Ultimate Carry On Packing List Guide: The Top Travel Essentials You Need on Your Luggage Checklist

by Packing Guides32 comments

I’m planning an RTW (round-the-world) trip next year and I will have some check-in and carry-on luggage… but I’m having a hard time packing my stuff! I really don’t want to miss any essentials. I’ve been following you and it seems like you always manage to pack light for your travels. As an experienced traveler, I would love to know your top carry on packing list!
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Nana from France

I know how nerve-wracking it can be to pack for a trip: we gotta bring the essentials without letting our luggage get too bulky — no one wants travel around like a mule!

Besides, the last thing that we want to happen is to face the dire situation of forgetting a vital item, only to end up going through various hassles of replacing it while in a foreign country.

And so, as with any travel journey, there are two things that we typically pack for: a check-in baggage and a carry on bag. The items that you should pack for your check-in bag is a discussion that I’ll tackle 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:

  • Contain things that can assist you no matter if it’s a short or long haul flight
  • Contain things that can serve as a ‘safety net’ in case your check-in baggage gets lost during transit (which is often inevitable)
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Personally, after traveling around the world for several years now, I can say with confidence that I’ve already perfected my carry on checklist and it has been non-changing no matter the destination I fly too. To help save you the time and effort, I will be sharing this list with you through this post!

So 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!

Ultimate Carry On Packing List

• • •

» The Carry On ‘Carrier’

BagSmart: Carry On Packing List Camera Bag

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 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.

Oftentimes, however, 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 flying with, it always helps to have bags ready that are generally within the standard limits for cabin luggage.

Here are my recommendations for the types of bags and containers that you’ll need to prepare:
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••• 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 — cameras included. After all, most backpacks are thin and “top-loading” (where you simply shove items into its depths and wish that you’ll find them easily later on). I rather wanted a versatile bag that can keep my tech gadgets secure whilst also able to segregate my other carry on items for better ease and access.

Thankfully, my search ended last year when I discovered Bagsmart’s Camera Bag! This has easily become my ultimate carry-on backpack. 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 them into one big space — so yes, its layout can be changed in order to fit your needs.

The upper compartment is sectioned off too. Rest assured, you can take these velcro dividers off and open them up towards the bottom section if in case you want to convert the camera bag into the typical full top-loading backpack. Additionally, the interior is well-padded and there’s even a zippered section at the back that can fit 15″-sized laptops. The material is also superb as it is ever-lasting, stain-repellant, and anti-scratch. It even comes along with a water-resistant cover in case it rains!

Slim (11.8″ x 7.5″ x 15.7″), comfortable, with lots of pockets and extra features — I’m sure it will be your new favorite too. For instance, it comes with buckles on the sides where you can strap on a tripod, and it even has removable buckles to balance and transfer the weight that you carry.
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••• 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 this camera tote bag.

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 on the safe side of such limits, you need a suitcase 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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••• Liquid Pouch (Optional)

In case you plan to pack some liquids in your carry on bag, you will need a TSA-Approved clear liquid pouch to place it in.

IMPORTANT NOTE: All the items that are listed below can fit inside my Bagsmart Camera 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 : To Pack

••• Smartphone

Its benefits are a no-brainer, one of which is the fact that a smartphone can hold tons of helpful travel apps to help you on your trip. If you’re curious, I own an iPhone which has superb camera specs. Do you want a cheaper alternative? I recommend a Huawei phone because its camera also has fantastic features.
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••• eReader or Tablet (Optional)

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 and this is why I own an eReader. In fact, 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 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. Besides, an iPad Mini is basically like a bigger version of my smartphone.)
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••• Laptop (Optional)

Yet another no-brainer item to put up on my carry on packing list. As a digital nomad, I need to be online for work so my laptop is my lifeline. I never travel without it. 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. 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. Besides, I often question the cleanliness of the headphones offered during long flights, so I always make sure to pack my own.

Some people find headphones, like the noise-canceling ones (e.g. Panasonic’s ErgoFit In-Ear Earphones), 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 (such as the Airpods Pro) they can offer almost the same features as headphones.
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••• Camera (Optional)

If you’re not trying to capture professional photos like I do, your smartphone is enough to pack along for your travels. But if you’re like me, I often travel with different cameras in stow. My typical photography arsenal includes the following:

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, Adapters, 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 (or you can get an electronics or cable organizer). Of course, never forget to pack a universal adapter.
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••• Power Bank

This is very helpful for emergencies or for simply prolonging your gadgets’ lives — especially when you’re doing a layover and there aren’t any outlets available at the airport or in the surrounding establishments. You will also need this when you travel (power banks are not allowed to be stowed inside your check-in luggage so you’ll need to put this in your carry on). Truth be told, I once got lost with my phone dead, and thanks to my Anker power bank, I got myself out of that mess in a jiffy. All in all: it’s better to be safe and prepared than sorry!
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••• Pocket Wifi

I thought of marking this as an optional item but I believe that it is an essential item instead! You can always get a SIM card as an alternative but since I often need to keep using my current SIM, I find owning a pocket WiFi more efficient instead.

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••• Data Storage (Optional)

Some people (like me, who work 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 photos or even for emergencies too.
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• • •

» Small Items

Toiletries and Other Small Items: Carry On Packing List

••• For Comfort: Earplugs, Eyemask & Neck Pillow

I initially ignored the benefits that earplugs could bring. But when I finally gave it a try, it helped a lot in muting out the noise of the plane, some crying babies, snoring seatmates, 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 a flight a lot more comfortable and they are essentials on my carry on packing list, especially for long-haul trips.

