Top 15 Things to Pack in Your Carry-On Bag


Carry-On bag. Hand Luggage. Cabin Baggage. Whatever you call it, losing your luggage just once really gets you thinking about how to pack your carry-on bag so that you aren’t totally screwed when you arrive at your destination. It also makes you realize how little you can travel with and be okay. And it will forever change the way you organize your things when traveling – when that possibility of the airline losing your bag becomes a reality!  You know, so that you don’t get stuck in Barcelona and London for over a week without your suitcase and have to buy all new clothes. Speaking from experience here.

luggage carry-on vintageOf course, the list varies depending on the season. Since we’ve just entered springtime, I thought the most useful list to start with is the Spring edition.  Without further ado – here are my

Top 15 Things to PACK in Your Carry-on Bag: Spring Edition:

Empty Suitcase

Pro-Tip: Start with a good carry-on bag. I love my hard-sided, 4-way wheeling bag from Ricardo.

1. A Comfortable Pair of Dress(y) Shoes

You don’t want to be stuck without your luggage and have to wear your airplane shoes (which are usually not fancy, let’s be honest) to a nice dinner out. But, I have a confession. I hate wearing high heels, but I can’t help but buy them. Except I never want to wear them and they hurt my feet way too much. So, I know for a fact that I won’t wear them if I go somewhere on vacation, especially if I’ll be walking a lot or walking on cobblestones. Instead,I leave them at home and instead opt for practical (but cute) flats. My current obsession is the Crocs (Wait, hear me out!) Rio flat. It’s comfortable, flexible and does not look like a typical shoe made by Crocs. I wear the black ones to work daily and folks are shocked when I tell them that they’re Crocs. You can dress them up or down, so they’re also great for roaming the streets during the day with jeans.

My husband has a great pair of black Hush Puppies that look great but don’t pinch. While they take up a lot of room in his bag, they are worth toting around in the carry-on bag in case his big bag winds up in Chicago and we’re in Boston – with dinner plans that don’t involve a hot dog at Fenway.

2. For A Woman, Basic Makeup. For A Man, Hair Stuff or Shave Kit

Maybe it’s more important for a woman, but it can be hard to replace a full cosmetic bag in a pinch. Plus, makeup can get really expensive, especially for the good stuff. Save yourself a headache and a trip to the nearest pharmacy by taking your basics with you in your carry-on bag. If you’re a guy and you have your go-to hair products or shave kit, don’t depend on them being available in your destination country, either. Pack them in your hand luggage if you have TSA-approved sizes and prevent yourself from looking like the Unibomber on Day 5 of your trip.

3. Deoderant

For the love of God, do yourself a favor and pack your deoderant in your carry-on bag. Imagine a scenario where your deoderant is chillin’ on a conveyor belt in Kuala Lumpur but you’re sitting inside a cramped bus in Santiago en route to the hotel. Or, if you can’t shower on a layover, how do you ameliorate that mid-flight stink without reapplying?

This packing item is especially important if you use “clinical strength” deoderant in the United States. Guess what doesn’t exist in other countries? Good deoderant. Shocking, I know. But no single deoderant I found in Argentina or in Europe was better than my Secret or Degree Clinical Strength.

4. One Pair of Pants (Trousers) or Jeans

You’ll want at least one change of pants (trousers, if you’re English) to change into once you peel off your in-flight bottoms, trust me. Shorts for women aren’t always acceptable (can’t wear them at the Vatican, for example), so pack those in your checked bag and bring a pair of pants or trousers in your carry-on bag, just in case.

5. Three Extra Pairs of Underwear

Not having to buy a change of underwear as soon as you get to your hotel and settle in will buy you some time and peace of mind.  Having a few extra pair can help stop you from rescheduling your tours and plans and fit shopping into your schedule, rather than the other way around.

6. One Scarf or Wrap

Airplanes can get really cold, especially on overnight flights, and especially if you have a window seat (yes, they are actually colder to sit in than aisle seats!). Other than layering up, a scarf is a great solution to a frigid cabin, for dressing up a casual outfit, changing your look when you reach your final destination, and to throw in your bag for a visit to a church where visitors are required to cover bare shoulders.

I’m obsessed lately with my Luna Scarf from – it’s reversible and has snaps all the way up the end and can be turned into a small blanket, too.

7. A Multi-Way Dress or a No-Iron Dress Shirt

Big dinner plans for the night or two after you land? You won’t need to cancel them if you have some moderately fancy outfit to don in a clutch. A multi-way dress works great so you can wear it several nights if your luggage never actually shows up until you get home. Just make sure your shoes (see above) go well with it.

8. Smartphone or iPad (with charger and adapter)

Having your phone or iPad on your person is perfect not only for in-flight entertainment, but receiving connecting flight updates while in transit and ensuring that baggage handlers don’t help themselves to your iPhone or iPad during security checks.

While you shouldn’t pack your camera in checked baggage (see why, up next!), it’s also good to keep this in your carry-on bag to have handy for spontaneous snaps of sunrise from your airplane window:

Capture the sunrise on the "West Wing"!

