Flight essentials – what to pack in your carry-on bag

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When jetting off on an adventure, it’s easy to get sidetracked by the finer details (your bucket list of extraordinary experiences, or the must-try street food you love). But, amid all the inspiration and anticipation, don’t forget every traveller’s secret MVP: your hand luggage. So, what to pack in your carry-on bag if you really want to make the most of yours – and ensure a comfortable, stress-free trip?

We’re here to help you suss out the ultimate long-haul flight essentials so you can strategically create the sort of packing checklist that’ll make even the very savviest of travel attendants proud. And don’t worry, because we won’t just go into what to pack in a carry-on; we’ll also list off what not to pack in a carry-on bag for a flight, too.

Packing plan sorted? Come feed your wanderlust with a browse through Flash Pack’s adventure trips, with travel ideas aplenty. 

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Carry-on luggage rules

Carry-on luggage rules vary between different airlines, airports and countries around the world. However, many long-haul flight carriers offer one carry-on bag, one personal item and one checked piece of luggage per passenger. It’s important to check your airline’s guidelines on carry-on luggage allowance before you fly, to find out what size and weight restrictions apply to your ticket. Your airline will also offer guidance on carry-on items that are prohibited e.g. aerosols and certain sharp items. 

Always read up on local country, airport and airline rules before you fly. Since everyone loves a smooth A to B, planning ahead will help ease your check-in experience. It also ensures you won’t have to ditch any items at security, or pay an excess baggage fee.

What’s affected by carry-on rules?

Carry-on rules cover what items you can bring in your hand luggage, as well as its size and weight. It will also determine how many bags you can bring on-board. These rules vary according to the operator you’re flying with and also what ticket you hold. Airlines typically offer tiered systems whereby you can pay more for extra carry-on luggage. 

In addition, how much luggage you’re allowed to take on-board may depend on what class you’re flying, whether or not you have airline membership and your flight route. It’s worth noting that individual rules can change at short notice, so always check before you go. One smart way to minimise the size of your carry-on luggage is to roll rather than fold any clothes and wear bulky items (coats etc.) on your person. 

British Airways offers all customers one hand bag (up to 40 x 30 x 15cm) and one cabin bag (56 x 45 x 25cm) both under 23kg each. Similarly, American Airlines gives all passengers an allowance of one personal item (e.g. a handbag, 45 x 35 x 20 cm) and one carry-on (56 x 36 x 23 cm). All EasyJet passengers, meanwhile, can bring on one small cabin bag (45 x 36 x 20cm) with a maximum weight of 15kg. Cathay Pacific allows one piece of cabin baggage (36 x 23 x 56cm) and one small item (40 x 15 x 30cm), both 7kg in weight. 

Common items that are restricted

What not to pack in a carry-on bag for your flight? All airlines and countries have rules on restricted items. And every year, millions of prohibited items are abandoned at airports by passengers who have forgotten to pack them in hold baggage. 

Things that are typically not allowed in hand luggage bags include liquid containers over 100ml (this rule is changing in the UK from June 2024), sharp objects, sporting goods (such as baseball bats and ski poles), self-defence items, and large quantities of alcohol.

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What’s allowed in hand carry baggage?

What can you take on a plane, in terms of hand luggage? Here are some broad guidelines:

Medication and medical equipment

Medical equipment such as inhalers and hypodermic syringes are allowed in your hand carry baggage; but you’ll need medical confirmation to show that these are essential to your journey. These and similar items (e.g. crutches) may be subject to additional screening at security. All prescription medication and dietary liquids that you have medical confirmation for are also allowed; but again, any medication containers over 100ml must also be taken out of cabin baggage, and will be subject to additional screening.

Gels, aerosols and toiletries

All liquid toiletry and cosmetic items such as shampoo, sun cream, perfumes and aftershaves must be packed in containers under 100ml each and and be placed in a resealable plastic bag at security. Gels and aerosols (including hairspray) all count as liquid items for aviation security purposes. If you wear contact lenses, you can pack non-disposable lenses in a small amount of solution (usually no more than 100ml) within your hand luggage.

Electronic items and portable chargers

Most electronic items and portable chargers can be taken with you in carry-on luggage but remember to pack them at the top of your bag, so you can easily take them out for screening at security. Items such as laptops or mobile phones must be able to be switched on if requested, so make sure you charge them before travelling.

Cigarette lighters and matches

You can generally only bring one lighter, e-cigarette or box of safety matches on your person when boarding a flight.

