Home Tips Plane and Simple: Carry-On Essentials

Plane and Simple: Carry-On Essentials

Airplanes aren’t exactly renowned for their comfy-cozy ambience and variety of amenities. So over many years and hundreds of flights, both domestic and abroad, Annie has honed her carry-on packing skills to a finely balanced combo of practicality and creature comforts. How does she do it?


Annie always starts with a sturdy, widemouthed tote bag with at least one inner pocket for keeping smaller items organized and within easy reach. Then she packs:

1. Moisturizer. To combat the dry air, Annie packs a travel-size bottle of Evian mineral water spray. A few mists all over the face help give the skin a fresh look—even if you’ve been sitting around at your connection airport for half a day—and act as a wake-up for times when you can’t give your face a full-on washing. Likewise, she packs lip balm and hand cream to keep her skin looking and feeling great.

2. Personal items. Especially for late-night or overnight flights, toothpaste and a toothbrush are must-haves. Be sure to pack a minty-fresh flavor; not only will it erase stale breath, but it’s stimulating and will help you wake up at the end of a long trip. Annie also stashes an extra pair of underwear or two, just in case her checked bag doesn’t meet her at her destination. Don’t forget some ibuprofen, for headaches caused by changes in cabin pressure, as well as any other regular prescriptions or over-the-counter meds, especially if you’re prone to motion sickness.

3. Small snacks. The days of freebie foods on shorter flights are long gone, and the offerings on longer ones leave a lot to be desired. To keep up her energy and provide a little taste of home even from thousands of miles away, Annie tucks away ziplock baggies of protein-packed snacks like almonds. Helpful hint: chocolate is a terrific comfort food, but your body, already under stress from traveling, doesn’t need the spike in blood sugar. If you can’t do without it, choose a dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 65 percent or more, from a reputable manufacturer like Theo, and pack just a few squares rather than an entire bar. Annie also includes several bags of her favorite tea in her carry-on—a much healthier choice than the bulk-packaged stuff served onboard.

4. Sanitizer and wipes. Airplanes are breeding grounds for all manner of germs you’d rather not think about. Since it’s impossible to wash your hands frequently with running water, pack a bottle of hand sanitizer in an easy-to-reach spot. Trust Annie on this one: if you have to go digging for it, you’re not likely to use it as much as you need. And don’t forget to stash a packet of antibacterial wipes for debugging your tray, seat armrests, and luggage handles.

5. Toasty layers. Frequent flyers have perfected the art of layering to combat the varying temperatures during a plane ride. Annie typically tosses a lightweight throw around her shoulders, like a shawl, after she passes through the TSA checkpoint. If she gets too warm, it’s easy to peel off without performing gymnastic sweater-shedding maneuvers. She also packs a pair of cozy socks; keeping the feet warm not only makes you more comfortable, but also helps the body relax and encourages sleep.

6. Neck pillow. True, it looks a bit ridiculous, but a neck pillow will prevent the development of neck cramps from sleeping in an awkward position, and will discourage snoring . . . and unconscious cuddling with your seat mate. Annie loves this memory foam pillow, with a handy strap that attaches to her bag for hands-free toting.

7. Entertainment. Annie’s a dedicated iPad reader and loves the convenience of taking hundreds of books and magazines with her no matter where she goes, but until all airlines allow the use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing (not to mention on-the-runway delays), she always packs a hard-copy book and magazine. Don’t forget to load up your iPad, phone, or MP3 player with your favorite tunes and podcasts for times when you need to give your eyes a break, and remember to pack the headphones and chargers.


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