Ultimate Carry On Packing List Guide: The Top Travel Essentials

Ultimate Carry On Packing List Guide: The Top Travel Essentials

Reader Question:

Hey Aileen! I plan on becoming a digital nomad as I go on a RTW (round-the-world) trip next year. For my journey, I will have some check-in and carry on luggage. But I’m having difficulty in finding the right way to pack them! I also don’t want to miss on any essentials during a flight (may it be a short one or a long haul). I’ve been following you and it seems like you always manage to pack well and light for your travels. As an experienced traveling digital nomad, I would love to know your top carry on packing list!

Nana from France (June 6, 2019)

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I know how nerve-wracking it can be to pack for a trip — you gotta bring the essentials with you, but without making things bulky nor heavy.

Besides, none of us would want to face the dire situation of forgetting a vital item, only to end up going through various hassles to replace it while in a foreign country. For sure, we wouldn’t want to travel around like a mule either!

And so, as with any travel journey, there are two things that you typically pack for: your check-in baggage and your carry on bag. The items that you should pack for check-in is a discussion that I’ll tackle on later; but for today, in order to answer Nana’s question, we’ll focus first on the essentials in order to come up with a good carry on packing list for your luggage and/or backpack.

The way I see it, a carry on should be able to:

  • Contain things that can assist you no matter if it’s a short or long flight
  • Contain things that can serve as a ‘safety net’ in case your check-in baggage gets lost during transit (which happened to me several times already)

With these in mind, it follows that your carry-on is basically a “bag of goodies” that is non-changing. Now, after traveling around the world for several years, I can say with confidence that I’ve already perfected my carry on packing list — which I would now be sharing with you!

Hence: no matter how long your trip may be and no matter where you’re going, below is a list of my typical carry on essentials and gear that can keep you “properly equipped” during all of your travels!

(*My lifestyle is basically that of a digital nomad — enterepreneur-slash-blogger — but with today’s time, I believe that the items below applies to EVERYONE anyway since, we’ve all become such tech junkies!)
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Carry On Packing List

– The “Carrier” –

Most airlines allow one (1) carry on cabin luggage that is under their respective weight limit (typically around 5 to 10kgs only).

Fortunately, there are also some airlines that allow two (2) items: one (1) carry on and one (1) personal item (a handbag, a backpack, a laptop bag, an umbrella, a briefcase, etc. that can be stowed under the seat before you.) Given this fact, there have actually been times that I do NOT have any check-in baggage at all: I only bring along one carry on backpack, and one small rolling luggage that contains my clothes — a set-up that is VERY helpful for avoiding long check-in lines.

Often times though, I am faced with preparing just 1 carry on bag, while the rest is stored in my main luggage. Nevertheless, as dependent upon your trip and the airline that you’ll be riding in, it just really helps to have bags ready that are generally within the standard limits for cabin luggage.

My recommendations would be:

A Backpack

For years, I have been on the hunt for the PERFECT backpack that can properly organize and protect my carry on packing list items. This is because most small backpacks are thin and “top-loading” (where you simply shove items into the depths of it and wish that you’ll find them easily later on). I rather wanted a versatile one that can keep my tech gadgets secure and can segregate my other carry on items better for ease and swift access.

Thankfully, my search ended last year when I was introduced to Venque’s innovative CamPro Bag! Now why has this become my ultimate carry-on backpack?

CamPro Bag

  • The bottom section is ‘front-loading’ (like a suitcase) and can be sectioned into compartments with the help of its adjustable velcro dividers which is as you see in the image above. You can even take off all these velcros and convert it into one big space — so yes, its layout can be changed in order to fit your needs.
  • The upper compartment is sectioned off too, with its own velcro dividers. (Rest assured, you can also take these velcro dividers off and open it up towards the bottom section if in case you want to convert the CamPro into the typical full top-loading backpack.)
  • The insides are very well-padded and there’s even a zippered section at the back that can fit 15″-sized laptops. The quality of the material is also superb as it is made of leather and innovative quanta fabric that is ever-lasting, stain-repellant, and anti-scratch. It even comes along with a water-resistant cover in case it rains!
  • Slim (15.7″ x 7″ x 12.1″), comfortable, with lots of pockets and extra features. For instance, it comes with buckles on the sides where you can strap on a tripod for instance, and it even has removable buckles to balance and transfer the weight that you carry.
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And/Or a Handbag or Small Rolling Luggage

For fast and easy access, I highly suggest a travel handbag. But if you want something that can store your bulkier camera gear, I highly suggest checking out Aide de Camp’s camera bags.

