What Should I Pack in My Carry On? Ultimate Travel Packing Check List


You really don’t need to pack as much as you think you do. “But what if-” No. You won’t need it.


I hardly ever check my bags at the airport. I love the ease of skipping that line and not having to wait around for a suitcase to (hopefully) show up upon arrival. It’s possible to travel for months, years even, with what you can fit in the overhead bin. Traveling light feels sooo liberating. Do you want to try it? Here’s a comprehensive list of the items I always take with me (it may look long, but most of these items are small).




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Buying your travel gear via this article is a great way to support the podcast. Why? At no additional cost to you, the podcast can earn a small commission if you make a purchase via the affiliate links, contained here. I only recommend products that I and/or my podcast guests actually use and love. If you have any questions about this, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


Absolute essentials (pretty much all you really need)

Carry on suitcase — I thought about getting a proper backpack, but prefer four-wheeling it with a classic suitcase. The one I’ve been using can take a beating and meets the size requirements of most of the budget airlines. It’s no longer available online, but this one is quite similar.

Passport — You can’t very well escape without this. Make sure your passport is still valid for at least six months before your trip starts.

Debit and credit cards — I never get local currency before I travel. When I arrive at the airport, I use the ATM. Make sure you tell your bank and credit card companies where you are traveling and when so they don’t freeze your card.

Headphones — Nothing blocks subway or airplane noise better than Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones. I take them everywhere.

Phone — The world would stop spinning if I didn’t have my iPhone clutched in my hand.

Phone case — For the love of God, whatever phone you have, get a case for it! And also get it insured. I went years without damaging my phones and then broke the screen twice within six months :/

Power adapter — In the olden days, international adapters came with a bunch of separate bits to mix and match depending on what region of the world you were going to. Now, you can get an all-in-one adapter and don’t have to worry about losing that crucial plug. And this one also has USB ports, so your friend who forgot to bring her charger can use yours.

Cell phone charger — Your phone’s camera and map apps will drain your phone’s battery faster than you think. Always, always pack a cell phone charger to keep in your purse/bag so that your phone is not dead when you need it most. I like Jackery because it comes with built-in cords, but if your charger doesn’t, don’t forget to pack 1) the cord to connect your phone to the battery and 2) the cord to connect the battery to a USB port to recharge (cords 1 and 2 are not always the same).



Health and beauty  

SPF 50 — I’m a little obsessed with skin protection and always choose at least SPF 50. I love La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, which you can get in tinted or non-tinted.

Perfume — I only recently started wearing perfume oil, a gorgeous sandalwood scent I picked up at a market in Istanbul. I literally went back to Turkey just to get this perfume.

Deodorant — I’m not too fussed about which deodorant I use as long as it’s unscented and doesn’t leave a white mess all over my clothes. Well actually, I should add that I like my products to be as natural and cruelty-free as possible.

Shampoo and conditioner — I usually travel with leftover mini-bottles from hotels. Or travel sets from Santa :)

Facial cleanser or wipes — Sometimes I travel with wipes so it’s one less liquid I have to take. Sometimes I prefer a travel-sized cleanser because I think it feels better.

Toner — In the past, I never used toner but then I tried it and saw how much grime is still left on my face after washing.

Moisturizer — Did you know you’re not supposed to sleep with SPF on your face? You also don’t need a separate moisturizer for your face, body, and hands. Buy a combo lotion and save room in your bag for other liquids.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste — For obvious reasons. Anything with fluoride.

Floss picks — My hygienist told me flossing is more important than brushing. And I was recently told that I should also now use this kind of floss with these picks, which are unpleasant at first but then you get used to it

Tongue scraper — If you don’t already use one of these, you will be amazed by the amount of gunk on your tongue.

Cotton pads — For the toner.

Comb — For making yourself look acceptable to society. I keep a travel-sized comb in my purse.

Lipstick — I love MAC Spice It Up and Cream in My Coffee.

Hair elastics — Because messy buns are the hairstyle of vacation.

Nail clippers — When I was a child, my parents took me to Hersheypark in Pennsylvania, where I got a pair of Mr. Goodbar nail clippers. I use them to this day.

Silicone earplugs — I’ve experimented with staying in hostels this year, and while everyone was respectful and quiet at night, I was happy to have these earplugs.

