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The Essential Carry-On Bag Packing List

Need a little help packing light? With SmarterTravel’s new carry-on bag packing list, you can stick to what’s essential for your trip, no matter where you’re headed.

Don’t need an umbrella since you’re headed to Palm Springs? Not bringing contact solution because your vision is 20/20? Customize the list by crossing off items you don’t need and adding any additional items in the “more items” boxes.

Don’t miss our downloadable, editable carry-on packing checklist below.

Clothes and Shoes

While packing light is great, there are still a few essentials you need to make sure make it into your bag—think underwear, socks, pajamas, shirts, and pants. From there, you can get more specific based on your destination. Heading to the beach? Throw in a swimsuit. Vacationing somewhere colder? Gloves, hats, and scarves are a must. Keep in mind that clothing can take up a lot of space—if you’re planning on packing in only a carry-on, try wearing some of your bulkier items to free up precious room in your luggage.


Toiletries are another necessity of travel to keep you feeling fresh. You can find the standards—toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant—all available in TSA-approved travel-sized containers. Liquids should be in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces and fit into a clear, quart-size, zip-top plastic bag. To learn more about TSA rules, see Airport Security Frequently Asked Questions.

Once you have the basics packed, think about your individual routine. Don’t forget things like contact solution, period products, and daily medications. Curating your carry-on toiletry bag down to only essentials will help save space. Your one-in-a-million, go-to cleanser you can’t live without? Definitely throw it in your bag. Your extensive collection of handmade shower melts? Maybe save them for home.

Carry-on Essentials

Whether or not you’re checking additional luggage, there are a few items you should always keep with you. Important travel documents like your passport, ID, boarding pass, insurance cards, credit cards, and copy of your COVID-19 vaccination card should always stay with you in your personal item. Pricey items like cameras, SD cards, and laptops as well as items you may want to have on-hand at your destination like umbrellas, a guidebook, and your itinerary should be stowed safely in your carry-on. 

Don't Forget

Finally, don’t forget to pack items to pass time on the plane. Items like headphones, books, and magazines will keep you entertained for however many hours you’re in the air. Make sure to load up your device with podcasts, music, and audiobooks pre-flight while you’re still connected to reliable wi-fi. Other essentials like ear plugs, sleep masks, and travel pillows make sure you’re able to arrive at your destination well-rested.

Download Our Editable Carry-On Packing List

Never be without your noise-cancelling headphones or a spare set of clothes again with our downloadable checklist.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2010. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

All of the products featured in this story were hand-selected by our travel editors. Some of the links featured in this story are affiliate links, and SmarterTravel may collect a commission (at no cost to you) if you shop through them.

Carol McPherson contributed to this story.

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