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What’s In My Carry-On

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How to Pack a Carry-On Like a Pro

bag carry-on

As I was packing for our trip to Canada last week, I starting thinking about the different kind of air travelers. There are the people who roll out of bed the morning of a flight, grab a muffin and a magazine on their way to security, and get to their gate right as the plane is boarding. Then, there are the people who pack everything they could possibly need, print off their boarding passes as early as possible and feel the most comfortable sitting at the gate at least an hour before boarding. I suppose there are probably people that fall somewhere in the middle, too.

I’ll give you one guess which one I am.

timbuktu bag

I’m actually getting much better about my over-preparedness when it comes to traveling. Before vacations, I used to literally memorize the names of hospitals in our insurance network that were close to our vacation destination, so if something happened and I had to tell an ambulance driver where to go, I could. I’m not kidding. Thankfully, I’ve traded in over-preparedness for just plain ole preparedness. Phew. Much less crazypants.

Anywho, I thought it might be fun to show you guys what I lug around with me when we’re flying. It’s actually a pretty small bag (a Timbuk2 extra small messenger) but I manage to pack a lot in there.

carry on

  1. Water Bottle :: When traveling, my CamelBak Groove is pretty much always right by my side. Not only is flying crazy dehydrating, but what is it about airports and yucky water? I’ve never had good water from an airport water fountain. So the filter in the Groove helps make my water tasty!
  2. Toiletry Bag :: I have a little bag of toiletry things that I carry along with me. This guy actually stays in my purse, so it’s an easy transition into my carry-on bag when I’m flying. More about what’s in here below.
  3. Kindle :: The Kindle is seriously the best thing to ever happen to airport entertainment. I used to pack a few magazines and at least one heavy book, not any more. It all fits in my tiny, tiny Kindle. Woo!
  4. Planner and Markers :: Chances are, I won’t need them, but I really don’t go anywhere without them.
  5. Sunglasses
  6. Gum :: I never chew gum, but it’s a must for me when I’m flying. I’ve had a lot of ear problems in the past, and chewing gum helps make it less ouchy.
  7. Tea :: I’m not a big fan of paying $5 for a cup of hot water and a tea bag, so I bring my own tea. Most airport restaurants will give you a cup of hot water for free and you can always get one during beverage service on the plane.
  8. Keys :: I recently simplified my keychain (removing old keys, removing store cards) and it is so much nicer! And it fits perfectly onto the key clip in my bag now.
  9. Wallet
  10. Passports :: I’m the keeper of the passports. Mostly because there is a perfect little passport pocket on the front of my bag.
  11. Phone, Charger and Earbuds
  12. Cash :: I like to bring along a little bit of cash and change just in case I need to tip a driver or buy something at the airport stores.
  13. Snacks :: I’m gonna go ahead and guess you aren’t surprised that the vast majority of my bag space is reserved for food. I despise buying food at the airport. It’s hard to find healthier options (although getting easier) and always insanely expensive. Beyond these snacks, I also packed a separate lunch in a collapsible cooler for eating during one of our flights. Our travel day was about 14 hours, so I made sure to pack a lot of food. More on the specific snacks below.

toiletry bag

  1. Antibacterial Things :: I’m not a big germaphobe. But airports and airplanes are germy, nasty, yucky places. And when you combine that with the fact that it’s one of the worst flu seasons on record? I Purelled pretty much everything.
  2. Bandaids
  3. Dramamine :: I’m really, really susceptible to motion sickness. I’ve never had a problem on planes, but I definitely don’t want to be at 30,000 feet and that suddenly change. Dramamine is my friend.
  4. Pepto Tabs :: These things rock. You’d never think a little chewable tab of Pepto would help your tummy much, but they definitely do. Flying with an upset tummy is never fun. They are also good for settling a rumbling stomach after a night of heavy drinking. Not that I know from experience or anything.
  5. Excedrin :: Both Craig and I are pretty headache-prone, and Excedrin is the Vitamix of headache medicines.
  6. Contacts :: I always bring an extra set of contacts with me everywhere I go. My glasses once broke while I was on vacation. I didn’t have any backups or contacts with me. I’d prefer to not relive that blurry day.
  7. Tissues
  8. Lotion :: This is particularly important when flying to a colder, drier climate.
  9. Lip Gloss
  10. Nail File :: I pretty much always break a nail while hulking around luggage.


