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Packing in a Carry-On: My Top Travel Essentials

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Travel is by far my favorite (only?) hobby, and since I’m a carry-on-or-bust kind of person, I’ve perfected the art of packing as efficiently as possible. Side note: Please learn from my recent epic fail, and check your passport expiration dates (like a hawk!) well in advance so you don’t end up having to cancel your international trip days before departing like our family just did. Who knew children’s’ passports expired every five years, not ten?? Not this lady.

Onward! I’m sharing my top travel essentials below so you can pack like a minimalist while adding comfort, convenience and style to your next trip. My latest printable packing checklist is also LINKED HERE. Safe travels!

travel essentials

Compact Carry-On

I’ve been using this suitcase for years and it’s held up quite well. I love that it’s super lightweight, meets international carry-on standards, and has a roomy external pocket, perfect for tucking in a laptop, book or magazine.

$325 – Linked Here – Away

Travel Headphones

I normally use Airpods, but for the plane I like a more comfortable padded headphone that can also plug in for movies and music. I opted to skip the splurge and instead bought a a highly rated budget pair. I love that they fold up neatly in my handbag and the price is right.

$12 Linked Here – Sony

Structured Pouches

I’m a real sucker for a good pouch. I use pouches for organizing charges and adapters as well as toiletries and products when I travel, and they top my list of travel essentials. I alternate between using the clear, structured pouches linked below, and this sturdy canvas option, by Amanda Cercone, which can double as a chic clutch, wristlet, or even a cross-body bag.

$50 – Linked Here – Truffle | $145 Linked Here – Amanda Cercone

Passport and Card Holder

When I travel, I typically leave my wallet behind and just pack my passport, credit cards, and healthcare. This sleek passport and card holder can handle all the essentials and can be monogrammed with the most charming hand-painted initials.

$60 Linked Here – Leatherology

Packing Cube Set

I only caught onto the packing cube craze in the past few years and it’s been a game-changer. This compression set will help you maximize space in a small suitcase, and keep things organized and tidy when you pack. I always keep one aside for dirty laundry.

$26 – Linked Here – Bagail

Convertible Hip Bag

This stylish, versatile bag can be used as a hip bag for the plane and also converts into a crossbody or shoulder bag. Roomy enough to store your phone, wallet, and essentials, and secure for travel – it’s become my go-to.

$325 Linked Here – Clare V.

Travel Steamer

Full disclosure: I rarely pack this (no room!) but I do use and love it at home, and I often get asked about which steamer I use. It heats up quickly and will leave your clothes looking wrinkle-free in minutes flat.

$19 – Linked Here – PurSteam

Sanitizing On-the-Go Wipes

Wipe down tray tables, armrests, and anything else you want to quickly disinfect on your travels. I also use these to give my suitcase a good wipe down when I get home so it’s sparkly clean and ready for my next trip.

$7 Linked Here – The Honest Company

Portable Charger

This bad boy will charge your phone 7 times faster than a normal charger and the sleek, compact design will fit in even the smallest bag. I also make sure to always travel with a compact set of international travel adapters so I’m never without a charge.

$59 – Linked Here – Anker

In addition to the products mentioned, I always travel with a water bottle, gum, snacks, a comfy sleep mask, something good to read, and this No Jet Lag Remedy.

travel essentialsWhat are your go-to travel essentials? Anything you can’t leave home without? Please share in the comments below!

Photography Credit: Vivian Johnson

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17 comments on “Packing in a Carry-On: My Top Travel Essentials

  1. Ole Henriksen facial cleansing wipes (to refresh & moisturize before landing)
    Malin & Goetz lip balm
    Compression socks (so I can actually fit into my shoes upon landing)
    Wide, soft headband
    Pashmina (blanket on the plane, wrap for cold airports and chilly evenings)

  2. Thanks for the packing list. I always have lists/ sticky notes on different small bag/cubes etc for last minute adds.
    But I am soooo bummed that you had to cancel. So sorry😣
    For me flip flops for slipper stand-in ( dirty foot fetish) and wearing if necessary. Lavender roll in for sleeping and PLANE SMELLS !
    Just recently in a long haul flight the bathrooms were closed and yes- someone p…ped in the aisle. What fun..

  3. I’m a carry on or bust kind of girl, too, so that means one carry on sized suitcase plus a personal bag on most airlines. I take my small suitcase for the overhead bin, plus a shoulder zip tote bag with my laptop, passport, toiletries, flatiron, etc., for under the seat in front of me, meaning my small crossbody going out bag has to be packed in my suitcase. Does the hip bag you use go “free”, or does it count as your personal bag?

    1. I use the hip bag for my passport etc. and can toss it in my tote so it doesn’t count when I go through security. Xx

      1. Good idea— now if my small underseat tote wasn’t packed to the brim, I could do that with my crossbody! I see I have even more editing to do!

  4. Can you zip the packing cubes without compressing them? I’ve heard that compressing clothes makes them wrinkly, and usually when I’m packing I’m just going to my parents’ (a short drive away) for a few days and don’t need to be jamming a whole bunch into a teensy bag. I’ve been wanting to upgrade my IKEA packing cubes, so these ones you linked might be a good option!!

    1. Yes, no need to compress, but you might prefer the set from Away that’s a bit larger and has no compression. Xx

  5. love this post! so timely, we are in the midst of a month in europe visiting family and we did a week long hut to hut trip in the dolomites which was amazing! anyways, i am definitely ordering some of the compression bags when i get home. just in case anyone reading this is sensitive to lighting, i wanted to put in a plug for my husband’s travel light: https://www.sunlightinside.com/product/traveling-sunshine/ he has made this small version that is good for travelling. and one other nonpacking tip: if u have any daily meds u take i highly recommend dividing them up and having them in a few different places/bags. i left my meds at a friend’s house at the beginning of the trip and because of timing and our doing the backpacking trip, I just had to stop taking them abruptly (which ended up being fine). other than that, it’s all been amazing!

  6. I sewed white Velcro strips on my pack cubes so that I can identify what is in them with sharpie marked matching Velcro. For example, ‘shirts, pants, warm, socks’ etc. Each trip needs different clothing depending on the temperature, so this way I can keep track of what is in each. Thank you for your lovely guidance Shira!

  7. Outstanding article! I want people to know just how good this information is in your writing!
    TBH, travel is fun but what to pack and how to pack efficiently is a nightmare for me. I’ll bookmark this useful packing list for my next trip.

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