10 Smart Things to Pack in Your Carry-On (And One Not To)
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 Filtering System
Airplanes are dry, and those little water bottles you get on the plane 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. Daily Medications
When packing 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 in your email inbox.
4. Any Documents You’ll Need Throughout 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 such as the ballet or sports), 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. Any Valuables
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.
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—but bring a magazine for take-off and landing, when all electronics must be stowed under the seat in front of you.
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
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 the blistering winter? 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
The small bag of pretzels and a can of soda handed to you by a friendly flight attendant doesn’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 Not To Pack: Your 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 one of your allotted two free bags, 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 2021.