  1. Trail Mix :: I could have probably gone a lot healthier with all the trail mix options in the Whole Foods bulk section. But naturally colored M&Ms are really hard to pass up.
  2. Papaya Chunks :: I’m not a huge dried fruit fan, but these are where it’s at.
  3. Coconut Date Logs :: Yummy!
  4. Clementines :: When I’m traveling domestically, I like to pack a lot more fruits and veggies, but flying internationally means we can’t bring produce across the border. So we made sure we noshed on these two guys before we crossed.
  5. Larabar 
  6. Turkey Jerky :: Low calories, tons of protein, travels well and is way tasty!
  7. Yogurt Covered Almonds :: For no other reason than these are insanely delicious.

What kind of traveler are you? What are you favorite snacks to pack while you fly?

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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121 Responses
  1. Flo de Guzman

    Because the planes don’t always have great movies or in some cases no tv’s, I always pack a clean medium plastic freezer bag in my carry on to put my cell phone (with downloaded Netflix movies/or tv shows I’ve always wanted to see but never had time to) into the plastic bag and I use the tray clip to hang the ziplock bag fr so that I can watch my shows without holding my phone). One tip, because your neighbours can see what you’re watching make sure you’ve downloaded stuff that are PG LOL.
    I also splurged and got really good blue tooth sound cancelling head phones and those are always in my bag.

  2. ami arcolon

    Ear plugs. Never, never leave home without two or three pairs. Have saved my sanity more than a dozen times.

  3. Joyce

    I’ve only flown commercially once, two years ago, just “puddle jumper” flights, but no more. I was so intensely BORED, I’d rather drive (I’ve never been outside the USA). When driving, though, I like to have LOTS of snacks with me to help me stay alert, and to prevent having to stop at (expensive!) restaurants so often. Your snack bag ideas are great, and I like the bags themselves. So much prettier than Ziploc bags.

  4. This summer I’m leaving for California and I had NO idea what I was supposed to bring in my carry on, but now, I do!! Thankyou SO much, this post helped tremendously!?

  5. Hannah

    A great idea for when your traveling is a blanket scarf. As you can tell by the name, it doubles as a warm scarf and a cozy blanket! it is especially useful if you are traveling to colder climates ?

  6. Are you me? I feel as if I could have written every word of this myself, from the recovering-over-planner right on down to the Excedrin (a lifesaver) and Dramamine (a trip saver)! And clementines are always my go-to for long flights, since they’re so refreshing – and come in their own packaging! I’ve never had issues with them internationally, either…

  7. Since I’m both a retired home care nurse and a penny pincher, what you are calling your carry on is my purse on any given day – you just never know where you’ll be stranded. And since I saw the movie “Alive” when it came out, I’m neurotic about having snacks on a plane (though I hope to never crash in the Andes). I have a separate bag with my medications, including baby aspirin for long flights, and a lunch bag, plus a huge water bottle (ask for 3 cups of water every time the flight attendant goes by to refill), and cords and a small surge protector for the electronics (laptop is in the wheeled carryon with the jar of peanut butter and canned salmon 🙂 ).

  8. Henry

    I will be travelling in 2017, Did not realize its a good idea to carry water and medications etc. Thanks for your post. I have learnt a lot and will certainly prepare a small pack of essentials.

  9. Sue

    I pack small bottle of saline nasal spray. Should someone be coughing/sneezing in flight, my Doctor advised using the spray to help kill germs and keep nasal passages from drying out which is a natural defense against germs.

    Small packet of disinfecting wipes is good for cleaning the most contaminated surface on a plane….the tray.

    My daily supplements and few meds in a single container.

    Water….always my own water.

    Ipad and cell phone…loaded w my favorite music and entertainment.

    Meditation files downloaded on device (pick what works for you.) for those difficult delays…like sitting on the tarmac for 2 hours with little air and crying babies nearby. Also good stress reliever. My favorite one is Ken Cohen’s Power of Qi.
    I’m not a fan of guided meditation, but this is the exception. Its an easy intro to Qi Gong, and great to calm ones innards even if youre not interested in Qi Gong. Hes the real deal…not some wannabe Guru.

    Toothbrush loaded w a single application of toothpaste in ziploc bag…for freshening up between long flights, or if luggage is lost w toilteries.

Meet Cassie
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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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