Expat Life

What’s in your carry-on?

Tomorrow is the big day! It will take me about an hour to pack today. I’ve packed so many times before that I’ve got it down to a science. My carry-on luggage is more important. I want to be as comfortable as possible on the long flight.

Most airlines let you to carry on two pieces: a small suitcase and a personal item such as a purse, briefcase, or computer case. In my suitcase, I pack a change of clothes, personal documents, laptop, electronics, and anything else I’d be upset over if it got lost. I lock it up and once it goes into the overhead compartment, I won’t see it again until I arrive at my destination.

Items in my carry-on suitcase.

For my second piece, I opt for a large handbag, backpack, or computer case. Here’s what I carry.

  1. My iPad. I like to have it accessible during the layover and long flight. I might write, read, or watch movies.
  2. Speaking of reading, despite loving the Kindle app, I often read paperbacks. There’s a good chance I’ll pack one or two books.
  3. My iPhone. Although I no longer have a data plan on it since I won’t be using the iPhone in Australia, I use it for the camera and music player. Plus you never where you might find free wi-fi.
  4. Earphones. Some people like noise cancelling headsets, but I’m satisfied with Apple’s standard earphones, which take up little space.
  5. My Aussie phone. Rather than have Theo waiting for hours at the airport now knowing how long it will take me to get through customs, I’ll just ring him when I arrive.
  6. First aid kit. I always carry this little plastic box in my purse. It contains a mirror, extra hair band, a couple of individually packed alcohol wipes, band aids, a piece of self-stick moleskin, aspirin, ibuprofen, anti-histamine, and anti-diarrhoeal.
  7. Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. I carry these in travel sizes.
  8. Antibacterial wet wipes. I buy a small travel pack, which usually only brings about ten wipes. Not only are they great for my hands, but I use them to wipe down the airplane’s table tray the first time I use it. They also come in handy in public bathrooms.
  9. Travel-sized tissue.
  10. Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm.
  11. Gum. It helps with the ear pressure and stale breath on a long flight.
  12. Neck pillow. I used to rely on the flat pillows the airlines lend you. One day I saw a cute neck pillow in an airline gift shop and decided to try it out. I’m so glad I did. I don’t sleep much on airplanes, but these make napping much more comfortable.
  13. Sleep mask and earplugs. These make a big difference in my ability to get a little shut-eye in the air.
  14. Warm socks. I don’t tend to get cold, but my feet are always freezing on flights. It’s usually because I pick seats near the emergency exits. They have more leg room, but the trade-off is a cold draft.
  15. A big, thick scarf. Should I get cold or need an extra blanket or pillow, a thick scarf does the trick.
  16. Water bottle. I love my stainless steel Sigg water bottle. After one trip where I easily spent $20 on bottled water, I wondered why I never brought it before.
  17. Small notepad, pen, and highlighter.
  18. Wallet. Don’t forget your currency, both domestic and foreign, as well your ID, and credit cards.
  19. Passport. Very important. You won’t get very far without it.

I’ll carry all the small items in a clear plastic cosmetic case along with a few cords I might need for my electronics. It may seem like a lot, but most of these items don’t take up much room.

What’s in your carry on?



  • I always put an extra change of clothes in my carry on in case the airline loses my luggage. Not such a big deal if my destination is the place where I have all my other clothes stored (either home here or home there), but if my final destination is a hotel room, then dammit, I want clean underwear!

    And since I’m not bringing my laptop this time, I’m going to cram a feather pillow into my carry on suitcase (you’d be surprised how well they compress!) and I’ll be the envy of everyone in cattle class with that thing. 😀

    • Same here. I’ve never had an airline lose a bag, but you never know when it will be a first time.

      • Yep, and the first time they do will be when it is the most inconvenient to you! Pretty sure that’s like a rule of the universe or something.

  • Kate

    Cosette- around two years ago my father went on a month and a half long trip to England. He and his wife rented a car and picked up their tents (they go there a lot and keep supplies at her mothers). The only problem was the airline managed to lose their luggage completely, though we eventually got it back… six months later!
    More recently they went to Switzerland and it happened again; we’ve been told that it simply disappeared, and I’m fairly sure they’ve been reimbursed.

    • I’m sorry to hear that. Since I wrote this post, I had one flight where my suitcase was completely ripped on one side. They replaced it immediately and nothing in the suitcase was broken, but it made me consider whether I want to check in luggage again. Before 9/11, when it was easier to travel, I never checked in a bag.