When it comes to eye masks though, I typically buy these Japanese steam eye masks because they help a LOT in relaxing tired eyes as well as help 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 a 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 there are also some who don’t (especially if it’s less than 3 hours) — 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.? Through this way, you get to choose healthier options too! 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 already help you accomplish this). I would also suggest a collapsible water bottle since it won’t be 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 on the plane, flight attendants can just simply serve you water as you need it.
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••• Pen

A vital item, given that most places abroad warrant travel and customs forms to be filled. You certainly wouldn’t want to wait until the person before you finish 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 this because you’ll definitely need them.
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••• Eyelass / Sunglasses (Optional)

Apart from a good pair of sunglasses, I also pack along with my graded glasses and its case (I am near-sighted). I also wear contact lenses but I stow these away along with the cleaning solution in my check-in luggage because I customarily don’t wear contacts during flights (it could 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 it and its solution in your carry-on. If your eyes dry up fast, consider packing some eye drops.
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••• Toothbrush & Toothpaste (Optional)

At times, however, long-haul flights provide this as a free set. But to be sure, pack your own. I store smaller versions of these items in my carry-on to save space. An example is this mini toothbrush pack from Colgate — or just save some of the toiletries they give away in hotels and use it for your next flight.
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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 in Asia, there are some pills that they just don’t give away without a prescription. With that said, apart from the medication that you personally need, I find it imperative to include the basics for your carry on packing list: medication for headaches, diarrhea, nausea, and fever. (This is separate from a travel-sized first aid kit which I put away in my main luggage).
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••• Others

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).
  • Pantyliners, napkins, or tampons (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 is allowed per passenger.

• • •

» Carry On Packing List Essentials and For Emergencies

Emergency Packing

••• Passport, IDs, etc.

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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, visa, and other travel documents (accommodation booking, emergency contacts, etc.) as a part of my carry on packing list.
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••• Travel Insurance

Do I need travel insurance?” YES, yes you do.

You absolutely NEED travel insurance as a part of your carry on packing list because you never know what can happen while you’re overseas. I personally love and use World Nomads Travel Insurance because it encompasses a LOT of countries worldwide, insures your baggage, belongings, and flights, covers medical emergencies, is affordable, and can be extended while you’re on the road (no need to go back home to apply for one). If you want to cross-check this with another trusted provider, I recommend looking into SafetyWing especially since they have amazing plans catered for frequent travelers or digital nomads.

How to choose the best travel insurance?

Read this guide to know what to look for in an insurance and where to buy it!

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••• Spare Clothing

In case you lose 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 always prepared like a girl/boy scout!
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••• Other Valuables

Examples are jewelry and keys as well as some other expensive items that you wouldn’t want to put in your check-in luggage.

• • •

» 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 already keep me comfortable during my journey from point A to point B:

••• Footwear

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

I first found out about this amazing thing through my traveler friends and since then, I have never left home without packing my compression socks! Basically, these make long flights a lot more comfortable since it helps reduce the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis), blood clots, and leg swelling. In some way, these socks “squeeze” your legs gently to move blood up and studies have concluded that passengers who wear compression socks are always better off than those who don’t. Ever since I’ve learned of this fact, I made it a point to always wear these compression socks.
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••• Sweater or Scarf

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

Looking for Other Packing Guides?

Browse through all of my packing guides by season, by type of adventure, and even by destination!

• • •

Ultimate Carry On Packing List Guide: The Top Travel Essentials You Need

Overall

I hope this helped save you the time to sort out the things that you need on your carry on packing list.

If you decide to add more items to what’s listed above, just make sure that they’re things that you really need 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 peace of mind that you’re going to be adequately and properly equipped for your trip!

• • •

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32 Comments

  1. Kristin

    Chap stick and a hair tie. Those are must as my carry on’s also use a bag that has tons of space! Something that has some stretch to it you never know what you may need to squeeze in it.

    Reply
    • Aileen

      I always have my hair tie on my arm! :))

      Reply
  2. Censie Sawyer

    I love that campro bag! I need something like this for sure. Most of the things that you have on your list I also have on mine. I am going to have to add this bag to my wish list for christmas! Wow! I cannot believe you can fit that all in there!

    Reply
    • Aileen

      The CamPro bag is really amazing like that! :D That’s why I abide by this and use it all the time. Hope you get to have one for yourself soon and reap its benefits ;)

      Reply
  3. JENN

    This is great list! Having traveled a lot the last few months, I have gotten very good at packing at carry on. To me a Carry on is a bag that is filled with items that will get you buy in case your bag goes missing!! A few essentials are clean underwear, valuables (i.e. phone, camera, electronics) and things I will need at the airport

    Reply
    • Aileen

      That’s exactly what a carry-on is for me too! In a sense, it’s where all my valuables are at as well :D

      Reply
  4. Lori Bosworth

    I would bring most of the things you outlined except my laptop. It’s just too heavy to pack in a carry-on bag. I agree that it’s a good idea to pack some spare clothes in your carry-on in case your suitcase gets lost!

    Reply
    • Aileen

      I know what you mean! That’s why it’s an optional item too; but since I work online, it has become my lifeline and I bring it with me all the time. Rest assured, the CamPro bag is very comfortable on the shoulders and it never feels to heavy for me in fact :D

      Reply
  5. Kristy

    These are a lot of the same things that I pack with me when we travel. I love my power pack and is one of the things that I don’t like leaving home for trips without. Totally agree with the mints and snacks, and the gum is also an essential!

    Reply
    • Aileen

      YES. My power bank is an essential in my travels since I tend to drown my gadgets life a lot because of my work. Anyhow, I’m glad you pack the same things as I do! Better to be prepared than sorry ;)

      Reply

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