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Traveling Carry-On Only: What To Pack

Updated: Jan 11

There are plenty of reasons to fly carry-on only. If you’re a budget traveler you are well aware that booking a budget flight only stays budget-friendly if you don’t start tagging on extra bag fees. Maybe you don’t want the extra weight as you run around and explore a new place or maybe you simply don’t want to wait at the baggage claim upon arrival. No matter your reason, some essentials should always be packed in your carry-on for every trip. 

Airport bathroom carry-on bag
With a well packed carry-on you'll be ready to take on the world!

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Let’s start with the basics.


You will need some form of identification simply to board the plane, but even if this weren’t the case when you’re traveling you should always carry it. Keep your ID in an easy-to-reach pocket so you can pull it out as often as needed. 

I often carry two IDs with me on my trips. If I’m going into a city or even a venue where theft is high I keep my driver’s license on my person and lock up my passport in my hotel room. That way if worst comes to worse and my wallet gets stolen I still have a way to fly back home. 

Multiple Forms Of Currency

I like to carry cash and a credit card on me in case of an emergency. I also recommend carrying multiple cards in case you have any issues with one you'll have backup resources to pay.

Hand Sanitizer

You never know when the bathroom is going to be out of soap. 

Surface Wipes

Again, it doesn’t hurt just in case…sometimes those airplane tray tables can be a wee bit sticky.

Face Mask

In today’s society, it doesn’t hurt to have one packed just in case even if you never end up using it.


Bring a pair of sandals if nothing else but to shower in. If you prefer sandals over tennis shoes, especially in hot climates, the investment in a good quality hiking sandal will always be worth it. 

My Chacos have lasted me years and offer great support. I wear them out walking, to the beach, into the ocean, out day hiking, kayaking, and everything in between. 

If Chacos aren’t your preference, Tevas and Keens are great quality brands too.

Travel Organizer

The key to a well-packed carry-on is organization. I pack all my hygienic items, toiletries, and hair items together. I don’t use my items from home. Instead, I have a hanging travel organizer already packed and ready to grab and I restock it in between trips. 

When I’m frantically trying to remember so many other travel details it’s a great peace of mind knowing all my basics are already ready to go. Your list may look slightly different but for me, it is as follows:

Packing Cubes

While we’re on the subject of organization…

Anything that doesn’t fit in your travel organizer, ie clothes, should go in packing cubes. How you pack them is up to you. I tend to put tops and dresses together and pants and bigger items in a separate one. If it’s a shorter trip all my clothes (aside from a sweatshirt for example) will fit in one cube. It will keep your items condensed and if for some reason you need to re-organize last minute it will be much easier to tear your bag apart. 

TSA Safe Containers

Not all of your favorite hygiene items will come in travel-safe containers so you might have to get some of your own.

Magic Make-Up Eraser

This has been one of my favorite make-up/travel products for quite some time. You only need water and it takes all that grime and runny make-up for the day right off. It’s also one less bottle of product (make-up remover) that you won’t have to pack.

 I’ve had mine for years, use it daily and it still does a great job removing all the make-up off my face. When I get home I toss it in a load of towels and it’s clean and ready to go again. 


Maybe you can travel without them. I can’t.

Battery Pack

You never know when you’ll have the chance to plug in and the last thing you want is to be stuck in any kind of emergency with no way to call for help.

Charging Cables

If you’re like me and travel with my laptop, phone, and e-reader, don’t forget those charging cords! You could even invest in a travel cord organizer box if the loose cords stress you out like they do me. If you’re traveling internationally consider bringing a wall adapter just in case you can’t find a place to plug in. 

Tracking Tag

With so much value in one bag, it doesn't hurt to track it just in case it goes missing. You can put tracking tags in the bag itself or on your keys, wallet, etc. If Apple air tags are too expensive a tile will do the job just fine as well. You can look for your phone from the tag or your bag from your phone.


We want you to think clearly and perform at your best! Mental health first so don’t you dare leave that medicine at home.

If you have an uneasy stomach consider packing some tums just in case you can’t adapt to local cuisines.

Tylenol or Ibuprofen is never a bad idea either. 

Extra Socks And Undergarments

You’ll only need them if you don’t pack them. 


Even if you’re not going to a sunny place-trust me. 

Travel Towel

This is something I put off packing for years and regretted not having each time. 

Don't waste the space and bring a traditional towel. Outside of filling your bag full they also take forever to dry and typically leave a mildewy smell behind on the rest of your items. 

You want to look for a microfiber, quick-drying towel that’s small and compact. 


The older I get the more important it has been to prioritize my sleep while traveling. I’ve found the best way to do this is with my pillow from home. The hardest part is making it convenient to carry. I’ve found the best way is to condense it in a SleepKeeper and take it as a personal item. 


Wifi may not always be available, especially when you’re thousands of miles up into the sky. I download books and Netflix on my Kindle. It’s small enough to slip into the laptop pocket of my backpack as well.


If you’re new to traveling this may sound like a lot, but remember you’ll have everything on your back for your entire trip. Within no time you’ll be impressed with how quickly you can fly through the airport without extra bags to check and how easy it is to pack up and head back home as well! With this list you’ll be prepared and out the door in no time!

Is it your first time traveling carry-on only? If not, what’s your go-to item you just cannot leave behind? Let me know in the comments below. 

For more packing lists and organization hacks check out 7 Travel Tips To Keep You Organized.

Happy Wandering,

Love Kait

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