What to Bring in a Carry-On

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Thanks to the military, I’ve travel a lot. I’ve traveled by air a whole lot. I’ve traveled across the country and around the world. I’ve traveled for business, because I was moving and for vacation. I’ve traveled by myself, with a 50 pound dog, with an infant, by myself with a dog and an infant, and with a family of five. I’ve learned a lot from all that air travel (and could I tell you stories!). One of the most important things I’ve learned is what to bring in a carry-on. You can grab a copy of my free checklist so you’ll never stress over packing a carry-on again. 

neck pillow, small bag, straw hat, sun glasses, sleep mask, reader, map and book neatly laid out on a table with title text reading What to Bring in a Carry-On Printable Checklist

I’ve shared tips on packing a suitcase before.

But packing a carry-on is a bit different. It all starts with what to bring in your carry-on.

Always check carry-on restrictions for the airline you’ll be flying and the TSA guidelines. These guidelines change from time-to-time. You want to make sure that your bag and contents meet the most current restrictions. 

Choose a quality carry-on bag that meets the travel requirements and your specific needs. It’s not worth flying with a poorly-made or designed bag – you deserve the best carry on luggage. Trust me. 

What to Bring in A Carry-On

Each time you pack, your needs will be a bit different depending on:

  • Who is traveling
  • The reason for traveling
  • The length of the flight
  • The climate and season
  • How long you’ll be gone
  • The activities planned
  • Limitations on bags and weight
packing checklist in blue, red and green

This Carry-On Checklist gives you a great, general list of items to consider so you’ll know what to bring in your carry-on. Print out your own copy and personalize it with your unique needs and preferences by filling them in on the blank lines. When you actually pack each item into your carry-on, check it off on your list. This process helps insure that you don’t forget anything you need and will give you peace of mind wondering if you remembered everything. 

There’s a delicate balance between having everything you need and want and lugging a heavy bag of too much stuff around. Be critical as you determine your packing list. You don’t need to bring everything on the checklist. Bring just the items you want.

Many people bring a change of clothes in their carry-on. I have found that being able to change my undergarments is sufficient for me versus carrying the weight of an extra outfit. But if you have an activity or event soon after you arrive that requires a certain outfit, you may decide that you want to carry it with you in your carry-on. Consider your specific needs versus the trade-off of carrying more stuff. 

I usually bring an empty water bottle and fill it once I go through the security check. I have three children to put through college and don’t want to pay airport prices for a bottle of water. 

How to Pack Your Carry-On

Since you may be required to remove certain items during your security clearance, be sure to pack those items so that they are easily accessible. 

Liquids are required to be in a quart-sized clear plastic bag, but I find it helpful to pack all smaller items that I will be removing in clear plastic bags. 

You will also want to pack items that you will be using during your flight so that they are easy to access. Unless you are an amazing contortionist, there is never enough space to be able to comfortably remove items from a carry-on. Packing magazines, laptops. portable charges, snacks and other items you’ll use during the flight so that you can easily reach them reduces the hassle factor for you and your seatmates. Don’t be that passenger!

Taking the time to plan the contents of your carry-on will ensure you’ll have exactly what you need and not an ounce of weight more. Using this checklist will help you know what to bring in a carry-on and make sure you don’t forget a thing. Happy travels.

For my top moving and travel tips, hacks and printables check out the table below. You can scroll though the table and look for ideas or search for specific ideas with the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner (on desktop). Click on the topic and then click through the specific article.


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  1. I’ve been traveling more lately and gotten the carry on down to a science. Great checklist! I also always carry my jewelry on, as I never want to check that. Happy travels!!

    1. Great point, Seana. My sister-in-law had costume jewelry stolen from her checked bag before. While it was “just” costume jewelry, it was still an upsetting and somewhat expensive loss.

  2. This is a great list : ) We have traveled a lot, too – and this list seems pretty consistent with our packing.

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