See what the experts are packing for every flight.
As travel editors, we tend to make the most of our vacation days, and we’re no strangers to a long flight or a rushed layover. When it comes to packing a lightweight carry-on, we’ve got to make some serious decisions about what makes the cut. Below, Fodor’s Editors weigh in on their must-have, cant-live-without travel items that are always in our bag.
A Worldwide Adapter
Because I travel all over the place and I’m always in need of a charge, I bring my Ceptics International Travel Plug Adapter Kit in my carry-on. It’s super lightweight and compact, and the three different styles of plugs feature movable slots and prongs (just twist the adapter to adjust the pins) for different voltage needs. The three adapters stack into each other, making it easier to keep them together and just toss the whole thing in your bag. It works in over 150 countries and I always end up needing it on whatever random layover connection I’m making worldwide.
—Rachael Levitt, Managing Editor of Fodors.com
An Inflight Spa Treatment
My carry-on bag always has the usual essentials like compression socks, a cashmere wrap, emergency earphones, phone charger, nasal spray , eye mask, book, and a Turtl neck rest, but it also always includes a mini inflight spa treatment: Dr. Gross Alpha Beta peel wipes; Shiseido Benefiance Retinol eye mask (just for long haul flights); Tatcha’s Luminous Dewy Skin Night Concentrate; Tatcha Camellia Gold Spun Lip Balm; assorted hand cream samples I collect; and a hydrating rose mist to reapply throughout the flight (in case my co-passengers don’t already realize that I am a princess in coach).
—Jacinta O’Halloran, Senior Editor
Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
And a pashmina. Growing up, my mother’s purse was like Mary Poppins’s bag when it came to snacks. Wherever we were, be it California, Ireland, or Maine, she was always prepared in case we were hungry (so we wouldn’t have to stop or pay crazy prices) and I’ve inherited that “bag.” If we’re flying, I always have gum and lollipops to help with air pressure, and dried fruit, Twizzler nibs (my favorite), Combos, granola bars…you get the picture. Items that come in small pieces, like nibs, combos, or M&Ms, are perfect because you can give them to your kids one or two at a time, which wastes time. I also always have a pashmina because it can double as a scarf or a blanket. You never know if the plane, train, restaurant, waiting area, etc. will be cold. Plus, it’s a good fashion accessory too!
—Alexis Kelly, Editor
A Reusable Water Bottle
I’m very adamant that the secret to being a happy traveler is staying hydrated, and I’ve finally found the perfect reusable water bottle: a S’well. They’re sleek, eco-friendly, and come in a bunch of cute designs. They keep your water cold for 24-hours, whether you’re waiting in the airport or walking around in the sun. They won’t spill in your bag. They’re stainless steel so don’t worry about stuffing them into your carry-on; they can take a beating. And they regularly partner with charities like UNICEF and (RED) to help promote access to clean drinking water around the world.
—Amanda Sadlowski, Senior Editor
A Calming Essential Oil Blend
I once wrote an entire article about everything I like to bring on the plane with me, so I consider myself an expert in these matters. I am truly amazed when I get off an 8+ hour flight and notice that there are people on my flight who only have a small purse with them. Where are they keeping their pillows and blankets? Where did they put their snacks? And then I realize that they were flying first class, and all of these things were provided for them. But beyond the earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, a toothbrush, an eye mask, slippers, and the myriad other amenities I can only imagine, there are two main things you can’t get on a plane, even if you’re in first class. The first thing is Tata Harper’s Aromatic Irritability Treatment, which is sort of like the perfume version of Xanax. It’s a roll-on, not a spray (please, I’m not that rude) that, when applied to your pillow, eye mask, and pulse points, creates a sort of transcendent protection against weird smells and crankiness. It doesn’t matter if your seatmate ordered the fish—you’ll be in your own little spa world. The second thing is a book, which, thankfully, can be found at airports worldwide. Airport bookstores, which used to be bleak wastelands of bodice rippers, formulaic mysteries, and business how-tos, have upped their game in the last few years (though there’s, understandably, a heavy emphasis on best-sellers). Browsing a bookstore is a great way to spend a layover and devouring the latest chart-topper is the best way to spend a flight.
No matter how short a flight is I must have a pair of fresh earplugs on me. I can’t fall asleep without them, despite only using them strictly when I travel. Ever since figuring this out, I have slept through numerous landings and been woken up by flight attendants for not disembarking the plane. For years, I tried the soundproof headphones or falling asleep to music tactic but it could never cancel the noise of a crying baby or pilot announcement. Ear plugs block out every little noise and if you add a sleeping mask, scarf, and hoodie to the mix it feels like at least sleeping on a small couch instead of coach.
