Carry-On Essentials for Long Haul Flights

Carry-On Essentials

Carry-On Forget-Me-Nots

A few weeks ago I went to Australia for the first (and certainly not the last) time! I whipped out my computer during my first flight and wrote up my carry-on essentials while I enjoyed a 26 hour travel day.


Here I am on a 13 hour flight to my first destination (Hong Kong) to then fly another 9 hours to the final stop: Melbourne! I can’t contain my excitement about going to a place that values coffee and avocado toast almost as much as me.

With long travel days like this I am always interested in what people keep in their carry-on bags.

Flying for long periods is extremely drying to the body. My hands feel dry and cracked, my skin tends to have little flare-ups, I get a slightly stuffy (don’t even talk about that recycled air), and my digestion is always stopped-up after long travel days.

There are a few carry-on essentials I absolutely cannot fly without:

1. Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Moisturizing Lip Balm

If you don’t already know me, it is important to know that I will basically leave parties if I arrive without my chapstick. Some people call it an addiction. I call it an intense love affair. I know being a chapstick lover is not necessarily good for you, but if thats one of my so-called vices, I’d say I’m doing ok. I am very particular about my chapstick. The cheap wax from the convenient store will simply not do. Burts bees original is the perfect texture, stays on for a long time, and it doesn’t make my lips crave more about 10 minutes later. On top of that, it is made with peppermint oil so my my breath gets a little freshening up whenever I put it on. Fantastic for long stale flights. I always have a tube hidden away in a purse or pocket, but I make sure never to forget putting it in my carry-on.

*you can also apply Burts to chapped noses if you’re flying with a cold, or to peeling dry cuticles. Weird but it works!

2. Kiehl’s Ultimate Strength Hand Salve

Magic. Pure magic. Everyone who suffers dry skin, raise a hand! This stuff is pricey, but oh so worth it. You can get a full sized tube for almost $30, but I like to go with a travel sized 3 oz tube that goes a long way when I’m using it for travel days! This small tube fits perfectly in a pocket of your carry-on bag and  you’ll only need a small pearl-sized blob. You’re hands will feel moisturized but not greasy for hours on end. Perfection.

3. Trail Mix or Raw Nuts

I really prefer not to rely solely on the food offered on the airplane. Did you know it is made and modified specifically to taste good in the air? Yes! You’re taste buds taste food differently when you’re at that high an altitude. The airplane meals are pumped full of sodium for that exact reason, which why we can feel a little bloated during flights. For that reason, I alway attempt to bring my own snacks and food, even fruit or veggies sticks if the flights allow it.  One of favorite options is Nature’s Garden Omega-3 Deluxe Nut Mix, but todays nut choice was the brand On The Go with their Edamame and Almond Mix packet. I like snacks like this because of the high protein and fiber content, as well as no added sugar. I really enjoy having something crunchy and I love the salty sweet combination. You know, balance.

*If bringing from home, make sure to measure and pack in a snack size baggie before stashing it away in your carry-on! Otherwise (if you’re like me) you might end up accidentally munching through an entire 8 serving bag!

4. Protein Bar

What keeps me full longer? A perfect mix of protein, fats, and healthy carbohydrates. Now, I know there are many options to fill those macros, but since I can’t necessarily fly with a sweet potato, grilled chicken and avocado with Franks hot sauce, I’ll fall back on a easily packable protein bar. I look for options with a healthy balance of lowest sugar, highest protein, and healthy fiber, and then I’ll consider calories. I just want to find the best bang for my buck. I tend to go with a Quest Bar, a Grenade Bar, or a FitJoy Protein Bar depending on what I can find. Sometimes Quest bars can make me feel bloated, so you’ll need to experiment with what works for you and your body.

*Never forget to have a peek at the ingredients of your protein bar! Some of these “health” bars can contain over 26g of sugar with only 8-12g of actual protein! At that rate, you might as well eat a snickers bar. Just kidding. Don’t do that. Find yourself a different option for protein if you can.

