As domestic and international travel picks back up, you may be wondering what to pack in your carry-on. If you’re overwhelmed and want to see what I personally pack, keep reading for the best carry-on essentials for long flights…in 2020 and moving forward.
Times are crazy, right? If one thing has kept me sane over the past 6 months it’s staying organized, which is on par for how I pack. When traveling I have a super-specific pre-flight ritual, something I’ve mastered in my own right – a science if you will.
First and foremost, for your personal carry on you need an efficient, compartmentalized bag that is both durable and lightweight. Then you ONLY pack what you need. This is the time to dial it back, dive into digital, and channel your inner minimalist.
Carry On Essentials For Long Flights
Let’s get right into it. COVID-19 has redefined travel moving forward. It’s impossible to travel without a mask. Every major U.S. airline (and most worldwide) now requires each passenger to wear a mask during travel. While this is definitely a personal preference, I like the Kitsch Cotton Face Mask because they’re soft, machine-washable, and fit both kids and adults.
Carry On Bag
Choosing the right carry-on bag should not be taken lightly. I recommend a wearable option like a backpack versus a handbag or tote. You want something you can pack full, but not break your back.
My favorite bag is the Pacsafe Citysafe CX Anti-Theft 17L Backpack. I did a lot of research before our trip to Europe last year with the kids. I wanted to make sure I was hands-free, and distraction-free, knowing my bag and all of its contents like passport, money, camera, etc. were safe. This bag received the best reviews and I can confirm after dozens of flights it is well worth the price tag. Here’s why I love it:
- Super lightweight – a little over 1lb (You can check out scaleszen.com for a wide range of luggage and travel scales)
- Perfect size – 15.4″ x 10.6″ x 6.3″
- Fits a 13 inch MacBook®
- Phone pocket; Internal pockets to keep your gear organized
- Water bottle pocket
- RFID blocking pocket to protect passport and cards
- The strap detaches and can anchor to any object with a secure locking hook
- Reinforced cut-resistant stainless steel strap
- Cut-resistant sewn-in mesh-lined exterior
- Interlocking zippers with secure closure (compatible with most standard locks)
- Zip tab to secure the zipper in place (can be locked down, lock not included)
I’m adding hand sanitizer to the top of the list because it’s a non-negotiable. Like the mask, it’s a priority, even on non-travel days. If you’re not home, you should always have hand sanitizer within reach, in your purse or carry on. In case you’re not able to wash your hands with soap and water, hand sanitizer will help keep you and your family safe and healthy. I like EO Essential Oils Organic Hand Sanitizer Spray in French Lavender. It exceeds the CDC recommendation for hand sanitizing and is also gentle on hands – even for kids. I recommend a 6 pack of the 2oz bottles, so you can make sure everyone in the family has a bottle in their backpack, easy to reach in the airport or on the flight.
Let’s talk hydration. Drinking a lot of water before, during and, after your flight is so important. You may have to get up and use the bathroom every few hours, but it is way better than the alternative – feeling puffy, groggy, and dehydrated.
The key is in the bottle. My favorite is the 40oz Hydro Flask – with the straw lid. The TempShield insulation eliminates condensation and keeps water cold up to 24 hours. And the Wide Mouth Straw Lid makes it that much easier to drink. On the morning of my flight, I fill it up and try to finish it before security. Then I fill it up again and try to finish before the flight. Then I fill it up again to drink on the flight. I know that sounds like a lot of water…but it makes a world of difference in how you feel before, during, and after a long flight.
Additional long-haul flight essentials include noise-canceling wireless headphones. Before the flight download a podcast, audiobook, or Spotify Premium playlist to pass the time while in the air. It’s also a better idea to have your own pair of headphones for watching movies versus renting a pair mid-flight.
I like the Apple AirPods Pro because they are conveniently compact, and the only in-ear headphones with Active Noise Cancellation with a customizable fit. The soft, flexible silicone tips are available in 3 sizes, are internally tapered, and they have a vent system to equalize pressure, creating a weightless feel. You can also switch to Transparency Mode to hear what’s going on around you naturally – like pilot announcements, the beverage cart schedule, etc.
I also like being able to make calls and chat with friends, family, and clients seamlessly in between flights. Hands-free is the key to easy travel.
This one may not be essential, but it’s definitely nice to have. The Twelve South AirFly Pro Bluetooth Transmitter lets you use AirPods or Beats wireless headphones with in-flight entertainment. You just plug AirFly Pro into the headphone jack on a plane to watch or listen with your AirPods.
