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Packing 101: 5 Things That Should Always Be in Your Carry-On Bag

Don't leave home without these essentials in your carry-on, which will bring you peace of mind and make your travels as comfortable as possible.

Your carry-on bag is your lifeline on a flight. It contains items you’ll need to stay entertained and the documents you’ll need to get you through your trip. Even if you’re checking a bag, your carry-on bag is where you’ll keep your most valuable items.

Travel Documents & ID

This one is a no-brainer. Be sure to include your passport or some form of identification, as well as copies of your boarding pass. You don’t have to print out your hotel and rental car confirmation, but it can save you from having to find the emails on your phone. It’s also a good idea to leave a copy of all of this information with someone at home, or in an online folder on Dropbox or Evernote.


Pack your carry-on as if the plane won’t have entertainment, because, believe it or not, there are still some that don’t, even on long-haul flights! Stock your carry-on with everything you’ll need to get through those hours, whether it’s a Kindle full of your favorite books, a few movies downloaded to your laptop or hard-copy books and magazines. For more low-tech options, grab a book of crossword puzzles or Sudoku from the grocery store, or even a deck of playing cards.


If you don’t feel like purchasing a $7 bag of chips on the plane, bring your own snacks. Healthy but filling bites like Clif Bars and unsalted nuts make great travel snacks and easily fit in your carry-on. Bring a water bottle that you can refill at the terminal, which will save you money and prevent the bottle from ending up in a landfill.

Odds & Ends

Other bits and bobs should be included in your carry-on, especially ones to make long-haul flights more comfortable. These include eye drops, lotion and TSA-approved liquids in a clear, 1-quart bag. Pillows, eye masks and sleep aids will also help you catch some Z’s. And bring a change of clothes, an extra pair of contact lenses and any daily prescription medication in case your checked baggage doesn’t arrive.


Never check your valuables — jewelry, money, electronics, whatever — in your bag. They should stay as close to you as possible. Be sure to put your laptop in a padded sleeve to prevent damage, but stow it in a place where it’s easily taken out when going through security. With jewelry, don’t bring anything you can’t live without. If you’d be heartbroken to see it broken, lost or stolen, then it’s best to leave it at home.

Want to fit everything in your carry-on? Here are more tips for packing for a trip.
Inset photo: iStock

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David Kallas, AAA Travel Counselor, Murray, Utah

I'm all about once-in-a-lifetime trips to destinations such as the Cook Islands, Australia or an African safari. I love to plan trips that my clients return from not regretting anything.

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