Capture the sunrise over the “West Wing”!

or your glass of pre-flight vino:

Airport wine

Rosé at our favorite airport wine bar chain – Vino Volo

9. Camera

This item makes the list based on common sense (don’t pack really expensive things in your checked luggage!), but also from personal experience – or, at least, the experience of my parents.

You see, in the early 90’s my parents bought a bomb-ass camera (professional quality) for their first real solo vacation post-kids to Cancun, Mexico, flying out of JFK. However, their camera never made it to Cancun with them, because it was stolen by a baggage handler at JFK airport. How do they know this? My mom observed the bag being put on the belt differently than the other bags that were being checked, as some kind of signal to the folks in the back that some treasure could be inside. To this day, they have never gotten a “nice” camera to replace the one that was stolen.

10. Three Shirts That Can be Layered

Having a few shirts to change into and adapt to changing weather conditions will help lengthen the amount of time you’ll be able to eek out before hitting the local shops at your destination. You can also launder two of them during the day if you really need to, or wear them in different combinations so it doesn’t look like you’re wearing the same thing every day. A t-shirt and two long-sleeved shirts works well if you think it’ll be cooler, and a t-shirt, tank top and long-sleeved shirt works well if you think it’ll be warmer.

11. Two Pairs of Socks or 1 Pair of Socks/2 Pairs of Tights

Okay, you might be thinking “This list is pretty long… how am I going to fit all this stuff into a carry-on bag?” I get it. So you need to be a little economical about how you handle the non-essentials. Even if I plan on wearing sandals or ballet flats my entire trip, I always try to pack a pair of socks. They’re good to have on the plane if your feet get cold, or to wear around your hotel room if there are no slippers, and walking around barefoot skeeves you (I actually kind of live barefoot, but to each their own). If you have a pair of shoes that requires socks, then they’re a must.  If you’re bringing a dress, you might want to consider some tights.  Men, bring socks for your dress shoes. End of story.

12. A Sweater or Blazer/Dinner Jacket

A nice sweater or cardigan is great to have on hand for a warmer winter climate (think: more southern if you’re in the northern hemisphere), and is good for layering over a dress or top for added warmth. If you’re anything like me, most of your dresses or dress tops don’t have long sleeves.

For men, if you’re not already wearing a blazer or jacket to fly (most don’t nowadays, no judgment here!), think about packing one that doesn’t wrinkle easily in case you have dinner plans at a jacket-required restaurant. Even if you don’t plan on it and it’s only a possibility, it’s great to be ready for anything if the opportunity presents itself!

13. A Wallet/Clutch/Daypack/TOTE

Pack a Tote in your carry-on bag

A collapsible tote doesn’t take up much room but can be key!

Whether it’s packed in your “personal item” or in your carry-on bag, you better have your wallet, cash and cards on you. This should be a no-brainer, people. It’s also smart to keep an empty/collapsible tote bag or daypack in your carry-on bag for sightseeing or expanding your luggage capacity on your way home, so you can cart home souvenirs without having to buy another suitcase. (Have it be bigger than your purse/personal item so that you can throw the purse or item in your tote or daypack and use it for more stuff!)

14. Jewelry, if any

NEVER pack your jewelry or watches in your luggage. This cannot be stressed enough – baggage handlers in major (and not so major) airports are always found guilty of pilfering passengers’ valuables – why take your chances?  Throw all your jewelry into little bags and then into one larger jewelry pouch or holder to keep things from getting stuck in other stuff and then inadvertently lost when you take things out of your bag.

15. Passport and other travel documents AND A PEN

Bring your passport in your carry-on bag

NEVER pack your passport or other important travel documents in your checked bag. I mean, really. You should keep your passport as accessible as possible during flight so you can fill your information in on immigration documents with your pen. I have lost count of the flights I’ve been on when everyone panics in search of a pen. Bring your own and be a hero on the flight.

Putting It All Together

You might think that everything I’ve listed above is too much to put in your carry-on or hand luggage, and that you won’t have room for anything else. But, that’s not the case.

I put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and took photos from packing for our most recent trip to Argentina and Chile, just to show you how well this DOES fit into cabin luggage.

I didn’t have a Baggu to bring so I packed a canvas tote (perfect for the beach!), and I packed different Crocs flats (I wore my Rio flats on the plane), but as you can see, it’s not too much when it actually comes down to it.


Think that the stuff in this list is too much? Here it is, all laid out before packing.

And- voilá! Check out everything tucked away into the bag, with room to spare for all of the can’t-live-withouts for your in-flight comfort. Or, simply leave the room for some additional clothes or souvenirs purchased on your trip.

Top 15 Things to Pack in your Carry-On Bag

And here’s everything packed away – with plenty of room for more!


Is there anything you can’t live without in your hand luggage or carry-on bag, that I haven’t covered here? Got a tip to share? Tell me in the comments!

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