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What to Pack for Flights: Carry-on Essentials

“How do you survive such a long flight?!” is perhaps the questions I’m asked most.

Living in Australia isn’t the ideal situation for a person with a case of wanderlust. That is, a country where the closest International destination is 3.5 hours away; Asia is six, North America is fifteen and Europe is twenty-two hours. That makes for some really long flights, including one labelled as the longest flight in the world.

In my opinion, your comfort on a flight begins with how you pack your carry-on luggage. Inside contains everything that will help you pass time and stay comfortable.

After an airline lost my luggage last year I created a rather complicated carry-on routine, but for the past few months, I made a conscious decision to improve my habits and minimise my bag.
Now, my in-flight essentials can be thrown together in just a few minutes and suits both the domestic traveller or international long-haul flyer. Here are the items I pack.

Carry-On Travel Essentials

A comfortable flight begins with being prepared. Here's my ultimate list of carry-on travel essentials, and a handy packing list to help! | #TravelTips #PackingList

From top: Michael Kors Jetset Travel Tote; Country Road Ribbed Sleeve Waterfall Cardigan;
Minnetonka Kilty Moc; Lenovo Miix 2 Tablet; Herschel Supply Co. Laptop Sleeve;
Rifle Paper Co. Bon Voyage Journal; BIC Velocity; Bose QuietComfort 25;
Johnson’s Daily Essentials Refreshing Facial Wipes;
Urban Decay Naked On The Run Travel Makeup Kit;

TLC Explorer Pouch; Clinique Moisture Surge Moisturiser;
Maybelline Baby Lips Antioxidant Berry; Benefit Fake Up Concealer;
Ralph Lauren ‘Ralph’ Rollerball; This Works: Sleep.

THE ESSENTIALS

Don’t leave home without these essential items!

Multi-purpose Travel Bag – The secret to packing starts with a great bag. Currently, I use the Michael Kors Jetset Travel Tote.
With a padded middle section that cushions my laptop (inside my Henschel Supply Co. Laptop Sleeve), pocket for your iPad or tablet device, mobile phone pockets, and plenty more. When you aren’t flying, it’s a great day bag with plenty of space for the office or study.

Travel Wallet – Something to fit all your cards, multiple currencies and – maybe – your passport. Right now, I’m using a very well-loved quilted Chanel wallet that I’ve been using for a good five years. The wallet is long enough to fit tickets, fast-track passes, and immigration forms. There’s also plenty of room for cards, ID, and a few business cards. My passport also fits snuggly inside.

Large purses are on trend right now, so many stores should stock larger models which will easily allow you to slip your passport into for safe keeping! Some of my favourites include Michael Kor’s Jet Set Travel Wallet and Mimco’s Mim Travel Wallet.

Cash, bank cards – Because if you leave these at home you might not be smiling!

Passport, ID – Enough said. (I use a La Route Du Bonheur Passport Cover for extra protection!)

Phone (and charger) – I have an iPhone, I love it (or should that be iLove it?) but I never leave home without a good charger. I was using a Cygnett Portable Power Bank currently and love it. Lightweight (218g), with two USB slots, means I can share it with my travel buddy, and – seriously – pay the extra $20 for the 10,000mAh. It charges my iPhone 5-6 times. Perfect for the frequent traveller.

Looking for something even smaller? I’ve also got an MDN JuiceExtra 4000mAH which also comes with an inbuilt speaker!

Should you forget the charger, be sure to ask someone at the hotel’s concierge. You never know who left a charger behind and didn’t claim it… I also bring along a portable charger, but more about that below.

Travel Documents – I like to print out all my documents and store them in a folder or plastic pocket as a backup should something go wrong. For my current trip, I’m using the A5 version of Kokuyo’s Color Tag series and have marked each of the tabs for specific legs of my trip to make organisation easier.

FOR COMFORT

Long flights are taxing, so stay comfy with these easy to store items.
I pack all of this, plus one extra outfit and some extra underwear, inside a packing cube to keep it neat and save space. Trust me, if you lose your suitcase you’ll be thankful you have these few items!

