While traveling, think of your carry on bag as your little home while you’re away. You may not be sure when you’ll be able to open your suitcase or sprawl onto your Airbnb bed, but if you pack your carry on right you’ll have everything you need for maximum comfort, even if you get stuck in layover purgatory or if you lose your checked luggage along the way.
There's nothing worse than arriving after a sweaty and sleepy long haul flight to news that you have lost luggage. While odds are slim that your checked bag ends up someplace far away, you are sure to feel less devastated if you have been savvy about packing your carry on luggage well. Even for those flying domestically and wanting to save a buck, packing a good carry on can mean that you don't have to spend extra cash on checked luggage. The Government Accountability Office notes that travelers who check at least one bag when flying locally pay more overall than they did before 2008 (when checked bags started to come with an additional charge).
For savvy travelers who want to cut costs and travel with a backup plan in the case of checked baggage going bye-bye, we have the ultimate carry on packing list to make sure you feel good on the fly.
TSA Guidelines on What to Pack In A Carry-On Bag
So what do the TSA rules say about carry on essentials and what's allowed to join you in the cabin? There are certain rules around what liquid allowances, meds, and toiletries when flying so we can take a look at what will make it through and what will get you stopped by a TSA officer.
- Liquids: Liquids are allowed but are restricted to containers of 3.4 ounces or less. You can bring a quart-sized bag of liquids with your carry on luggage. This can include aerosols, creams, gels, and pastes. If you are packing booze for a cheeky in-flight tipple, there are rules there too. Any alcohol that is more than 24% and less than 70% must be stashed in your checked luggage and are limited to 5 liters per passenger in unopened packaging. Another note for those packing alcohol in their checked bags - you aren't allowed to bring beverages of more than 140 proof (70%) including grain and 151 proof rum.
- Makeup: Makeup is allowed in carry on for those who want to put on their face before they land, but it needs to follow the same protocol as liquids if it's in liquid form (mascara, foundation, etc). For those pressed powders and eye shadows, there's no limit.
- Food: Solid foods can be carried in your carry on bags so you can pack all the sandwiches, fruit, and candy that you want. However, foods that are considered liquid or gel will need to be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less or should be packed in your checked luggage.
- Electronics: Laptops, phones, chargers, cameras, tablets - electronics are allowed and even encouraged to be packed in your carry on especially if they have lithium metal or lithium-ion batteries. Anything with a damaged battery should be kept at home as they are prohibited on planes in case they spark.
- Toiletries: If your toiletries are liquid-based, they will need to follow the same rules as above (3.4 ounces or less in a clear quart sized bag). Liquids allowed in your quart bag are shampoo, conditioner, dry shampoo, body wash, toothpaste and mouthwash, creams and moisturizers, makeup, and aerosols (as long as they are for body care, so leave the mace at home). Word of warning - you won't be allowed razors, scissors, or tweezers (basically anything sharp and pointy).
What items can you not put in a carry-on
Ok, so we have a rough idea of the things that won't get you hung up as you try and pass through security, but what aren't you allowed to bring in your carry on?
- Liquids over 3.4 ounces
- Sharp pointy things
- Sticks, poles, bats or clubs (this means sports equipment but also selfie sticks for the less sweaty).
- Mace or pepper spray
- Flammable items
- If traveling to other countries you also won't e allowed to bring any meat, fruit, dairy or agricultural products into the destination so be sure to consume anything like that on the plane.
What to Pack in Your Carry-On, According to a Nomad
Now we have the boring rules out of the way, what should you commit to carrying on your flight? From essential comfort to a little luxury, these packing tips can be a gamechanger for starting your travel experience well. As a nomad who has been on so many flights, I'm practically a pilot - these are the must-have items that always make the cut...
The Essentials ( because you won't get far without all this)
Yep, we are talking about all those essential travel documents
- travel insurance,
- any prescription meds,
- bank cards, etc.
Another of those great tips for travelers is to pack all your important paperwork in a small pouch or clear plastic wallet for ease of access and to cut back on any panic on the actual travel day when you can't find anything.
A Sclanket (yes we made that up) aka Giant Scarf
A big scarf is the best travel accessory. If it’s lightweight, it takes up almost no space and has so many uses. It’s an extra layer without the extra bulk, which comes in handy with ever-changing climates of airports and transport, it doubles as a blanket (or a pillow!), and you can wrap fragile items up in it and tie a knot to keep them protected.
A Reusable Water Bottle (get H2o happy)
Bring your reusable water bottle with a lemon wedge inside to fill up once you get past security. Planes are super dehydrating, and bringing your own water bottle will ensure you can sip all day. Also, consider bringing your own teabags.
Some Healthy Snacks
The processed food at airports can be expensive and not so good for you. Consider bringing a lightly dressed salad or sliced fruit in a mason jar - easy and protected from squishiness. Another option is powdered fruits in a lightweight travel shaker. Staying away from foods that will make you feel gross will get your trip off to a great start.
Socks (not sexy but hell, stay comfortable girl)
When trying to figure out what to pack while traveling, socks seem like the unsexiest of items. But you heard it from us: throw a pair of socks in your bag. If you get cold on the flight you can double them up over the ones you’re wearing, or if you’re flying somewhere tropical (lucky you!) you can switch them for your strappy sandals before you de-plane. Also, if you can stand to lose the street cred, compression socks are a must on a long flight. Compression socks can help reduce the risks of blood clots as they put gentle pressure on parts of the legs and the ankles and keep your blood circulating.