What to Pack in Your Carry-On Bag

People waiting in the line at an airport

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Whether you're traveling by air or taking a cruise, you will probably want to pack your travel essentials in a carry-on bag. Placing valuables, medications and travel documents in your carry-on luggage ensures that you will be able to keep track of these important items.

Choose the Right Carry-On Bag

You should consider several factors when choosing your carry-on bag.

  • Weight: Can you lift it into the airplane's overhead compartment? If you can't raise the packed bag over your head, you will have to get someone to help you stow it properly, or risk having to gate check the bag. Weight is less important on a cruise, but you will still need to be able to carry or roll your bag.
  • Maneuverability: Wheeled carry-on bags are easy to pull behind you. If you prefer not to use a rolling bag, choose a tote, duffel or day pack with comfortable straps.
  • Dimensions: Airlines require carry-on luggage to be small enough to fit into the overhead storage compartment or under the seat in front of yours. Check your airline's website before you start packing. If your carry-on luggage is too large, you will be asked to check it and pay any associated fees.
  • Durability: Lightweight bags made of soft or quilted fabric are easy to lift, but may not last as long as sturdier fabric or hard-sided carry-ons.

Remember to Pack These Carry-On Essentials

  • Travel Documents: Your passport, a copy of your passport, travel visas, tickets, itineraries, travel vouchers and anything else related to your trip must stay with you at all times. Never pack travel documents in your checked baggage.
  • Prescriptions: Pack your prescription medications in their original containers, not in pill organizers. Place all prescription medications and any required over the counter medications in your carry-on bag. Never put prescription medications in your checked luggage.
  • Valuables: Your jewelry, cameras, laptops, cell phones, photographs, GPS units, first edition books and anything else worth a reasonable amount of money all belong in your carry-on bag. You will need to keep your bag within sight, too, as pilfering from carry-on luggage occasionally occurs.
  • Chargers: Cell phone, camera and laptop batteries eventually run out of power. Packing your chargers in your carry-on bag ensures that you will be able to charge all of your electronics as needed.
  • Extra Clothing: If the worst happens and your checked baggage is lost, you will be glad to have a change of clothes available. Pack, at a minimum, extra underwear and socks, but try for a complete second outfit. On the way home, you can use this space for souvenirs (assuming you have extra clothing waiting for you at home, of course).
  • Toiletries: If you are traveling by air, you will need to pack your liquid and gel toiletries in a one-quart plastic bag with a zipper closure. Container capacities must not exceed 100 milliliters (about three ounces). Toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, shaving cream, liquid makeup, mouthwash, hand sanitizer and any other liquids or gels must all fit into this plastic bag.
  • Eyeglasses: Keep your eyeglasses with you, either in your carry-on bag or in your purse or laptop case. If you are sensitive to bright sunlight, pack your sunglasses right next to your prescription eyeglasses. Never pack designer eyewear in your checked baggage.
  • Book, MP3 Player or e-Reader: You'll want to keep busy during your trip. Bring books or music along to help the hours go by.
  • Food: If your flight will be long or if you have food allergies, pack your own food and skip the airport food court and airplane food.
  • Warmth Items: Air travelers will appreciate the warmth of a light jacket, scarf or small blanket during long flights. Cruise ship staterooms tend to be a bit chilly, too.
  • Disinfecting Wipes: Keep your tray table and armrests clean and prevent the transmission of germs by using disposable disinfectant wipes to clean plastic surfaces.
  • You'll also want to be sure to keep in mind the restriction about what you can't put in your carry on bag.
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