You can pair two sets of AirPods or Beats wireless headphones with AirFly Pro so two people can listen to the same movie, podcasts, or video game. Think of AirFly Pro as a headphone splitter for wireless headphones.
If you’re a light sleeper or just want ultra silence, then I’d also pack a small bag of earplugs. Herschel Supply Company has a 3-pack in disposable pouches for $5.99. These are also great for sleeping once you get to your destination. You never know how thin the walls are. During our trip to Rome last year we failed to realize our Airbnb was right below a music school when booking. Needless to say, earplugs came in handy.
In addition to the sanitizer spray, I also recommend Wipeys, a line of biodegradable sanitizing wet wipes that are incredibly effective and convenient. The Jetpack is the perfect carry on essential, with 12 individually wrapped wipes formulated without harmful ingredients to clean and refresh your face, hands, devices, and surfaces. They are free from parabens, phthalates, sulfates, synthetic fragrance, PEGs, and phenoxyethanol.
The Jetpack includes a clear cosmetic bag and is only $22.
Another backpack must-have is lip balm. I personally love Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 because it’s formulated with Squalane, Lanolin, Wheat Germ Oil, and Vitamin E. It will keep your lips feeling nourished at any altitude. I keep a tube in both my carry-on and toiletry bag.
Sleep is the secret sauce on long-haul flights and can help you beat jag lag when you land. To entice a restful flight, invest in a travel pillow.
I like the MLVOC Travel Pillow made of 100% memory foam, with a breathable, machine washable cover. It comes with a travel bag that compresses the pillow down to 1/2 its size. It also has a snap strap so you can attach it to your carryon if you prefer. The Airplane Travel Kit includes the travel pillow, a 3D contoured eye mask, and earplugs. It’s a best seller on Amazon with over 5,000 reviews.
In-flight temps are often erratic – from sweltering to frigid within minutes. If you tend to get a bit chilly on board I recommend the EverSnug Travel Blanket. It comes with a micro plush carrying case that doubles as a pillow and also has a belt and backpack clip to attach it to your suitcase or backpack. The blanket is lightweight but warm and the perfect size to share – 65″ x 40.”
There are a ton of sleep aid products on the market, but we’ve found NuTraditions Hello Dreams to be the most effective way to fall asleep naturally, either on the plane or when you arrive at your destination. They’re made with non-addicting melatonin and Calm Down™, a proprietary blend of herbs, which gently quiet your mind and body for restorative rest. The packaging is super compact, as well, making it perfect for travel.
Use code GIRLFRIEND10 for 10% off at NuTraditions!
A travel tip I picked up from an eye doctor to combat dry eyes is to use artificial tears, 1 drop in both eyes every hour. It’s also helpful to avoid contacts and makeup as both can cause irritation in the recycled dry air. Refresh Tears Lubricant Eye Drops are highly recommended in flight.
This may come as obvious but you’d be surprised at what you’re likely to miss, especially if packing the night before your flight. I’ll just put it out there – don’t forget your passport and any other documents you may need! Some destinations require a negative COVID-19 test in-hand, so be prepared to provide as necessary. Do your research now more than ever on what is required of the airports you are flying in and out of.
I typically carry minimal cash and mainly only use it for tips so credit cards are my currency. I always call my bank, before I leave, to provide upcoming travel dates, preventing disruptions or transaction issues. In addition, I recommend finding out if your bank has domestic or international partners in the destination you’re headed.
MacBook or Tablet
This is definitely a preferential item on the list, but I personally love to work on airplanes. I find peace in the air and enjoy not having any distractions. As I mentioned above my 13″ MacBook has its own slot in my carry-on bag, making it easy to access whether I want to write a blog post or watch a movie. For my kids, we always bring their Amazon Fire Kids Edition Tablets, pre-loaded with their favorite movies.
If you enjoy reading, add the Kindle Paperwhite to your carry-on wish list. It’s thin, lightweight, waterproof, glare-free, and provides access to over a million titles.
Much like everything else this year, airlines had to pivot the services they offer. Things may be limited so I recommend packing a few low-sugar snacks like protein bars or almonds and steer clear of salty foods like pretzels and chips. Sodium is not your friend in the sky. And neither is alcohol. Skip the breakfast mimosa, and you’ll feel better when you land – I promise.
I hope my list of carry-on essentials for long-haul flights make travel planning a little easier for you! I’ve also linked everything in the widget below. Just click on the images to shop!
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