. There’s plenty of storage space, and it fits perfectly around your waist like a money belt as well as across your chest.

Eastpak Bumbag  (US)  |  Eastpak Bumbag (UK)

 

 

If you opt for the The Mini Flight Bag, I like to use my Eastpak The One Messenger Bag.

Another great thing about these mini bags/bumbelts is that they are allowed as an extra carry-on bag because they are on your person.

Not only does this free up much needed space in my carry on luggage, it also allows me to keep my most valuable items and documents on my person, giving me security and peace of mind.

 Eastpak The One Messenger Bag (US)  |  Eastpak The One Messenger Bag (UK)

#23. A Hidden Money Belt

 

If you’re looking for something more discreet than the bumbag, the Hidden Money Belt lets you stash your money away in a secret compartment thats safely tucked within an innocent looking belt.

Ideal for those who want to avoid drawing attention in poorer parts of the world, travellers who are security conscious, or those who just fancy travelling super light, the Zero Grid Travel Security Belt is the ultimate theft-proof travel wallet belt.

 

Hidden Money Belt (US)  |  Hidden Money Belt (UK)

#24. An Organiser Tech Bag

 

If you’re like me, cables and small items get muddled up in your carry on bag and cause a fuss when you’re trying to separate them, and its just too much hassle fumbling around the bag looking for a battery or a cable.

Enter the BUBM Travel Accessories Carry Case – the solution to storing all your cables, tech gear and accessories neatly in one place!

 

The BUBM Travel Case consists of two compartments and plenty of mesh pockets, zip compartments and elastic loops, it can hold an iPad Mini and mirrorless cameras as well as various other gadgets, and stores all your cables, batteries, memory sticks and portables etc. neatly in place.

BUBM Travel Case (US)  |  BUBM Travel Case (UK)

If you’re on a budget and looking for something that does the job just as well but at a more affordable price, the Amazon Basics Universal Travel Case is the perfect option: it has a simple, no-nonsense design and is surprisingly spacious inside.

 

Amazon Basics Universal Travel Case (US)  |  Amazon Basics Universal Travel Case (UK)

Carry-on bag over the weight limit? Worry not!

 

Enter the Bagket Multi Pocket Vest (the answer to airlines excess baggage charges and no hand-luggage policy!)

bagket travel vest

Sick of budget airlines constantly changing their carry on allowance policy every 5 minutes? Determined to bring all your stuff on your trip without being charged a hefty fee by those sly airlines?

As someone once said: Don’t get mad, get even.

This multi pocket vest was designed specifically to outsmart crafty budget airlines that are constantly trying to squeeze money out of unsuspecting budget travellers, forcing them to pay ridiculous non-budget prices on their fares.

Since airline policies don’t include weight and items on a customer’s body, this made me wonder how I could carry additional stuff on my person, if my carry on was over the limit.

I stumbled across the perfect jacket – equipped with huge pockets and components that you can stuff with iPads, laptops, cameras, heck even extra footwear – you name it, it will fit in this jacket that doubles as a bag!

 

 

How To Use The Bagket Vest:

  • Fill up with 15kg of baggage, and carry over your shoulder
  • Put the jacket through the scanner at security
  • At the departure gate, wear the jacket to board the plane
  • On board the plane, put the jacket under your seat

Bagket Multi Pocket Vest (US)  |  Bagket Multi Pocket Vest (UK)

Top Travel Tips: Advice for Short & Long Haul Flights

 

Stay hydrated

This is one of the most important pieces of advice for travelling on a plane, especially on long haul flights. Always bring your bottle of water on board.

 

Important documents

Keep these on your person at all times, and that means while you’re seated too (don’t stash them in the overhead compartment.) If you can, keep your documents in a separate compartment from your money, gadgets and other essentials. Consider the Travel Wallet and the Eastpak Bum Bag for ideal organisation. 

 

Keep your most important belongings on you at all times

Again, don’t stash things like your travel money, mobile, jewellery, camera, and other valuable items in the overhead compartment. Keep them in your flight bag if possible. If you have large expensive gear in the overhead – make sure you can directly keep an eye on it whenever someone opens the compartment.