Onboard Suitcase – I don’t know about you but lugging a heavy carry-on bag around the airport drives me mad and just adds to the shoulder or back pain (something you don’t want when you’re embarking on a 5 or 15+ hour flight!)
I’ve been using my Antler Bond Street suitcase for nearly five years and it’s a staple on every trip I take. With plenty of space, and expandable if need be, four-wheels and plenty of internal pockets, it was one of the best purchases.

As a replacement, I’ve been scoping out Samsonite’s Lite-Cube 55cm Spinner as my next purchase. I chose the Lite-Cube because it’s super lightweight (2.20kg!), with pockets in all the right places, and the 360 wheel technology (a MUST on all my suitcases!).

Flats, thongs/flip flops – Take your feet out and relax but remember to bring socks or slip-on shoes in case you want to go to the bathroom!
I usually wear my Minnetonka moccasins onto the plane because they’re lightweight and easy to slip off during security, but keep a pair of Havaianas in my hand luggage for convenience onboard (and for any potential swimming or beach stops!)

Socks – For your comfort and sanitary reasons, keep some socks on your feet in flight.

Scarf – Planes temperatures fluctuate and they’re either extremely hot or cold. If they’re cold, there’s nothing better than cuddling up in a scarf. Bonus, it can be used as a pillow, eye mask or blanket!

Cardigan, jumper – Same reasons as a scarf. Cuddle up in a nice jumper and keep away from those germy travel blankets! Cardigans are also a nice lightweight alternative to your jacket and can be worn in all weather conditions!
I LOVE Country Road’s range of cardigans and am wearing my Ribbed Sleeve Waterfall Cardigan right now.

Track pants – For long-haul flights, I always bring a pair of track pants or pyjama bottoms. Keeps your day clothes from getting wrinkled and smelly, and you comfortable in-flight.

Sunglasses – Especially great if you’ve had an overnight flight to somewhere sunny, like LA or Hawaii.
Currently, I am loving my Chanel Butterfly Sunglasses which have a simple design and beautiful quilted arms.

ENTERTAINMENT

Even on long-haul flights some airlines don’t provide you with any entertainment option or offer limited or modified programs. Bring your own items to keep yourself occupied, especially if you aren’t a big sleeper!

Headphones – After a long search for the perfect travel headphones I think I have found them. I’ve had my Bose QC25‘s for two months and been loving them. Use with or without their noise cancelling feature, the QC25’s make movies sound sharper, and almost like you have surround sound, and they’re so comfortable you can sleep in them! They also come with their own case meaning they are protected no matter where you take them.
They’ve recently released a Samsung compatible pair alongside their Apple iPhone version.

iPad, tablet, Kindle – While I may be a recent Netflix convert, one pre-flight ritual I have is to make sure I have the latest season of my favourite show on my iPad.

Currently, I’m loving Scandal and The Big Bang Theory, but with no new episodes coming soon, I think I’ll be catching up on House of Cards on my next trip. This is particularly important if I’m flying a budget airline (AirAsia or Jetstar) or one that offers modified programming (like Royal Brunei. Big Bang Theory is just not the same without the sexual innuendo!)

Regardless of if I’m travelling with an iPad, tablet or Kindle, I make sure I’ve downloaded at least two books and any relevant Lonely Planet PDF chapters onto my device. This saves on space and helps preserve that precious check-in baggage weight!

Laptop – As I work when I travel, my MacBook Pro comes with me everywhere I go. Be sure to invest in a good protective case, like the Herschel Supply Co. case I have, or a good bag to store it in.

Notebook & pen – I’m old school. I love having a notebook and pen in my bag. The notebook is great for when my phone or tablet runs out of battery, or for writing notes. The pen is handy in any situation, especially when it comes to filling in landing cards!

