30 Carry-On Essentials You Should Be Packing ( + Free Download!)

Post Summary: Carry-On Essentials and Tips For Packing Light For Airport Travel

Does the idea of waiting in multiple airport lines and carrying heavy suitcases make you reconsider your travel plans?

Berty and I have learned the hard way that carrying too much stuff is a way bigger hassle than it should be. This weekend, we are traveling to Bozeman, Montana to visit family and see Yellowstone National Park, which means our priority is EXPLORING and definitely not carrying around useless crap.

This trip, Berty and I wanted to pack carry-on only to minimize airport wait times and make a more stress-free journey.

If you’re looking to cut down airport wait times and feel the freedom that is sans checked-bag, this post is for you. We’re going to share our favorite bags, organizational tools, and the bare-essentials for what you’ll need for practically any trip.

Best Carry-On Bags

It’s important to choose a carry-on bag that is sturdy and small enough to fit all airline carry-on standards.

We’ve had luck with both types – the hard-shelled suitcase with rollers, and the squishy, shoulder strap kind.

Our Away Carry-On has a portable charger built into the top so that we can easily charge our devices while we wait. It’s also incredibly lightweight and bends instead of breaks when under extreme pressure.

Additionally, our Vera Bradley and Krochet Kids Weekender Bags can stuff all your carry-on essentials easily into an overhead compartment, and double as a pillow on the last resort because of their soft shell.

All these bags have passed carry-on dimension sizes on all airlines we’ve tried (so far). The smallest carry-on size we’ve encountered was on Iceland Air and we were lucky enough to fit their standards just right.

Bag Organization Tools

Have you ever had to find that one thing you packed, only to discover it’s buried deep in your already-organized suitcase?

Next thing you know, you’re digging through your stuff, finally find it, and end up shoving your clothes back in and zipping it up in a huge mess.

To avoid this, our favorite organizational tools are, hands-down, packing cubes.

Personally, we own Eagle Creekand REI brands, but there are so many great ones out there now that you can find packing cubes for pretty cheap. We like to put shirts in one, pants in another, undies and socks in yet another…you get the drift.

Not only does this make it extremely easy to locate your stuff, they easily fit together in any suitcase.

READ MORE: How To Avoid Overpacking

30 Carry-On Essentials For Light Traveling

Here are the carry-on essentials you need for nearly any trip. From here, fit your needs to your location, season, and duration. Happy travels!

1. Wallet/ID Because even if you aren’t carrying your passport, you need some form of ID to get through airport security.

2. Boarding Pass – When passing through security, keep it safe in a pocket or stowed away in your bag for safe keeping.

3. Reservation Confirmations – Make sure you have a hard-copy or a screenshot on your phone of all reservations. This includes hotels, hostels, car rentals, etc. Keep records of everything so that you can prove yourself if there is any confusion upon arrival.

4. Toothbrush & Toothpaste  Because everyone loves people who care about their basic hygiene.

5. Sample Size Face Wash – Anything above 3oz (100ml) won’t be allowed on your flight. Pack minis of all your toiletries, or buy some reusable empty containers like these and fill them up with your favorite products.

6. Hair Products – This includes things like a mini brush, hair gel, or any other products you use on a regular basis.

7. Deodorant – See no. 4 above.

8. Mini Shampoo/Conditioner -Last time we went to Target, they actually had an AWESOME selection of tiny travel products from commonly used brands. Definitely check it out!

9.  Chapstick – We all know those airplane cabins get REAL dry.

10. Laptop -To quickly check emails from home, and connect to the rest of the world.

11. Cellphone  Even if you are out of service (or out of the country) you can use it to take photos, save documents, and connect quickly to wifi.

12. Charger Cables -AND adapters if you are leaving the country.

13. Camera – If you’re short on space, you can choose to bypass the camera and use your phone instead. Just make sure you have memory cards or enough storage on your phone to capture those pictures!

14. Underwear -Because, obviously.

15. Socks – It’s safe to bring one extra pair than what you need. This is especially true if your location is rainy, or you will be spending lots of time outdoors.

16. 2-4 Shirts -Keep them all in the same color scheme as the rest of your clothes. This way you can mix and match the clothes you packed for lots of options!

17. 1-2 Pairs of Pants – Keep them basic to go with the rest of your shirt choices. Good suggestions are your favorite pair of denim, or black pants.

18. Lightweight sweater -Perfect for those chilly airports and airplanes.

19. Swimsuit – It’s always a good option to have a swimsuit to pack! Hotel hot tubs, swimming pools, and natural hot springs can be a relaxing option at the end of a long travel day!

20. Pair of Pajamas -Keep them lightweight and comfortable. If you get cold you can always throw on some more layers!

21. Kindle/Small Book – For surprise delays or in-flight boredom.

22. Rain Jacket  This can be your “light jacket” if you’re concerned about space.

23. Walking Shoes – If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, walking shoes are a must. Wear these in the airport, around town, or any time you will be spending a lot of time on your feet.

24. Sandals/Nice Shoes -If invited to a last minute fancy dinner or event, it helps to be prepared!

25. 1 Special Occasion Outfit – If any last minute event should occur, rest assured you will be well dressed. This item could be a nice button-up shirt or a blouse.

26. Hat – This could be a beanie to keep warm or a sunhat to block those pesky UV rays – either way, bringing one is a must!

27. Scarf  -If traveling to temples abroad, many require women (and sometimes men!) to cover up as a sign of respect. A scarf is an easy way to do this!

28. Earplugs – Your travel mates might not be as considerate as you when it comes to noise levels, so arm yourself with earplugs to get some peace and quiet.

29. Water Bottle -Make sure to empty it before boarding the plane. You can fill it up after you get through airport security.

30. Sunglasses -To shield your tired eyes from long hours of travel, or to actually protect them from the sun.

What are some of your favorite carry-on essentials? What is something you can’t leave without? Tell us in the comments below!

Also,  make sure to follow along on our Instagram account for the latest updates and adventures.


Thanks for reading!


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  1. Great list. My husband and I are huge fans of not checking luggage, makes things so much easier. We have done several 15 -21 day trips in Europe and we didn’t check, we call it the no-check challenge. Not checking is really great if you are spending time in multiple countries, if you check and then luggage is lost that could be a logistical nightmare. Happy travels to you both!

    1. Wow! I’m impressed that you fit a three week trip into a carry-on Amy! Well done. We haven’t gone that long with just carry-on luggage, but we sure hope to someday! Thanks for the comment!

    1. Hi Cat! I’m so happy you found it useful! Have fun on your trip to Spain, I hope it’s lovely weather! And hello! It’s really good to know another Seattle blogger! πŸ™‚