My hand luggage essentials

I always wanted to be the kind of woman who could board a flight with little more than a handbag and a book (and checked luggage, of course); chic, sleek and ready to sleep.

Then I arrived in Madrid two days before my backpack and I realised just how important your hand luggage can be; I was tired, sweaty, a little smelly and my sense of humour had well and truly deserted me.

My lost luggage wouldn’t have been such a problem had I been able to speak Spanish and packed my carry on with more than an iPod and lollies.

Lesson learned.

These days I pack enough to get me through a day or two in a new city, but not so much that my bag is heavy to carry when walking/running between gates.

Are you always unsure what to pack in your hand luggage?

Never fear, here are the 21 carry-on essentials that will be in my hand luggage when I fly to Miami, New York and Los Angeles next weekend.

Passport. Make sure it’s valid for at least six months beyond the date you plan to return home and if, like me, you’re heading to the USA, make sure you’ve got the new biometric passport.

Wallet, cash, credit cards. A few years ago, I watched in horror as an ATM at Heathrow ate our bankcard – just after we arrived. Save yourself the headache (and countless expensive calls to the bank) and pack a selection of funds, including at least two cards you can use to access money overseas.

Paperwork. Always keep a printed copy of your itinerary with flight and hotel details, plus a copy of your passport and ID in case they are lost or damaged while away.

Charger and adapter. Keep juice flowing to all your vital electronics so you don’t miss any photo ops, can look up addresses and phone home when you need to. Most airports and a number of airlines now offer USB ports so you can charge and go!

Headphones.  Noise cancelling headphones are worth the outlay. Invest in a pair and say ‘au revoir’ to crying babies, snoring seat mates and talking travellers.

Neck pillow. Don’t be the weirdo who sleeps on a stranger’s shoulder, unless that stranger is single and attractive. (Tip: If you buy a U-shaped pillow, the trick is to put the longer part under your chin or to one side to stop your head from dropping forward when you nod off.)

Eye mask. While most airlines provide eye masks for long haul flights, I prefer to take my own pretty pink silk one from The Goodnight Co.

Medications. When it comes to your daily meds or contraception (that could result in quite the souvenir!), don’t be caught short if your luggage goes AWOL. Having once tried to mime tonsillitis to a French pharmacist, I also pack a small pack of painkillers, antihistamines and cold and flu tablets.

Toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant. Hygiene is important, even at 30,000 feet. Plus you’ll be surprised how much better you feel after cleaning your teeth and freshening up.

Nasal spray. The nose knows that the combination of low humidity and air conditioning can lead to some serious congestion. Spray and save yourself a week of pain, plus it can help flush out any germs before they take hold.

Moisturiser. Air conditioning on planes can leave skin dehydrated, sensitive and dull (no thanks!). Snakeskin is only sexy on a handbag or shoes, so regularly slather on moisturiser to keep your skin soft and supple.

Lip balm. Show your lips some love by regularly applying a good lip balm. Lanolips 101 Ointment is a good one; not only does it deliver a heavy-duty moisture hit to your lips but it has about 100 other uses which make it the perfect travel companion.

Hand sanitiser.  Planes carry people and people have germs. A squirt of sanitiser before and after any meals and bathroom can help you beat the post-flight lurgy.

Face wipes.  Give good face and ditch the day’s grime by removing your makeup at the start of the flight. You can freshen up and reapply before your disembark.

Socks. If you tend to feel the cold, a warm pair of socks is a must. If you’re at risk of DVT, up the ante with a pair of compression socks or tights.

Scarf/Jumper. In lieu of a doona suit (my ideal travelling outfit), a scarf or jumper will save you from giving the cold shoulder.

Underwear.  Back, front and inside out? No thanks! They’re small and light, even giant Bridget Jones’ ones, so pack a pair.

Shirt/t-shirt. You could climb back into the shirt you wore on the flight, wash it in the sink or go shopping for a new one OR you could just pack a fresh one.

Electronics. Use your airtime to clean out your phone or camera to make room for more #holiday snaps and save yourself from the risk of a smashed screen.

Pen. There are always forms to fill in, having your own pen will save you time. And you can use it to give your digits to handsome strangers.

Book. Most airlines now have a well-stocked in-flight entertainment system, but a book is handy for long hours waiting in airports.

I like to use a bag that can fit under the chair in front of me, that way I have easy access to anything I need during the flight, without having to interrupt those sitting beside me. It also means any valuables are within my sight/reach.

Do you have any long haul flight tips? I’d love to hear them, you can comment in the box below!


  1. lucinda032

    A book is a must! In Thailand they wouldn’t let me have my tablet on during take off, even in flight mode. It’s a long time until the seatbelt sign goes off! Also got caught once in a flight from Kathmandu to Singapore – considered an domestic flight, not international, so no movies. So glad I had a book to help the 5 hour flight go quicker.


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