My (updated) travel carry-on essentials

Two years ago, I shared a list of my travel essentials when I travel internationally. Not too much has changed, many of the things are still must-haves during travel, but I thought I’d update my list a little bit.

The most important stuff:

I might be a little paranoid, but when I travel internationally, I like to keep all the important stuff (passports, wallet, phone) close to my body. I haven’t invested in one of these travel money belts yet (haha), although on second thought, I could probably repurpose my running belt. But for now, I use a small cross-body bag that stays on me at all times (yes, even when I am in my seat or got to the restroom).

In this bag goes my travel wallet. I bought this over-sized coin purse at DSW many moons ago and it’s slowly falling apart (you don’t want to see the backside), but it’s the best small travel wallet. I usually don’t take all my cards and everything with me when I travel (esp. internationally) and this wallet fits everything I need.

I also have a “Germany” wallet (from Bungalow360 – aren’t those patterns fun?)  which holds my Euros, a German SIM card, and my German bank card.

The bag also holds my iPhone and my passports.

I will be ok if I have this bag, even if, for some reason, I’d lose the rest of my luggage. But, here are the things that make life a whole lot easier and more pleasant when I travel.

Comfort/personal care:

Simple cleansing wipes and Grove Hand Sanitizer.  

I always have a Labello Pearl & Shine Lip Balm (which I got in Germany) in my purse when I travel. It keeps my lips happy and adds a bit of shine (like a gloss). This Nivea lip balm is a similar alternative.

Can’t leave anywhere without deodorant (Schmidt’s is my favorite and Target has the best price!). I am always a sweaty mess when I travel.

I always have hand creme, currently using this one from L’Occitane. Do your hands get so dry too when you fly?

I got this Clinique Moisture surge moisturizer  as a sample and it’s the perfect size to stick in your carry-on.

I usually don’t use mists in my skincare routine, but when I travel, I really like spraying something on my ever-dried-out skin to make it feel refreshed. This Derma E Hydrating Mist was in a subscription box and I really like it.

I also always have a travel toothbrush and/or mouthwash, mini hairbrush with me and I found my favorite dry shampoo from Batiste in travel size. Hallelujah.

Tech stuff + entertainment:

Now that I own a phone that uses the same port to charge your phone and plug in your headphones (still not a fan, Apple!), I sure am glad to own some awesome Jaybird X3 Bluetooth headphones now. The Jaybirds are not advertised as noise-canceling headphones, but they’re definitely noise-isolating, which is a plus when you travel, and the battery lasts a good while.

I am so excited that I finally upgraded from my old and cumbersome nook to the Amazon Fire. I know, you probably swear by your Kindle Paperwhite, but since I don’t own a tablet (gasp, what!), I thought it would be nice to have something that functions as both a tablet and e-reader.

While my iPhone 7 still holds a decent charge, I will definitely need my power bank + all charger cables (for various gadgets) during travel. Have you ever noticed how incredibly slow the outlets in airports charge phones (if you can find one that isn’t occupied)?

Don’t ever get stuck in a foreign airport without a travel adapter when your power bank has no juice anymore. It’s the worst.

I always bring a USB stick when I travel. You never know if you need to transfer some pictures before you head home (although I must admit that ‘air drop’ on the iPhone is a pretty nifty thing these days. The USB stick is just a back up option, really.)

I also usually have a Sudoku book and whatever piece of knitting I am working on in my carry-on.


We all know airport food is expensive and what they serve on airplanes (if you get a meal at all) can be hit and miss. Therefore, I always have some snacks in my carry-on, you know, just in case.

I have recently raved about the Perfect Bars because they’re the only protein bars so far that I can stomach. In fact, they taste like a ‘treat’, but are actually full of protein and good things.

Usually, I carry a snack-sized bag (or two) of Trader Joe’s trail mix in my purse on a regular day, so I also take some when I travel.

I usually stock up on these Dextro energy cubes when I am in Germany, but I think you can find them here now, too. They give you a quick boost of energy when you need it, and they simply taste good.

My current go-to snack if I just want something to suck on: licorice. Gustaf’s Dutch Licorice Coins from World Market are my favorite right now.

A few other things; not pictured:

  • Shawl– I don’t go onto a longer flight without a shawl/blanket scarf. It looks stylish (if it’s cold enough to wear it), comes in handy as a blanket, shoulder wrap or pillow on your flight.
  • Wet Wipes – always. They come in handy not just to freshen up.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Neck pillow – (I have a cheap inflatable one from Target – it does the job). Originally, I thought that neck pillows are kinda silly, because you can just roll up your sweater and rest your head against the window, right? Well, unless you don’t have a window seats and ever since I intentionally book aisle seats on longer flights (because I like to be able to get up whenever I want without bothering a stranger in the aisle seat), I’ve come to love the neck pillow.
  • a change of clothes (not pictured). It only happened to me once or twice so far that my luggage didn’t make it to my destination. When it happened, I was either at my parents’ house or back home, so I wasn’t stranded somewhere with NOTHING but the clothes on my back, but I still have gotten into the habit of packing a set of fresh clothes in my carry-on now when I travel.
  • Some money in international currency (luckily, I always keep some Euros on hand from my last trip)
  • Travel insurance (copy)
  • Medications (I don’t take any  medications except for birth control and a supplement, but I always take some Zantac and Aleve, just in case).
  • Valuables (I have a little pouch with all my jewelry. Even though none of it is really expensive, I  would hate to lose it and don’t like to put it in my suitcase.)

What are your must-haves when you travel? 
Do you travel with a bagpack or a (big) purse?

  1. I have the Wallet too but mine has kitties on it, since i am a bit of a cat lady…lol. I love it and get compliments on it all the time.

  2. I don’t have a tablet either! Phil has a surface and he usually brings that with on trips but I never use it. So I just have my kindle paperwhite, which I ADORE.

    I rarely take international trips so my carry-on must haves is very different since the flights I take are super short. For me, snacks, headphones, my kindle, and chapstick are my essentials. On our last trip, we had our 1 year old with us so our approach to travel really really changed. We used to only carry on luggage. This time we checked 3 things and carried far less onto the plane since it’s hard enough to take a 19 lb baby around. ;) And I barely used anything on the flight since I held Paul the whole time (he’s a big mamas boy right now!). So I’ll bring even less with me during this stage until Paul becomes more interested in toys/screens/etc.

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