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Packing checklist for carry-on bags

Here’s your go-to checklist for what to pack in a carry-on, along with some long-haul flight essentials in order to maximise your chances of some in-flight R&R:

Your passport (and any other other important documents)

The most important thing to remember for your hand carry baggage is your passport and any other forms of ID you may need. Pop these in a folder with any other paperwork – such as your health insurance or visa documents – so that they are all in one place. Some people also might like to print out a backup copy of your flight ticket/boarding pass, as well as have it ready on their smartphone.

A portable charger

While we’re talking smartphones, a portable charger should absolutely be on your packing checklist. Most airports will have charging points, so it’s an easy way to avoid any “out of battery” fixes down the line.

Your valuables

If you want to keep your valuables close to hand, make sure to pack your laptop, camera, currency, jewellery, and other bits and bobs in your carry-on bag.


One of those gadgets that’s guaranteed to improve your flight, headphones – particularly noise-cancelling headphones – are basically a must nowadays. You can hook them up to the inflight entertainment system, use them to listen to podcasts and audiobooks on your own devices, or simply pop them on and drown out the sound of your fellow travellers. The choice is yours…

A wash bag

Another must for your packing checklist is a well-stocked washbag: you ideally want at least a toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, deodorant, face wipes or face wash, moisturiser, and a bottle of sunscreen (depending on your destination).

Remember: any liquid containers must hold no more than 100ml, and they should be kept in a single, transparent, resealable plastic bag.

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Essential medications

If you need to take essential medicines or topical skin creams with you when you travel, make sure that you have a note from your doctor explaining why you need them. This way, they can stay with you in your hand luggage.

A refillable water bottle

While you won’t be allowed to take liquids with you through airport security, a reusable water bottle is a great way to save you some money (and up your green credentials) in-flight. Be sure to fill yours up after security and before you hop on the plane, so you can stay hydrated.

A change of socks and underwear

While nobody wants their hold luggage to be delayed, we always prefer to live by the old adage of “prepare for the worst, hope for the best.” Hedge your bets and pack an extra pair of socks and underwear in your carry-on.

Chewing gum or sweets (and any other snacks)

Chewing gum (and chewy sweets) are great for helping to alleviate ear pressure during takeoff and landing, so keep a stash in your bag. Savvy travellers might also like to bring some snacks of their own for the flight. Whether it’s a sandwich or a hydration-boosting satsuma, you’ll find yourself glad of them at some point on your journey.


You’ll likely have a good few hours to kill on your flight, so tip-top entertainment is an absolute must. A good book or two, a magazine, a fully-charged tablet with a few downloaded audiobooks, films or games, or even a travel guide to your final destination are a great way to help you pass the time.

An eye mask

A good eye mask will block out unwelcome light and help you get to sleep, regardless of the time zone.


Planes can be noisy at even the very best of times, so do yourself a favour and pop a pair of earplugs in your carry-on.

Neck pillow

It doesn’t matter where you’re sitting on the plane, a neck pillow is one of the best ways to ensure you’re sitting (and sleeping) comfortably on a long-haul flight. Look for an inflatable option, if you can, to save room in your hand luggage.

Compression socks

The least glamorous part of air travel, sure, but a pair of compression socks is a brilliant way to keep the blood circulating on a long haul flight – especially if it’s tricky to get up and move around.

A blanket or large scarf

Whether you use it to keep warm when the temperature dips on the plane, or tie it to the tray table on the seat in front of you to create a makeshift footrest (yes, really!), a scarf/blanket is always and forever a must-have addition to your carry-on. Trust us.

Hand sanitiser

They rocketed to the top of our list of long haul flight essentials during the pandemic, and now a bottle of hand sanitiser just makes good sense. Pop one in your hand luggage to use onboard – and remember that a spray or misting option can be used in conjunction with a packet of tissues to wipe down tray tables if needed.

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Tips for packing the ultimate carry-on

Equipping yourself with the right carry-on and you will seamlessly transition from hectic tourist who spends half the flight scrabbling about in their bag to savvy traveller – calm, hydrated, ready to take on the world. It too can happen to you. Here’s everything you need to pack the ultimate carry-on:

Minimise your pack list

When you’re travelling from A to B, you want to be as minimal as possible. Extra items not only weigh you down, they also create more stress. Start by filtering out anything you really don’t need. Excess clothes, expensive jewellery and unnecessary toiletries are common culprits. It’s worth getting into the habit of ditching paperwork you no longer require as you go, too. Things like old boarding passes or receipts don’t take up room but they create extra clutter, and can get confused with the important stuff.

