Packing can be one of the most stressful parts of traveling. Especially it comes to your carry on.
Packing can feel like a jigsaw puzzle. Whether you’re going on a weekend getaway, a month long backpacking trip, a business trip, or visiting home, there are different things you need to pack for each journey. And while we all dream of being minimalist packers, more often then not we tend to overpack. That’s because most of us have no idea what to pack in a carry on bag.
So many questions buzz through our heads when we begin packing our carry on bags. Will I need that extra sweater? How many snacks should I pack? Does this mouthwash abide by the TSA’s rules? So if you’re like us and often stress over what to pack in a carry on bag, you’re in luck. We’re here to go over the do’s and don’t of packing your carry on.
Planning ahead by strategically packing these items in your carry-on bag will lead to a stress-free flight.
What to look for in a carry on bag
Before we discuss what to pack in a carry on, you need to know what kind of luggage to look for. Not all carry on bags are made the same. And not all carry ons are practical for minimalist packing.
So before you purchase your next carry on bag, make sure the luggage checks off these requirements:
Is your carry on light enough to lift into the airplane’s overhead compartment? If you struggle to raise your carry on luggage over your head, it’s probably not the right bag for you. A heavy carry on puts you at risk of having to gate check the bag. Plus, pulling less weight makes it easier to maneuver your way through an airport. And besides, we’re trying to be minimalist packers, here. We want our packs to be as light as they can be to make our travels easier.
Carry on bags with wheels are much easy to pull behind you. If you prefer not to use a rolling bag, choose a tote, duffel or day pack with comfortable straps. However, we recommend getting a bag that can do both. Many carry on bags are versatile enough to be able to wheel behind you and carry on your shoulder. But keep in mine that maneuverability is all about preference. So do some research and find the right style you find easiest to travel around with.
This is one of the most crucial aspects to keep in mind when picking out your carry on bag. It will heavily influence your decisions on what to pack in a carry on! Airlines have dimension regulations on how large a bag can be to qualify as carry on luggage. The carry on must be small enough to fit into the overhead storage department or underneath the seat in front of yours. So to make sure your bag fits the airport’s size regulations, check your airline’s website before you start packing. Because if your carry on bag is too large, you will be asked to check it and pay fees.
Do your research, plan ahead, and make sure your carry on is up to the airline’s standards.
If you purchase carry on luggage, you want to make sure the bags will last you for some time. Therefore make sure that your carry on bags are extremely durable and long lasting. However, durability can often contradict with light weight luggage. Many light weight bags are made of soft quilted fabric to make them easier to lift. However, this fabric is not as sturdy as other types of bags. We also recommend getting a durable bag with a firm exterior to protect any valuables that might be inside.
Don’t forget to pack your carry on essentials!
Now that we have gone over what qualities to look for in carry on luggage, it’s time to discuss what to pack in a carry on bag. And we’re going to start off with carry on essentials. Some of these will apply to everyone. But some of these items you may be able to go without. Again, at the end of the day it is up your decision what to pack in a carry on. But we have a feeling you’ll be referring back to this list when you’re stressing over what to pack for your next trip.
1. Travel Documents
When debating what to pack in a carry on bag, the first item on your list should absolutely be travel documents. This includes your passport (if you are traveling internationally), a copy of your passport, travel visas, airline tickets, itineraries, travel vouchers, a boarding pass, and anything else you may need that is related to your journey. Never, ever pack your travel documents in your checked bag. There is nothing worse than finally getting to the front of a long security line and realizing that you packed your boarding pass in your checked suitcase.
If you are traveling abroad, it is also a good idea to make a copy of all your important travel documents to leave with a friend or family member back home. That way you have the security of knowing that somebody knows where you will be at all times. That is if you stick to your itinerary, of course! But when you’re traveling, all bets are off.
This is something that people often forget when making lists of what to pack in a carry on. But if you have prescriptions that you cannot go a day without, this is one of the most important things to bring on the airplane with you. Keep in mind that you should always pack your prescription medications in their original containers. Never pack prescriptions in pill organizers. And place both prescription medications and any over the counter medications you may have in your carry on. As with your travel documents, never pack prescriptions medications in your checked luggage.
To protect your prescriptions and over the counter medications from spilling all over the bottom of your carry on luggage, consider putting them all in one giant ziploc bag. Not only will this keep your prescriptions contained in case of a spill, but it will also make it easier for TSA workers to view your medications if they need to remove items from your bag at security.
