By Ian Robert Knight
Travel. It’s that necessary evil that gets you where you’re going. And for some travellers, it can be downright exhausting. But if you plan out some carry-on essentials, you can manage long haul travel with comfort and ease. Even if you travel in Coach for 18 hours, you can arrive rested and relaxed, if you prepare for your flight with careful forethought.
As a seasoned traveller, and one who flies half-way around the world pretty regularly, I’ve developed a system. When I get ready for a long flight in Economy, there are several items I take with me to make my journey more enjoyable. My carry-on kit enables me to sit comfortably, with everything I need at arms reach. Here’s my list of Carry-On Essentials:
Keep It Clean
First, let’s admit up front that planes are just not that clean. Loads of studies have been published that claim common carriers are breeding grounds for germs. But don’t let that get you too worried. There are remedies for this. And it’s not the bathrooms that are the worst. It’s the tray tables, arm rests and screen remotes that harbor the most germs.
I carry a small collection of cleaning supplies that give me some comfort, knowing that my small part of the plane is clean. I use disinfecting wipes, or wet wipes, and thoroughly clean the area I’ll be touching. It only takes a minute or two to wipe down the tray table, the remote control pad, and the arm rests. I also carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer, which straps to my bag, and is readily available.
I’ve learned early on that I don’t sleep well on long flights. Or at least, I won’t sleep well if I am not prepared. Sometimes sleep is necessary, because you need to be alert when you arrive in your next time zone. Other times, sleep is just a solution to boredom. Whichever it is, there are things you can do to make sleep easier, even in economy seats.
If you don’t have the luxury of lay-flat seats like in Business Class, you can still sleep in some degree of comfort. You’ll need a flexible neck pillow, eye masks, and ear plugs. The objective here is to place yourself in a quiet and dark zone, while sitting mostly upright. I recommend the Trtl Pillow, which is more flexible than the standard neck brace that most people use. This sleep aid allows you to adjust the height and direction of the brace, so that your head doesn’t fall forward or sideways. And its fleece lining makes it quite comfortable.
The eye mask will allow you to maintain a constant darkness like you’d have in a normal sleeping situation. Some are scented with lavender or other calming scents, but I prefer unscented. My eye mask performs a second function, by telling the cabin crew to wake me for wine! And the ear plugs are essential to drown out the engine hum, or the screaming infant in the row ahead of you.
Most airlines have some form of onboard entertainment system. However, many carriers are getting rid of the seat-back screens in favor of WiFi-enabled entertainment. For those carriers, you need to bring your own device, and connect to their systems to watch movies. I think this will become the standard at some point. All those seat-back screens weigh a lot, and by extension, the plane uses more fuel to fly, which increases prices.
But even if there is a system on your flight, carrying your own entertainment system, like an iPad or a Kindle e-reader, can help a lot. With an iPad, you can download movies and TV shows from Netflix or other streaming services for viewing offline. You won’t be restricted to whatever is on offer from the airline. And you can bring along your favorite games and music as well. With a Kindle, you can have hundreds of books available at your fingertips. And when all the airlines get rid of their seat-back screens, these tablets will definitely become carry-on essentials.
And don’t forget, that sometimes you could have long layovers between flight segments, and you’ll need something to keep yourself occupied then too.
This may not seem obvious, but it really is essential. In almost every international flight, you’re going to have to fill in a Landing Card of some sort. Being prepared when that time comes, with a pen (or two), will save you some embarrassment. Having to ask your seat mate or the flight crew to borrow a pen is just not cool. And with a pen, you can do that Sudoku or word puzzle in the back of the in-flight magazine too!
Sure, you get snacks or meals on the flights in most cases. But are they really ever satisfying? Or tasty? I recommend taking small packs of almonds or energy bars along for the flight. Almonds are quite filling, and come in a variety of flavors and packaging. Energy bars are also great in variety, but I usually like to take granola bars with raisins and cranberries. Trail Mix is also a good idea, but be sure to get the unsalted type.
Also consider bringing along a collapsible water bottle. A water bottle is certainly a carry-on essential, because it’s important to stay hydrated on long flights. These are great for travel because they take up very little room when they are not being used. They just roll up into a small ball, and can be clipped to your bag. Bring them empty until you pass security, and fill them up in the water stations in the waiting areas. When you’re done, roll ‘em up, and store them for later.
I don’t bring too much here – just the essentials. Your needs may vary. But I always bring a travel toothbrush and toothpaste along for the flight. After half a day of flying, sleeping, and eating questionable food, it’s a good idea to get that taste out of your mouth. There’s nothing better than the feeling of fresh breath and gums.
Other essentials are lip balm and some moisturizer. Airplane interiors are quite dry, and it can take a lot out of your skin and lips. Be sure to pack small containers of moisturizer, of course.
And if you’re traveling with medications, be sure to have several days worth of your meds with you in your travel kit. You never know for sure if your luggage will arrive with you, so why take that chance?
This is one of the things I find very helpful. Inside my carry-on backpack, I have a smaller pouch pack that carries many of my must-have items all in one place. In this pack, which fits easily into the back seat pocket, I carry earbuds, pens, my passport, wet wipes, USB cables, small snacks and some of my sleep kit.
Having everything in one pouch makes it simple. I don’t have to look in half a dozen places in my carry-on to find things. Everything is together. I recommend getting a pouch like those from Stow, in a bright bold color (Think Orange!), so that you can easily see it in your bag, and you’ll never forget it.
OK, this isn’t a ‘thing’ to pack. It’s an App, but I consider it a carry-on essential App. TripIt, available for iPhones and Androids, is a travellers best friend. This helpful App will gather all your necessary documents and hold them together in a nice and neat format. As you’re planning your trip, TripIt will collect all your flight information, gates, airport maps, boarding times, hotel addresses, confirmation numbers — everything. All in one place. You never have to search your emails again for flight or hotel details. It works offline and online. It alerts you when flights are delayed, and even when you should head to the airport.
For frequent travellers, this App is a gem.
If you can make your flight just a little bit more comfortable by preparing a few things in advance, you’ll be happier for it. Planning doesn’t take a lot of time, and every future flight will be easier as you develop these habits. Be sure to check out these other good reads on travel packing for camera bags, using translators and VPN when you travel too.
Your collection of carry-on essentials may differ a little from mine, but it’s important to create one. What’s in your kit? Did I miss anything out that you consider carry-on essentials? Tell us in the comments below.