Back to Basics Travel Series: Carry-On Essentials

Back to Basics Travel Series: Carry-On Essentials

This might be one of the topics I feel the most strongly about. Here’s the thing. I’ve been known to be a bit of a princess. Now, don’t get me wrong, for short periods I’m fine with hiking, climbing, sitting in the dirt and washing my face in a river, but I always need to know that my adventurous discomforts are temporarily exchanged for experience. I will also wear the best gear, bring my own pillow to sleep in the dirt, and carry plush bathroom tissue just in case, in order to minimize the discomfort as much as possible. So, while I will tolerate a long plane trip surrounded by uncomfortable sounds, smells, and air so recycled that it scratches my throat for the sake of getting to where I’m going – I will do everything in my power to reduce these irritations, and wish to share them with you. Hopefully this list of my favourite products will help you plan your carry-on, and reduce the discomforts you experience as well!

*This post contains affiliate links.

Calming Essential Oils

Seriously. I don’t even leave my house without these anymore. I use peppermint oil on my neck and shoulders because it cools and heats and relieves the tension. When I’m flying, I carry a mix of lavender and rosemary to help me relax and hopefully sleep! My favourite ones are from Saje, but there are many different and often less expenisive ones like the ones pictured above (click on the picture to purchase from Amazon). When the lady behind you opens a plate of fish and the guy beside you has been running through airports all day and smells like soup – you will thank me.

A Good Eye Mask

Typically, when you fly at night, the lights will be turned down so everyone can get some shut eye. That doesn’t stop the person in front of you or beside you from turning on their little overhead reading lights, however, and even worse than that, is the new back of seat screens. While these little screens are neat because they allow each individual to select their own entertainment, they are also extremely bright, so if the person beside you decides to watch a movie, you’ll be seeing every flash.

Even if light doesn’t bother you, these masks still have use! I’ll usually spray some of my essential oils (as above) on to the mask before we leave, then when we’re in the air I can cover my nose and mouth with it if something on the plane smells bad, or if the dry airplane air starts hurting my nose and throat. I find that the warmth and condensation from my breath helps sooth my nose and throat.

Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones

These are hands down the best headphones I have ever used in my life. On a noisy airplane, with crying babies, snoring neighbours, giggling couples and the sounds of people scrimmaging through their carry-on packs, snacks and crushing their empty plastic cups – sound cancelling is the most incredible relief you can image. Why wireless? Because I don’t want to wake up by my headphone cords choking me because I finally fell asleep on the plane! Seriously, good headphones, are an investment. You can buy my favourite Bose – noise cancelling headphones from Amazon by clicking the photo above.

A Swimsuit

This is the best advice I have ever gotten. Why a bathing suit? Imagine your luggage is lost. Sure, they may retrieve it in a day or two. Insurance may even give you a bit of money to buy new stuff, but this also takes several days. If worst comes to worst, at least you can still throw on your bathing suit and have a swim or a drink at the pool.

And even if your luggage is not lost! We arrived at our resort in Jamaica, and left our luggage with our concierge. The hotel was busy, and he had probably about 2 dozen rooms to drop luggage off at. We checked in, and got into our room before our luggage arrived. I hopped in the shower to wash the airplane gross-ness off, then put on my bathing suit and went for a swim right away. It was great to stretch out, move my achy muscles, and swim up to the bar for a drink. By the time I got out of the pool, my luggage had arrived, and I was ready to wash-up and get changed into my PJ’s for bed.

Toiletries and PJ’s

We did a Europe trip in the dead of winter to visit family for the holidays. We used Iceland Air and did the lay-over in Reykjavik. We got off the plane in Reykjavik and waited for our luggage for over half an hour, until the carousel was empty. Our luggage must have been lost. We went to the help desk, to find out that our luggage was being put onto the next plane since we were only there for 1 night. It was heading to our next destination. Inexperienced me had nothing. I stopped at the airport shop for some toothpaste and a toothbrush, used the hotels soaps, and slept in my partners clean t-shirt (at least he was smart enough to pack this!). While the hotel was lovely, and the trip was great, I did not need to spend as much as I did on toiletries… and would have loved some proper sleepwear.