Bring protein-rich snacks and chewing gum

Unless you’re in the running for First Class cuisine, airline grub can be a bit of a letdown. Rather than paying for food on budget flights, bring your own instead. High-protein snacks such as dried fruit or cereal bars are energising, and will make you feel fuller for longer. They’ll also paper the gaps between meals on long-haul routes. Chewing gum is another good call: it helps with popping ears on take-off, and will make you feel fresher as you emerge the other end.

Prioritise sleep essentials

Getting some quality shut-eye is both difficult and important, especially on long-haul flights, so don’t scrimp on this area – it’ll be worth the added load. A neck pillow, ear plugs, an eye mask and a handheld fan will all come in useful when trying to make your tiny cub hole of space as comfy as possible. Think about bringing along a little bag of lavender, too: inhaling this therapeutic scent before bed has been shown to increase slow-wave sleep, as well as easing anxiety and stress.

Pre-pack toiletries in clear ziploc bags

No-one wants that mad scramble to assemble your liquids at security. Save yourself the hassle by pre-packing your liquids, gels and pastes into a clear, reusable ziploc bag. In terms of what toiletries to bring, focus on what will keep you refreshed and hydrated. Hand cream, eye drops and a hydrating spray are all great shouts. Hand sanitiser will also come in useful.

Create a storage system for VIDS and bank cards

If you’re the kind of person who’s forever frantically checking for your passport, make it easy for yourself: get strategic. Your VIDs (very important documents), including your passport and boarding pass, can go together into a passport holder. Store your credit and debit cards in an RFID blocking holder, to keep them safe from contactless fraud. Fill a small purse with local currency, including coins, for when you disembark. That way, you don’t have to hunt down an ATM first thing.

Bring a pen and paper

It’s so easy to overlook but an old-school pen and paper will come in useful in a myriad of ways. Firstly, a pen is always handy for things like filling out custom forms. But its second use is a little more cerebral. Air travel is one of the few times we get for uninterrupted thought in today’s world; no one can interrupt you with an email or WhatsApp. So it’s also this rare window when you might start dreaming or plotting big ideas.

Prepare for changing temperatures

It’s nearly always chilly on a flight; ward off the nip of the air con by packing a chunky knit or a hoodie and a pair of thick socks. If you’re given free socks on the flight, you can put them over the top to keep your ones clean. Think about your end destination, too: layering is key so you can adapt quickly, and you’ll want to give some attention to your choice of footwear, too.

For tech, use headphones and a portable phone charger

There are a lot of gadgets out there that – while clever – will simply use up space you don’t have. Noise-cancelling headphones and a portable phone charger with cable are worth their weight in gold, however. It can be hard to relax up high, especially if you’re a nervous flyer, but a few of your favourite pre-downloaded tunes or soothing podcasts will help keep you in the groove (while cushioning the sound of your noisy-eating neighbour). A portable phone charger means you don’t have to root around for a power outlet and can hit the ground fully charged on arrival somewhere new.

Swap your wheelie suitcase for a duffle bag

You can’t move for wheeled suitcases in the average airport, but canvas duffle bags are a much better choice for your carry-on luggage. If you’re flying budget, you’ll often be asked to place your wheeled suitcase in hold – whereas a duffle bag will make it through no matter how full the aircraft. It’s also more likely that you can stow it under your seat, within arm’s reach of everything you need, rather than running the gauntlet of overhead lockers.

Think green where you can

Cut down on your plastic use by taking along your own reusable water bottle on-board, along with a stainless steel straw if you think you’ll need it. Wet wipes are a popular choice for freshening up when you’re flying, but 90% contain plastic. Think about using alternatives such as compostable sheets, or bamboo cleansing cloths, instead.

Planning your next trip?

If you’ve always yearned to be one of those people who breezes their way through check-in, with zero call for fuss or faff – rest assured. The dream can be a reality. You just need a little planning beforehand, to find out what you can or can’t bring in your carry-on baggage; then pack accordingly. 

Must-have items such as your passport, bank card and medication are always good to have immediately to hand, and you can never go wrong with essentials such as wet wipes, headphones, chargers, a reusable water bottle and an oversized scarf. If you’re travelling long-haul, you might also fancy some extra personal comforts e.g. eye masks and a neck pillow. 

For carry-on luggage, however, a good rule of thumb is less is more. You don’t want to stress about going over the limit; or having to lug loads about with you as you move around an airport. Remember, many items (e.g. suncream, flip-flops) can be brought at your arrival destination. 

Want to know more about Flash Pack? Check out our repertoire of worldwide adventures.

Images: Flash Pack and Unsplash

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