The Ultimate Carry-On Packing List for a Great Trip (2021 Edition)

Do you need to ensure that your carry-on packing list contains everything you’ll need for every trip? Check out this list, so you don’t miss a single item next time you take a trip.

Do you love traveling light? I’d rather not haul a heavy bag around the airport.

What Kind of Trip is This List For?

I want to make sure I have the essentials for my flight and trip, but I also don’t want a sore back. And I don’t want to be that person who bumps everyone’s heads while squeezing my way down the airplane aisle.

This list is for every trip. If you’ll be working while traveling, you’ll need your laptop or tablet. If you’re packing carry-on to attend a convention or to backpack for a few days, you’ll need other items.

For a convention, you’ll need your devices and convention attire. If you’re backpacking, you’ll need toiletries and clothes. While specific trips will require items not mentioned in this list, the list contains the items you’ll need for every trip.

The Ultimate Carry-On Packing List

  1. Reusable water bottle
  2. Hydration aids.
  3. Your favorite chewing gum
  4. Low-sugar snacks that don’t smell
  5. Noise-canceling earbuds
  6. Your medications
  7. Extra face-coverings
  8. Empty zip-lock bags
  9. Charging cable
  10. Power bank
  11. Journal and pen
  12. Wired earbuds


Download podcasts, audiobooks, apps, and movies that you’ll want to watch, listen to, or learn from during your flight and during your time waiting for your flight.

How You’ll Benefit By Packing a Reusable Water Bottle in Your Carry-On

The air on airplanes is dry. The WHO states the humidity level in the cabin is less than 20%. The relative humidity of the Eastern Mojave Desert averages below 40%.

An airplane cabin can be dryer than the Mojave Desert. Such a dry environment quickly dehydrates you. Having an alcoholic drink or coffee (or both) dehydrates you even more.

Carry a reusable water bottle and have it filled with water after you pass through security and before your board your flight. Starbuck will give you water for free. Using a refillable water bottle allows you to stay hydrated without contributing more plastic to the landfills.

Why Hydration Aids Are Vital to Your Carry-On Packing List

Most of the bottled water that airlines give you (as well as the free water from Starbucks) is filtered, which sounds excellent unless all the electrolytes are also filtered. If you drink unstructured (distilled or purified) water, you may be flushing vital electrolytes from your body.

Your best defense against this is packing hydration aids to add to your water bottle. Use hydration aids such as Power Aid or Gatoraid. Find something you like. It will encourage you to drink more water and ensure you stay hydrated.

Here are a couple of my favorites hydration aids.

  • Emergenc-C easily mixes with your water and comes in a variety of flavors.
  • Organifi Green Juice – I’ve also started drinking this instead of soda at movies and instead of Starbucks drinks for road trips. Among other benefits, this green juice helps me stay hydrated and boosts my immune system.

Although the details are a little gross, staying hydrated can help alleviate ear pain during take-off and landing.

Your Favorite Chewing Gum

Now and then, a takeoff or landing will really hurt your ears! Yawning and swallowing help adjust the pressure in your ear and relieve the pain. If you can’t make yourself yawn (or if the in-flight magazines don’t make you yawn), chewing gum helps you swallow.

So does drinking your water.

You could (sometimes) buy gum at the airport, but here are reasons you should pack your own.

  • Airport prices are much higher.
  • You may be running late and won’t have time to stop and buy gum.
  • You can get the flavor you want.
  • The Orlando airport doesn’t sell gum.

Low-Sugar Snacks (That Don’t Smell)

Remember pre-Covid when airlines gave you small bags of snacks? It was usually snacks you wouldn’t eat unless you were starving or bored. Now we’re lucky to get those.

Pack your own snacks in your carry-on. Here are reasons to pack snacks you enjoy:

  • The airlines don’t give many snacks anymore.
  • You can have the snacks you enjoy.
  • You can have snacks that fit your nutritional needs and wants.
  • You won’t have to pay airport prices or shop in those crowded airport shops.

Remember to pack snacks that don’t stink. I love salt and vinegar chips, but I won’t torture my fellow passengers with that potent smell. Avoid eggs and other foods that will have a strong odor. Let’s be nice and avoid any Tragedy of the Commons-type situations.

