7 items you should always pack in your carry-on bag

Nov 30, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

Most of our travel plans were cancelled last year and so far this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the travel situation has been slowly improving, so hopefully, the remainder of 2021 and 2022 will see things return to normal.

The way we travel has unquestionably changed since March 2020. The need for negative COVID tests to travel to certain countries and to have proof of vaccination readily available on your smartphone or in print form means our pre-travel checklist has gotten longer. Airlines and airports still not being staffed to the levels we saw pre-pandemic also impacts how we travel nowadays. It all adds up to us having to spend a bit more time planning ahead to make sure our trip goes as smoothly as possible.

RELATED: What are the pre-departure testing requirements to enter the United States?

If you travel often with Europe’s budget airlines or because you’ve bought a basic economy fare on a full-service airline, you may be a whizz at travelling with a carry-on bag only. But for longer trips or where you are travelling for an event like a wedding, you may need to check in a bag or two.

Checking in a bag can free you up to take fewer items on board, but what should you always remember to have in your carry-on luggage?

Follow The Points Guy on Facebook and Twitter, and to ensure you never miss anything, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

1. Your passport Or ID

Don’t forget to keep some form of identification on you. Even if you don’t need a passport to board a flight, it’s a good idea to keep your photo ID on you in case your bag is delayed. You may not be able to check into a hotel or collect a hire car without proper identification.

If for some reason, your bag is lost forever, it can be a frustrating and expensive process to replace items like a passport and your driver’s license.

2. Phone and device chargers

With so many aircraft now featuring inflight charging points, you can ensure your phone, tablet or laptop remains charged for the duration of the flight. Be sure to bring your charging accessories with you so you can take advantage of the in-seat power.

If you have a lengthy layover between flights, you don’t want your device to run out of battery just as you need it.

Related: How to get a second British passport

Face masks and hand sanitiser are must-have items in your carry-on
Packing suitcase for travel vacation in new normal, top view. (Photo by Nikki Meel for Getty Images)

3. Face Masks and Hand Sanitiser

COVID restrictions aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future, so wearing masks on planes will remain part of the travel itinerary. Obviously, you need to be wearing a mask as you board and disembark the plane. But you should also remember to pack a few extra face coverings in your carry-on. That way, if you misplace your mask or the strings break on your disposable face mask, you have a replacement.

Hand sanitiser is also something that you should always have in your carry-on bag to practice safe hygiene. You can use that to help fight off any germs not just on the plane, but while you’re sitting at the terminal before you board. Remember to use an alcohol-based sanitiser with more than 60 per cent ethanol or 70 per cent isopropanol. That is what the CDC recommends in order to effectively kill germs and bacteria.

There are all sorts of different sanitisers you can get, from sprays to gels. And they’re available in bottles of various sizes. Some are small enough that they can be clipped to your backpack. However, be mindful of the size of your hand sanitiser container and check the rules for your flight beforehand. When travelling to the U.S., keep in mind that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines allow “one liquid hand sanitiser container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice.”

(Photo by Jaromire Chalabala/EyeEm/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jaromire Chalabala/EyeEm/Getty Images)

4. A change of clothes

If you’re travelling on long flights that connect to another destination, such as from the U.K. to Australia, you probably don’t want to wear the same clothes for 24 hours. If you have access to a shower during your layover, it can make a world of difference to your mood by simply showering and changing into a fresh pair of clothes — especially socks and underwear! Carrying a set with you can help you to feel better for the duration of your journey.

Plus, if your baggage is delayed once you get to your final destination, you’ll definitely want clothes to change into. Even if your flight is short and direct, it’s a great idea to have a change of clothes in case of delayed baggage. Make sure this outfit is appropriate for your destination.

5. Headphones

Don’t try and watch a funny video on your phone with the speaker turned up to full. This is annoying to fellow passengers both in the airport lounge and onboard — take headphones with you. It’s a good idea if you are using earbuds or AirPods to have these in your pocket as you board a flight rather than just in your hand luggage so they are easy to reach and use as you sit down without needing to get up and retrieve them from the overhead.

Related: Your guide to packing for toddlers

KRAKOW, POLAND - 2018/08/04: A woman passes by a Ryanair luggage info stand at Krakow John Paul II International Airport. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

6. Refillable water bottle

During the flight, it can be a good 20 minutes — or more — before cabin crew reach you during the beverage service, which is an issue if you’re especially thirsty. That’s why I carry a reusable water bottle with me so I don’t have to wait. Flying can really dehydrate you, especially if you’re drinking alcohol. It’s very handy to have a water bottle with you so you can reach for it whenever you like.

For airports that have limits on liquids that you are allowed to take through security, you will need to remember to drink or pour out the water in your bottle as you pass through security. You can still take the empty bottle though and an increasing number of airports will have free water refill stations to avoid paying for overpriced bottles of airport water.

Related: High and dry: The quest to stay hydrated in the airport and in the air

7. Daily medication

If you need to take medication daily, you should pack a few days’ worth in your hand luggage. If your luggage is delayed or lost, this could become critical to your health.

Also, if you wear contact lenses you may wish to take a few extra disposable pairs in the event that your luggage doesn’t return to you at the exact time you expected it. If you have permanent RPG contact lenses, remember to pack the case you store them in overnight if you are planning to sleep on the flight.

If you wear glasses for reading, remember to pack your case in your carry-on so you can safely store your glasses when you want to give your eyes a break or to take a nap.

Related: How to properly mix your medications and time zones while travelling

Bottom line

Whether you’re a packing pro or only travel with a carry-on bag, here are the things you should never forget to pack in your hand luggage. Be sure to keep this list in mind — even if your next trip isn’t until months away. It’s always good to start planning!

Featured image by JT Genter/The Points Guy

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.