As for luggage, as I’ve already mentioned, the dimension limit for a carry-on varies across all airlines. I’ve done my research, and so far, in order for you to be in the ‘safe’ side of such limits, you need a luggage that is within or around this standard size: 22″ high, 14″ wide, and 9″ deep.

I personally use a Samsonite Luggage Winfield 20 because I love how lightweight and strong it is. I’ve been using it for a while now and it has truly withstood the wear and tear from all of my travels.
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IMPORTANT NOTE: All the items that are listed below can fit inside my CamPro bag alone. In fact, after everything is packed in, I always have ample space left for some extras.

Yep. It’s that amazing!

– Gadgets & Tech –

Tech Gadgets

 Smartphone

Its benefits are a no-brainer, one of which is the fact that a smartphone can hold tons of helpful travel apps that can help assist me in the duration of my trip. If you’re curious, I own an iPhone which has superb camera specs. Want a cheaper alternative? I recommend Huawei because its camera also has amazing features — in fact, it’s often better than an iPhone’s.
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 eReader or Tablet

I’m a bookworm and I LOVE the feel of a good ol’ book as I flip through its pages with my fingertips. However, the truth of the matter is: books can be very bulky. This is why I own an eReader and my Kindle Paperwhite has been my travel companion ever since! (For entertainment during long flights, long bus/train rides, chill afternoons, etc.)

I can store TONS of books in it and its battery life is also mind-blowing. I’ve been on a week-long vacation before and I used my Kindle every single day — when it was time to go home, its battery life still had more than half! Later on, I’ve learned that there’s no need for me to pack my Kindle’s charger because it can last a long time.

*You can pack a tablet instead like an iPad Mini, but I fell in love with a Kindle when it comes to reading (it’s more easy on the eyes). Besides, an iPad Mini is basically like a bigger version of my smartphone. Overall: as dependent on your personal preferences, you can pack an eReader OR a tablet. It’s up to you!
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 Laptop

Yet another no-brainer item to put up on my carry on packing list. As a digital nomad, my laptop is my lifeline. I never travel without it, and I’m glad that my CamPro bag protects it well and good during my travels.

I work with a Macbook Pro 13″ for years now, and I know it’s not as light nor thin as a Macbook Air, but since I wanted a machine that has the capacity to handle my graphic and video processes while I’m on the road, I rather opted for the Macbook Pro. (The difference between the two in weight is not so huge after all. My Macbook Pro is still very slim and it’s also more compact than most laptops out there.)
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 Earphones

Perfect for cancelling out the noise and for slipping into my own music-filled world. I also question the cleanliness of the headphones offered during long flights, so I always make sure to pack my own earphones.

Some people find headphones, like the noise-cancelling ones, as a better item to include in their carry on packing list. However, they can be quite huge and it often puts stress on my head and my ears. I find that as long as you purchase earphones that are powerful and well-fitted to your ears, they can offer almost the same benefits as headphones. (I recommend Panasonic’s ErgoFit In-Ear Earphones).
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 Cameras

As a travel writer, I travel with different cameras in stow. My typical photography arsenal are below:

If you’re not particular with photography and you just want a great point-and-shoot camera for your travels, I recommend Canon’s Powershot G7 X. There’s no need to bring along a massive DSLR.
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 Plugs, Adapter, Chargers, etc.

For organizing my chargers and to avoid them from tangling altogether, I place them in one velcro section of my CamPro bag and twist them around with some wire ties. Of course, never forget packing along a universal adapter.
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 Power Bank

This is very helpful for emergencies or for simply just prolonging your gadgets’ lives. I once got lost with my phone dead; thanks to my Anker power bank, I got myself out of that mess in a jiffy.

You also have to remember that though there are electric outlets in the airport or in cafes, most of the time those are being hogged by other people. Therefore: it’s better to be safe and prepared, than sorry!
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 Pocket WiFi

This is an optional item. If I know that I’ll be staying somewhere fixed with a decent internet connection, I wouldn’t bother getting myself one. But in times that I have to hop from one place to another (most especially when it’s a trip that spans for more than a week), a pocket WiFi is a must to have and I have stood by Tep Wireless for years now. I simply trust their product and service for they have never failed me. Tep Wireless is also a lot cheaper than other providers like HipPocketWiFi, My-WebSpot and xCom Global.

Use code IAMAILEEN and you can save 15% off when renting a Tep Wireless pocket wifi!

With them, you can choose to either rent a unit, or just buy one and be charged whenever you use it. (I just purchased my own Tep Wireless unit given how I frequently travel — which saves me the shipping cost everytime I rent one).
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 Data Storage

Some people (like me, who works online) bring along hard drives and it’s not a good idea to stow those away in the check in luggage.