Noise-Canceling Earbuds

Although the noise-canceling earbuds cost more than regular earbuds, take the advice of someone who suffers from tinnitus.

Invest in your future hearing and well-being by purchasing noise-canceling earbuds or headphones. 

If you’re on a noisy plane, in a loud car, or a noisy restaurant, you have to turn up the volume on your earbuds so you can hear your music or podcast over the noise. The increased volume damages your ears and your hearing.

Noise-canceling headphones block out that extra noise so you can listen to your music and audiobooks at a lower volume, saving your hearing and helping you avoid developing tinnitus.

Remember Your Medications for Your Carry-On Packing List

I’ve had a couple of health situations in my 50 years. One of them was extremely painful. The other caused extreme vertigo. In both cases, my doctor knowing I’m a traveler, wrote me prescriptions in case either ever happens to me on a flight. Although I’ve never needed either, I feel comfortable knowing I have them.

You know what you need daily as well as what you need in case of an emergency. Keep it with you in your carry-on in case your luggage gets misdirected.

As a side note, the primary way I’ve avoided a recurrence of the painful condition is by staying sufficiently hydrated. Please do what you can to stay hydrated.

Pack Extra Face-Coverings

Anything can happen to your mask, so take extras. You might sneeze into your mask. You might forget you’re wearing a mask and saturate it (and your shirt) with coffee. They’re small, and as of now, you need them—pack extra.

How Empty Zip-Lock Bags Add Convenience to Your Trip

Zip-Lock Bags always come in handy. They’re great for liquids because they can prevent small spills from soaking everything.

Zip-lock bags are a great way to store your extra face-coverings as well as your used face-coverings. I always label one bag dirty in case I need to put used masks in it.

Like a mini packing cube, baggies help you keep your backpack or suitcase organized. It’s a great place to store wired headphones, so the wire doesn’t get tangled up with anything else. Placing your snacks together in one bag and your medications in another keeps everything separate and organized so that you don’t have to rummage through a pile to find what you need.

If you’re carrying any liquids, put those items together in a Zip-lock bag. Hopefully, you have TSA-precheck, but if security needs to see your fluids for some reason, they’re all together in one baggy. No fishing through your backpack or suitcase to make sure you have everything.

Charging Cable

We use our phones a lot these days. Slow public wi-fi and weak cell signals will drain your battery even faster. Keep a charging cable handy (in a zip-lock bag) for when you need it.

Power Bank

We can’t always find places to plug in our charging cables, so keep a power bank handy. Also, since most of them have lithium batteries, you shouldn’t put them in your checked luggage. What good will they do you there?

Check out this page on my Amazon storefront for the power bank I use.

Journal and Pen

Do you journal or write? If so, pack your favorite notebook and pen to capture your thoughts, reflect on our journey, or jot down important notes and information about your trip.

What size journal do you use? I prefer an A5 size or smaller. A5 is about the size of a standard piece of notebook paper. It will take up less space in your carry-on, and they will usually weigh less than full-size journals.

Why You Should Consider Wired Earbuds for Your Carry-On Packing List

Two things could happen on a flight that would make wired earbuds desirable.

  • Your wireless earbuds run out of charge.
  • You want to view something on the in-flight entertainment system.

A way to prevent the first situation is item number 10, pack a power bank. The other circumstance is if there is a program on the in-flight entertainment system you want to view. I don’t recommend using regular instead of noise-canceling headphones on a flight. However, wired earbuds are small, light, and easy to pack. They may come in handy.
Finally,  the bonus:

Download Podcasts, Audiobooks, and Movies

I watched episode 7 of WandaVision in the airport while waiting on my flight. I couldn’t risk overhearing a conversation and spoiling it for me. In that case, I had to download the new episode that morning after it came out. Otherwise, I recommend that you always…

Download what you want the night before.

You never know what will happen with your device or your wi-fi. Don’t leave it for the morning you have to depart for the airport. Load up on your favorite music, podcasts, audiobooks, and movies, so you have them available. They’re a great way to pass the time or learn something new, and they don’t take up any space in your carry-on.

Disclosure: The post contains affiliate links. If you make purchases via those links, I may get a small commission. Thank you for your support!

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