Carry-On Essentials
Marija Jovovic/istockphoto

25 Carry-On Essentials to Pack for Your Next Flight

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Carry-On Essentials
Marija Jovovic/istockphoto

Compact and Convenient

Unless you’re chartering a private jet or at least living it up in first class, there’s no sugarcoating it: Flying can be downright uncomfortable — especially with lingering concerns and ongoing safety precautions taken for the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re one of the people returning to travel and trying to avoid steep baggage fees by taking only a carry-on, that adds an extra layer of stress. Knowing how to pack and what to buy can help. Here are some tried-and-true products for anyone who’s trying to travel light and stay comfortable at the same time.


Prices and availability are subject to change.


Related: Your New Air Travel Checklist

EnerPlex 3-Ply Reusable Face Mask
Amazon

EnerPlex Reusable Masks

$25 from Amazon
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Since masks remain required on mass transit such as airplanes, best to boost your chances of staying comfortable by buying the right kind. This model comes three to a pack with inner layers of cotton and an outer layer of polyester for breathability and protection, and they come in three sizes.


Reviewer rave: “If I have to wear a mask, it’s got to be comfortable! I’m an essential worker in a warehouse but also am out and about quite a bit, and I needed a reusable and washable safety mask. First of all, this mask is so soft, and secondly it is three-ply, which gives great protection as well. But the real value proposition with this mask is the ear loops." —William D

Travelpro Maxlite 5 Carry-On
Amazon

Travelpro Maxlite 5 Carry-On

$127 from Amazon
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First things first: You won’t get far without a durable carry-on, and frequent travelers swear by Travelpro. The Maxlite 5 isn’t as pricey as some other options, but still ticks off all the boxes: It’s lightweight, expandable, and sturdy enough to see you through flight after flight.


Reviewer rave: “By planning carefully, I was able to pack six day's worth of clothing and other items with room to spare (although not much). As with other Travelpro spinners, the bag glides effortlessly, and, because the top is fairly wide, I can carry a tote bag as well. The interior is well-organized, there are several pockets on the outside, and the hand grip is strategically placed on the side, a nice touch.” —Rita G


Related: The Best Cheap Luggage

Anker Soundcore Life P2 Earbuds
Amazon

Anker Soundcore Life P2 Earbuds

$40 from Amazon
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Compact wireless earbuds are super convenient for travel, but if you don’t want to spend big on AirPods or the like, this pair of Anker earbuds make for a worthy stand-in, fans say. Best of all, you get seven hours on a charge or a whopping 40 hours with the charging case.


Reviewer rave: “I'm very happy with these. They have most of the features of the Apple AirBuds which fell out of my pocket somewhere en route from Texas to New York, with no way to trace them, and at a small fraction of the cost, while actually fitting better than the non-top-of the line version I had. Sound quality is amazing when listening to music, and I'm surprised how much they block outside noise.” —Beth A

Travelrest Nest Ultimate Memory Foam Pillow
Amazon

Travelrest Nest Ultimate Memory Foam Pillow

$40 from Amazon
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Travel pillows can make getting a few hours of airborne shut-eye easier, but they’re a pain to lug around. This foam pillow compresses to a fourth of its size but won’t spring a leak like inflatable options. It also earns a thumbs-up from The Wirecutter for providing more neck support than competitors.


Reviewer rave: “The back of the pillow is actually quite thin, so it lets you comfortably lean your head back against the seat versus having a bunch of bulk behind your neck that serves no purpose and is uncomfortable.” —CJ

ZIIDOO Bluetooth 5.0 Transmitter and Receiver
Amazon

Ziidoo Bluetooth Transmitter

$20 from Amazon
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So you invested in some sleek wireless headphones, only to realize your in-flight entertainment requires an old-school wired pair? You don’t have to resort to the airline’s uncomfortable cheapies if you have this transmitter, which plugs into the headphone jack and transmits sound wirelessly to your headphones.


Reviewer rave: “These work amazingly well. I was surprised that you can charge and use them at the same time. I use them on planes to listen to the in-flight entertainment with my AirPods. I also use them to listen to music on my laptop with my AirPods … Now, I don't have to carry my wired earbuds with me when I travel anymore.” —RPL

SB Sox Compression Socks
Amazon

SB Sox Compression Socks

$13 from Amazon
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The only thing worse than a long-haul flight is a long-haul flight with painfully swollen feet and ankles. These popular compression socks can help keep blood circulating, even when you’re crammed into coach. The fabric is moisture-wicking, and a no-slip cuff will help keep them from slipping.


