How to pack the ultimate carry-on

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Everything you need to know about packing the perfect carry-on for long and short-haul flights

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 – fear not. The dream may be in reach.

Flying isn’t exactly a stress-free experience, but it does become 100% easier if you prepare and pack properly. Equip 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, from relaxing scents to secure card storage and the best kind of DIY snacks:

1 – 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.

Read more: How to travel the world on hand luggage only

2 – 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.

3 – 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.

4 – Pre-prep 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.

Read more: The Kondo effect – using travel to de-clutter the mind

5 – Create a storage system for VIDs and 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.

6 – Don’t forget 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. Research shows that our goals become more attainable when we write them down; and physically using a pen rather than typing can aid memory and understanding of what you write. It’s more meaningful. Finally, a pen and paper will avail yourself of this trick to help with flight anxiety.

7 – 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 don’t forget about footwear.

Read more: Why I’ll never travel with checked baggage again

8 – 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.

9 – 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. Plus it’s good news for you if you’re planning on heading to Venice anytime soon.

10 – Think green where you can

Clearly, you’re not going to offset the carbon footprint of your flight with what you pack (although packing less helps). But paving the way to a cleaner, greener future in the travel industry is a matter of making small, incremental steps as well as the larger gestures. 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 (read about Flash Pack’s efforts to become carbon neutral by the year 2023 here).

Find out more on how to pack the ultimate carry-on with our video tutorial, below:

Images: Arnel HasanovicLauren Fleischmann, rocknwool and Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

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