What to pack in carry on luggage on international flights - Hand Luggage

What to pack in carry on luggage on international flights

I lead a lot of trips with first-time international travellers and often people who have never been on a plane before. This is one of my favourite parts of my job as I get to share my passion for travel with them. I often get asked, what should I pack in my carry on luggage? Here is my go-to list of hand luggage/carry on essentials for international flights.

1. Passport.

Obvious I know but I have had travel companions forget this item or put it in their checked luggage so I’ve included it as number 1. You need your full passport to get into the country you are visiting (for US readers who have a passport card – that can only be used for land border crossings into Mexico and Canada).

You won’t get access to your checked luggage until after immigration. Your passport is an important document so it is good practice to always keep it on you or in a safe place.

2. Access to money

A small amount of the local currency plus credit card/travel card. The first reason is that there is a good chance that the airline will misplace your baggage for a short (or long) period. Secondly, this makes life easier when you arrive if you have to pay for a visa or taxi. You don’t have to think about getting access to funds, you can just get straight to exploring!

3. Copy of your itinerary/return flights/hotel address

Immigration/Passport control officers may want to see a copy of your return flights and you will need to write the hotel address on your entry form.

You also don’t want to be digging through your belongings or trying to find a way to charge your phone at 3am so you can tell the taxi driver/Uber accommodation address when you land in your destination.

I use a travel wallet to keep all of my important documents (and passport) together. 

4. Medication

Airlines routinely misplace checked baggage. Anything you can’t live without needs to go in your carry on. Medication included. Make sure you have all the documentation and check airline specific restrictions. 

If you have 1-4 all else can be bought but for comfort I recommend the following items also go with you on the plane.

5. Pen

To fill out that entry form. Often these are given on the plane and if you have a pen you can get it done before you get off and then skip ahead of the people who are standing writing on each other’s backs at passport control. Also, a great way to make friends with your seatmates if you are travelling alone – I often get asked to borrow my pen then we chat until the plane lands.

6. Phone/Computer/Book/Entertainment

On cheaper airlines, you need to bring your own entertainment. The great news is now we have plenty of options in gaming devices, e-readers and downloadable shows for binge watching.

Full cost carriers include free entertainment but having your own entertainment for layovers and waiting periods is important too. 

I prefer a physical book normally but for travel I love ebooks and audiobooks. If you haven’t tried Audible click here for a free month with 2 few books. Audio books are the best when traveling, if you are tired but can’t sleep because of jet lag an audiobook can keep you occupied without the mental effort of reading or watching video. 

7. Charger - both USB and plug

Most long haul aeroplanes have a USB charger in the seat for each person. Others have a ‘wall’ charger under the seat – these are usually a little hidden, dig around or ask the flight attendant.

8. Clothing for 2 days

Airlines lose luggage – not everyone’s and not every day but when they do you want to be ready. I spend 4 weeks of my 5-week honeymoon with no luggage after the airline lost it 1 week in. It turned up 6 weeks after it was lost but I spend my entire honeymoon feeling uncomfortable in clothing bought from resort and cruise shops. I recommend packing two sets of clothing in your hand luggage. That way you can wash one set while wearing the other.

9. Sweatshirt/jumper

Aeroplanes get cold – especially if you are flying overnight. I always pack a cozy jumper to keep me warm because I get cold easily and it is hard to sleep when one is cold.

10. Scarf/Turkish towel

I used to swear by a pashmina scarf but now I’m a Turkish Towel convert. As in 8 above, it gets cold on planes so a scarf or Turkish Towel can act as a blanket. I also use it to put over my head to block out light when trying to sleep on the new time zone while flying. Then when you arrive you have a towel, blanket and scarf all in one.

11. Earplugs

I love having earplugs for travel! For the plane, to block out screaming children or gossiping seatmates. Then for dorm rooms and snoring roommates.

12. Eye mask

Past me would think this item is ridiculous. But, an eye mask truly is a travel game changer. Until somebody finds a cure for jet lag we have to deal. An eye mask can help. When the cabin lights are still on bright but it is night time in your new time zone you can block out the light (and noise with your earplugs) and get some much needed shut eye. 

13. Toothbrush/Toothpaste

Arriving in a new place with fresh teeth makes the world a better place – for you and your travelling companions. Just make sure your liquids are less than 3oz/100ml.

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