5. Empty Water Bottle

I think everyone has heard this, but bring that favorite water bottle! I like the Hydro Flask Steel Water Bottle. It fits perfectly in the side pocket of my carry-on. I can’t drink from a wide-mouthed bottle while I’m walking (I walk the airport from the time I arrive until it’s time to board), so I like to bring this bottle with the sucky straw! The second best thing, is it will keep your water COLD for the entire flight. It works like a charm! I’ll drink water through the morning, down it all before security and then have another before the flight, and then ask the flight attendants if they could fill it for me after meal service. Then I don’t have to disrupt anyone for a few hours while I work on this perfectly chilled bottle.

*I also like to get a good sleep in a window seat, so I try to keep taking small sips while I’m awake. This means I’m not constantly getting up to go to the bathroom.

6. 100% Beef Biltong (or Turkey Jerky if I’m flying from the States)

Yes, this does tend to have a higher salt content, but like I said, its all about balance. I try to find things that will keep me full for longer and that means getting more protein and fiber, and less simple carbohydrates.

7. My Clear Mini Toiletry Bag

I bring a small toiletry bag with items to freshen up before I sleep and just after I get off the plane. It has a small deodorant, a mini pack of face wipes (my personal favorite is Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Wipes for flawless makeup removal, or Yes To Cucumbers Soothing Hypoallergenic Facial Wipes for a simple, refreshing cleanse), a mini toothbrush, Summer’s Eve Cleansing Cloth, and a travel sized tube of Crest 3D White toothpaste. This little bag fits perfectly inside my carry-on and goes through security without a hitch. I like to wash my face, brush my teeth, and do a quick wipe down before I sleep, and once again when I land. It makes me feel refreshed and not quite so grimy when I see whoever is picking me up.

8. Face Mask

Yes, a nice goopy face mask to put on, or a thick lotion, before I go to sleep. I try to keep up with the hours of the area I’m going to, so I’ll sleep or not sleep depending on the time zone. Today I’m flying with a sample of a face mask I got from an organic skin care shop in France BUT my very favorite is the Kiehl’s Overnight Hydrating Masque. Kiehl’s also comes in smaller pots (perfect for travel). I’ll give my skin a quick wipe after dinner and apply this overnight face mask while the plane lights are dimmed. Don’t want anyone thinking I’m a crazy person. Now I’ll watch movies, write, or sleep while this mask does its magic.

9. Noise Cancelling Headphones

This one is new. My fiancé insisted I take his Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling Headphones since he wouldn’t be traveling with me. Gosh, do I love that guy! Not only was I on a flight of people who seemed to do a lot of coughing and snorting, but this flight also had the entire season of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. I was SO pleased. There is a little switch to turn on the noise cancelling part and it totally blew my mind. Super quiet when I wanted to sleep, and theatre quality sound when I wanted to watch Elizabeth Moss kill it. I wouldn’t have believed it, but the price is definitely worth the quality on these awesome headphones!

10. A Warm Zip Up Hoodie

My favorite right now is my nike asymmetrical zip black hoodie. I tend to dress sporty when I travel…pull-on sneakers, a pair of Lululemon leggings, some kind of athe-leisure top and I’m good to go. I feel most comfortable and confident in athletic clothing, and no one has time for jeans when you’re 13 hours into a flight. I stash my hoodie in my carry-on until I need it. Normally once the plane cools down, as a sleep mask to drown out the light, or as an extra pillow.


There you have it. The contents of my carry-on bag! Of course, I’ll have the usual things like my MacBook, phone, wallet, and a charger, but that is it! By simplifying what I put in my checked luggage (see how I’m loving my simplified packing method) and in my carry-on, it makes my entire travel day go so much more smoothly.

How Packing Less Lets Me Enjoy More

How Packing Less Lets Me Enjoy More

How Packing Less Lets Me Enjoy More

Why Did I Simplify My Packing Routine?

Whether it’s flying between the states, Europe, Asia, or South Africa, flights ranging from 13 hours to 16 or more have become my specialty.