Valuables include jewelry, camera, laptops, cell phones, GPS units, watches, kindles, etc. Really, a valuable item is anything that you don’t want to lose. And while airlines are typically reliable about getting checked luggage back to you, sometimes luggage does get lost. So always err on the safe side and pack all valuables inside your carry on luggage. If I am bringing valuable jewelry with me on a trip, I wear it on the plane so I can feel it with me at all times.
On that note: always make sure to keep your carry on luggage in sight. Partially because this is an airport rule. But you also never know who you are flying with or sitting near in airports. The last thing you want to happen is have your laptop swiped from your bag right before you board a plane for a business trip. Be careful with your belongings and you will easily be able to avoid this problem.
Chargers can also constitute as valuables, considering how expensive they are to replace. If you depend on electronics when you travel, you’re going to want to brings your chargers when considering what to pack in your carry on. This includes chargers for your cell phone, camera, laptop, and any other electronic you bring.
Also be sure to bring along any extra accessories you may need for your electronics. For example, headphones. Trust me. You don’t want to be the person at the airport streaming Netflix on your phone without headphones on.
If you have a checked bag in addition to your carry on luggage, then you have likely have plenty of toiletries. Regardless, there are a few toiletry items that are really nice to have in your carry on. This includes a toothbrush (preferably travel sized,) tooth paste, deodorant, mouthwash, and hand sanitizer. However, if your carry on bag is the only luggage you are bringing, you may want to pack shampoo, conditions, shaving cream, body wash, liquid makeup, etc. into your carry on, as well.
But keep in mind that there are more things to consider than what to pack in a carry on bag. You also need to make sure that your toiletries and other liquids follow TSA guidelines. TSA rules state that a container of liquid can be no larger than 3.4 ounces (100 mL).
Also keep in mind that you can only bring one quart-sized bag of liquids with you in your carry on. So when listing out what to pack in a carry on but don’t have much space left in your quart-sized bag, you may have to end up leaving that shaving cream behind.
6. Extra Clothes
Worst case scenario, your bags get lost. But luckily you planned for this and brought an extra pair of clothes with you in your carry on bag! If you have never practiced minimalist travel before, now is your chance. The extra clothes you pack in your carry on luggage should not take up too much space. At a minimum, you should bring an extra pair of underwear and socks. But if you have the space to fit in a complete second outfit, go for it. Trust me, it’s better than having to opt to purchasing clothes at an airport souvenir shop.
When asking yourself what to pack in a carry on bag, be sure to add eyeglasses to your list of things to bring. Even if you wear contacts, bring your glasses along. For starters, contacts can fall out or dry out. And unless you have another contact lens with you, you’re going to be screwed. In general, though, it is better to back your eyeglasses in your carry on luggage than in your checked bags.
Checked bags spend their time being thrown around together in cargo. Therefore it’s very easy for things inside of them to break. Consider you eyeglasses to be valuables and bring them in your purse or carry on. And if you are sensitive to bright sunlight, be sure to pack your sunglasses, as well.
8. Food and Snacks
Airport food is expensive. And it’s usually not very good. So while going through what to pack in a carry on bag, make sure to bring some food along on your journey. If you are going to be flying for hours with a few layovers, it doesn’t hurt to pack a small meal or two. At the very least, pack yourself a few snacks to tide yourself over until you can eat a proper meal. This is an even better idea for travelers with food allergies and sensitivities.
9. Disinfectant Wipes
Hundreds of people fly on the same plane you are flying on every single day. That’s a whole lot of germs to take in once you’re on the plane. It’s already easy enough to get sick when you travel. So take extra precautions by wiping down your area of the plane with disinfectant wipes. It can be stressful to determine what to pack in a carry on bag. But disinfectant wipes should always be one of the first things you pack.
10. Water Bottle
Be sure to bring a reusable water bottle with you every time you travel! You can’t bring any liquid through security, so there’s no point in bringing a plastic water bottle with you. And science says it is not a good idea to refill plastic water bottles. So instead, opt to bring along a reusable water bottle that you can fill at a water fountain once you are past security.
The human body loses a good bit of water during flights. So do your best to avoid travel dehydration by bringing along your water bottle.
What can I pack in my carry on luggage?
Now that we’ve gone over what to pack in a carry on bag, let’s talk about what you’re allowed to pack. It can be difficult to keep up with all of the TSA regulations on what can and can’t be in your carry on luggage.