Books & magazines – While tablets and Kindle‘s save on space, there is nothing like the feel (and smell) of a printed book. I usually try to bring one with me on every trip.
If I’m on a long-haul flight you’ll always find some magazines in my bag for when I’m too tired to read a novel. If you know you’re going away soon, save some back issues of your favourite mags to ensure you have plenty to read. I usually try to save a few editions of The Collective and Luxury Travel Magazine. If I need something a little lighter, you can’t beat Famous.

Portable charger – I LOVE portable chargers and try to keep one with me wherever I go. For the last 12-months, I’ve been using the MDN JuiceExtra which is a handy pocket charger AND phone speaker.

Camera – Keep your camera secure and pack it in your carry-on, no matter the size. I use a Nikon D7000 and pack it, along with the lenses, inside a camera bag or padded bag.
DSLR’s can be considered bulky and heavy; if you’re looking for a camera that’s a smaller size, consider an Olympus OM-D or, for video lovers, try a GoPro Hero4 – I got mine last week!

BEAUTY

Planes and climate changes can sap the moisture from your skin so it’s super important to hydrate!

Lip balm – Pucker up and use a hydrating lip balm on your travels. I am loving Maybelline’s Baby Lips in Anti-Oxidant Berry. Not only does it have a delicious berry fragrance, it has SPF20 and is long lasting. Did I mention the berry flavour is so good?!

Roll-on deodorant – I keep spotting travel-size aerosol deodorants but there is nothing worse than choking on the fumes when spraying it on in the tiny airplane bathrooms. I always bring a roll-on with me, like the Dove Original Deodorant Cream, because you can discreetly apply it, it’s moisturising, and there’s no noxious gas.

Hair ties & brush – Is it just me or does your hair go either full-on banshee or static and frizzy after a flight? To look your best, pack the pint-sized Tangle Teezer and some hair ties in your carry-on. Even with my long thick hair, the Tangle Teezer makes easy work of knots and frizz, before I tie my hair up in a ponytail and rock that runway… I mean, airplane gangway.

Toothbrush & toothpaste – I don’t think I need to explain why I’ve included this one (if I do, try smelling someone’s breath after a 15-hour flight – ew!)
If you don’t want to pack a toothbrush & paste (some airlines still give them to you on the plane), consider packing some Listerine Pocket Cool Mints. These tiny wafers dissolve on your tongue and leaves your breath minty fresh.

Make-up – Keep it simple! Onboard I bring the bare essentials which allow me to pull off a day or night look, just in case of delays. I have been LOVING Urban Decay’s Naked On The Run kit. The packaging is a little chunky but inside is everything you need for a “no makeup”-face or a smokey eye. Best of all, it comes with a mascara, eyeliner and lip gloss. Now, you just need to choose a concealer (I love Benefit’s Fake Up) and Moisturiser (Clinique’s Moisture Surge is my pick if you want something ultra hydrating).

Face wipes – Airplanes are one of the few places where you can skimp on the full face cleansing routine and go with the easy makeup wipe option. After testing pretty much every packet I can find in Australian supermarkets, beauty stores, and Sephora, the winners – by far – are Johnson’s Daily Essentials Refreshing Facial Wipes. In a cute baby pink packet (not the blue!), these makeup wipes are ultra hydrating and they get all your makeup off with just one wipe.

Rollerball perfume – I smell pretty average after a long-haul flight. To mask that odour, I have a discrete rollerball stored in my bag. I’m using the fresh scent of Ralph Lauren ‘Ralph’ Rollerball, but have backups of Chloe’s namesake fragrance and Ralph Lauren ‘Romance’ as well.
Unfortunately, I haven’t spotted these in many stores in Australia but if you’re heading to Sephora, be sure to pick up two!

Dry shampoo – I’m not a fan of dry shampoo (okay, I haven’t tried it but nothing can beat a shower) when travelling but my sister made me insist I’d include it in this post. She takes it everywhere and swears by Bastille.

ODDS & ENDS

Those little things that can go a long way!