When I first started flying, I had no problem packing anything and everything I wanted.  I was often the person unloading their suitcase at the counter but—at the direction of my mother—always had a spare tote bag in the outer pocket. So I’d load up the tote bag with all the items too heavy to make it in my checked luggage and drag it onto the plane with me.

It says 2 personal items, right?

After flying between Seattle and Ithaca for 4 years of theatre schooling, I started to hone my skills so my flying experience was a little less chaotic and a little more efficient. Though it wasn’t until I toured the country for a year with a Broadway show that I started to care about what I was packing. We were in charge of taking our own suitcases up and down staircases, and after the second hotel without an elevator I started to size down. The second leg of tour, I stuck to packing only one suitcase!

My next gig was aboard a ship. Unlike tour, I would have my own bedroom that I could fully unpack in! Score! Fast forward to opening the door to my new cabin. All the blood drained from my face as me and my neighbors stared at our new homes. I had a room the size of a closet, filled with a bed, a desk and a bathroom. Imagine being able to touch two opposite walls by holding your arms out to the sides. I could take 3 full steps back and forth from bed to door. I could not open the door to the bathroom without it hitting the desk. My closet was just wide enough for my shoulders to fit nicely inside.

Do you feel claustrophobic yet?

I did a few different contracts like this, and started to get smarter about packing. I could never be sure how big my room would be, and who likes traveling with multiple pieces of luggage anyways? Then on one particularly unfortunate contract, I filled my free time researching how to create your own capsule wardrobe.

I noticed that even though I had packed a million different daytime clothing options (evening wear excluded), I was only choosing a handful of items in my always-stuffed closet. I habitually returned to the same 10 or so items. The pieces that made me feel good about myself and that mostly fit in similar color schemes.

I had a 3 week trip to South Africa planned. It would be a 12 hour flight and then another 9 hours with a 4 hour layover in between. I was determined to test my skills in the packing department and go ONLY with a flight-approved carryon and my personal little backpack.

3 weeks. Different cities. Varying weather. Go.

It was a South African winter which means layers, leggings, boots, and hats. I am going to lay it all out for you in hopes that you can make next packing experience is a little simpler.

My suitcase contained:

3 pairs of shoes (flat brown boots, black heeled booties, rainbow sneakers)
2 pairs of leggings
1 pair of black jeans
2 sweaters
2 flowy long-sleeved t-shirts
3 short sleeved t-shirts
2 scarves
1 lighter jacket
1 heavy rain jacket
1 small toiletries bag
Small leather purse


My small personal backpack held my computer, chargers, and other carryon must haves (post about my carryon forget-me-nots coming soon).

My trick with all these items is to stay in the same general color palette. I stuck with burgundy, green, grey, black, brown (boots) and then had 2 scarves with rich multicolored designs that could go with any top or jacket. Almost every top could go with almost any bottom. I could use one outfit for daytime wear, and then add a different scarf with my black heeled booties and it would look totally different!

This worked for me in the confusing South African weather. We faced hot days, freezing nights, high wind, and moody showers in multiple parts of the country, so packing for a variety of temperatures was a must. Some might think that having so few clothing options makes things difficult, but I’ve found that is not the [suit]case! Whether I’m touring the US, backpacking Europe, biking in Asia, or camping in South Africa, I can pack for it all. Not having to worry and knowing anything will match when I pull it out of the pack makes every day way less stressful and way more fun! 


A few things to ask yourself if you want to try capsule wardrobe packing:

Does this item go with at least 4 other items of clothing? Or better yet, can I fit this item into 4 or 5 other outfits?

Can I wear it more than once, and is it for day or night wear?

Does it wash easily, and is it wrinkle proof?

Is it comfortable and can I spend an entire day in it?

If you answer yes to at least 3 of these (preferably more), that item can go in the suitcase/backpack/carry on, etc!

This is one of my favorite puzzles to solve before I go on a trip. Packing this way requires a little bit of plannin,g but ultimately keeps me less frazzled and more focused on the amazing places I’m seeing!


What about you? What are your best simplified methods for packing?