Reviewer rave: “I've had a hard time finding compression socks that don't completely cut off my circulation, but finally found a pair. I am taking a high blood pressure medicine that causes fluid to build up in my ankles. I flew from Arizona to New Orleans and walked for hours and my feet and ankles didn't swell. The socks were actually comfortable as well.” —Lisa

[Upgraded with PowerIQ] Anker PowerCore Speed 10000 QC
Amazon

Anker PowerCore 10,000 External Battery

$30 from Amazon
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More than 49,000 reviewers can’t be wrong: If you need a portable battery to juice up your devices, this is a reliable option. It’s about the size of a credit card (though thicker), so it won’t take up too much valuable room in your bag, but can power up most smartphones around three times.


Reviewer rave: “I feel qualified to disagree with these "claims" of how good Anker is and say they EXCEED the claims! For example, based on the math and my device battery, this Charger exceeds it's 10000 rated capacity. Plus, it's a true Quick Charger as claimed. This small size is perfect.” —Randy

ew Super Soft Adult EarPlanes® Ear Plugs Airplane Travel Ear Protection 3 Pair
Amazon

Earplanes Ear Plugs

$18 from Amazon
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If you dread flying because the air-pressure changes wreak havoc on your ears and sinuses, these specially designed earplugs can help. Made of hypoallergenic silicone, they’re plenty comfortable, reviewers say. They also reduce cabin noise, making it easier to read, sleep, or relax.


Reviewer rave: “I have terrible ear pain and pressure problems when I fly. Without these, it will take me days to regain my hearing. Ever since I started using ear planes, I don’t have any problems with pain or pressure.” —Leah Bowman

Travelrest Travel Blanket
Amazon

Travelrest Travel Blanket

$30 from Amazon
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Whether you’re a germaphobe, always cold, or both, your own travel blanket can add a little luxury (and a lot more warmth) to a long flight. This poncho-style fleece option won’t slip down mid-nap and zips compactly into an integrated carry case.


Reviewer rave: “It doesn’t slip off you when you’re asleep, drooling on your seatmate, or snoring like a banshee. Add an eye mask and zap! Once you’re cuddled in this blanket and wrapped like a burrito you’re out like a light — I slept the entire nine-hour flight to Barcelona and it was awesome.” —OtterBlonde

Zoppen Travel Wallet
Amazon

Zoppen Travel Wallet

$15 from Amazon
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Thousands of buyers sing the praises of this travel wallet with spots for easy access to all the essentials, including your passport, credit cards, plane tickets, memory cards, and more. It’s RFID-blocking to prevent data skimming and comes in a ton of colors.


Reviewer rave: “I have many types of currency from different countries as well as Euros in the side cash pocket. I have our frequent flyer cards, multiple credit cards, bank cards, driver’s licenses, two passports, health insurance cards (U.S. and international), an iPhone 6, entry cards to our current country of residence, and a pen all stashed away in here.” —Jonathan & Meredith


Related: 15 Expert Secrets to Stress-Free Flying

TravelWise Packing Cube System
Amazon

TravelWise Packing Cube System

$30 from Amazon
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Keep that carry-on as organized as possible with these much-lauded nylon packing cubes. Each set includes two large cubes, two medium cubes, and one small cube, all of which have mesh windows and easy-pull two-way zippers.


Reviewer rave: “Once I figured out how to pack the cubes (by rolling items rather than folding), I saw how it made packing, unpacking, and repacking a lot easier ... I also found that living out of the cubes in the vacation condo ... made for a quick unpack (on arrival) and repack (when leaving). I'll never travel without using these again! —Will Pearce

Fire HD 8 tablet, 8" HD display
Amazon

Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet

$80 from Amazon
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Wired proclaims the Amazon Fire HD 8 the best tablet for travel, and here’s why: Its 8-inch screen won’t take up too much room in your bag, the high-definition screen is ideal for entertainment, and the price means it’s not a total disaster if it’s lost or damaged.


Reviewer rave: “This generation of Fire is as good as any other tablet brand on the market today. The browser is fully functional, the screen display is beautiful and sharp, I can download apps just like on any other device. The screen size is large and wide enough to read magazines and newspapers comfortably and to stream shows and videos, but compact enough to fit in a deep pocket in a briefcase or bag.” —SeriousReader1

Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle
Amazon

Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle

$22 from Amazon
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Staying hydrated on a plane can be hard: Your bottle of water won’t make it past security, and flight attendants are often stingy with the H2O. Solution: Toss this collapsible water bottle in your bag and fill it after dealing with TSA. The silicone body is easy to roll up and secure when it’s not in use, and a leak-proof cap keeps you dry.


