Even when flying on short flights, carry-on essentials can help you stay comfortable, rested, safe, ready for emergencies, and prevent boredom.
Of course, airline “liability” is also cause for packing some items in carry-ons. If it’s valuable or breakable, airlines won’t accept liability for it in your checked luggage. If the airlines break or lose your valuable or breakable belongings, or if they’re stolen, the airlines won’t reimburse you for your loss.
Therefore, if you’re bringing camera gear, a laptop, cash, expensive medications or other valuable, expensive, or breakable items, they should definitely be packed in your carry-ons.
Here’s my list of my 15 air travel carry-on essentials for your consideration.
• Eye mask and ear plugs — If it’s a long flight you’ll likely want to sleep while aloft. Even when flight crews turn off cabin lights to facilitate sleep, there are always some who stay up with personal lights on, galley lights, and conversation for you to blot out.
• Travel blanket — It can get cold on many flights, especially long hauls. I won’t use blankets supplied by the airlines. Even the ones in the plastic bags typically have been merely refolded after prior use.
• Light weight jacket, warm-up top, or hoodie — This can be an alternative to a travel blanket to keep you warm in a cold cabin and save space in your carry-on. A hoodie is good to protect your neck.
• Travel pillow — Short haul or long, economy seats aren’t very comfortable for resting or napping. Travel pillows can make a big difference. I like the cloth covered ones you blow up as desired. They take up virtually no room when packed.
• Antibacterial wipes — These are essential for air traveler health and safety. Airplane tray tables are a hotbed of germs, for example. I also use them to clean myself as needed. The water in aircraft lavatories can’t be trusted.
• Comfortable slippers — If you’re on a long flight, there’s nothing better than taking off your shoes and replacing them with comfortable slippers. There is a caveat, however. Feet swell while aloft, and the swelling doesn’t instantly disappear when you land. If you use slippers or similar, board with shoes which can be loosened when you put them back on at the end of your flight. I wear shoes or sneaks with ties.
• Spare set of clothes — Always carry a complete spare set of clothes in your carry-ons. You might need them on the plane if something spills all over you, which has twice happened to me. If your luggage is delayed at your destination, at least you’ll have one set of clothes in which to change.
• Fingernail kit — Even for men, a broken nail can happen anytime, and can snag on anything. An emery board/nail file and nail clipper can fix that.
• Medications (prescription and non-prescription) — For those of us who take prescription medications regularly, packing them in our carry-ons is essential. It’s often far too hard and time consuming to get prescriptions filled, even if traveling domestically. You can’t chance having them lost with checked luggage. Some medications can’t be filled outside one’s own country, especially if they are “controlled substances.” Even non-prescription drugs should be in your carry-on to ensure you have them during your trip and don’t have to substitute a different medication for yours. Keep them in their original bottles.
Even if you don’t typically take important medications with you, make sure you bring something for a headache. There’s nothing worse than flying with a headache during much of your flight. I also bring eyedrops to cleanse my eyes on a long flight, as the atmosphere in aircraft cabins is very dry.
• Toilet articles — Personally, I take all my toilet articles in my carry-on each time I fly. I do it because I’ve carefully chosen each item in my kit and want no substitutes during my travels. I also don’t want to waste time in a drug store trying to replace them. For long haul flights I want my toothbrush, toothpaste etc., to refresh myself.
• Travel duct tape — Travel duct tape can fix many emergencies. I always bring two rolls in my carry-ons.
• Pen — You never know when you have to fill out a form or write something down in flight.
• Tablet — Tablets are the traveler’s “all-in-one tool.” I take mine whenever I travel. I use it often for email, research via the Internet, as well as for books, magazines, games, and videos. To me, tablets have become indispensable travel gear to be packed in your carry-on. I have Adobe PDF copies of all my travel documents and my passport (password protected) in my tablet.
• Noise canceling headset — There is nothing better than noise canceling headsets for flight use. They knock out background noise, including some conversation, and improve your pleasure listening to music and videos. Bring a set of earbuds too, in case of headset problems.
• Battery backup — Often, especially in economy, there are no power outlets to keep your tablet and other electronics going. I always keep a charged battery backup in my carry-ons that can maintain my tablet’s charge for more than twice its original time.
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. Before entering the corporate world, Ned worked as a Public Health Engineer for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.