Holiday Travel Checklist: 17 Essential Travel Items For Your Carry On Luggage

Holiday Travel Checklist: 17 Essential Travel Items For Your Carry On Luggage

Airports in general are a mess, with flight delays, crying babies, loud conversationalists, and stressed out and exhausted travelers at every gate, but this mess seems to somehow become amplified and even more apparent every year during the holidays. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about all the surrounding chaos, but there is a lot you can do to make sure you are as comfortable and relaxed as possible on a long haul flight during the holidays. Make sure you have these 17 essential travel items for your carry on luggage on your holiday travel checklist in order to give yourself the best holiday travel experience you can have.

Best Carry On Luggage

Before we get into our list of essential travel items to include in your holiday travel checklist, here are our top picks for the best carry on luggage in which to pack your essential travel items.

Best Carry On Luggage Backpack

We are backpack travelers through and through and have tested more travel backpacks over the years than we can count. Our favorite carry on luggage backpack is the Kosan Travel Pack System, a 5-in-1 comprehensive travel system satisfying all your packing needs. The interlocking larger backpack and smaller backpack allow you to travel hands-free, giving you more room to explore and enjoy all the sights and sounds of a new city.

Best Carry On Luggage Suitcase

Despite being minimalist travelers and packers, we have encountered several scenarios that call for more than a backpack. For example, on our upcoming trip to Japan and China, I will also be traveling to Mexico for a week straight from China, and I will be attending a wedding in Mexico, so I need to pack winter clothes, summer clothes, wedding attire, and scuba gear on my upcoming trip. While it is probably possible to pack all of that into our Kosan backpack, it will be much more enjoyable to use our Chester Travels Minima Carry On suitcase, which is more spacious and relieves the weight from our backs as we travel nonstop for three weeks across multiple continents and climates. If you’re still looking for a compact, stylish, and reliable carry on suitcase, use our code ‘MVMTBLOG’ to take 10% off the Chester Travels Minima Carry On.


Essential Travel Items For Your Carry On Luggage

1. Passport

Let’s talk about the essentials first. If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll always want to have your passport on you at all times. Imagine if you left your passport in your checked bag, and you find out on arrival that your bag never made it to your destination. Without your passport, you wouldn’t even be able to make it through immigration and out of the airport. You can easily avoid being stranded at the airport for hours or days by always having your passport with you.

Holiday Travel Checklist: 17 Essential Travel Items For Your Carry On Luggage

2. Flight Ticket/Itineraries

Some airlines require you to show your boarding pass when you step onto the aircraft, so don’t be so quick to put your boarding pass away after making it onto the jet bridge. You also may be required to show your flight ticket at customs and immigration upon arrival, so keep it in your carry on luggage at all times so you know you have it just in case. If you are using an electronic boarding pass on your phone, make sure your phone is charged at all times, in case you are requested to show your boarding pass.

The same goes with itineraries. I always keep my itinerary on my phone, so I don’t run the risk of forgetting it at home or leaving it on the airplane, but if you are more comfortable having a hard copy itinerary with you, just make sure to keep it in your carry on luggage so you don’t lose it somewhere along the way. If you like to store everything electronically on your phone, just make sure your phone is charged at all times (see #4).

3. Wallet

You never know when the essentials, such as your ID and credit cards, might come in handy, so keep those with you at all times. Your gate agent might request to see your ID when you board, or you might decide you want a snack at the airport or on board your flight. You also don’t want to run the risk of having your wallet in your checked luggage and never having that luggage make it to your destination, or having your money stolen in transit.

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4. Portable Charger

We’ve talked about our obsession with (and reliance on) portable chargers here, here, here, and here, so are you really surprised to see it on yet another travel checklist? If you store your boarding passes, travel itineraries, and basically your entire life on your phone, like we do, you’ll want to have a powerful portable charger on you at all times, so you never have to worry about having a dead phone and being stranded. I use a military grade waterproof power bank like this, and Hope uses a smaller and lighter power bank like this.

5. Headphones

There have been a few times in my life when I forgot to bring headphones on my trip, and every time, I ended up buying headphones at the airport. If I could only have one thing with me, other than the essentials like my boarding pass and passport that are going to get me on the plane, it would probably be my headphones. There is no noise control at airports or on airplanes, and you never know when you’re going to get stuck sitting next to a screaming baby or a Chatty Cathy who will never get the memo that all you want to do is sleep or read your book in silence on the plane. These noise cancelling headphones are my favorite and worth every penny to have peace and quiet on my travels.