—Allison Gretchko, Photo Assistant
Makeup sounds sort of obvious but after all the trial and error that goes into finding the exact products that give off that “My Face But Better” look, I’d be less disappointed to realize I hadn’t packed a single change of clothes than if I’d forgotten my carefully chosen cosmetic essentials. A quick swipe of undereye concealer, tinted lip balm, and NYX’s Jumbo Eye Pencil does wonders in terms of making me feel human during—the least humanizing of circumstances—long flights and/or road trips. I once walked off an overnight flight after a 15 hour travel day and was told I looked “so fresh and polished!” Which should tell you something since I never look “fresh” or “polished” in regular, non-traveling life.
—Chantel Delulio, Staff Writer
A Lost-Luggage Emergency Kit
I like to fill my carry-on with creature comforts. I always pack my favorite sweater blazer because I usually get chilly. Plus, I can pop it on right after we land to camouflage a plane-wrinkled shirt. I also bring along a memory-foam neck pillow that’s helped me master the art of sleeping upright, noise-canceling earbuds for catching up on podcasts, and a book I almost definitely won’t read but feel the need to bring along anyway.
I also pack a tiny emergency kit: a change of underwear, a fresh shirt, and a toothbrush, plus any valuables I’d be really bummed to be without. Fly often enough and the airline is bound to lose your luggage at least once. It’s always better to overpack than to go without.
—Meg Butler, Staff Writer
The mere posing of this question gives me pause. Asking “What’s in your carry on?” presupposes the habit of checking luggage, otherwise, everyone’s answer would be “uh…all my stuff?” Checked luggage frequently costs extra money, and then often goes missing, so I’m at a loss to understand why anyone who doesn’t have small children does it. I look forward to the publishing of this article so I can know which of my non-kid-raising coworkers to approach with extra care, based on answers indicating a troubling lack of travel bag judgment. Until then, I must treat everyone around me with suspicion.
—Rebecca Baer, Map Editor
A Perfect Playlist
Unless I plan on working during my flight, I like to take advantage of being in airplane mode, both corporeally and electronically. When else are you freed from the endless temptations of your iPhone? I always bring a good book, ideally something related to my destination; a magazine like New York to read longer-form news pieces and for the crossword, which really makes the time pass quickly; ear plugs (I can’t stress the importance of these); headphones; Neosporin (sounds strange, but it prevents your nose from getting dried out by the frigid cabin air); Tylenol PM if you need a shortcut to a nap; a water bottle so you’re not at the mercy of the flight attendant; a comfy sweatshirt; a snack; and a playlist—pre-downloaded—on Spotify. Follow these guidelines and you’re guaranteed a cozy, stress-free flight.
—Rachael Roth, Editor
My Own Food
I bring my own snacks because I don’t trust whatever snacks will come my way on the plane. Don’t get me wrong, I also take those snacks, for later, in case I run out of my own snacks. I’m sure they will be fine, but I can’t GO INTO the situation just HOPING the snacks will meet my needs (which are vast, as far as snacks go). Usually, the snacks I bring include: several protein bars (and I make sure to eat the ones that have any possibility of melting first), a fruit (one that won’t go bad if it is not refrigerated for a little bit), some sort of boring nut (almonds, usually), some sort of dark chocolate thing (or else I WILL buy sweets, somewhere, for like $14, and then feel bad about myself for doing this), and… I don’t know, anything I have at my house that can last in my purse for many hours (or days). I do not like paying for airport food. I am the Santa Claus of snacks.
— Audrey Farnsworth, Editor
A Hair Tie
Something I can’t travel without? A hair tie! I am, unfortunately, a millennial who can’t resist growing his hair out to prove to his father that he will not be completely bald by the age of 30. Thanks to my essential hair tie(s), I can get my bountiful locks out of my eyes so that I may drive, navigate airports successfully, find my seat on the plane in a reasonable amount of time, look out the window of the aircraft while thinking about my future, and look at my seatmate while talking to him/her. Yes, a hair tie is extremely losable–that’s why I always bring extra! Because they take up very little space in my suitcase—actually I can wear one or two on my wrist–I have plenty of room to store clothes, shoes and, depending on where I’m traveling to, even my white noise machine; I can’t sleep without it.
—Jesse Tabit, Social Media Manager
I refuse to check bags, no matter how long my trip is, so technically, everything has a place in my carry-on. But I always stash a few essentials in my under-seat bag, especially for long-haul/overnight flights. First, I always have a packet of Burt’s Bees Sensitive Skin Towelettes; they’re perfect for removing makeup, refreshing my face when I wake up, and, in a pinch, a quick underarm swipe (anyone who’s been on flights over 12 hours will sympathize). Even better, they’re unscented, so I won’t offend my seatmates with heavy perfumes in an enclosed space. My other must-have is R + Co.’s Badlands Dry Shampoo Paste—this stuff is magic for reviving greasy, slept-on hair! The full container is technically carry-on size, but to save space, I recommend putting some in a smaller pot like this little guy; a tiny bit goes a very long way, so this mini-container is more than adequate. There’s no substitute for a hot shower after a long journey, but these two items keep me feeling (or at least looking and smelling) human until I can get to my hotel.
—Jennifer DePrima, Production Manager