In a previous post, we covered the pros and cons of carry-on vs. checked bags when flying. Whether you decide to check a bag or not, chances are you’ll have at least one carry-on bag with you. If you aren’t checking any bags, you’ll have ALL of your stuff in your carry-on. If you are checking a bag, you won’t need all of your clothes in your carry-on bag, but there are some things you’ll definitely want to make sure get packed in your carry-on. Let’s take a look at what to pack in a carry-on bag! These item are essential for a great flight!

What to Pack In a Carry-On Bag

ID and Travel Documents

Your ID and travel documents should be the very first thing you pack in your carry-on bag. You will need your driver’s license or other form of picture ID, your passport if you are traveling internationally, boarding passes if you printed them out and any other travel paperwork or documents you need for your trip. You absolutely don’t want to get to the airport and realize you’re missing any of these things and you don’t want them in your checked bags where you can’t access them, so pack these documents in your carry-on before you put anything else in there!

Phone, Charger and Charging Cord

It’s unlikely that you’ll leave home without your phone- but don’t forget to pack a portable charger and charging cord. Investing in a portable charger means you won’t have to stress about finding a place to plug in at the airport while you wait or on the plane if you’ve got a long flight. You’ll want your phone, charger, and cord to be easily accessible so keep them in your purse or a backpack that will fit under the seat.


If you take any prescription medications, you will definitely want to make sure they are in your carry-on. Checked bags can get delayed or lost and if your medications are in a lost bag, you could be in serious trouble. Keep them in your carry-on so they are with you at all times and have no chance of getting lost. It’s best to keep all prescription medications in their original bottles, however, if you’re traveling domestically within the US- most people have no trouble using weekly or monthly pill organizers. If you are traveling with a liquid medication, that must be in it’s original bottle. If you have medications that require a needle, including EpiPens, be sure to take those out at security and let a TSA agent know what you have. If you are traveling internationally, it’s best to keep everything in it’s original prescription bottle. And don’t forget to check that your medications are legal in the country you are traveling to (or through). Some medications that are legal in the US are NOT legal in other countries and you could land yourself in a lot of trouble if you’re not aware!

Sanitizing Wipes and Mask

This may seem like a no-brainer now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but I’ve always been a huge proponent of wiping down our row and making our kids wash their hands before any snacks on the plane. Covid concerns aside, planes have always been and will always be gross. If you’re lucky, someone went through each row to remove garbage before you boarded, but that’s all the “cleaning” you can reasonably expect. Bring a pack of wipes for each flight you’ll be taking so you can wipe down arm rests and tray tables. Or, if you’re like me, you can wipe down literally every touchable surface in your row because once your four year old licked the window of a subway train in NYC and even though he’s grown now and should know better, you still don’t trust him on public transportation!


Always pack a set of headphones in your carry-on. Not only are they necessary for listening to music or watching a movie on your flight, they’re also great for blocking out sound- especially if you have noise cancelling headphones (though any headphones are better than none). If people around you are talking loudly or a baby is crying, you’ll want to be able to put your headphones on to help muffle the sound! Remember to be mindful of how loud your volume is- it’s easy to turn it up so loud that it can be heard by the people around you and no one wants that!


This is another important item to pack, especially during Covid times. Many planes aren’t serving snacks now, and even when they do- it’s not enough to hold you over for anything more than an hour’s flight. Buying snacks on the plane is ridiculously expensive, so just pack a few of your own. If you’re traveling with kids- pack ALL the snacks. It’s amazing how much kids will eat on a plane. Pack as much as many snacks as you think you need- then pack more! If you pack snacks with nuts, it’s always nice to ask a flight attendant if it’s okay to eat nuts on your flight. Usually an airline will announce if there is a person with a severe nut allergy on board, but it’s kind to double check as someone’s life could depend on it.

Empty Water Bottle

Always pack a reusable water bottle in your carry-on because staying hydrated when flying is super important. Airports will charge an arm and a leg for a bottle of water- seriously, it will boggle your mind if you have to buy water at the airport! So throw an empty bottle in your carry-on bag and fill it at a water station once you pass through security.

Change of Clothes

If you’re only packing a carry-on bag, you’ll have all your clothes with you. But if you checked a bag, chances are all of your clothes are in there- and you can’t access them if you need them. Always pack one change of clothes in your carry-on bag. If you spill something, if your kids spill something, or if someone happens to get sick- you’ll be happy to have a change of clean clothes right with you. If you pack them in a gallon size zip-lock bag, you’ll also have somewhere to put your dirty clothes when you change. Another great reason to have a change of clothes? If your luggage does get lost, you’ll at least have something to wear the next day while you track down your stuff!

Toothbrush, Toothpaste, and Facial Wipes

While you may put most of your toiletries in your checked bag, it’s always a good idea to keep a toothbrush, a travel toothpaste and a few facial wipes with you in your carry-on. If your luggage gets lost, these basic items will help you get through a day or two until you can replace your stuff.

Things to Remember

Remember that each airline has a size limit on carry-on bags. Many are very strict about their size limits and will measure bags as you board the plane. If your bag is over the size limit, it may be checked- and then you no longer have your important items with you. Also keep in mind that larger bags and carry-on suitcases must go in the overhead compartment. In most cases, you can access the overhead bins during your flight but there are times when it is unsafe to open the overhead bins and you might be restricted from doing so. Make sure anything super important that you’ll need during the flight, like medications or snacks, are in your purse or a bag that fits under your seat!

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