6. Laptop

If you travel with a laptop like I do, you’ll want to keep that in your carry on luggage at all times for a couple of reasons. First, your laptop can keep you occupied on long flights, and second, you don’t want to risk having it stolen from your check luggage, or having your checked luggage lost altogether.

7. Other Valuables

Speaking of keeping valuables out of your checked luggage, you’ll also want to make sure you keep all expensive jewelry, electronics, and anything else you paid a substantial amount of money for that you’d be sad to see disappear in your carry on luggage. There have even been stories of clothes being stolen out of checked luggage, so nothing is off the table when it comes to items potentially disappearing from your check luggage, if you do not have a lock on your luggage (just another reason why I love my Chester Minima Carry On so much).

Holiday Travel Checklist: 17 Essential Travel Items For Your Carry On Luggage

8. Book or Other Source of Entertainment

Whether your in flight entertainment consists of reading, watching movies, listening to podcasts, working on your laptop, or sleeping, make sure you keep whatever it is you need to stay entertained in your carry on luggage.

9. Medications

If you take daily medications or know you need special medications when you travel, such as sleeping pills or motion sickness pills, make sure you pack those in your carry on luggage. There is nothing that would make your travels more stressful than not having medication that your body needs.

10. Snacks

While snacks are typically pretty accessible at the airport and on flights, this is not always the case, and it’s better to be prepared than left starving. This is even more important if you have special dietary restrictions because while most airports and airlines can accommodate your basic hunger needs, not all of them can accommodate your special dietary needs. You also don’t want to spend your entire travel budget on airport food in case your flight is delayed and you’re stranded at the airport for much longer than you anticipated. One of my favorite travel snacks that I always pack for longer trips is this on-the-go applesauce.

11. Water Bottle

I never travel without my water bottle, and that’s because it’s so easy to get dehydrated while traveling. Studies across the board have shown that it is much easier to get dehydrated on an airplane than in your home, for instance, and that most travelers do not drink nearly as much water as they should. Some travelers refrain from drinking water before and during flights so that they don’t have to use the bathroom on board, and others get into vacation mode right away and start indulging in alcohol without remembering to replenish with water. Having a water bottle with you at all times serves as a constant reminder to hydrate, and you don’t have to rely on the tiny little cups you get on flights during the in flight service. I love Nalgene bottles because they are completely indestructible, and I always make sure to have a carabiner clip on my backpack so I can clip my water bottle in when I don’t feel like holding it.

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Holiday Travel Checklist: 17 Essential Travel Items For Your Carry On Luggage

12. Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Mouthwash

After eating a few airplane meals and snacks, it’s nearly impossible to feel like your oral hygiene is at its prime. That’s why I always keep my toothbrush and toothpaste on me at all times, so I can brush my teeth after meals, and certainly before I disembark the plane. While some people like to bring a change of clothes for the plane, this (and the next two items) is my version of freshening up after long flights, and it is much more space saving than packing an entire outfit in your carry on luggage.

13. Face Wipes

My love for face wipes (and realization that they are magic) really blossomed when I hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro earlier this year. For seven days, I kept myself clean by using wipes every night to wipe up all the sweat, dirt, and grime. While my perception of cleanliness may have been a bit warped when I was out in the wilderness with other groups of smelly people, I actually did feel refreshed every night after using the wipes. Compared to hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, sitting on a long distance flight is much more tame, so if wipes can get me through a seven day trek to the highest peak in Africa, it basically feels like a hot shower after a long flight.

14. Glasses/Contacts

I don’t know about you, but any time I fall asleep in my contacts, they feel unbearably dry when I wake up. I always have my glasses with me on long flights so I can take my contacts out and put my glasses on before I take a nap or turn in for the duration of the flight on long distance trips. Then, when I arrive at my destination, I pop my contacts back in and feel like I’m waking up in the morning and ready to go. With flight delays and cancellations running rampant during the holidays, you never know how long you’ll be stuck at the airport and may need to rest your eyes for a bit.

15. Jacket

Even though this is on our essential travel items for your carry on luggage list, I would recommend wearing it so you don’t have to take up more space than necessary in your carry on luggage. You can also replace this with a sweater, scarf, blanket scarf, etc. – whatever will keep you warm on the plane or spending hours waiting in a cold airport.

