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Carry-On Essentials: 10 Things to Pack For Your Next Vacation

viv the wanderer carry on essentials

Updated: June 6th, 2022

Please note: This post contains affiliate links.

I don’t think there could be a better time to write this article than now, as I’m packing my carry-on essentials for my Toronto trip in two days. From the many trips I’ve taken – whether that’s business trips where I return the same day, or a ten-day trip to Europe – I’ve learned what to bring in my carry-on to make my flight as comfortable as possible and what only adds weight to my luggage. So let’s dive right in to my top 10 carry-on essentials!

1. iPad / Tablet

ipad hand luggage essentials
Photo by Element5 Digital on

I never ever leave for a trip without my iPad in my carry-on. It’s usually the first things I charge the night before my flight, and I make sure to download everything I’ll need while I’m packing. I use the iPad for everything you can imagine – reading, games, “streaming” and in-flight entertainment.

If you’re looking to read with your iPad, you’ll want to download the Kindle app or your local library’s ebook app (i.e. Libby, OverDrive), and store a book or two on there to read on the plane.

iPads are also great for games. Just make sure the games you have don’t require the internet. Sudoku is always guaranteed to keep your brain active.

One of the things I use my iPad for on the plane is offline Netflix content. Downloadable content is one of the best features Netflix has come out with and I simply don’t know what I would do without it!

Lastly, iPads are great for in-flight entertainment. Airlines like United now offer movies and TV shows for streaming as long as you download their app beforehand. I recommend doing this at home since the internet connection at the airport can be finicky.

I have the iPad 4 which I think is the perfect size. But if you want a larger screen or perhaps a tablet that doubles as a laptop, you can consider the iPad Pro. Of course, the iPad Pro is nearly triple the price of the iPad 4 so that’s something to consider!

2. Portable Battery Pack

carry-on essentials away suitcase
Savannah Airport

My Away suitcase comes with a detachable battery pack which I love and have used on long layovers! However, I often find myself wanting a lighter portable battery pack especially now that I’ve moved to New York and are out and about for a whole day at a time.

With a search on Amazon, you’ll find plenty of good options.

The Anker Standard Capacity Portable Charger looks sleek and its 10000 mAh battery capacity can fully charge an iPhone X 2.6 times. The Miady Portable Charge is pretty on par. It also has 10k more reviews and is $5 cheaper. Plus, there’s interesting colors to choose from such as bright yellow and pink.

Both Anker and Miady also carry Mini Portable Chargers and I’ll link those products here and here. I’ll likely purchase one of these for my day trips in New York City and for shorter flights. I think the standard capacity charger attached to my Away suitcase will still come in handy for long flights and layovers though.

3. Travel Pillow

A travel pillow can be nice carry-on essential for international flights or flights with long layovers. I’m a huge fan of everything the Japanese retailer MUJI carries, and have been using MUJI’s travel pillow for many years.

Pay attention to how much the travel pillow weighs. The lighter it is the better, but without sacrificing comfort. You should also look for a travel pillow that can hook around the handlebar of your suitcase or your neck easily. The pillow I have buckles so I can put it around the handlebar of my suitcase when I don’t want to carry it in my hand.

4. A Jacket and Socks

It gets cold at 10,000+ feet elevation! Bring a comfy and warm sock with you so you can wear it on the plane.

Even if your destination is the desert, you’re gonna want something warm to wear on the plane. Here are a few of my favorite go-to jackets for the plane that are both comfortable and just the right amount of warm:

uniqlo jacket carry-on essentials
Viv in the UNIQLO Fluffy Yarn Fleece Jacket
  1. UNIQLO Fluffy Yarn Fleece Full-Zip Jacket
  2. ARITZIA Wilfred Free Unwind Cardigan
  3. KUT FROM THE KLOTH Faux Suede Moto Jacket

5. Noise-Cancelling Headphones

bose headphones for travel
Viv wearing the BOSE Noise Cancelling Headphones

The inside of an airplane can be so loud. Ever since my partner got me a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, my plane rides have been soooo much more enjoyable. The key here is that it has to be noise-cancelling. Comfort is also a good characteristic to look for.

Some headphones that achieve both:

  1. BOSE Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 – Over-Ear
  2. SONY WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Headphones
  3. Apple Airpod Pros

6. An Insulated Water Bottle

carry on must have water bottle
Photo by Luis Quintero on

I love love love my 24oz Hydro Flask. I not only use it for plane rides, I also use it for work, on hikes and for trips to the beach.

A few things that make the hydro flask a carry-on essential:

  • It fits into the side of my backpack
  • The handle on top makes it easy to carry on its own
  • My water stays cool or hot for most of the day
  • It’s suuuper easy to clean

The Swell water bottle is also a good option and looks super cute. The only downside of the Swell for me is that it doesn’t have a top handle for me to carry the bottle on its own. And yes, I did drop my Swell water bottle many times as a result. It’s could be a good option if you’re not clumsy like me 😛

7. Toothbrush and Toothpaste

set of natural wooden toothbrushes in white holder
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

This is a carry-on essential for me during international flights and when I used to take day trips for work.

The last thing you want is a smelly breath after a taxing flight. So bring a toothbrush and mini toothpaste with you in a Ziploc bag. You won’t even notice the extra weight. Plus, better be safe than sorry!

8. Makeup Removing Wipes

If you wear makeup, you must know the feeling of a smudged eyeliner and a sticky face at the end of a long day. That’s how you’ll likely feel if you don’t pack a few makeup removing wipes in your carry-on.

Makeup removing wipes are ESPECIALLY clutch when I fly red-eye from New York to California. If you’re looking for a good makeup removing wipe that’s still affordable, I recommend these makeup removing wipes from Neutrogena.

9. Makeup Bag

assorted cosmetic products
Photo by Emma Bauso on

On a similar vein, if you want to achieve a woke-up-like-this look right after your flight, pack your makeup in a small pouch and bring it in your carry-on bag.

10. One Change of Clothes

black and green luggage bag on brown carpet
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on

This last one doesn’t always make it into my carry-on, but it can be nice to have, once again, for long flights and/or flights with multiple layovers.

Having a change of clothes in your carry-on bag means you’ll be able to look fresh after your plane ride. You’ll be able to freshen up at the airport and don’t need to wait an extra second to meet up with friends right after you land.

In the worst case that you lose your checked in baggage, you’ll also have a change of clothes to hold you over for at least one day. Hopefully this never happens to you though!!

The biggest downside of having a change of clothes in your carry-on is that it takes up space. This is the main reason I have it as an optional item.

Carry-On Essentials That May Just Change Your Life

When I remember to pack all of my carry-on essentials, I feel extra assured that I’ll have a comfortable flight to my destination. What are your carry-on essentials? Are there any other ones you would add to this list?

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