Eye mask — Whether I’m staying in a hostel, hotel, or apartment, I’m never sure of what the curtain situation will be, which is why I always keep an eye mask in my carry on.

Excedrin — Sometimes the physical stress of travel gives me headaches, especially if I’m moving countries and carting a lot of stuff. I always pack headache medicine.

Tylenol PM — I don’t usually need sleeping pills, though on the first night in a new place, I do find it hard to fall asleep. I used to like Midol PM, but that seems to no longer exist, so I carry Tylenol PM for emergencies.

Tampons — If you’re a female who has gotten/still gets her period, keep some in your carry on always. Same with pantyliners and overnight pads.


Clothes, shoes, and accessories (warm weather)

Wear your heaviest items on the plane. So, your jeans, sneakers, cardigan. Be realistic about what you’re actually going to do on your trip. Are you really going to the gym or jogging? If not, don’t burden yourself with that stuff.


Underwear — I like to pack a week’s worth of undies. A friend of mine recently turned me on to this moisture wicking underwear, which is great if you're hiking somewhere particularly sweaty.

Bras — Am I the only one who wears the same bras all the time? I’d only pack two, plus a sports bra.

Socks — In the summer, I never need these unless I plan on jogging. Then, I’d pack two pair of socks.

Bathing suit — You really only need one (I’m all about the tankini). Make sure you hang it out to dry at night.

Shoes — I live in sandals in the summer. I might pack dressier sandals and wear comfortable flip flops. Sneakers only come on longer trips or when I definitely plan on working out (but my favorite form of exercise is aimlessly strolling).

T-shirt and shorts — This is what I like to sleep in. It can also double as a running outfit.

Dresses — I love the convenience of dresses, and now I’m only packing those. If it’s not your thing, go with two skirts and three or four tops you can mix and match. Some people love shopping for travel clothes, but I’d rather do other things. I recently got turned onto Stitch Fix and I absolutely love this service, in which a human being selects five items of clothes based on your style and mails them to you (use this link to to get $25 off when you try it for the first time).

Pants — I’ll pack one pair of pants or jeans in case it’s freakishly cold or wet somewhere.

Shirt — To go with your pants.

Cardigan — A long-sleeved cardigan can go over anything and keep you warm in overly-air conditioned places.

Hat — I’m still on the hunt for a hat that does not make me look like a jackass. Right now I mix it up between a visor I bought in Slovenia and a Red Sox baseball cap. Both are currently at my friends house, several hours away.

Scarf — I love buying scarves as a souvenir. In the summer, I use them to protect my head and neck if the sun is too intense.

Necklace — I also like buying necklaces from local artists. If you’re in New York around Christmas time, hit up the markets for an awesome selection. But only pack one.

Handbag — I use a cross-body purse with a zipper, and also pack a canvas tote bag in case I want to pack more things for a day trip.


Other sundry items

Starbucks — I am a weirdo and travel with my own coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I hang out at local coffee shops, too. But I love the guaranteed caffeine jolt of Starbucks, and these portable coffee packets are cheaper than buying a cappuccino out all the time.

Gum — If you’re drinking coffee all day, you could use some gum. Pack your favorite because it might not be available where you’re traveling. I like Orbit, which was supposedly rebranded as Extra, but that does not seem to have caught on.

Travel towel — I purchased a microfibre towel this year in case one of the hostels didn’t provide a towel, but they all have so far. I keep this in my bag just in case.

Swim shirt — Last summer while visiting my parents, I swam in the neighbors’ freezing pool. I thought this shirt would keep me warm (?!?!?!) but it did not. However, I wear it when I swim in the ocean, because, as we have established, I’m at war with the sun.




Portable fan — I like white noise, especially if sharing a room in a hostel. And this mini-fan plugs into a USB port.

Computer — Believe it or not, I’m a workaholic and take my Macbook Air everywhere. But I also use it to keep up my language skills by watching Italian TV shows. Basically, I’m on a screen 24/7 and can’t believe I can still see.

Privacy screen — If you don’t want people spying on you while you work on the plane, get a privacy screen. Usually you only think of buying this once you sit down on the plane, so do it before you forget. Or, see if your job will pay for this. Email them right now.