Looking for the top carry-on essentials to bring on your next flight? We got you! These will help you have a more comfortable and productive flight.
We’ve spent our fair share of time on airplanes, whether on a short 1-hour flight or a full-day trek across the globe. After traveling full-time since 2013, we’ve narrowed it down to what works best for us.
In general, we pack as lightly as possible and rarely check in a bag (seriously, I packed for 14 days in a carry-on with plenty of space left for gifts and Jacob’s shirts). On every flight, we always have these items handy.
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Last Updated: September 25, 2023
11 In-Flight Essentials
1. Backpack →
We don’t want to become hoarders, but if there’s one thing we love to buy and compare, they are backpacks (see our favorites here)! How else are you going to carry your carry-on essentials? For the most part, Jacob takes the Wandrd Prvke to bring the camera gear, and my favorite is this Solo Backpack Tote. It’s great for city travel, lightweight, and has just enough space and organization for my essentials.
Getting on a flight is a gamble. Noise-canceling headphones are essential for listening to music, watching movies, or drowning out the noise around you. Even though we’re seasoned travelers, I still worry about seating arrangements. Will it be a screaming baby or a kid who kicks my chair? (All my friends have kids, so I’m trying to learn to be patient, but it’s hard.)
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are incredible and much better than earplugs! They are compact, have 6 hours of battery life, and have the best noise-canceling technology. Not only are there different noise-canceling modes, but every time you put them on, it chimes to learn the shape of your ear canal. It uses this data to optimize the sound performance just for you.
It’s perfect for flights, but we also use them when we’re adventuring locally, working out, or want to listen to different music while working.
Pro Tip: If you plan on watching any of the plane movies, have a pair of wired headphones with you too. You can make a DIY Cord Taco holder to keep them organized.
It might be a no-brainer since most of us live connected to our phones more than we should, but here are a few things we prep on our phones before a trip.
- Back Up Your Phone – especially your photos and videos, just in case anything happens.
- Tickets and Itinerary – Make sure your tickets and itinerary are easily accessible. Sometimes the airline apps can be glitchy, so I take a screenshot too.
- Download Music – We use Spotify to download my playlists to have offline. When we were on a tighter budget, I only activated our subscription before big trips.
- Libby for audiobooks – Since I usually don’t get on wifi, I get a lot of reading done on a plane. I never know what I’ll be in the mood for, so having this ensures I have many options. Even though it’s nice to flip through pages of a physical book from time to time, I love that it keeps me lightweight, and you can carry as many books as you want.
- Download Shows + Movies – If you have any shows or movies you’ve wanted to watch, remember to download them so you can watch them offline.
- Google Maps – We download offline maps when traveling anywhere with limited service.
I also clump my wallet with my phone since I use a wallet phone case. We both use the Peak Design Mobile System and we love it. There’s a wallet accessory and a small tripod to prop the phone and watch shows on the plane. Plus the tripod mount for it is so easy to use and very secure.
Did you know you can get through security with an empty water bottle? We typically bring this insulated water bottle, and after getting through TSA, we fill it with water to stay hydrated on the plane. Then you won’t have to wait for the first beverage service to get a drink. It’s also helpful during our stay since many hotels don’t provide free water.
Pro Tip: Pack some hydration drink mix or immune boosters with your water!
We bring our trusty packable jackets to keep us warm on the plane. You never know what the temperatures will be on a plane, but I tend to run cold. It also packs nicely into a pocket to double as a travel pillow. Not the intended use, but I like to make things multi-use.
I know I’m not the only one who gets paranoid about their phone battery dying. Although most newer planes have USB plugins to charge your phone, they tend to be very slow and sometimes can’t keep up if you’re using your phone simultaneously. We travel with this portable charger for both of us to plug into – no more bickering over who charges first.
Countless times I regretted traveling in flip-flops/sandals without having an extra pair of socks. It took me a long time to learn my lesson until Jacob made me write a note to myself. I tend to run cold, so even if I’m wearing regular socks and shoes, I have to bring thicker socks or double up for the plane.
