Travel Essentials: How to pack the perfect carry-on and have a worry-free flight

No matter how well you are prepared, plane travel is not what one would typically call comfortable, unless you are fortunate enough to fly on one of those private luxury charter jets like this one. For the rest of us, we are packed like sardines in a tin can with the absolute minimum amount of personal space. Having all of the items you might need throughout the flight on hand and ready for use before the plane even pushes back from the gate can make your journey that much smoother. And I don’t even mean having it in your bag underneath the seat in front of you. No, I mean having it out either secured on your person or in the seat-back pocket. Think back to your last flight when you needed to get something out of your bag under the seat in front of you. You probably struggled to twist and contort your body, straining to reach what you needed. Its not pleasant.

This post is a guide to packing your carry-on to make sure that everything you may need during your flight will be easily within reach from the moment you first sit down in your seat. The key is preparation. Make sure those must-have items are all centrally located in one or two easy-to-grab mini bags so that they don’t accidentally get put in an overhead bin and you get stuck without them for hours while the seatbelt sign is on.

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Travel essentials.

I usually have three separate mini bags in my carry on: one with my personal essentials, one with my travel documents, and one with snacks and water. Before I even arrive at the airport I make sure that all of my personal essentials and travel documents are in their mini bags inside my personal item so that I can easily grab then when I get onto the plane (snacks an water I usually purchase at the airport after going through security to avoid any hassle). Now down to specifics.

Medication

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Always make sure that any medication you require is not only in your carry-on but is in your travel essentials bag within easy reach. You do not want to have to search frantically for your medication while in flight. In addition to essential prescribed medications, I always like to have some ibuprofen on hand in case I get a headache. And if you are prone to motion sickness you will also want to include some anti-nausea medication.

Water

I never board a flight of more than 2 hours without purchasing water. Yes, the flight attendants will give you water, but you have to wait for them to start their in-flight service and reach you, and even then you only get a small amount that you will likely drink in a few minutes. What if you want more later? Of course you can ring and they will bring it to you eventually, but I find it is just easier and more convenient to bring your own. That way you have it at your fingertips whenever you need it. You can even bring your own reusable water bottle through security (just make sure it is empty) and fill it once you get to the gate.

Electronics

While most long flights today have some sort of in-flight entertainment, all too often units are broken and people are left on their own. I remember my first 12-hour flight from the U.S. to Asia: I was stuck in the middle seat of a row of 5 without a working entertainment screen. It was miserable. I definitely recommend bringing your own backup entertainment source in case the airline’s is faulty. These days this can even just be your cell phone: throw a few movies or tv episodes, the ebook you’re reading, and a couple digital newspapers or magazines on there and you are all set. Bringing your own entertainment doesn’t mean you have to add bulk or weight to your carry-on. And don’t forget those headphones. Many flights will supply them (either for free or at a cost), but personally I don’t like the idea of sticking headphones in my ears when I don’t know exactly where they came from (are the really new? what do they do with all of the used ones? do they somehow clean them and re-wrap them? are they really clean?). I just prefer to bring my own, but that’s up to you.

Ear plugs/Eye mask

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If you hope to sleep on the plane, and especially if you are on a long-haul flight, these items are a must. For many, sleeping on a plane is difficult enough. The seats are uncomfortable, and there is no room to stretch out, nowhere to rest your head. Add to that the screaming baby behind you, the loud music coming from the headphones of the teenager next to you, and the glowing screens of everyone in front of you, sleeping can be almost impossible. In this scenario, ear plugs and a good eye mask are your best friends.

Snacks

Airplane food is not known for its quality or taste, and often it now comes at an extra cost. Save yourself some money and the disgust of sub-par food and bring your own snacks. This is especially important if you are on a long-haul flight or have special dietary needs. I was recently on a flight from Vancouver to Seoul on which I had pre-booked a vegetarian meal, but my flight got canceled and the airline re-booked me but did not re-book my meal so I was left on a 12-hour flight with only the snacks I brought myself, and boy was I glad to have them.

Toiletries

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The choice of toiletries you wish to bring is up to you, but some essentials I typically like to carry include:

  • toothbrush and toothpaste (for after those delicious airplane meals we just discussed),
  • contact lens case and solution (to take your contacts out so you can sleep),
  • lotion and lip balm (it can be very dry on airplanes),
  • hand sanitizer (airplane bathrooms can run out of soap).

Travel documents

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This tip applies mostly to international travel. When crossing borders there are a lot of regulations with which you must comply. On most international flights, almost immediately after the plane reaches its cruising altitude the first thing the flight attendants do is pass out customs forms. Typically, to fill these out you will need, at a minimum, your passport, the address and telephone number of the hotel at your destination, and a pen. Having these items within easy reach will make your life simpler. You definitely don’t want to wait until you disembark to fill all of this out when you could have used your time on the plane to take care of it.

And there you have it! Put these two or three mini bags into your personal item, board the plane, and before you even sit down pull them out and put them in the seat-back pocket. Then store your larger personal item under the seat in front of you and settle in for your flight.

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Travel Essentials

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