To help avoid any further confusion, let’s go over some do’s and don’t on what to pack in a carry on bag. Here are a few frequently asked questions on TSA regulations:
1. How much liquid can you take on a plane?
The liquids restrictions have been in place by the TSA for years. And yet there is still a lot of confusion on what those restrictions are. As you already know, you can bring liquids in containers of 3.4 ounces (100ml) or less in carry on luggage. Additionally, all containers must fit in a one quart (about one liter) clear zip-top bag. Keep in mind that a 5 ounce container will NOT be allowed in a carry on bag even if it only holds 3.4 ounces of liquid.
There are several items – including food items – that count as liquid that people often overlook. This includes peanut butter, liquid make up, some canned foods, snow globes, and more.
But there is a small exception to this rule. You CAN bring a water bottle onto an airplane that hold more than 3.4 ounces of liquid. However, you must first bring it through security, and make sure it is COMPLETELY empty when you do so. Hence our recommendation to pack a reusable water bottle in your carry on luggage!
2. Can you bring a razor through security?
Razors can cause a lot of confusion when figuring out what to pack in a carry on bag. They are certainly allowed in any checked luggage. However because razor blades are sharp objects, people usually assume that they are not allowed in carry on luggage.
However, some razor blades are! TSA rules state that straight razors and blades for safety razors are no permitted in carry on luggage. However, disposable razors and electric razors are allowed in your carry ons.
3. Can you pack food in your carry on?
A lot of travelers are unsure about packing food in their carry ons, as well. In short: yes, you can pack food in your carry on. However, all food must still meet liquid restrictions and put in a quart-sized ziploc bag if need be.
Strangely enough, frozen foods and beverages are allowed to be packed in your carry on. But they must be completely frozen when you go through the TSA security check.
4. Can you pack alcohol in your carry on?
This is one of those carry on rules that people have tried to break in the past. Again, alcohol is considered a liquid. So if you bring any small bottles of alcohol through security, they must be less than 3.4 ounces and fit inside your quart-sized clear ziploc bag. However, all liquids – including alcohol – that you buy after clearing the security are welcome on the plane.
But travelers, be forewarned: FAA regulations state that “No persons may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage.” So if you are trying to be sneaky by bringing you own alocohol on board to mix with you club soda, think again.
5. Can you bring a lighter on the airplane?
TSA regulations state that yes, you can bring a lighter in your carry on. However usually only one lighter is allowed in carry on luggage. Additionally, it is worth noting that lighters of any kind are only allowed to be packed in checked luggage if they have no fuel in them. Which brings us to another popular question…
6. Can you pack e-cigarettes or vaping devices in your carry on?
Yes. E-cigarettes and/or vaping devices are allowed on an airplane. In fact, you probably didn’t know that TSA regulations requires travelers to pack such devices in their carry on luggage. But again, if you are planning on bringing necessary liquid for these devices, then it must also fit within TSA liquid regulations.
Bring things that make you feel comfortable
At the end of the day, no one can decide what to pack in a carry on bag but yourself. Maybe you don’t need toiletries or electronics when you fly. And that’s perfectly okay. But if you decide to disregard everything on this list, do us a favor and make sure you do one thing: make yourself comfortable for your trip.
And this doesn’t require you to do any packing at all! But there are a few things that you can bring that will really make a difference on your flight. For example, a sweatshirt. Unless you’re at a window seat with the sun blazing on you, airplanes tend to get a little chilly. So do yourself a favor and bring along a sweatshirt or sweater. But don’t put it in your carry on, as this will just take up extra space. If you don’t wear the sweatshirt, it can make for a nice pillow.
Speaking of which… neck pillows are great investments if you are a frequent traveler. No one likes sleeping on an airplane, but comfort items like sweaters and neck pillows make it so much easier.
Now that you know what to pack in a carry on you will never have to stress about packing again!
Okay, maybe you will still stress out just a little bit about packing. But that’s a pretty unavoidable part of traveling. Either way, hopefully this list gives you a better idea on what to pack in a carry on. Keep in mind that this list is best applicable to travelers who also check a piece of luggage or two. Your packing style will end up being a little different if you try to make your carry on the only bit of luggage you bring, especially if you’re heading out on a long trip.
What packing tips do you have when debating what to pack in a carry on? Leave us a comment and let us know!
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