Don’t Lose It! What to Bring in Your Carry On Bag

Travel leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

Ibn Battuta

Ever check your luggage only to find out the airport lost it or it gets to you days later? I think this has happened to all us at some point. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, well the travel gods are smiling down upon you or are just biding their time, waiting for the perfect opportunity.

After two disastrous trips where my luggage was lost and I had to buy new toiletries and wash my underwear daily I learned a valuable lesson about what to pack in a carry on bag. So you never have to experience the true joy of waiting for your undies to dry in a hostel room or contemplate what objects could substitute as a toothbrush at 10PM when every store is closed, I am writing this for you.

I even made a downloadable version to make packing even easier.

Should I Even Bother With a Carry On?

Yes. So much yes. While it is more to carry, remember, and store it’s also your only backup option if your checked bag is lost. When it comes to travel, the more prepared you are, the better time you will have. Packing a carry-on back takes 5 minutes and can easily fit in your checked bag when you’re not using it. You can even use it as a day bag for when you’re on the go!

Pro Tip: Opt for a carry-on bag that doesn’t have the hard casing. While the hardshell bags can prevent damage to your more fragile items, it’s more likely that they will be checked at the gate. The past 3 times I’ve traveled I used a typical hardshell bag for a carry on. It was checked every single time. My boyfriend used a small backpack that could be squished to occupy less space. His bag was bigger than mine, but he never had to check it at the gate.

What Items Should I Pack?

Carry-on luggage should be your emergency backup plan, entertainment, and the essentials all rolled into one bag. Without overpacking, here’s what you absolutely must have in your bag:

  • Passport and IDs — With the exception of when you’re in the shower, your passport and ID should be glued to you at all times. You don’t want to risk it being lost or stolen, so it’s best to keep it in your carry on or personal bag.
  • Medicine and Medications — Ibuprofen, neosporin, and other over-the-counter medicines are sometimes essential when you travel. If your bag is lost you’ll definitely need it for the headache that will ensue. However, any medications you take daily or rely on to maintain your health, like an inhaler, are crucial and should be kept close.
  • Toiletries — You know that slightly grimy feeling you get after traveling all day? No one wants travel breath and to stink up a room with your self-made funky odor. Keep a bag of toiletries stocked with the essentials in your carry on. I always pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouth wash, face wash, baby wipes, contact solution and a case, and deodorant. If you’re stuck without a checked bag, you will want to be able to freshen up.
  • Electronics and Chargers — Let’s face it, we all have our phones with us no matter what, but what about your other electronics? E-readers, cameras, iPads, computers, etc should also end up in our carry on bags. I always cushion mine with a jacket or my change of clothes to keep them safe. If you’ve ever watched your bags get loaded and unloaded from a plane, your valuable (and fragile) electronics are safer with you.
  • Change of Clothes and Shoes — Want to wear your plane/travel outfit on your first few days of your vacation? No? Always bring an extra pair of everything. If your bag with clothes is lost, you’ll at least have a fresh outfit and shoes to change into. I like to wear my bulkier items on the plane and bring a cuter outfit as an option to make sure I’m as prepared as possible.
  • Money — As a rule of thumb, I like to bring a credit card, debit card, cash in U.S. dollars, and cash in the currency of my destination. I keep most of it in my wallet in my personal item. The rest I hide in different places because I’ve had things stolen before. I like to compartmentalize items and spread valuables apart to ensure I have at least something if one piece is stolen or lost.
  • Hotel Information and Itinerary — Raise your hand if you memorize your itinerary, hotel address, contact information, and ticket dates/times and then remember all of it after a flight? Anyone? Bueller? I make two copies of everything. One for my checked bag and one for my carry on. I also put all of the information in my notes app on my phone so I can access the information even if I don’t have service.
  • Entertainment Items — “I’m bored on the plane, and I’m on the plane bored.” Sitting in a flying cylinder with nothing to see but clouds while listening to snoring people doesn’t make the most interesting entertainment for hours. Books, puzzle games, movies, TV shows, or headphones make flying much more relaxing and makes the time sitting speed by. Bring a variety of small options to keep yourself from getting cabin fever.
  • Empty Water Bottle — Now that we can’t take filled water bottles through security, airports want us to by water at 10x the average price. Bring a reusable water bottle, but keep it empty until you get through security. Then, fill it up in the water fountain in the terminal for free. You’ll save money and stay hydrated on your flight.

Which items do you always pack in your carry on? Did I miss one you always bring and couldn’t live without? Let me know in the comments below!

Published by Emma Browning

Hey everyone, my name is Emma Browning. Thanks for stopping by. I like to think of myself as a modern day renaissance woman since I basically do a little bit of everything. Here's a few of my jobs/hobbies in case you're curious: Group Fitness Instructor (Zumba, BodyStep and BodyPump), small business owner (string art& travel photography), archaeologist/anthropologist, actress, SCUBA dive master, reading addict, dog mom, cellist, and of course travel enthusiast. I've traveled to over 21 countries and speak French fluently and am learning Spanish. Traveling is one of my all time favorite things to do whether it be a day trip with my dog or a massive international adventure. I created this blog to help others see the world vicariously through my wanderings and also to give useful tips and essential information that will hopefully inspire more people to travel. Hopefully you have as much fun reading these posts and get a lot of useful information from them!

3 thoughts on “Don’t Lose It! What to Bring in Your Carry On Bag

  1. I tried to use my collapsible silicone cup on our recent flight from CA to MN. I wanted to avoid the disposable cup they give you your drink in. They refused, citing COVID (minimizing shared touch surfaces), but the flight attendant admitted she didn’t like touching passengers’ personal things anyway, so who knows if it was really COVID.

    1. When I went to NM the flight attendants said they couldn’t refill personal cups. I had already filled my water bottle up before I boarded so I lucked out with that. How do you like the collapsible cup? I’m nervous it will collapse with water in it.

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