As a bonus, sometimes I have compression socks on long flights to minimize ankle, leg, and foot swelling. I usually don’t wear them the whole time, but I like having the option, especially on extra long flights.
Everyone snacks a little bit differently, but on domestic flights, we try to carry something to munch on when we get hungry since pretzels and peanuts don’t always do it for us. Whether we’re dealing with delays or getting peckish on the plane, we like having snacks handy. Esther gets hangry, so we have to keep her fed. Our favorite on-the-go snacks are Kind Bars and Built Bars, protein bars that taste like candy bars).
Built Bar Coupon Code: Use code LOCALADVENTURER for 10%.
Even if we check a bag, I prefer carrying my toiletries in my carry-on if they lose my luggage. I keep hand cream in my toiletry bag because my skin gets dry on the plane. We use this toiletry bag, which is both reusable and affordable. I’ve had nicer and cuter ones, but I always come back to this one. It’s also better for the planet and doesn’t bust like the annoying disposable ones.
Remember to include any prescription meds, sleep aids, Immodium for upset stomachs, and Vitamin C to boost your immune system when you’re trapped on a plane with tons of germs floating around. I dislike taking meds and try toughing it out more often than I should. However, it’s good to be prepared. I don’t want to be the person that’s constantly relying on other people’s preparedness.
11. Extra Set of Clothes
Whether you want to change into something more comfortable or have an extra set on hand in case your checked luggage gets lost, an extra set of clothes is good to have with you. We tend to wear comfortable clothes on travel days.
More In-Flight Essentials
Here are other items that we sometimes bring with us or liked having in the past. Plus, since everyone has a different travel style, there may be things you’re willing to sacrifice space for.
- E-Reader / Book – We used to bring a Kindle on trips, but now we use Libby.
- Scarf / Pashmina (doubles as a blanket) – I usually get cold on a plane, and unless you’re on a long flight, they may not have blankets for you. It’s nice to have something that can double as a blanket.
- Camera – We travel with our camera 95% of the time and feel more secure having it with us. We use our phones for vlogging, but this is our go-to mirrorless camera and DSLR for work trips. If you’re looking for a new camera, check out our camera gear guide for bloggers.
- Laptop – Our laptop comes with us if we need to get work done on the plane or during our trip.
- Sriracha To Go – I’m always craving something spicy.
- Neck Pillow – We don’t bother with one since we use our jacket as a travel pillow, but we know people who like having a neck pillow with them.
- Hand Sanitizer – Never bad to have!
- Chewing Gum – If you have trouble popping your ears, the gum is nice to have on take-off and landing.
- Pen – If you’re traveling overseas, you most likely fill out customs forms. Having a pen handy is essential.
- Eye Mask – If you’re light-sensitive, an eye mask will help block out the light.
Tips for In-Flight Essentials
- Don’t overpack. We try not to overpack and have found that even if we forget anything, we can usually find a replacement at our destination. On the flip side, overpacking leaves you with burdensome luggage.
- Pack Smart. I like to have items I regularly use easily accessible. The worst is realizing you need something in the overhead bin, but you can’t stand to get it.
- Know the Rules. Be familiar with the carry-on regulations of your airline and/or destination to ensure you pack everything correctly.
- Bigger Isn’t Always Better. A big screen is great, but a smaller laptop might be better if your seat is small, so you’re not as squished.
- Create a Checklist. A checklist helps you ensure you don’t forget anything. I have one in a spreadsheet I use every time I pack.
- Don’t Use Public USBs. You can get hacked through public USBs, so we try not to use them. If we plug into a public outlet, we use our own box, and even better, just try to use our own portable charger.
- Take Meds on Time. Whether they are your own meds or motion sickness meds, take them at the right time. It can be tricky since your time is all off when traveling but setting an alarm helps.
- Dress in Layers. Layers are always a smart way to dress for the plane so you can adjust accordingly.
What are your in flight or carry on essentials?
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Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.