In my pre-pandemic life, I was on a plane at least six times a year. As a Canadian living abroad, I spent my days and dollars finding cheap flights, avoiding checked baggage and (literally) living out of my suitcase. Therefore, even if only self-proclaimed, I consider myself something of a carry-on expert.
While I typically travel with two carry-on bags (a mini suitcase and a backpack), I'm going to focus on what to bring in your backpack carry-on today. First and foremost: The backpack itself. While a duffle bag and oversized tote are certainly cute, I find anything that requires hands or limits your mobility to be entirely unpractical when you're speeding through an airport.
My backpack of choice is a decade-old Lululemon bag that has (sadly) been discontinued. However, I stand by the quality and durability of the brand, so I have my eye on Lululemon's Everyday Backpack 2.0 23L for an in-stock alternative.
What I love about my (and this) Lululemon backpack:
Water repellant fabric: Trust me, any travel bag that is not water-repellant or waterproof is a waste of your money
Padded laptop pocket (for obvious reasons)
Exterior water bottle pocket
Interior pockets for your wallet, keys and more
Trolley-compatible sleeve — destined for an airport!
Now, equally as important: What to pack in your carry-on bag. From a reusable water bottle to noise-cancelling headphones, here are 25 travel essentials I never leave home without.
Don't leave home without them: 25 carry-on bag travel essentials
1. Reusable water bottle
If you take only one tip from this article, let this be it: Always pack a reusable water bottle in your carry-on bag. I repeat: Always pack a reusable water bottle in your carry-on bag. Between global warming and inflation, buying a disposable water bottle at the airport is not helping anyone, anywhere. Pack an (empty) water bottle, fill it up inside, and just like magic, you've saved $8 at the airport convenience store.
Save: FineDine Water Bottle
This best-selling ombre water bottle is triple-insulated to keep drinks cool for up to 24 hours and insulate hot beverages for up to 12 hours. The bottle is available in 25, 32 and 64-ounce versions and 18 colours.
Splurge: LARQ Self-Cleaning Water Bottle
This luxe self-cleaning water bottle uses PureVis technology to eliminate up to 99 per cent of bio-contaminants such as E. coli from your water and bottle.
2. Over-ear noise-cancelling headphones
Next to a reusable water bottle, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones is a travel essential, in my opinion. Why? Wireless headphones (i.e. Apple AirPods) can't connect to in-flight entertainment, so unless you're keen to stream a show on your phone via the airline's app, you have to either forgo entertainment or purchase a pair of single-use headphones for the flight. Secondly, the noise-cancelling function helps to drown-out noisy neighbours and comes in handy if you're looking to snooze.
These over-ear headphones come with a staggering 22,000 reviews from Amazon shoppers and an average rating of 4.3 stars. According to one user, the sound is "great" and the "bass is excellent." The headphones can wirelessly connect to your phone when out walking or at the beach, but also include a cable that can connect to in-flight entertainment.
These best-selling over-ear noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones allow you to listen to music for up to 23 hours on a single charge and adjust the amount of external sound you hear via their noise-cancelling feature. The set includes a USB-C cable that can charge the headphones in as little as 2.5 hours and an airplane-compatible cord.
3. Change of clothing
If recent airline blunders have taught us anything, it's to bring a change of clothes in your carry-on, just in case. On my personal packing list: socks, underwear, a cute day-to-night maxi dress and a sweater.
A steal at 67 per cent off, this H Halston sleeveless maxi dress features a flowy silhouette cinched in at the waist with a shirred stretch panel.
Splurge: The Somerset Maxi Dress
Dubbed Anthropologie's "best-reviewed dress, ever," this maxi dress is available in dozens of colours, materials and prints. It's "amazing," raves one reviewer. "So comfy and so flattering."
Splurge: The Felted Merino Half-Zip Sweater
4. Eye mask
While my body seems physically incapable of sleeping on a plane, I still reach for an eye mask on every overnight flight, hoping for a miracle. A teacher once told me that your brain waves during deep meditation are similar to the early stages of sleep. So if anything, I venture for a lights-out meditative session and pray that it's enough to keep me going until I eventually find a bed.
Save: Cotton Sleep Mask
This blindfold-style sleeping mask is made from skin-friendly organic cotton and is designed to block out 100 per cent of outdoor light, including around the nose area. The mask has earned more than 7,400 reviews from Amazon shoppers and an average rating of 4.3 stars.
This contour sleep mask is made from high-grade mulberry silk that's designed with eyelash extensions in mind.
20 carry-on bag travel essentials, according to an avid traveller:
Mini toothbrush & toothpaste
Granola bars & snacks (basic enough that they could double as breakfast)
Emergen-C Immune+ drink mix packs (I swear by these! Plus, they taste good)
A good book (I couldn't put this one down)
A cozy scarf (never trust the forecast — airplanes are freezing)
Socks (I repeat, airplanes are freezing)
Extra pads & tampons
Neck pillow (this one has a lot of reviews)
Pen, pencil and paper
Power bank (for when you can't use your phone charger)
Lip balm (this one is worth the hype)
Gum (for your ears and for flavour)
Any and all travel documents you may require
Enough cash (in the correct currency) that you can pay for a taxi to your hotel
Your favourite chocolate bar — for when the going gets rough