Travel Bottles and Clear Toiletry Bag

This brings me to my next point. Make sure you know how much liquid you can bring! Typically, each bottle must be less than 100ml, and they must fit into a quart sized bag (think a Ziploc sandwich bag, plus a centimeter). Make it easy on yourself and buy a travel bottle kit. The little bottles meet most air travel standards without the guess work, and come in a quart-sized bag to meet transportation security rules, keeping the liquids together, and preventing them from spilling all over your stuff. And yes. Makeup and toothpaste are included in this rule if they are in liquid or gel form.

Lip Balm

Your air cabin will be part fresh air, and part recirculated air that goes through an extensive filtration system, so it is pretty clean. It is also, however, pretty dry. Lip Balm is a must in combating the dry air and preserving your lips.

Sunglasses (and a case)

When you get off the plane it’s nice to have these handy, and not have to dig through your luggage. Make it easy on yourself – just pack them in your carry on! They don’t take up much room, and if they are expensive sunglasses, they are safer this way too. Don’t forget a case so they don’t break!


Don’t be that guy / gal. You run through airports, and sleep on planes which are hot and then cold and then hot and then cold. All these things will undoubtedly make you sweat.

Compression Socks

Especially on long flights, your legs can cramp up and your legs and feet can swell. It’s not uncommon for this to happen, as inactivity and sitting with your feet on the floor for a long time causes your blood to pool in your legs and feet. This is extenuated by the increased pressure in your leg veins from sitting. While this is relatively harmless, it can be uncomfortable, or even painful for some. Make sure to get up and walk up the isles once in a while on a long flight, or even stand up in the isles and stretch – and wear or at least bring compression socks.

Refreshing Towelettes

Cabin air tends to be low humidity – I can’t stress this enough. Any moisture you can give yourself, will make such a difference! Freshen up when you’re feeling dry in the air, and again before you land to help get rid of the ‘jet-lag look’.

Heat Packs

Most airlines will have an individual air knob you can adjust to have air blowing on you. These usually blow cold air, so when multiple people open them, it can get cold on a plane. What’s even more important to me: my back. If I’m sitting for longer then a few hours, the muscles in my back cramp, and I can feel the knots form. Crack a heat pack for back pain relief on your journey!

Power Charger

Okay, so you might get a screen if you are on a newer or larger aircraft, or you could be stuck with the movie they play on the screens in the center isles. Be prepared – download a movie or rental (or two or three or four) on your phone or tablet before leaving home, and carry lots of charge!

Water Bottle

While the airline will provide water on board, it is served in cups just larger than a shot glass. With the low humidity inside the plane, you will find yourself wanting so much more water. In addition, staying hydrated can help you reduce jet-lag! Bring an empty water bottle through security at the airport, and fill it up on the other side before you get on the plane. Also – I really like Contigo bottles, but they have a straw, which, it turns out, don’t work very well with the pressurized cabin! (Duh). So, don’t bring a water bottle with a straw! They have really cool collapsible ones with hard lids now (pictured above) especially for keeping your pack light.

Chewing Gum

Speaking of pressure, you may feel your ears pop, or you may feel pressure build on your eardrums (and middle ear tissue). To relieve the pressure, try yawning, or chewing gum. Chewing gum can also give you something to focus on if you’re feeling a bit anxious.

Painkillers / Medications

First of all, if anything happens to your suitcase, you don’t want these to go MIA! Ensure they are with you, and safe by carrying them with you. If they are prescriptions, make sure they are in your name, and spelled to match your passport. What’s more, is if you get a pressure headache or muscle pain from the trip, you don’t want to pay an outrageous amount for some pain meds, or wait until you land.

Neck Pillow

This is another investment. Avoid arriving to your destination in pain, and increase your chances of getting a couple Zzz’s. I like the ones that have a clip so it doesn’t take up space necessarily in your pack. You can achieve the same thing with a blow-up neck pillow, but to be honest, I don’t find them nearly as comfortable.

Find these items and more on my downloadable carry-on luggage checklist:

Carry-on luggage checklist

I hope these items help you make your flight as comfortable as possible! Are there any other products you would recommend? I’d love to hear your tips! Let me know in the comments below.

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