Reviewer rave: “My husband and I each took one of these with us on a recent cruise and they were great to have along. We added a carabiner to each, then were able to clip the rolled up water bottle to our carry on bag. Once filled, we still clipped the bottles to a bag, or a belt loop. In the airport, we filled them up after going through security and had water while we waited and on the plane until beverage service began.” —JazzyzGurl

AmazonBasics Underseat Luggage
Amazon

AmazonBasics Underseat Luggage

$63 from Amazon
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The beauty of this roll-aboard, owners say, is that it’s small enough to count as your personal item but large enough to fit a short trip’s worth of essentials without even touching your “real” carry-on. It sports plenty of pockets and a pass-through sleeve that makes it easy to plunk on top of another suitcase.


Reviewer rave: “This thing was amazing. I got five days of clothes, a pair of wedges, vanity bag, and makeup bag in this thing and it wasn’t overstuffed … and my Kindle and chargers ... It fit under the seat on both Frontier and Spirit and I was able to count it as a personal item and not pay any baggage fees.” —jdub

Waypoint Goods Infinity Scarf with Pocket
Amazon

Waypoint Goods Travel Scarf

$40 from Amazon
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Frequent travelers know it’s crucial to keep their hands free, which is what makes this chic, lightweight scarf so practical. It has a hidden zipper pocket for items su h as cash, credit cards, passports, keys, and smartphones. There are a ton of colors to choose from, too.


Reviewer rave: “I loaded it up with my passport, cell phone and small wallet and put it on. When the scarf was properly draped you couldn’t tell I was carrying anything. … The width of the scarf makes it easy to turn into a hood for chilly days. I originally bought this for an upcoming trip to Italy, but it is going to be worn a lot before then.” —Lisa

Ethique Solid Shampoo Bar
Amazon

Ethique Solid Shampoo Bar

$16 from Amazon
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If you aren’t checking luggage, you know how hard it can be to squeeze all your liquids into one quart-size bag. Swap out your liquid shampoo for this well-reviewed shampoo bar to save some crucial space — users say it smells great and leaves hair soft. The same company also makes solid conditioners, body washes, and more.


Reviewer rave: “I frequently throw the bar in a baggie and toss it in my overnight bag, where it takes up less room than my old shampoo bottle. I've had the same block for four months and it's barely smaller than when I bought it, despite almost daily use.” —Rainan


Related: 31 Products to Help You Use Less Plastic

Humangear Gotoob+ Silicone Travel Bottles
Amazon

Humangear Gotoob+ Silicone Travel Bottles

$26 from Amazon
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Why waste money on yet another travel-size toiletry? These silicone bottles are sized to make it past security and let you take along your own shampoo, body wash, and other liquids. They have a wide opening that makes filling easier, and lockable caps help prevent leaks.


Reviewer rave: “I bought three of these for my trip to Europe. I used them for the entire week with no issues. There was no leaking and the shampoo/conditioner/body wash came out cleanly and left no residue inside the cap. They have an ingenious hook that tucks inside the lid when not in use.” —Mike B.

SinkSuds Travel Laundry Kit
Amazon

SinkSuds Travel Laundry Kit

$13 from Amazon
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Some travel wizards may be able to fit their whole wardrobe into a carry-on, but if you’re not among them, don’t sweat. These pre-measured packets of detergent and the included stopper make it easy to wash clothes in the sink, letting you re-wear clothing and pack a lot lighter.


Reviewer rave: “I was able to pack half as much because I took these little slips of laundry soap. We were on a cruise and I took long loose broomstick dresses for half of my clothes. Perfect for hot weather! Half way through the cruise I filled the sink and washed them. Rinsing was easy, not too many suds … I will always carry these on trips from now on, they take up just a tiny bit of space.” —C. Wallace

Lewis N. Clark AM/PM Folding Pill Organizer
Amazon

Lewis N. Clark Deluxe Folding Pill Organizer

$10 from Amazon
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Travel can make it easy to get off schedule with medications, or even worse, lose them. This nine-slot pouch means you can ditch the bottles and take along exactly what you need, sorting them into individual clear compartments. A medical information card is included, too.


