This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.

Whenever possible, I don’t check a bag. I hate waiting at the baggage claim carousel when I’m eager to begin my adventure, and then there was the time my backpack took its own trip through Italy for five days while I patiently waited for it in Sardinia.

So…yea. I’d rather have my suitcase with me.

But whether I can store it above my seat (an ever-increasing challenge on today’s overstuffed flights) or I end up checking it, the most important piece of luggage on any trip is my carryon. Over the years, I’ve mastered what I pack to keep with me on a long flight.

1. Toiletries

toiletries

I don’t know about you, but after eating a few meals, having a beer, and hopefully sleeping a little, I feel a bit gross 15-20 hours later. Sure, the claustrophobia-inducing plane bathroom isn’t ideal for grooming, but I find that brushing my teeth, washing my face, and brushing my hair can do wonders to make me feel nearly human after a grueling flight.

Also, I find it inordinately difficult to sleep on a long flight. That’s so frustrating when I arrive and I’m a total zombie! I do find that taking over-the-counter sleeping pills helps me get a few hours of shuteye, and an eye mask and earplugs help block out everything around me.

So I pack a toiletry kit with anything I might need:

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Small hairbrush
  • Reusable face cloth (also comes in handy for countries that don’t offer a washcloth at hotels)
  • Lotion
  • Face powder and lipstick
  • Pain reliever
  • Sleeping pills
  • Face mask
  • Earplugs
  • Fingernail file

I keep the toiletry bag close to the top of my carryon, which I store under the seat. Or I take it out at the start of the flight and put it in the seat pocket. I hate disrupting the people around me once they’re settled in, so I like to have everything I need easily accessible.

2. Electronics Bag

electronics organizer

I used to not organize my device chargers, converters, and headphones, and I was constantly digging through my bag to find them. But now I have a cool electronics roll organizer that makes it easy to find the appropriate cord (neatly bundled in a cord taco.) Here’s what I bring:

  • Charging cord for each type of device
  • Just one wall charger (it’s rare I need to charge my tablet and phone at the same time, plus my power converter has a USB charging spot. Save space!)
  • Power converter if I’m going abroad
  • Headphones (don’t pay for the airlines’ headphones!)
  • Portable battery

3. My Tablet

I’m a voracious reader and I used to pack at least a couple of books and magazines on trips, but thanks to technology, I now can save the space. My tablet has the Kindle app, so I make sure I’ve downloaded several books before a flight. I also use a magazine app called Texture, so I can peruse how to organize my home or bake a chicken at 10,000 feet. When I’m tired of reading, I play one of the games I have installed. Most airlines offer free entertainment on your tablet or mobile device if you download their app, so be sure to do so before your flight.

4. Travel Notebook

travel journal

Look, I’m a huge fan of how technology can make travel easier, but even I have to admit that sometimes it fails. Either a phone runs out of juice, there’s no internet to be found, or that damn email just disappeared. So I have a travel notebook where I write down my flight itinerary and names and addresses of hotels I’ll be staying in. Sometimes it’s easier to just pull that out and tell a taxi driver where I’m going than to find it on my phone.

I’ll also write out directions to the hotel or a train schedule if I plan how I’ll get from the airport or train station to my destination. Other things I keep in my notebook:

  • A list of friends and family I want to buy gifts for
  • Sights I want to see
  • Specific restaurants or neighborhoods to visit
  • I also use it as a travel journal

5. Food and Drink

s'well bottle

Though my mother instilled in me the necessity of packing food for a trip to avoid paying the exorbitant prices at the airport or on the plane, I rarely do. She’s got a story of a peanut butter sandwich that she packed for a trip…and lost. We never figured out what happened to that sandwich.

I might bring some candy or nuts, though more often than not it remains forgotten and broken to bits at the bottom of my bag. I’m more inclined to buy goodies in duty-free on a return flight and enjoy those items on the plane.

I also always pack a S’well bottle. It is, by far, the best water bottle I’ve ever bought. If I fill it with icy cold water from the fountain in San Diego Airport, it’s still cold when I touch down in Europe. Just remember not to fill yours before you go through security! When I was en route to Sardinia last year, I had a connecting flight in Munich and I was in a hurry. Oddly, there was a security checkpoint within the terminal. The very bored employees made me chug all my water (there was no trash can to dump it in). I think they delighted in watching me gorge myself!

6. Little Things

When I leave my house, I put my keys in an internal pocket so I won’t lose them. I try to remember which pocket…but you know…often by the time I come home, I forget and have to scramble to find them.

I always pack a pen, my ID, and credit cards in an easily-accessible (but safe) pocket. I pack a lightweight scarf in case I get cold on the plane.

Oh and, while I haven’t done this often, I will now that I ended up without my clothes for five days: bring an extra set of clothes!! (I hear you, Mom!) I probably would just bring a clean set of underwear and a shirt to cut down on the bulk of my carryon, but if I check a bag, I will definitely do this.

Did I leave anything out? What do you pack in your carryon?