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As someone who has traveled to over 60 countries and spent hours on end crammed into tiny airplane seats, I’ve learned the hard way that you can never be too prepared for a long-haul flight. In this post, I’ll be sharing my top 10 carry-on travel essentials that range from high-stakes but easy-to-forget items to unusual ones that you might not think to bring. This is not an exhaustive list of carry-on essentials, but these items have saved me on numerous occasions and can make all the difference between a miserable flight and a comfortable one.
I always have a portable charger on hand during longer flights. It’s a great backup plan for when your seat entertainment or power outlet isn’t working (this has happened to me multiple times). Plus, it’s handy post-flight to ensure that your phone, which doubles as your GPS, translation tool, and general source of information for activities and attractions, is always charged during your travels.
My favorite portable charger is the iWALK portable charger which is smaller than the palm of your hand and good for around two full charges. It also comes with a cable already attached to the charge and allows you to charge your phone and portable charger simultaneously, which many portable chargers don’t support. If you need more juice, go for the Anker Portable Charger, which is a solid choice and provides closer to three full charges.
Since I started traveling, I’ve been team backpack over suitcase. Backpacks make more sense to me – they’re portable and easy to carry, especially when stairs are involved. Plus, if you need to access something from your carry-on during a flight, the last thing you want to do is take your suitcase down, unzip it in the middle of the aisle, and have all your belongings out in the open.
My favorite backpacks are the Minaal 3.0 and the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L. The Minaal’s design makes it ambiguous enough to potentially pass as a regular bag, while the Cotopaxi’s vibrant colors scream ‘vacation.’ Both are solid choices that can easily replace a suitcase, especially when combined with compressible packing cubes. I’ve brought my Minaal on multi-week trips and been able to fit everything I needed in it (even my ski helmet!).
I’ve been finding long flights increasingly difficult to get through, so I’m always on the lookout for anything that will make my flight more comfortable. When I flew from NYC to Kathmandu, I had 37 hours of flying (roundtrip and with layovers in between) to get through. I knew I had to give travel pillows another try, so I bought one that I’d always heard great things about – the Trtl travel pillow.
I’d tried using travel pillows in the past, but I’d often wake up from my plane nap with a sore neck. With the Trtl travel pillow, after some trial and error to get it in the right position, I was able to turn my head in any direction, and my neck would still feel supported. Plus, it’s easy and compact to fit in your bag and doesn’t feel like too much added bulk.
Compressible Packing Cubes
I consider myself a light packer, but I’m also deeply committed to only bringing carry-ons. This means that even for 2-4 week trips, I bring one carry on and one personal item at most. This can lead to some chaos in my carry-on as I try to fill every centimeter of open space with items, and it makes it impossible to open my bag and get anything I need. Using packing cubes is something I’ve found helps keep my items separated, and also gives me easy access to the things I need when I’m on a long flight.
These Compressible Packing Cubes from Amazon are much more space-saving than traditional packing cubes that only help to separate your items. You can throw your sweaters and heavy clothing into these packing cubes and compress them down to half the size. This is a game changer if you only want to bring one bag, but also don’t want to pack so little that you have to re-wear outfits every day.
This one sounds (and looks) silly, but hear me out. I’m 5’8″ and my knees always get sore and painful after sitting on long flights. On airlines that offer larger leg space in economy, I can fully extend my legs if I sit up straight in my seat, but I still end up feeling cramped. I purchased a foot hammock ahead of my 37-hour roundtrip flight to Kathmandu, and for the first time, I experienced a long plane ride without aching knees the whole flight.
The BASIC CONCEPTS Airplane Footrest from Amazon is a great foot hammock to get the job done. Simply attach it to your tray table, and you’ll instantly feel the strain on your knees lessen. Enjoy your long plane ride without aching knees!
Feeling dehydrated, groggy, and jet-lagged after a long international flight used to be inevitable for me. I’d step off the plane with my skin feeling like sandpaper from the dry cabin air and my body screaming to chug a bottle of water. I decided to do some research into whether it was possible to prevent this, and found one common recommendation – hydration multipliers. So, I gave it a try by taking hydration multipliers before, during, and after my flight, and I found myself feeling way more hydrated and refreshed post-flight.
I’d recommend taking Liquid I.V. for regular flights, or Acclimate if you’re planning to be at elevation. They both help your body stay hydrated, which staves off symptoms of jet-lag, altitude sickness, and more. When I flew to Kathmandu and had to adjust to an almost 10-hour time difference in two days, I religiously drank hydration multipliers and found my jet-lag was much less severe and easier to overcome.
For 10+ hour flights, I rely on my in-seat entertainment system to get me through the flight. However, I often forget to bring additional headphones or wired earbuds to use with the in-seat entertainment system during flights, since I only carry wireless AirPods with me. Sure, most flights will pass out free wired earbuds, but those typically start irritating my ears by the end of the first movie.
Having a set of over-the-ear headphones is a game changer when it comes comfortably gorging your eyes out on consecutive movies. My favorite over-the-ear headphones are the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones. They can be wireless or wired, and on top of delivering excellent theater-like sound quality, they’re foldable, easy to pack, and great for drowning out loud airplane noises when you’re napping. Other over-ear headphones like the Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones or the Soundcore Anker Life Q20 are also good options.
Moisturizer and Lip Balm
Cabin air can get extremely dry, and my lips are always the first to feel it. Having cracked lips might be a small inconvenience on land, but when you’re suspended in the air with nothing to do for 10+ hours, it starts to feel like a much bigger inconvenience. Having moisturizer and lip balm on hand is an easy way to step off a long flight and still feel (or at least look) ready to tackle the day.
My lip balm of choice is the La Neige Lip Sleeping Mask. It’s technically meant to be used at night, but I use it at all hours of the day to keep my lips hydrated in the dry cabin air. For moisturizers, I’d recommend the Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer as the best carry-on compatible moisturizer. It’s light and refreshing, and it comes in a thin bottle that’s easy to stick in your bag.
I always make sure to bring a fanny pack when traveling, especially on long haul flights. It’s the perfect solution to keeping my main essentials on hand when I need them, while stowing away my carry-on and personal belongings in the overhead bins or under my seat.
The Lululemon Everywhere Belt Bag is big enough to fit your passport, phone, headphones, and any other items you may need during the flight without having to rummage through your carry-on. Plus, the fabric is super smooth and durable, so you don’t have to worry about spilling something and ruining your fanny pack.
Purchase your Fanny Pack here!
Airplanes get cleaned after every flight, but it’s not always very thorough. In the post-COVID world, I have found myself becoming increasingly aware of germs, so I always bring hand sanitizer or wipes with me — especially during long haul flights where I’m in close proximity to other passengers for extended periods of time.
The Noshinku Refillable Hand Sanitizer is the perfect size to toss in your fanny pack or slip into your pocket, so you never have to worry about being caught without it. Plus, it has an organic formula that doesn’t use harsh chemicals. The best part is that it’s refillable, so you can easily top it off and keep your hands clean on-the-go without having to constantly repurchase single-use bottles.
That’s a wrap for the top carry-on travel essentials you should bring on every long haul flight. Do you have other carry-on travel essentials you like to bring on your long flights? Share them in the comments below!
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