21 Unexpected Items You Should Always Pack in Your Carry-On

This is not your first trip down the jetway. You've got your eye mask, your noise-cancelling headphones, your laptop or tablet, your multi-item charger for the airport, your backup power source, and even your actual paper book in case all your technology runs out of battery. But what did you not think to put in your carry-on that could make your flight better? Here are a few I never fly without, and a few more I can't wait to try. (See also: 15 Packing Secrets From a Professional Traveler)


Maybe you're only going to be stuck in that hamster cage they call a seat for a few hours, but that doesn't mean you should show up without any provisions for your comfort.

1. A pencil and notebook

Unlike a laptop, which will run out of power, or a pen, which might refuse to write at altitude, this little piece of technology won't let you down when you are bored enough to write poetry or fill in the in-flight magazine's crossword puzzle.

2. A headphone splitter

While it's obvious you'll be bringing headphones, do you really want to sit there, laughing at the movie on your laptop, while your companion sits there and seethes? Share!

3. A medicine bag

Include painkillers, because, ouch: altitude. Antihistamines and decongestants are also good calls. Some of us like to carry something that will make us sleepy or calm our nerves. If you need an inhaler or insulin, it's obviously important to bring plenty for your own safety, but also because if you ever ask a flight attendant if they have a spare inhaler, you'll probably be denied boarding for medical reasons. They don't want to take the risk of anyone having a health emergency in the sky.

4. A change of clothes

Because you never know if or when your checked bag will make it to your destination, and what if the person next to you spills his coffee all over you?

5. A tennis ball

Huh? Travel & Leisure swears you should bring this piece of sports equipment on board, and use it to massage your back, legs, and feet to keep the blood flowing during the flight.

6. Business cards, or a copy of your manuscript

Because you never know when you'll be seated next to the one business contact you always dreamed of meeting.

7. Sanitizing wipes

Because did you know people change their babies' diapers on those tray tables? Wipe it down the moment you take your seat.

8. Another bag, like one of those shopping bags that pack down tiny

Because you might not be able to quickly stuff everything you used on the flight back into your carry-on when it's time to go.

9. A pacifier

Not traveling with a baby? Imagine what a hero you might become to the whole flight if you whip out a new, in-the-package bippy for a family that has lost theirs. Back when I traveled with infants in tow, I once had another mom offer me $10 for a single pacifier. (I gave it to her for free.)

10. Slipper socks

Because if you're like me, you wore slip-on sandals through security, and now your feet are cold.

11. An empty water bottle

Because you can fill it up after you go through security. You don't want to drink the airplane water. (See also: The 5 Best Aluminum and Stainless Steel Water Bottles)

12. A USB or Apple lightning cable

Some planes now have ports in the seat, so you can charge your phone! Make sure you buy the rapid charging kind.

13. Your rights

Print out the US Department of Transportation's rules on delays, bumping passengers, and compensation. Why? Because crews may take advantage of the fact that most people don't know off the top of their heads that they're entitled to 400% of the original fare, up to $1,350, in cash, if they're bumped and arrive at their destination more than two hours late on a domestic flight, or four hours on an international flight. Having these guidelines on hand will allow you to make an informed decision if you're asked to get off the plane, and to ask for what you're owed while you're still at the airport.

14. A comfort item or hypnotherapy recording

Do you get scared, especially during takeoff? Don't be ashamed to bring a stuffy from home that you can squeeze until its eyes bug out. Personally, I like to use self-hypnosis to talk myself down, and if you're new to that type of thing, you could download a recorded hypnosis session to your phone. The side benefit of using hypnosis to fight fear of flying is that it might actually help you fall asleep.


On an overseas flight, you will almost certainly try to sleep at some point, making your carry-on arsenal especially important. It's also more important to make friends, since you'll be stuck with everyone you see while boarding for the next 12 hours or more.

15. Treats for the crew

I never would have thought of this myself, but when I read about professional air passenger Ben Schlappig bringing designer chocolates to the flight attendants, I realized how much sense it makes. These are the people who will be responsible for, yes, making sure you make it to the emergency exit in a water landing, but also for whether you get a Jameson refill when you can't sleep with nine hours of flight time to go. Will they accept your goodies? Maybe, maybe not — I can imagine accepting edibles from unknown passengers being considered a security risk — but just the offer will mark you as a super nice passenger who deserves to be treated like one.

16. More than one kind of travel pillow

It may seem like a waste of space, but there are a lot of differently shaped travel pillows on the market now, and if you are trying for a solid six hours (let's not wish for the moon and say eight), you are going to want to change positions. On a recent trip to Australia, I alternated between a Turtl, which is like a scarf with a stiff support to let you sleep with your head leaning to the side, and one with a flat back so that I could recline straight back.

17. Something cozy to snuggle up and hide in

I like to wear a Chicago Cubs sweatshirt with pockets and hood so large I can pull it down over my eyes, but others swear by scarves or Turkish towels. In all cases, you're packing something you can use as a blanket or as a barrier between you and a questionably clean airline blanket, but it's also something you can put to other uses.

18. Melatonin

Sleep scientist Matthew Walker confirmed during a recent interview that this hormone in pill from can help you adjust to a new time zone. I take it about an hour before I want to fall asleep on a flight.

19. A cord for your glasses

On my last long-haul flight, I dropped my glasses in my sleep. The flight attendants let me crawl on the floor under my seat for an hour without mentioning that someone had turned in a lost pair of glasses.

20. The address of where you're staying, on paper

Before you land, the crew will pass out immigration forms, and you'll be expected to have that info at your fingertips. Don't leave it on an electronic device that might be out of power by now.

21. A truly delicious snack

When I traveled with little kids, I always tried to bring a toy or book they'd never seen before to keep them occupied. You can do this for yourself, too, by skipping your typical snacks and stashing something you love, like a high-end chocolate bar or some gourmet wasabi popcorn, into your bag. If you have the willpower, save it for midflight, when the flight attendants are sick of you and you feel like the journey will never end. Then eat your treat as slowly as possible.

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