6 Things That Should Always Be in Your Carry-On

by | Aug 12, 2020 | Family Adventures, Travel Tips

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Just because I’m a travel agent doesn’t mean I haven’t made some rookie mistakes over the years. Once I packed my driver’s license in my checked bag and didn’t realize until it was long gone. So, to save you the horror of having to explain that you packed your driver’s license, I’ve compiled a list of things you should be sure to put in your carry-on. 


But first, a money-saving tip:

Some airlines charge for carry-ons, but they should still let you bring a personal item to put under the seat for free. I’m a cheapskate, so I won’t pay for a full sized carry-on. Instead, I bought a duffle bag that was the maximum size allowed for the free under seat bag. It has served me well, and has fit under the seat on every airline I’ve flown. And it holds a lot of stuff!



6 things that should always be on your carryon


Your Identification, Wallet, and Boarding Pass

It bears repeating. Make sure you have your Passport, Drivers License, and Boarding Pass with you. If you are using a mobile boarding pass, make sure your phone is well charged. Check and double-check that everyone in your group has these items. In the event you realize you don’t have an ID with you, the TSA does have an alternative identity verification process, so don’t panic. But it’s better to avoid that problem altogether. And make sure you have your credit and debit cards, as well as a small amount of cash, in case your bag gets delayed or lost. Or, you can’t pass up the Cinnabon.


Passport - things to pack in a carry-on

Repeat after me: I will not check my passport, I will not check my passport. Photo Courtesy of Nicole Geri on Unsplash


Anything To Make It for 24 hours

I have noticed throughout my career that when luggage gets lost, it often turns up within 24-48 hours. While a small percentage of luggage does end up lost forever, most of the time, lost bags turn up within a day or two. So: what would you need for 24 hours? I always have one complete change of clothes (including socks and underwear), a swimsuit (if I plan to swim at my destination) and travel-sized toiletries in my bag. I’ve had a few times when my bag missed my connection, the airline found it pretty quickly, and I had my bag back the next morning. Since I had a change of clothes and toiletries, and I knew my bag was on its way, I didn’t need to waste vacation time running to the store.  Even if your bag takes longer to turn up, if you have everything you need to make it a day, you can wait a bit to run to the nearest store. Or use some Tide sink detergent to wash your clothes in the sink and squeak through until your bag gets there. No one wants their first stop after a long flight to be Target instead of the beach. Make sure you think about this on your way home too, and carry on anything you need within 24-48 hours of getting home. Examples would include your keys, your laptop, etc. 



Beach - things to pack in a carry-on

I’d rather be here than in a Target any day. Photo courtesy of Sean O on Unsplash


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Things To Make Flight & Layovers More Comfortable

On my way home from Australia, I got stuck in Chicago O’Hare airport overnight and wound up sleeping on the floor. I was young and an inexperienced traveler, and I was on my way home, so I had just kind of shoved things into my bags and hadn’t really thought about what I would want if I got stuck in an airport. I just happened to have a toothbrush and some deodorant in my carry-on, and that made a world of difference in terms of how gross I felt. If you have a long trip with layovers, think about what would help you survive an extended one. I hope you never end up stuck in an airport, but if you do, you’ll be glad to be able to brush your teeth and put on some clean underwear. You’re going to want a cell phone charger, a change of clothes, some snacks, over-the-counter meds in case of a headache or tummy ache, some gum for the plane and whatever you need to entertain your kids. If you are on a long flight, these body wipes are a total game-changer. If you have a red-eye flight, bring more snacks than you think you need. I was surprised to learn that most of the food vendors were not open 24 hours, even at O’Hare.


Pro Tip: Anything you want on the plane should be in your personal item bag, in case you need to gate check your rolling bag


Chicago O'Hare - things to pack in a carry-on

I still hold a grudge against Chicago O’Hare 15 years later, even though I know it’s totally illogical to blame them for a thunderstorm. Photo Courtesy of Clay Banks on Unsplash.


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Things That Are Hard to Replace At Your Destination

In the unlikely event your bag gets lost or significantly delayed, you’ll likely need to make a run to the nearest store. So think about what you’re packing that would be hard to replace. I always imagine myself browsing Target, if I’m packing anything I can’t buy at Target I move it to my carry-on. If you are flying for a wedding, make sure you carry on your outfit, especially if you are a member of the bridal party or another VIP. If you are flying for business, make sure you carry on anything you need to work. Like Meghan Trainor, I have all the right junk in all the right places, which makes it hard for me to find a bathing suit that fits well. So, I always carry my bathing suits with me. If your child has a favorite toy, if you made special shirts to commemorate this vacation, or ordered custom Mouse ears, carry it on with you! If you have tickets, magic bands, or anything else that can’t be easily reprinted at your hotel, you’ll want those in your carry on too.


Good to know: If you do find that you need something reprinted, most hotel front desks will be happy to do that for you


Bridal Party - things to pack in a carry-on

Unless you want to be the one bridesmaid that doesn’t match, carry that dress on! Photo Courtesy of Amish Thakkar on Unsplash


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If you take any prescriptions, you should carry them on with you. Prescriptions are a pain to replace if they got lost or delayed, and your insurance might not cover it. The last thing I want to do on vacation is argue with my insurance provider. Prescriptions are exempt from the 3 oz liquid rules when flying, so there is no reason not to keep them with you, just in case. 


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Anything Valuable, Either Emotionally or Monetarily

If you are flying with anything valuable, please put it in your carry-on! And that includes items of sentimental value. Your grandma’s earrings, your child’s lovey, anything in that category should never be checked. Anything valued over $3500 should be carried on too, as that’s the most the airline will pay you if they lose your bag. If you buy any souvenirs on your trip that you especially love, pack it in your carry-on on your way home. I had a client whose bag got lost on the way home, and they lost all of their souvenirs from their once in a lifetime trip to Asia, including some pearls they had purchased for their daughter.


Baby - things to pack in a carry-on

If your kid won’t sleep without it, carry that sucker on! Photo Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


I encourage you to take some time to think about not just what to pack, but where to pack it. If you find that you can’t fit everything above in your carry-on, then get creative with your checked bags! For example, my husband and I often pack one outfit in the other person’s bag. We figure the odds of both of our bags getting lost or delayed are slim. In that same vein, I often split our sunscreen stash and souvenirs between several bags. I hope you never experience a travel snafu. But if you do, you’ll be so glad you were prepared! 


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Emily Householder Stacey is a writer, travel agent and mom based in sunny Cleveland, Ohio. Emily runs Aida’s Adventures travel agency while her son takes his afternoon nap. She has traveled throughout Australia, Asia and North America and the rest of the world is on her bucket list. Emily and her family love a good theme park. They have annual passes to 6 of them!


Disclaimer: I recently became an affiliate for the Amazon website since, as a mom, it’s the most frequent way I shop now and it’s also how I recommend products to friends that I’m using and love. You can’t hold back my love. Yet, I’m not an affiliate of any of the other products I recommended. See? Love.