Holiday Travel Checklist: 17 Essential Travel Items For Your Carry On Luggage

16. Travel Pillow

The last thing you probably want to think about is being stranded at the airport overnight, but with weather delays and increased number of travelers over the holidays, an overnight airport stay is sometimes inevitable. Whether you’re stranded at the airport or on a long flight, you’ll be glad to have your travel pillow with you so you can try to catch some shut eye and save up energy to explore when you arrive at your destination.

17. LoungeBuddy Pass

Last, but certainly not least, you’ll want to make sure you have the LoungeBuddy app downloaded to your phone, so you can actually enjoy a flight delay for once as you treat yourself to one of the hundreds of lounges across the world that LoungeBuddy partners with. My favorite thing about LoungeBuddy that not all lounge pass programs offer is the convenience of being able to purchase a pass on the spot and scan into the lounge with a QR code on your phone. It really could not get simpler than that.

Many people cringe when they hear the words “holiday travel,” but if you are well prepared going into your trip, holiday travel can be pleasant, and even enjoyable. Let us know what you bring in your carry on luggage and if we’re missing any essentials on our list!


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11 Comments

  • Annick

    Such great ideas for making holiday travel a breeze. I’m too old to enjoy the backpacks but I do love my carryon! And why is it that we always forget headphones? I’ve bought too many pairs to count. I’ve just started saving itineraries on my phone so the chargers are a new essential for me. Thanks for the reminder of toiletries – we feel better when we’re clean. Enjoy your great three week trip!

  • Medha Verma

    I have not heard of the LoungeBuddy pass but I have a credit card that gives me access to airport lounges across the world so I haven’t explored that option I guess. Apart from that, I pretty much carry everything you’ve mentioned in your post in my carry on baggage. A stole or a jacket always helps, especially because sometimes its freezing in airplanes and many low budget airlines don’t provide blankets anymore. Also, a book or some music, something to keep you entertained in long flights with no entertainment system!

  • Sinjana

    This list is amazing and exhaustive. I am glad i came across this just as I am set off to my anniversary trip to Goa tomorrow!! I think one thing you missed is the international portable adapter for international travels.

    • Diana Chen

      Yes that’s a great one! It obviously depends where you’re traveling, but I’ve found that most airplanes and even airport charging ports offer the USB port, so a power adapter isn’t necessary. It’s amazing how our world is coming closer and closer together through the advancement of technology!

  • Elena

    I definitely need to start using this LoungeBuddy pass. This amazing list can make any holiday travel a breeze. I’m glad I found this article as I’m just getting ready for a month trip around Europe. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Diana Chen

      Glad you found this at just the right time, Elena! Enjoy LoungeBuddy (it is truly the best), and have a wonderful time gallivanting around Europe! 🙂

  • Kavita

    Really like your list of travel essentials to make for a better flight and trip. Having good carry on luggage is definitely important, even more so for me as I have problems with shoulders and back, so rely on using a wheely style bag which can be lifted when needed. We always use a document wallet to store passport, itineraries, tickets and any confirmations of bookings so we know we won’t lose anything. Portable chargers are essential, especially now I use my phone for most photography. For entertainment we use kindles, and we take our tablet to be able to do basic web site bits and pieces for the blog, as needed. I used to use an inflatable travel pillow but now carry a neck-support one for use when sleeping, which takes more space but is so worth it for me!

    • Diana Chen

      Thanks, Kavita! Totally agree that the neck pillow takes up a bit of space, but we usually just clip it to the outside of our bags so it doesn’t take up any room inside. And great call on the document wallet – we definitely need to get more organized with our documents and cards!

  • Yukti

    Thanks for sharing comprehensive details about holiday travel checklist as all listed items are essential and must be carried. Best Carry Suitcases and backpacks are the most essential thing which has to be first finalized. Then comes the passport, visa, itineraries, and all official documents. After this comes basic necessities like medicines, contacts/glasses, laptop, chargers, a camera with sufficient storage. I am saving your post as a reference.

  • Amar Singh

    Some great tips here for a traveller I must say. There are some basics but quite easily forgotten sometimes by the most experienced ones. For me the most essential ones are the headphones and portable chargers. The phones can’t go without the chargers. Overall top things noted and should be very helpful for any traveller.

  • Sierra

    I’ve never heard of Lounge Buddy but it sounds great! A lounge can make a long airport delay much more comfortable for sure! I agree with the face wipes. I just added them to my carry-on (I likes ones with Vitamin C for an extra boost) on my last international flight and was so glad that I did.

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