Reviewer rave: “We travel a lot and are both on a number of supplements. Before it was snack size baggies or those week long plastic containers that were bulky and would pop open unexpectedly, thereby mixing up all the medication.” —Hannabert

TravelMore Silicone Luggage Tags, 7 Ct.
Amazon

TravelMore Silicone Luggage Tags

$9 from Amazon
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You never know when you’re going to have to check that carry-on, so don’t go without a luggage tag. Trade the flimsy airline-provided tags for these sturdy silicone ones that can stand up to the abuse of travel. They come in a seven-pack with bright colors that help your luggage stand out from the crowd.


Reviewer rave: “They are exactly what I was looking for — sturdy enough to hold up to whatever abuse the airlines can dish out; colorful so we can distinguish our bags from everyone else’s; a decent size (some of the tags that I looked at are smaller than what I wanted); and reasonably priced.” —Amy H. Bean

ScotteVest Travel Hoodie
Amazon

ScotteVest Travel Hoodie

$134 from Amazon
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What if you could hide the ultimate travel garment in a standard hoodie? This sweatshirt has a whopping 21 pockets to keep everything you need closeby, including your passport, phone, camera, tablet, water bottle, keys, glasses, and more. It’s made of moisture-wicking, machine-washable fabric that makes it just as practical on the ground, too.


Reviewer rave: “My husband travels for work every week. I'd bought him this hoodie a year ago and he accidentally forgot it on the plane one week, so I bought him a replacement. He loves wearing this! It has an eye mask for when he sleeping on the plane and doesn't want to be disturbed, it has zippered pockets for all of his electronics, travel documents, etc., and it's warm. Well worth the cost as normal hoodies don't have the extras that come built in to this one.” —Kimberly Hinirichs

LULUSILK Mulberry Silk Sleep Eye Mask Blindfold
Amazon

Zimasilk Natural Silk Sleep Mask

$10 to $20 from Amazon
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Drift off to dreamland whether or not those cabin lights are dimmed with the help of this popular dual-sided silk sleep mask that comes in nearly a dozen styles. It’s easy to roll up or pack flat, and the headband is fully adjustable.


Reviewer rave: "This is the best mask I have ever used. Blocks light, stays in place and is very comfortable. Highly recommended for anyone traveling or having a hard time sleeping due to various light sources." —Pixel Delite

Sleepy Ride Airplane Footrest
Amazon

Sleepy Ride Airplane Footrest

$14 from Amazon
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Put your feet up (no, really!) on your next flight with this adjustable memory-foam footrest that hangs from the arms of your tray table. Users say it doesn’t bug seatmates — an important consideration in cramped quarters — and it’s compact, too.


Reviewer rave: “The footrest was completely unobtrusive to my surrounding passengers ... I kept the tray table up most of the time, and rested my feet flat with my knees bent. For the return flight, I adjusted the length as one would adjust the strap on a backpack, and slid the footrest behind my calves, elevating my legs. It felt as if I were sitting in a recliner with my feet raised. I highly recommend trying this product, as it makes a ride in coach feel like first class.” —Mary R.


Related: How to Travel Luxuriously on a Budget: 25 Secrets From the Pros

ProCase Accessories Organizer
Amazon

ProCase Accessories Organizer

$10 from Amazon
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Today’s travels often involve a ton of tech, and all of the accessories that go with that, of course. Keep charging cords, headphones, memory cards, flash drives, batteries, and other small items in one easy-to-find spot with this roll-up organizer with elastic pockets.


Reviewer rave: “I was tired of digging through my bag to find the right cable and/or power supply to meet my tech needs. It would take about five minutes of digging and locating what was an appropriate item. This case is awesome in tidying up the mess and letting me store my power and data items in one place.” —J Chang

Vaccine Card Protector
Amazon

Vaccine Card Protectors

$6 and up from Amazon

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Vaccine card protectors can get fun or even fancy. But if all you want is a simple plastic covering for your vaccination card, there are scores of options just like this resealable one. They all do the same thing, so shop based on price. They’re available with lanyards or clips (or without) in packs of three, six, or 10.


Reviewer rave: "My 10-pack of protectors arrived today and it was exactly what I'd hoped it to be. The zipping feature was easy to do and provides a great quality seal to be totally waterproof. The thickness of the plastic is perfect, and is completely ultra-clear. Pliable and not brittle. It offered an easy fit for my vaccine card, and even offered a bit of room to spare." —Don Patterson


Related: These Stores No Longer Require Face Masks For Vaccinated Customers