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The Essentials - Inside my Airplane Carry-on

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

Packing the perfect carry-on is one of the trickiest things about flying. You want everything you may need, but you don't want to over pack, and you only have a certain amount of space... Find out what my personal must-have list is, and how I fit everything I need in my backpack!



Depending on the length of the trip, more often than not, if we are travelling for a week or less we don’t check a bag. Especially with airlines like Southwest who let you have 2 carry-ons (1 “carry-on” and 1 “personal item”), you can usually fit everything you need into a small suitcase and a backpack. For the sake of this article, the carry-on item we will be going into will be my backpack (my personal item). While some people prefer a purse, I always go for a backpack because I like having it on my back and out of the way when I’m checking in or moving my other bags. You can usually fit more in a backpack, and if you have more stuff you have more weight. Backpacks distribute that weight evenly during painfully slow security lines and delayed boarding.


Main Compartment

Since this is the section closest to my body, I put the heaviest stuff in this section. It is also the biggest, so if I have something tall or wide then this is the best place for it to fit as well.


1. Laptop/tablet- While I usually try to avoid travelling with my laptop since I can do so much on my phone, sometimes I’m travelling for school and I know people who travel for work usually have this item. My backpack has a specific laptop pocket inside the main section of my backpack which I love and highly recommend! Even when I don’t use it for a laptop, I will put pictures or documents that I don’t want to get bent or spilled on in this section because it is slightly more protected and padded.


2. Book- More often than not, especially on long and international flights, I use the time to catch up on movies that I haven’t seen. Even so, there is always a part of me that likes to have a book around just in case I get into the mindset to read. I also like to make sure that I have a book if I know we'll have a more relaxing day on the trip, whether that is a day on the beach or a long day in the car.


3. Puzzle book- For $1 at the dollar store you can give yourself literally hours of entertainment by buying a word search, crossword, or sudoku puzzle book. My usual go to is a word search because I can usually do it somewhat mindlessly and listen to music or a movie at the same time, but I try to always bring at least two options when we’re going on long trips.

4. Journal & Pencil Case- Sometimes when we take big trips I like to keep a travel journal to write about the things we do and keep ticket stubs, flyers, receipts, pictures, and lots of other stuff. I like to create a sort of trip journal/scrapbook so that I can look back in the future and remember all the details. Even when I’m not planning to do that much writing, I always like to travel with a journal just in case I have things I want to write down for later. You can always use your phone for this, but I find it much more satisfying to write on paper!


5. Snack- If you want to save money when you travel, one of the biggest things you can save on is food costs! It’s super easy to go into the little stores at the airport and grab some snacks for your trip, but you will always end up spending more than double what you would if you brought your own with you. I like to bring some granola bars, something more substantial like a Cliff Bar, some dried fruit, and of course something sweet. Chocolate of some kind is a must, and sometimes some sort of hard candy that will last you a little longer!


Second Compartment

My backpack has two big pockets, so I can really fit a lot into both. If I have extra stuff that didn’t fit in the first one, the overflow goes here, and it’s also a place to store extra stuff collected for the trip home.


1. Change of clothes- No matter how short of a trip, I always put at least an extra pair of running shorts/leggings and a t shirt as an extra outfit in my backpack. When we check a bag of luggage I try to also include a swimsuit and maybe a second change of clothes because I live in continuous fear that our luggage will get lost and we will end up in a different country for a week with one outfit! Even if you don't lose your luggage, sometimes after a long flight it's nice to be able to change into clean, fresh clothes when you get off the plane, without having to dig around in your luggage to find something to wear.


2. Sweatshirt/Big Warm Scarf- I don’t know if it’s just me, but I ALWAYS get cold on planes. Depending on the weather of where we’re going, I’ll either just bring a sweatshirt or a big scarf I can layer with my outfits later on in the trip. This one is kind of a maybe for packing in the bag… I usually just wear it or carry it, but it’s always good to make sure you have space for it in your bag in case you decide later that you don’t want to deal with it. (Bonus uses: if you don’t want to wear it, you can always use it as a pillow or blanket when you want to sleep on a flight!)


3. Mini bag- Whenever we travel, I like to have a small bag with emergency items in case we ever need something that we would have at home but don’t out on the road. Typically this includes bobby pins, safety pins, needle & thread, Chapstick, gum, Band-Aids, aspirin, and various other small items that make me more prepared for everything.


4. Toiletries- Especially if the flight is going to be a long one, I like to have some options to clean up on the plane so I don’t feel so gross when I get off of a 7+ hour flight! The basics for me are toothbrush, toothpaste, face wipes or a washcloth, oil absorbing sheets, deodorant, and a hairbrush. Depending on how comfortable you are in an airplane bathroom you may be able to add or remove a few things from my list.


Front Pocket

My backpack has a small front pocket as well, that is a nice place to put things I want to be able to get out quickly.


1. Headphones- On a lot of longer flights the airline will often provide you with a pair of complementary headphones, and even when they don’t, you can often ask for one if you need them. But I prefer to have a pair that I can use while I’m waiting at the airport, or any other time on the trip. I also have to have a special adapter to connect regular headphones

to my phone, so it’s usually just easier to keep it attached to a pair of headphones to use.


2. Portable charger- I also like to keep a portable charger or at least a charging cable in this pocket so I can easily pull it out and charge my phone at the airport or on the plane. It’s also really handy to have a small portable charger you can use throughout the day if you don’t even get much access to a place to plug in your wall charger.



3. Passport/Driver’s License- This one is also a sometimes for me. When ever possible, I prefer to keep my phone and passport or driver’s license in a pocket on my leggings. It's easier to have it right in my pocket than in a pocket in my backpack, but when it’s just too hot to wear long pants, I want somewhere for my important travel documents to be that is easy to get to but doesn’t require me having to hold it in my hand.


On the Outside

Some of the best features of a backpack are the outside spots that you can clip and snap things onto.



1. Water bottle- I am weirdly picky about my water (don’t ask… it’s just a thing, okay) so I’m not the best at drinking water when we travel, but I always have one, if not two EMPTY, reusable water bottles in the side pockets of my backpack to fill up once we’ve gone through TSA. As weird as I can be with water, I HATE buying water bottles because A) that’s money that could be spent on cool stuff when you get where you’re going and B) there is already enough waste and pollution generated by the travel industry. Always carrying a reusable water bottle can drastically reduce the plastic waste you generate when travelling!


2. Hand sanitizer- I’m not a germaphobe and I’m a big fan of building your immune system but sometimes when you’re travelling and touching lots of stuff that has other people’s germs on it and hasn’t been cleaned properly in who knows how long… Ya just need a little something to clean your hands. I usually get a cute little holder and clip it on to a loop on the outside of my bag for easy access on the go!


3. Neck Pillow- If you’re anything like me, more often than not you’re asleep before the wheels come off the ground. (I get pretty motion sick, and being asleep for the takeoff is helpful in avoiding feeling sick for the first 45 minutes of every flight) We’ve tried out lots of different neck pillows, and I’m still working on finding the perfect one, but one of the things I love about my current one is that it snaps together to I can just clip it on the back of my backpack and I don’t have to find room for it inside! Mine also has batteries for a built-in neck massager, so sometimes TSA flags it, so it's also handy to have it on the outside of my bag so they can just unsnap it and look at it before they send us on our way!



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I’m Anna, a lover of alpacas, adventures, and Chase. In case you hadn’t figured out, Chase is that handsome guy in the picture next to me.

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