There are people who get on planes with no carry-on material whatsoever. I am not one of them. I want my flights — especially anything over three or four hours — to be comfortable, and I want to be prepared in case of long layovers or flight delays at the airport. So in addition to the basics (passport, wallet, cell phone, medications, some sort of reading material) here are the things that I always make sure to have with me:
1) Noise canceling headphones. How did I ever live without these? They silence the chatty people in the row behind you, that incessant airplane buzz, and most babies. It’s important that these be large headphones that cover the entire ear, not just ear buds — and that they be noise canceling rather than noise isolating. They’re bulky, but they’re a must.
2) A small personal comfort bag. This includes my Nidra sleep mask (essential when you want to nap, and far superior to other eye masks) …
… thin socks (planes are cold) …
… ear plugs (because you may be on a red-eye, and those headphones I mentioned earlier don’t silence every screaming baby) …
… and a small toothbrush and itty-bitty toothpaste (because clean teeth feel good when you have a long travel day):
3) A lightweight scarf. As noted above, planes are cold. Also, a scarf can double as a tiny blanket if you’re unexpectedly stuck in an airport. Just make sure it’s something you don’t mind having wrinkled.
4) A battery pack, charging cord(s) with plug(s), and a universal adapter. Some planes offer charging ports these days, but many do not. And it’s always good to have an adapter in case you end up stuck in an international airport with plugs that don’t match your original.
5) A lounge access card. Airport lounges give you quiet spaces to stretch out, eat, drink, and sometimes even sleep or shower. This is a game-changer for long layovers. It’s even great if you arrive at the airport early and just need a place to hang out before your flight starts boarding.
I’ve signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which comes with a Priority Pass that gives me access to airport lounges all over the world. Though the Priority Pass is nearly useless in US domestic terminals, it’s brilliant for international travel. The card isn’t free, but if you travel often and don’t have other lounge access, it’s worth the investment.
Here are a few items that I bring on some flights, but not all:
A neck pillow. I would only say that this is essential for (a) long flights or (b) flights on which you know you’ll want to sleep. I love my trtl pillow (which is really more of a neck brace covered in fleece than a pillow) because it keeps my head in a more natural position than those U-shaped things. On the downside, it’s a bit of an odd shape for packing, and it makes it look a bit like your neck is in traction, but you can’t beat this pillow for both warmth and comfort.
Snacks & a water bottle. Some airlines feed you; some don’t (and some that do feed you give you awful food). Some airlines (especially smaller international carrier) charge outrageous prices for water. So depending on the length of your flight and your ability to go without food and beverages for a while, you might want to bring snacks and your own water. Just remember to fill up the water bottle after you’ve gone through security.
Some sort of device with downloaded movies/shows. If you have a 10-hour budget airline flight, this is essential. If you’re flying on airlines like Emirates or Singapore Air, you’ll have so many in-flight entertainment choices that you won’t need the extras. Check your airline (and the length of the flight) before you go to determine whether you’ll need this.