But one thing that you need to consider is bringing along an extra memory card in case you need more space for your camera photo-taking or for emergencies too.(with lots of storage space).
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– The Small Stuff –

Carry On Packing List

Earplugs, Eyemask & Neck Pillow

I initially ignored the benefits that earplugs could bring. But once, I was given some during a flight and I thought: why not try it out? Oh goodness gracious, it was heaven sent! It really cancelled out unnecessary noises — crying babies, snoring seat mates and more. If you’re planning on buying these, I would recommend Hearos Xtreme.

Neck pillows and eye masks are also heaven-sent items for making your flight a lot more comfortable.

When it comes to eye masks though, I typically buy these Japanese steam eye masks because they help a LOT in relaxing tired eyes and prevent swelling after an ‘uncomfortable’ sleep inside a plane. I highly suggest that you give it a try! Together with this, I also pack a face mask (to keep germs and allergies on check) and sheet mask (to keep moisture on my face — a flight can be very dehydrating on your skin!)
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Snacks, Mints & Water Bottle

Surely there are airlines that offer free snacks and meals during flights, but at times they don’t — you either have to pay for it or procure them yourself. So why not just bring some small snacks along like nuts, trail mix, biscuits, bars, fruits, etc.? (Take note: plane food is usually unhealthy and bland anyway). While you’re at it, pack along some mints as well for that tinge of refreshment and ~fresh breath~ during your journey. You can also pack chewing gum instead to help make your ears ‘pop’ (but sucking on mints or candy as well as drinking can help you accomplish this).

I would also suggest a water bottle if it’s not too bulky on your bag. After all, water is very expensive in the airport and there is an abundance of water stations to refill your water bottle with. Otherwise, once you’re in the plane, flight attendants can just simply serve you water as you need it.
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 Pen

Very vital items since most places abroad warrant travel and customs forms to be filled. You certainly wouldn’t want to wait until the person before you finishes using the free pen at the immigration (and then watch in horror as she decides to claim it as her own — yep, happened to me). So save yourself the trouble and pack these babies because you’ll never know when you’ll need them.
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 Eyeglass

Apart from a good pair of sunglasses, I also pack along my graded glasses and its case (since I am short-sighted). I also wear contact lenses but I stow these away along with the cleaning solution in my check-in luggage since I customarily don’t wear contacts during flights given how it can dry up my eyes quickly — more so during long flights. But of course, if you choose to wear your contact lenses during your flight, don’t forget to pack these and its solution in your carry-on.
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 Toothbrush & Toothpaste

Simply put: I store smaller versions of these items in my carry-on to save space. (Example is this mini toothbrush pack from Colgate).
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 Medications

I still remember the hassle that I went through when I found out that I forgot my pills during a road trip in Europe; and unlike Asia, they just don’t give away pills without a prescription. Thankfully, I had a friend who had the same pills.

With that said, apart from medication that you personally need, I find it imperative to include the basics as well for your carry on packing list: medication for headaches, diarrhea, nausea, and fever. (This is of course separate from my ‘bulkier’ first aid kit which I put away in my main luggage).
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 Etc.

Those marked with an * below means that it’s something that boys can pack and use too:

  • Lip balm*
  • Hand sanitizer*
  • Deodorant*
  • Lotion*
  • Perfume* (do you know those small vials that you get as samples for perfumes in department stores? I keep those and pack them when I travel. It’s better than packing a whole bottle of my perfume)
  • Wipes (wet wipes, feminine wipes, facial oil-absorbing sheets)
  • Basic make-up kit items: for me, that’s my lipstick, liquid eyeliner, and eyebrow kit (just pack away your bigger cosmetic stuff in your check in luggage).
  • Panty liners, napkins or tampons (if you have your period consider wearing a menstrual cup)

!!! IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure that ALL liquids are NOT larger than 100ml (3.4oz) and they should be stowed away in a 20cm x 20cm resealable see-through liquid bag. Typically, only one of this is allowed per passenger.
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– Required & For Emergencies –

Emergency Packing

 Passport, IDs, & Business Cards
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 Cash & Debit – Credit Cards
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 Paper Copies

In case of loss, theft, and other emergency situations, I always make sure to bring photocopies of my: passport, identification cards, and other travel documents (accommodation booking, emergency contacts, etc.) as a part of my carry on packing list.
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 Travel Insurance

Have you ever asked yourself: “Do I need travel insurance?” I bet you have and no matter how many times you pose this question, my answer will always be a resounding YES.

You absolutely NEED travel insurance because you never know what can happen while you’re overseas. I personally like and use World Nomads Travel Insurance because it encompasses a LOT of countries worldwide, insures your baggage, belongings, and flights, covers medical emergencies, it’s affordable, and can be extended while you’re on the road (no need to go back home to apply for one).

