Planning and packing tips

What’s in my carry-on bag?

June 29, 2017 (Last Updated: April 2, 2024)
by Carolyn
carry on bag essentials

Carry-on only travel seems to be all the rage – and almost a bragging right for some – but I’m the first to admit I’m not someone who only travels with a suitcase small enough to take on to the plane with them.

I’ll happily check my (larger) suitcase into the aircraft’s hold and meet up with it on arrival at my destination but there are still some essentials that I need onboard during my flight.

Here’s what you’ll find in my carry-on luggage on a long haul flight….

Travel wallet with passport and all travel documents

This is the first thing that goes into my carry-on bag as no passport means no travel.  In my travel wallet I’ll also include any printed tickets, vouchers or instructions that I need for any of my travel arrangements.

carry on bag essentials Note: the items shown are not the exact items I pack in my carry-on bag but are similar. To find out more about the products shown, click on the image above.

Small purse/wallet with credit card and travel money card

I hate lugging my every-day purse around with me on my travels.  It’s filled with store loyalty cards that I won’t use overseas, and because it has a decent sized coin section, I find I fill it up with coins, both of which add substantially to the weight of my purse.

Instead I pack a small purse just big enough to fit a credit card and my pre-paid travel money card, some notes and a few coins.


It goes without saying that my iPhone is a travel essential.  It’s my phone, camera, GPS, music player, boarding pass and much more.

Prescription glasses

I’m short-sighted and wear prescription glasses for long distance vision and for better vision at night time, so my specs are something I never travel without.


Winter or summer I always pack a good pair of prescription sunglasses. These Ralph Lauren sunglasses (#gifted) are my latest love.


An avid reader, I never travel without a paperback book or my Kindle.  It’s amazing how many hours of my flight I can kill immersed in a good book.


Sometimes you just want to listen to your own music or podcasts that you have on your phone and the headphones supplied by the airline don’t always have the correct fitting.  For this reason, it always pays to carry a good pair of noise cancelling headphones.

As well as helping to lessen the noises around me, I can listen to my favourite music, podcast or meditation app to help me pass the time and relax.

Neck pillow, eye mask and ear plugs

To have any chance of sleeping in economy class, I always pack a neck pillow, an eye mask and ear plugs.  It’s only in the last few years that I’ve adopted the eye mask but I find it works a treat.  Sure, it’s not a great look but needs must!  

Ear plugs are also essential to try and block the noise of crying babies and noisy drink carts whilst I sleep, and a U shaped pillow helps to keep my head from flopping onto my neighbour’s shoulder!


I tend to get quite cold on aeroplanes so having a scarf or pashmina in my carry-on bag is always a must.


Handy for those arrival cards that always need filling out mid-flight, doing a crossword or just doodling!

Basic make up, hairbrush/comb, tissues, toothbrush and toothpaste

I’m kind of resolved to the fact now that when I reach my destination after 24 hours in the air, I’m not going to be looking at my best!  That’s not to say I don’t try, though. 

My carry-on bag will include some basic make up (foundation and lipstick), my hairbrush, some tissues and my toothbrush and toothpaste so that I can have a freshen up before landing.

Further reading: Flight attendant tips for looking good after a long haul flight

What do I use for my carry-on bag?

All of my carry-on essentials are carried in a reasonably sized handbag.  My current favourite is my NAT reversible black and denim Hobo handbag from The Redletter Club which I purchased it from my local homewares and gift shop.

I love it because I can change the bag’s colour to suit my outfit by simply turning the bag inside out.  It’s also roomy enough that I can fit in all of the above travel essentials and it has three zip pockets and an extendable strap.

(I pack a small cross-body handbag in my suitcase which I use once I’m at my destination with just my daily essentials – purse, sunglasses, lipstick, etc. – in it.) 

With my carry-on bag sorted, I can then turn my attention to my packing list for Europe and what to wear on a long haul flight.

What are the essentials you pack in your carry on bag?

Author’s Note: I was gifted the Ralph Lauren sunglasses mentioned above by Vision Direct.