There isn't much you can do about cramped seats, crying babies, or iffy in-flight meals, but with a well-packed carry-on by your side, you'll be able to handle just about anything your next flight throws at you.
From entertainment to sleep and everything in between, our list of carry-on essentials covers everything you need to fly in (relative) comfort.
Ready to pack that travel bag of tricks?
These are the carry-on essentials we never leave home without.
36 Carry-On Essentials for Every Flight
#1. An Awesome Carry-On
Looking for an awesome carry-on to hold all those carry-on essentials? A wheeled under-seater might just change the way you travel.
These babies slide directly under most airline seats, so you can bypass the overhead bin chaos while enjoying quick and easy access to all your creature comforts throughout your flight.
Pack light and use one as your primary carry-on for short trips (buh-bye, carry-on fees) or put it to work as your personal item for longer stays. But remember—seat clearance varies from airline to airline, so be sure to check for personal item size restrictions before you buy.
Top Pick: Samsonite Wheeled Underseater
#2. Travel Documents and Cash
Always, always, always keep your passport, boarding pass, cards, and cash close. Stash them in your carry-on or your purse, whichever you prefer, but don't risk leaving your most important travel items in your checked luggage.
#3. Copies of Your Travel Documents
Losing your passport is a nightmare. Be prepared for any eventuality by making several copies of your travel documents and keeping them in your carry-on (obviously not in the same spot as your passport).
If the worst does happen, you can hotfoot it to the nearest embassy and have your passport reissued without dealing with a bunch of red tapes.
#4. Passport Wallet
Having quick access to your travel documents and cash can make navigating the airport so much easier. Plus, using one will help safeguard your most important travel document against damage, loss, and theft.
Looking for something different? Check out our guide to the Best Passport Wallets of 2020.
#5. Toothbrush and Toothpaste
Long flight? Toss a travel toothbrush (and some toothpaste!) into your carry-on to keep furry teeth and bad breath at bay.
Top pick: Radius Tour Travel Toothbrush
#6. Antibacterial Wipes
There's no way of knowing how much traffic your seat has seen on any given day and frequently touched areas like armrests, entertainment screens, and tray tables are often teeming with bacteria. If your immune system is in tip-top shape, they probably won't do much harm, but why take the risk? Wiping down these hotspots with antibacterial wipes before you get comfortable will reduce the chances of picking up an unwanted flight memento.
Runny nose? Spilled drink? Dodgy toilet seat? No toilet paper? Keeping something as simple as a pack of tissues in your carry-on can really save your butt in awkward situations.
Top pick: Kleenex Slim Pack Facial Tissues
You don’t have to resign yourself to flyaway hair and tangles just because you’re flying. Pack a travel brush and tame those tresses before you deplane.
Any prescription medication should go directly into your carry-on (it’s a good idea to carry a copy of your script or a letter from your doctor explaining why you need them, just in case).
You might want to bring a handful of OTC’s as well. You never know when you’ll need aspirin, antidiarrheals, motion sickness pills, or antihistamines.
Top pick: Tylenol Extra Strength Rapid Relief Gels
#10. First Aid Kit
Accidents can (and do) happen pretty much anywhere. Pack a TSA approved first aid kit filled with antiseptic swabs, band-aids, gauze pads, surgical tape, and other basics so you don’t get caught off guard
#11. Scarf or Wrap
Planes are kept cool for good reason: warm temperatures combined with high air pressure can make some people more susceptible to fainting. But knowing the facts behind the in-flight freeze is cold comfort when you're shivering in your seat. Of course, you could always use an airline blanket, but availability is about as uncertain as cleanliness. Instead of bringing a bulky blanket, pack a stylish travel wrap that you can use both on the plane and at your destination.
Top pick: HappyLuxe Travel Wrap and Blanket
#12. Notebook or Journal
Sure, you can snap pics and jot down notes with your smartphone, but let’s face it—when it comes to sentiment, electronics can’t hold a candle to a good, old-fashioned travel journal or notebook. Plus, your thoughts will never be cut short by a lost signal or dying battery.
Top pick: MaleDen Leather Travel Journal
#13. A Pen
Ever notice how there never seems to be a pen around when it's time to fill out arrival and departure cards? Forget waiting an eternity to use someone else's and just bring your own already.