 Spare Clothing

In case you loose your luggage, it helps to stow at least one outfit (I pack an extra light dress) and a pair of undies in your carry-on. Sure, you can always buy them abroad or at the airport in case of emergencies but it’s best that you save yourself from those costs and hassles. Be prepared like a girl/boy scout!
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 Other Valuables

Like jewelry and keys as well as some other expensive items that I wouldn’t want to put in my check-in luggage.
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– To Wear –

In case you’re curious about what I frequently wear during flights, my clothing highly depends on the weather situation of my travel destination; however, as a standard, the following items keep me comfortable during my journey from point A to point B:

Shoes

I typically wear sneakers (or slippers, depending on the destination) since they’re the most comfortable footwear for me! But should my trip necessitate heels or boots and I’m running out of space in my check-in bag, I would then opt to wear my heaviest or bulkiest. It’s not going to be comfortable especially in a long flight, but I can always take them off during transit.
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 Compression Socks

I was first told by my traveler friends about this important item that they wear during long flights (those that typically span for more than 4 hours) since it helps reduce the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis), blood clots, and leg swelling — and boy, I’m glad they told me! So this basically squeezes your legs gently to move blood up your legs and studies have concluded that passengers who wear compression socks are better off. Ever since I’ve learned of this fact, I made it a point to always wear my compression socks.
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 Sweater and/or Scarf

I have low tolerance toward the cold so I always pack a sweater. If I’m heading to hot place, a light long-sleeved cardigan or a huge scarf already works best for me.
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Overall

Carry On Packing List

These may seem a lot, but it actually isn’t. Again, like I’ve told you: ALL these items fit nicely and lightly inside my CamPro bag, and it even leaves enough space still for extras.

You probably have other stuff that I haven’t listed above and that you would like to put up your carry on packing list. Well, you’re free to do that of course, but just make sure that they’re things that you’ll really be needing for your trip! (Otherwise, you’ll just be packing extra baggage or clutter.)

Rest assured, the items I listed above are the basic travel essentials that have served me well all throughout the years of my traveling lifestyle, and it is now my hope that it gives you the peace of mind that you’re going to be adequately and properly equipped for your trip!

How about you?

  • What do you think of this carry on packing list?
  • Is there anything that you might want to add?

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32 comments

  1. Very helpful guide , thanks a lot for sharing this :)

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  2. Instead of carrying a laptop, would it be possible to post on a cellphone or tablet Instead? We may backpack in Europe for a month or two and we need our loads to be as light as possible. I am thinking of starting a blog so friends and family can follow our travels. Your article is full of what seems to be useful information. Thank you for it.

    Reply
    1. Hey Susan! No problems, it's possible to do it on a cellphone or tablet too, for sure :) Your adventure sounds exciting by the way. Let me know how it goes (and thanks!)

      Reply
  3. Wearing slippers/sandals on long flights is so comfortable and easy (especially when going through TSA screening!) My only concern is, what if I (or someone) accidentally drop a heavy luggage on my foot! Oh, my poor toes! Haha

    Do you use a travel wallet for passports, boarding pass, etc.?

    Reply
    1. I think you'd be just fine, Michelle! ;) I never had anyone drop any luggage on my foot (or I've been very lucky haha). As for my passport, I keep it in a small cover case where I can also store in boarding pass for ease of use at the airport.

      Reply
  4. I always carry these things, not sure of the exact name but they are disposable Japanese eye masks that get warm when you open them up to use them. I get really anxious and annoyed on flights but they really help me to relax.

    Reply
    1. Oh wow, now that's the first time that I've heard of such things! Sounds really good though, I'm glad it works for you! For me though, eye masks aren't really my cup of tea since they tend to be very uncomfortable (at least for me)

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  5. This is an incredible packing list! I am a one backpack traveler as well! I don't like carrying too much or having too many bags. Plus, it keeps the price LOW! Love that backpack!!!

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    1. I'm glad you agree Echo! :D I love it so much myself!

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  6. That is the perfect bag for an airplane. I like to take so many things with me I feel like a little kid with a bag of toys. It looks so organized. I could find anything quickly.

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    1. Exactly my thoughts! That's why my CamPro bag instantly became my solid carry on for my travels. It's absolutely efficient and light too!

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  7. As I get ready to gear up for my summer travel, I am glad to know that there is a bag like the CamPro bag that will allow me to pur down everything that I need. I also have to agree with the compressed socks. I remember coming off a long flight and my ankles were swollen for sitting for so long.

    Reply
    1. Glad to have introduced this bag to you then, Dee! Everytime I travel as well, a lot of people compliment this bag and when I show them the features inside, they get blown away haha. (And YES on compression socks. They're soooo helpful!)

      Reply

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