Top 12 must have carry on essentials

Top 12 must have carry on essentials | for international / long haul flights

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Traveling overseas? Worried you might forget something really important? Want to make your trip as comfortable as possible? After many years travelling, I’ve perfected the 12 must have carry on essentials for your international flight. Learn what these are, AND why they’re important. Then print out the checklist to ensure you have the 12 essentials at hand in your carry on next time you travel.

Let’s face it, the saying ‘ the journey is the destination’ really doesn’t apply to long haul flights! It’s called long haul, because it feels like a long haul. But having these 12 must haves in your carry on will help make your trip as comfortable as possible.

The carry on bag

When I travel on longer flights, I always have two bags with me – a backpack ‘handbag’ and my carry on suitcase.  This list is the 12 essentials you need in your backpack. 

Top 12 Must have carry on essentials

First off – yes, my handbag is a backpack on longer flights.  On long flights I always have a carry on suitcase, AND my backpack handbag.  I find a backpack the best option for two reasons.  Firstly, it means I can be hands free to deal with my suitcase, and anything else I need to deal with.  Trust me, it makes a huge difference.  Secondly, if I’m going to be out and about shopping at my destination (which I often do), then it’s great to have a larger bag to carry my purchases in, and I find it so much more comfortable on my back (especially when the shopping gets heavy!!).

When looking for a backpack that works, I find it important that it has side pockets that will hold a water bottle – you don’t want to risk having one leak in with your other bits and pieces, and easy access means you’ll use it more. Here’s a great option if you need one.

On the plane

My backpack sits under the seat in front of me, so is accessible throughout the flight.  There’s nothing worse than needing to get something out of the suitcase that’s in an overhead locker, while everyone’s sleeping and the plane’s lighting is dimmed (especially if you’re not in an aisle seat!).

This list of 12 must have your carry on essentials has been fine tuned through years of international travel.  First as a kid off on my O.E. at the tender age of 16, then through trips back and forth with babies / toddlers / kids from the US to New Zealand and back, and then lately, as I’ve tripped around Europe, Asia and America. 

Each of these are absolute essentials that I won’t leave without in my bag.

The Top 12 Must Have Carry On Essentials list;

1. Passport & Drivers License

Self explanatory right, but it is important it’s ticked off on your packing list, and in that bag.

2. Wallet with credit card, cash and/or overseas cash card

It’s important to have money wherever you’re heading. Having the right form of payment will make life in your destination so much simpler, and perhaps save you a little bit also. (I’ll have a post coming that talks about the best way to prepare for foreign currencies.)

3. Refillable water bottle – empty

Carrying a water bottle is second sense for most of us.  Water is the best way to hydrate, and using a refillable bottle just makes the best sense for our environment.  It needs to be EMPTY as you head through security / departure inspections. 

Once you’re through security, you’re free to fill it up. Many airports have places you can fill your bottle once you’re through into the secure departure area.  Find and fill it up before you get on the plane, then you’re not having to wait to be served on the flight.

(The double walled drink bottles are my favourite, as they keep water cool for up to 48 hours. They also have a wide opening, so you can add ice in if you want it extra cold. And they can also be used for hot drinks.)

4. Phone / charger / headphones

Most of us have our lives on our phones these days,  so carrying it on you is essential.  I use flight times to listen to podcasts (download them before you travel), and sort and delete photos.   If you do use your phone during your flight, you’ll want to have it fully charged and ready for when you land, so make sure you add in your charging cable.  And you’ll need your headphones to listen quietly to your podcasts or music.

5. Lip Balm

Flights are very drying on your skin and lips, I simply can’t do without a lip balm. (Make sure it meets regulations as below*)

If you need one, I highly recommend the Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream nourishing lip balm. You may pay a little more for it than other lip creams, but it is oh so worth it. At the risk of sounding a little weird, I cannot sleep well without this on my lips. It’s true! I use this EVERY night, and after a couple of years, am only just now on my second tube. (Although to be fair, I have a couple of tubes, one permanently in my travel bag, so I don’t forget it.)

6. Socks

The first thing I do when I sit down in my seat, is take off whatever shoes I’m wearing, and pop on a pair of socks.   You’ve got to have warm comfy feet when you settle down for a long sitting.

7. Scarf

A scarf is such a versatile piece of wardrobe.  The temperature on planes seems to vary widely, and a scarf can be decorative, or double as a blanket or wrap.  (Or cover up a spill!)  If I’m travelling to a warm climate, I’ll pack a cotton scarf.  Then I’ve got a great accessory for in country wear as well.  And if I’m travelling to a cooler climate, it’s a woollen scarf that goes in.

If you run out of room in your bag, just pop your scarf on.

12 Must Have Carry On Essentials

8. Hand sanitiser

I’m certainly no germo phob, but airports and planes seem to breed germs, so this is a good place to take a little extra care. (Make sure it meets regulations as below*)

9. Eye mask

I’ve only recently started using an eye mask, but am now a firm believer in the benefit of using one.  If you’re wanting to have a nap / sleep, an eye mask really will help. 

(An eye mask that is contoured is more comfortable than one that isn’t.)

(You may wonder why I haven’t also included info here on neck rests – it’s because I’ve tried a few, and really can’t recommend one as particularly helpful). 

10. Snacks

It’s always a good idea to have a few snacks on hand, especially if you have special dietary needs.   I’ve had several instances where I’ve been stuck on a plane at a gate for h o u r s.  This happened once before we took off on a 12 hour journey – the flight actually ran out of food before the end, because they’d had to serve food while we waited on the tarmac.    I like to take a mix of nuts, chocolate (of course), a muesli bar, and gum.

11. A pen

Most international destinations will require you to fill in some kind of documentation before landing. It’s always handy to have your own pen to do this.

12. Toothbrush & paste

There’s nothing like brushing your teeth to freshen you up before you land. Make sure your toothpaste meets check in regulations*.

*Be prepared for departure checks

Most (if not all) international airports will require you to go through a pre-flight security check. Generally, any liquids, gels, aerosols, or pastes will need to be together in one clear, plastic resealable bag. These items cannot exceed 100ml (3.4oz) individually.

However, as individual countries may have their own restrictions, it’s always worth checking local information before you leave.


Free Carry On Bag Checklist

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  1. These are great tips! I’m with you on the lip balm, I can’t fly without it! My lips just get so dry and sore on flights! Thanks for the great guide!

  2. This is such a great and helpful guide! I always make a list of things I need, because it’s so easy to forget little things. I love the idea of bringing an eye mask, so I may invest in one for future trips! 🙂

  3. Ooooh how I love a checklist! And it is amazing just how warm a scarf can be on a cold plane. Thanks for the list!

  4. These are great! I never travel anywhere without my shawl scarf and chapstick now. I also have to have moisturizer because my skin gets so dry. Everyone should pack these items!

  5. This is great for when I travel again! Always ready to add more carry on essentials to my list.

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