Make Flying Easy: The Ultimate Carry-On Packing List

By Nora Dunn on 12 September 2013 4 comments

Do you want to fit your travel packing needs into carry-on luggage, regardless of whether your trip is two weeks or two months? Look no further. The answer is the widget you find here, which, after a few tweaks and filters, becomes the ultimate carry-on packing list, whatever your itinerary. (See also: 10 Travel "Must-Haves" That You Can Live Without)

The carefully selected items included in this widget are the product of over six years of full-time travel; going from one main destination to another with a larger entourage, and then traveling for up to three months from each base with just carry-on luggage. I started with mountains of useless gear and utilitarian clothing, and gradually — through experience — whittled the contents down, and now my carry-on packing list is a well-oiled, well-coordinated machine.

Using the Widget

Click on any of the items and you'll see a description of why and how it fits into my carry-on packing list. Within each description is even a link that takes you to the item itself, so you can see descriptions and reviews. Play around with the different category filters so you can more easily navigate the list.

Optional Filter

I don't carry all of these items — even I'd be hard-pressed to fit it all in.

This carry-on packing list is flexible for multiple climates and scenarios. You'll see a number of items in the "Optional" filter — your need for these are dependent on where you're going and what kinds of activities you intend to do.

If you're the outdoorsy type and are headed for Switzerland, then you'll have your down jacket, warm scarf and hat, and sturdy shoes with hiking socks.

If you're city-slicking through Paris in autumn, you can leave the big shoes behind and stick to your ballet flats, but bring a fashionable scarf for chilly evenings, that funky fedora, and your DVD drive.

The Ultimate Carry-On Packing List

Additional Notes

Everybody travels differently, so not every item on this list may resonate with you. And fellas — I realize this is a pretty girly list, but if you can see past the fashion choices and toiletries to the core structure of this packing list (including various functions of clothing and shoes), I believe it's a universally applicable list.

Restrictive Carry-On Guidelines

Generally, you're allowed a carry-on suitcase/bag, plus a laptop bag or purse. I consistently carry all three. However if hard-pressed by a restrictive airline, I can fit my purse into one of the other bags, so I only have two. (See also: How to Avoid New Carry-On Luggage Charges)

Weight guidelines for carry-on bags vary by airline and route, and some budget airlines are pretty stingy. Depending on how much warm-weather clothing (and other "optional" items) you have, plus the weight of your electronics, you might have difficulty getting this packing list through.

But if you fly with larger full-service airlines (and if you are collecting and redeeming frequent flyer miles, you should), carry-on weight restrictions shouldn't be a problem. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Frequent Flyer Miles)

Best Carry-On Bag?

The OR compression sack I carry might not be the absolute best choice for a carry-on bag (the backpack straps are solid but not beefy) — but it does a pretty fine job for me. It's part of my larger full-time travel packing list, so I can fill it using the compression straps to keep volume low, and pack it into my larger bag when I'm moving bases. The is so light and thin it takes up very little room of its own.

You might instead prefer to purchase a more traditional carry-on sized bag (maybe with wheels) that enable easier transport and access to contents.


You might not need the same electronic entourage as I do; my location independent career necessitates having the gear to work from the road wherever I am. This forces me to make tougher choices about what else I can carry, and carry in my carry-on. (See also: Location Independent Career Basics)

What's on Your Carry-On Packing List?

Okay, I've showed you mine; now you show me yours!

How do the contents of your own carry-on packing list differ from mine? Got any hot tips for useful items that I didn't include? Tell us in the comments!

This ultimate carry-on packing list widget was courteously designed and provided by Round the World Experts, who provide round the world flights to adventurous travelers, and there are some affiliate links in the widget. As I have purchased most of these exact items myself, all opinions are obviously my own.

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Guest's picture

I am not really so vain, so everytime I travel, I usually carry just very few clothers. Sometimes, I just buy clothes on the place I go to to avoid carrying too many things

Guest's picture

Don't forget.... 1. BANDAGES especially for blistered feet,
2. easily accessible PLASTIC BAGS for unexpected nausea
(I had a bag for my friend, and just in time too)
3. PACKETS of TISSUES for public bathrooms lacking toilet paper
4. LIP BALM with sunscreen
5. small COMB & HAIR BRUSH

Guest's picture

The timing on this list is impeccable! I'm getting ready to pack for a trip to Italy and was getting overwhelmed. Can't wait to try this app!


Guest's picture

I've got a question really. The toiletries here look like they exceed the 50ml for liquids carry-on rule that applies globally. How do you get these through customs with your carry-on luggage?

Guest's picture

My best ever sandals (for being very comfortable super lightweight sandals ) were "River Rapids" I bought them many years ago at Biggs supermarket in Hasselt / Belgium and had leather soles glued on the EVA soles. They were super cheap but the best quality was : they were far more comfortable than any other sandal I had afterwards : Geox, Teva, and other "good" sandals (but all much too heavy to take on a small cityhopper)

Another VERY good item I cannot find anymore : the old supplex traveler pants from Royal Robbins (they were far better than the new ripstop pants : they stayed nice much longer : I had them for 17 (!) years - I used them too for light alpinism, MEETINGS and even weddings ! ) They weighed only 165 grams...