10 Smart Things to Pack in Your Carry-On (And One Not To)

Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank via Getty Images

Packing for a vacation, business trip, or mandatory family visit can seem like solving a jigsaw puzzle. How do you bring everything you need and still abide by the TSA’s rules? Plus, accidents happen, people lose things, stuff can get stolen—and airport purchases are expensive. Plan ahead by strategically packing these items in your carry-on luggage for happier travels.

1. Collapsible Water Bottle with a Filter

Airplanes are dry, and those little bottles of water you get on the plane (if you‘re lucky) aren’t enough to keep you hydrated throughout the flight. A collapsible water bottle with a filter can be filled with tap water after going through security. And even when filled, they take up less room than a normal reusable bottle.

2. Your Medications

different colored pills on a black background
Medications should go in your carry-on. / Nathan Griffith/The Image Bank/Getty Images

If you pack your medications in your checked luggage, you not only run the risk of it being stolen, but, should your luggage get lost, you‘ll also find it’s nearly impossible to get a refill far from home. In addition to your prescription meds, pack any over-the-counter medications you might want during your flight in your carry-on.

3. Phone Charger

No matter how great your phone’s battery life is, don’t assume it’s going to have enough juice to get you to your hotel. Keep your charger with you in case your phone needs a quick boost, especially if all the information you need to get from point A to point B is saved on it.

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4. Documents You’ll Need During the Trip

Of course, keep your wallet, passport, and flight tickets out of your suitcase. Also, if you have physical tickets (for train trips or events), an invitation with an address on it, or any other papers with no digital counterpart, pack those in your carry-on. And it‘s a smart idea to print out tickets, directions, and itineraries that you’ve stored on your phone just in case.

5. Valuable Items

A person packing a suitcase with headphones, a hat, a camera, and a laptop.
Make sure any valuables end up in your carry-on. / Carlos Barquero/Moment/Spain

Airlines and airports are doing more to stop luggage theft, but incidents do still happen. Keep your camera, jewelry, computer, and other luxury or expensive items with you at all times. Even articles of clothing have been stolen out of suitcases, so assume that if you splurged on it, it belongs in your carry-on.

6. Entertainment for Your Flight

Unless looking out the window is enough to keep you occupied throughout the flight, bring a book, magazine, game, or other source of amusement. But stay away from the giant hardcovers that will weigh you down; opt instead to stock your e-reader or audiobook library.

7. A Change of Underwear

Keep a change of underwear with you in case your luggage gets lost or you want to freshen up post-flight.

8. Toothbrush, Toothpaste, and Facial Wipes

Two toothbrushes on a white background.
Keep your toothbrush and other toiletries in your carry-on. / Jennifer A Smith/Moment/Getty Images

Give your final destination a good first impression by brushing your teeth and washing your face before leaving the airport. Keeping a small selection of toiletries in your carry-on prevents you from having to rummage through your suitcase in public.

9. Location-Appropriate Clothes

Heading to the tropics to escape cold winter temps? Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag to accommodate the new climate. You don’t want to start your vacation off with heat stroke!

10. A Satisfying Snack

Nuts and dried fruit in a jar.
Make sure to pack snacks in your carry-on. / Westend61/Getty Images

The small bag of pretzels and can of soda handed to you by a friendly flight attendant don’t always cut it, so pack your own lunch or snack. As long as it’s wrapped and a non-liquid, it can go through security. Plus, it’s certainly a cheaper alternative to buying a pre-made sandwich at the airport.

And One Thing to Not Pack: A Sweatshirt

Airplane cabins are notoriously chilly, so be sure to bring along a cozy sweatshirt or lightweight jacket (and socks!) for your trip—but don’t pack it in your carry-on. Airlines don’t count sweatshirts and jackets as a carry-on item, so drape them over your arm to save precious real estate in your pack.

A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2022.