 

Keep yourself busy

Make use of entertainment options available. As well as your earphones for music, read books, play games or watch movies from your tablet.

 

Bring a snack or two

Make sure you have snacks to avoid going hungry. Many short haul flights don’t provide food, and the snacks on long haul flights tend to be expensive.

Here are some snacks that work well on flights:

  • Nuts – Especially almonds. Avoid salted nuts which will make you thirsty.
  • Fruit – whole fruits (bananas, apples etc) or dried fruit with no added sugar work well and won’t cause a mess.
  • Protein Bars – Clif Bars work well as do fruit and nut bars. Just check the nutritional information because many bars are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients.
  • Whole Grain Salads – d’Arabian recommends quinoa-based salads with olive oil. Unlike leafy green salads, they won’t wilt.
  • Dark Chocolate – For enduring a 12-hour flight, you could do with a treat.
 

Dress appropriately

As well as dressing appropriately when visiting certain countries that require you to cover up, make sure you bring a lightweight jacket or hoodie, and always wear pants and socks on the plane as it gets chilly.

Commonly Asked Questions:

 

What should I put in my carry on bag?

 

Plan ahead with this list of must-have carry-on essentials for long flights:

  • Valuables – Passport, ID, travel documents, cash and bank cards
  • Travel wallet and passport holder
  • Hand sanitiser and tissues
  • Snacks and water
  • Collapsible water bottle
  • Power bank / phone charger and cables
  • Sustainable wet wipes
  • Noise-cancelling earphones
  • A super comfy travel pillow
  • iPad / tablet / Kindle for reading and watching movies
  • Lip balm
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and facial wipes
  • A bumbag or flight bag
  • Organiser tech bag

 

What things are not allowed in carry on luggage?

 

The following is a list of items that are completely banned from aircraft and should not be brought to the airport:

  • Explosive and incendiary materials
  • Party poppers
  • Acids
  • Flammable liquids
  • Tear gas devices or gas cylinders
  • Non-safety matches
  • Wet-cell car batteries
  • Oxidisers and organic peroxides
  • Poisons
  • Instruments containing magnets
  • Toy/replica guns
  • Infectious materials
  • Firelighters, lighter fuel, paints or thinners
  • Corrosives

 

What should I bring on a short flight?

 

Here’s a list of 10 must-have essential things to pack for travelling on short flights:

  1. Hand sanitiser and tissues
  2. Some snacks and water
  3. Travel wallet and passport holder
  4. Collapsible water bottle
  5. Sustainable wet wipes
  6. Lip balm
  7. Power bank / phone charger and cables
  8. Noise-cancelling earphones
  9. High quality compact camera
  10. iPad / tablet / Kindle for reading and watching movies
susnet-airport

So there you have it – the ultimate carry on travel essentials packing guide fit for every traveller.

 
With the items listed above – you can expect stress free flights, neatly organised trips and enjoy smooth travel experiences with pure convenience, all while being eco-friendly, healthy and happy!
 

 

 

Thank you for reading my guide:

Ultimate Must Have Carry-On Essentials (2021 Edition)

 

Did I miss anything out? I hope you find this post useful!

Book Your Trip: Budget Tips & Tricks

 

Flights:

As always, I source the cheapest flights on the web from Momondo and Skyscanner. They are considered the top flight search engines for the best deals.

Accommodation:

I use Booking.com to find cheap listings and free cancellation options. Alternatively, Airbnb offer more authentic stays – click here to get $40 off.

Travel Insurance:

Travel insurance will protect you from theft, injury, illness, and cancellations. It’s a safety net in case anything goes wrong, and I never leave without it. World Nomads is my favourite company for total peace of mind.

Head over to my Travel Tools page for all my best travel tips & advice and everything you need for your trip.

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Billy

Billy

Lover of epic adventures, budget travel, and fine coffee. When not travelling, Billy teaches dance, and creates performances on commissioned projects.

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Hey there! I’m Billy, the guy behind BRB | Gone Somewhere Epic. I’ve been travelling around the world for six years, having an absolute blast going on epic adventures, without breaking the bank. Click here to read more about the art of budget travel.

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