Tissues – Snotty noses, mopping up messes, and able to write your number on to pass to cute guys… yep, tissues are essentials!

Dettol Sanitising Wipes – These are one of my holy grail items and I take them everywhere, both at home and abroad. Wipe down dirty tables, sanitise cuts or scrapes, or just clean sticky hands. Buy them in bulk and keep a few packets in your luggage as back up.

Pandol – Headaches, muscle aches, and a myriad of other reason. It’s not fun trying to ask where the pharmacy is when your head or body is hurting.

Vitamins, Melatonin – Stay healthy and remember to pack these into your suitcase or hand luggage. If you struggle with jet lag, speak to your Doctor about getting melatonin (you want to source it from a compound pharmacy because regular pharmacies melatonin tablets contain only a small amount per capsule).

Check out this post for more tips on how to combat jetlag.

Foldable Water Bottle – Tiny airplane cups be gone! Fill up your water bottle in the terminal before you board so you have a supply on hand during the flight. Also, great for saving money on bottled water if you’re going to be doing some adventure activities or city sightseeing!

Snacks – 15 hours is a LONG time to survive on only airplane food. Bring your own snacks from home to keep your tummy happy. Consider bringing scroggin, nuts, or perhaps some Natural Confectionary Company lollies for a sugar hit.

Let me know below

Am I missing anything?
What’s the most important thing YOU pack in your carry-on?

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Sarah
    August 28, 2015 at 11:04 am

    great advice! Long haul flights aren’t my favorite either but you’re lucky you can get to Asia in 6 hours! I’m dying to go!

    • Reply
      Nicole
      September 3, 2015 at 10:46 am

      We are incredibly lucky to be able to get to Asia in 6hrs (or less if you live in Northern Australia! It’s only 2hrs from Darwin to Bali!)

      Where are you based in the US? There are so many amazing places to visit IN the USA and nearby (I really want to go to the Caribbean, South America, and back to the Pacific Northwest!)

      Hope to see your adventures in Asia soon! 🙂

      • Reply
        Kris
        August 10, 2016 at 12:53 pm

        I always bring medications in my carry-on. We learned the hard way to bring an extra set of underwear!

  • Reply
    Katherine
    September 1, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    OH MY GOD!!! I’m lusting after all of these!!! Great list. Amazeballs!!! Definitely need some great goodies when travelling to make life easier and more comfortable.

    • Reply
      Nicole
      September 3, 2015 at 10:44 am

      Haha, thanks Katherine. 🙂
      Do you have anything you’d add to the list that I’ve forgotten?

  • Reply
    Julie
    September 15, 2015 at 4:52 am

    I love those huge slouchy sweaters to wear on a plane. I’ve had one for nearly 10 years and it comes with me on nearly every flight, no matter the length. BTW, thanks to the distance of Oz, I still have never been to your neck of the woods. But I would love to come for a few months and really just sink my teeth in!

  • Reply
    Jackie
    January 3, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    Great list and ideas!! I love to bring word searches too, for when I’m tired of looking at a screen.

  • Reply
    Tristan
    March 12, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    I love everything you’ve written! It’s all exactly what I’ve been looking for! But I do have one question, where did you find that urban decay makeup on the go palette? I clicked the link and looked on their website and I couldn’t find it. It’s exactly what I’ve been wanting for my next long flight and I’d really appreciate any help you can give me!

    Thank you so much! Australia is definitely on my list to visit one day!!

  • Reply
    Sam
    March 23, 2016 at 1:48 am

    The Urban Decay pallet is no longer available… do you know of anything similar? Love you list!!!

  • Reply
    Sher
    May 23, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Love this list!! My carry-on has almost every item you mentioned! Some times my bag gets a little heavy but there are so many “what ifs?” that i don’t mind being an over packer haha.

    • Reply
      Nicole
      July 21, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      I’m exactly the same way Sher! I’d rather take it and not use it than not bring it and need it.
      What are your ‘must’ pack items?

  • Reply
    Lora
    July 5, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing

  • Reply
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