Do the rest of your luggage a favor, and leave the rollerballs and fountain pens at home. Both have a tendency to malfunction when exposed to cabin pressure changes, and rollerballs may even explode in your bag. The humble ballpoint pen might not be the most sophisticated option, but it's probably the safest.
Top pick: BIC Clic Stic Retractable Ball Pen
#14. Travel Adapter
More often than not, devices are low on juice by the time you reach your hotel. Save yourself the hassle of digging through your suitcase and keep a travel adapter in your carry-on so you can power up your gadgets as soon as you arrive.
Top pick: SublimeWare Universal Power Adapter
Don't forget to pack all the chargers you'll need to keep your gadgets juiced and ready for action. If you're traveling with family, a multi-charger cord with different head types will take care of several devices at once.
Top pick: Minlu Multi-Retractable Charger Cord
#16. Cable Organizer
Tired of wrestling with tangled charging cables? A cable organizer will keep them from becoming a jumbled mess at the bottom of your carry-on. Most also provide storage for SD cards, travel adapters, and a portable charger, making it that much easier to keep track of your electronic essentials.
#17. Portable Charger
Finding a place to power up your devices when you're on the fly isn't always possible. Keeping a reliable portable charger in your carry-on will ensure that you don't fall victim to the inevitable "battery low" warning when you need your smartphone the most.
Top pick: Anker PowerCore 10000
#18. Cleansing Wipes
Cleansing wipes can help you stay fresh and feel a little more like a human being in those long hours between baths.
Top Pick: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleansing Cloths
#19. Lubricating Eye Drops
Dry cabin conditions, dehydration, and lack of sleep can all cause dry, irritated eyes. Lubricating eye drops or artificial tears will provide your eyes with some much-needed moisture.
Administer one to two drops to each eye every couple of hours. To reduce overall irritation, swap out your contacts for glasses, skip the makeup, and close your eyes as often as possible.
Top pick: TheraTears Dry Eye Therapy
#20. Ear Plugs
Airplanes can be downright noisy. Block out the sound of babies, chatter, and engine noise and enjoy some peace and quiet with a good set of earplugs.
Top pick: Mack's Ultra Soft Ear Plugs
#21. Travel Pillow
Dreading that long haul flight? Catching some Zzzz's while you're up in the clouds can help minimize the effects of jet lag, so you don't arrive at your destination looking—and feeling—like death warmed over.
Sleeping on a plane is never easy, but a good travel pillow can make a huge difference. To avoid aches and pains, look for something that will cradle your head enough to keep your neck in a neutral position. Bobbing head breaking your sleep? Chin support can help.
Top pick: trtl Plus
#22. Sleep Mask
If you're sensitive to light, this one's a no-brainer, but even if you aren't, you might still want to pack a sleep mask. Whether the lights are dimmed or not, that aircraft cabin is bound to be a whole lot brighter than your bedroom. With a sleep mask strapped over your eyes, you can retreat into a comfortable cocoon of darkness anytime you feel like it.
Top pick: Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask
Even the comfiest shoes can start to feel a little restrictive after a few hours of sitting on a plane, but cold feet can be just as unbearable. Stop doing the in-flight shoe hokey pokey and bring a lightweight pair of ballerina slippers instead. Not only are they flexible enough to be stuffed into any available nook or cranny, but they’re also stylish and super comfortable.
#24. Noise Cancelling Headphones
Listening to your favorite tracks is a great way to relax and unwind, but those overpriced airline headphones won't do much to drown out the sound of crying babies, cabin chatter, and engine noise. The solution? Bring your own noise-canceling headphones.
Top pick: Sony WH-1000XM3
Being stuck on a plane with nothing better to do than pass the time can be frustrating, uncomfortable, and exhausting—but it's also a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. Packing a book or two is always an option, but an e-reader will take up a fraction of the space and allow you to bring along your very own library.
Top pick: Kindle Paperwhite
#26. Collapsible Water Bottle
Low humidity can cause dehydration, which in turn leaves you vulnerable to dry skin, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and more. Sipping on water throughout your flight can help you stay hydrated enough to sidestep these charming symptoms, but you might want to bring your own bottle and fill it once you've passed security.
Aircraft water tanks aren't the cleanest and some have even been shown to harbor nasty bacteria like E. coli. Pack smart and save on precious carry-on real estate by using a collapsible water bottle.
Top pick: Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle
#27. Compression Socks
Packing an extra pair of warm socks is always a good idea, but if your flight is longer than four hours, do your legs a favor and opt for compression socks instead. Sitting for long stretches at a time can lead to blood pooling in the legs and feet.
This typically causes swelling and fatigue, but in some cases, it can also result in blood clots and the development of DVT (deep vein thrombosis).
Graduated compression socks actively boost circulation to help keep your veins (and legs) healthy. Word to the wise: they aren't as easy to get on as regular socks, so you might want to do this before you board.
Top pick: Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks
Some airlines still hand out complimentary snacks, but why munch on over-salted peanuts and pretzels when you can bring your own? Not only do snacks like jerky, meat sticks, and protein bars travel well, but their high protein content will also help keep your blood sugar levels stable and ward off hunger pangs.
#29. Lip Balm
Low humidity levels can leave your lips dry and cracked. Keep your kissers looking and feeling good by applying a moisturizing lip balm whenever they start to feel a little dry.
Top pick: Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm
By now, you're probably well aware of the dehydrating effects of air travel. Give your skin some love and avoid disembarking with a dull, tired complexion by smoothing a nourishing moisturizer over your face at least a couple of times during your flight.
#31. TSA Compliant Toiletry Bag
Keeping your toiletries in your carry-on makes it easy to freshen up during and after your flight. Save yourself some serious security headaches by making sure all your liquids are packaged in 3.4 oz bottles or tubes and placing them in a transparent, quart-size TSA approved toiletry bag.
Top pick: Lermende TSA Approved Toiletry Bags
Rapid pressure changes during take-off and landing increases pressure within the middle ear, leading to a painful condition known as airplane ear. Chewing gum, yawning, or sucking on a piece of candy can help relieve pressure build-up and reduce discomfort.
Top pick: Extra Peppermint Sugar Free Chewing Gum
#33. Essential Oils
Didn't see this one coming? Keeping a small bottle of your favorite essential oil in your carry-on can be surprisingly useful for a couple of reasons. First off, body odor happens to be one of the biggest flight-gripes among passengers, and if you're unlucky enough to be seated near a nervous sweater, a couple of drops on your travel pillow or blanket will save your olfactory system from a full-on BO assault. Secondly, if you're feeling anxious, stressed out, or just can't seem to fall asleep, a little aromatherapy can help you relax—just remember to be considerate of your co-passengers by taking care not to overdo it.
Feeling less-than-fresh on long flights is perfectly normal, but you don't have to smell it. Keep a travel-friendly solid antiperspirant in your carry-on and reapply as needed to beat flight funk.
#35. A Change of Clothes
Spills, body odor, or just plain stale clothing? With an extra set of clothes in your carry-on, you can spruce up before you leave the airport and still make a good first impression. Opt for something climate-appropriate so you don’t end up shivering or sweating all the way to your accommodation.
Top pick: Climate-appropriate clothes
#36. In-Flight Health Supplement
Bloating, dehydration, sluggish circulation, a compromised immune system, cosmic radiation, and jet lag... There's no getting around the fact that air travel is incredibly rough on our bodies, but that doesn't mean you can't do anything about it.
We formulated our Inflight Elixir with a blend of carefully selected natural ingredients to actively reduce the negative effects of flying. Drink one right before takeoff and enjoy another every four hours thereafter for the duration of your flight to give your body the boost it needs.
Top pick: Flightfud In-Flight Elixir
Don’t Forget These Carry-On Essentials
Everyone fills their carry-on a little differently, but when you're still relatively new to flying, it's all too easy to overpack. Given the fact that you'll be stuck on a plane for hours on end with nothing but your carry-on essentials for comfort, it's understandable—but lugging a bag full of unnecessary items won't make your travels any easier.
So how can you avoid falling into the packrat trap?
It's simple, really. Just imagine your flight and the first few days at your destination without it. If it makes you feel uncomfortable or anxious, it's probably a worthy addition. Still, thinking about it? If you can't come up with anything other than, "I might need it," well, chances are you probably don't. Save your carry-on space for something helpful or valuable.
Think we missed something important? Reach out and let us know!