A few weeks ago we flew out to Hawaii. As I was packing, I realized that this was going to involve a long plane ride and what I brought on the plane with me could really impact my trip.
Let’s be honest, these days it costs so much to check a bag that many people bring a carry-on as their only bag. This is evident even before boarding the plane because typically an announcement is made that due to limited overhead space, the airline is offering to check carry-ons for free. If you are a single bag traveler, you may think you are carrying everything you need, but I still recommend checking the following list to make sure you aren’t forgetting something important. Note: this list doesn’t include things that would normally be in a checked bag (i.e.; basic clothing, grooming items, etc).
Here are the nine essentials I always make sure to pack in my carry-on:
- Important Medications – You may be hesitant to try to get through airport screening with prescription or non-prescription medications. Although the screeners in the United States prefer to have prescription medications in labeled containers, they will not deny your ability to bring necessary medications with you. This includes liquid prescriptions, provided it is in reasonable quantities. It is most important to have anything that you really need with you. Placing it in a checked bag is asking the airline to lose your luggage AND your medicine. My rule of thumb is to bring in my carry-on anything that would be difficult to replace (like prescriptions) and put anything easily purchased at a drug store in my checked bag. The one exception to this rule is decongestants. I keep these handy because I have personally experienced ‘airplane ear’. This happened when my ear pressure didn’t react quickly enough to our ascending or descending plane’s pressure. It is very painful, so I now try to prevent it from happening by taking a decongestant just prior to boarding the plane. I also chew gum while changing altitude to stimulate my ears to pop.
- Reading Material – I always see our vacations as times to try to catch up on my reading list. On this trip I had a variety of material – magazines, a library book, and three or four ebooks besides my online Bible. I used my extra time on this trip to read a library book titled “Unoffendable” (which I highly recommend), an ebook on how to take better iPhone pictures (which obviously I still need to implement), and an ebook that a fellow blogger wrote entitled “Moving Forward: Your 7-step Guide to Living with Purpose while You Wait for God’s Call”.
- Device chargers – Imagine the following scenario: You find a seat in the airport near your gate and settle in for the long layover. At least you’ll have time to weed through the hundreds of emails that need to be sorted. That’s when you realize that your Smart phone has a dead battery. Yep, it has become an expensive brick. Be sure to pack your charging cables in your carry-on to avert this problem. Many airports have charging stations set up for you to use to boost your battery and some airplanes have outlets right next to the seats to enable you to connect your electronics.
- Ear piece – Maybe you’d like to watch a YouTube video without disrupting everyone around you. Maybe you find an interesting movie that you can watch on your seat back monitor. With either of these situations you’ll be wishing you’d brought some earbuds. One time I was flying solo to visit my parents. The stranger I was sitting next to (emphasis on strange) kept up a steady conversation with me. Usually I enjoy talking with people, but this man’s opening statement was, “I realize I smell, but…” That was the moment I figured I was in trouble and as the flight progressed, I realized why there have been stories of people opening doors mid-flight. I desperately wanted to just be by myself, but even the crossword I kept holding up didn’t deter him from his unrelenting monologue. Later someone suggested I could have plunked some headphones over my ears (if I’d had them) and pretended I was listening to something, even if I wasn’t.
- Small lap blanket – I know this sounds like it would be unnecessary, but I frequently find planes cold. The good old days are gone where the airlines would provide blankets, pillows, and a nice hot meal. Okay, the nice part was questionable.
- Pillow – Neck pillows have really taken off in popularity. When my carry-on space is tight, I’ll wear it around my neck while boarding. I’m not alone, as I’ve seen many people carrying on neck pillows in this latest fashion statement.
- Snacks – You are thinking “What? The TSA would never allow me to bring snacks through the security check point.” The first time I brought food with me was when my parents insisted I take the Swedish Fish back home that they’d bought for me in Florida. I had major doubts about being allowed to get through the scanner with them. I stood in line waiting for my turn to go through, sweating like any criminal would do. I was sure they’d send me to the brig while the security guards munched on my favorite candy. My desperation led me to hope that maybe the plastic container in my bag would slip detection. Then I saw it. For the first time ever, I watched as a drug dog walked along, sniffing each bag. As I contemplated whether Swedish Fish could be considered a drug, I overheard the man in front of me telling his buddy that he one time had one of these dogs go crazy over the nuts he was carrying in his bag. OH NO! But, for all my panic, I got through with no problem. What I later learned was that the TSA allows non-liquid food to be brought through in sealed containers. Since my Swedish Fish ordeal, I have become bolder and my most recent trip had me going through with a small bag of popcorn and another bag of apple chips. Airport food is so expensive (and sometimes quite limited) that this is an excellent way of pretending you are being served food, like in the olden days.
- Water Bottle – Since you now have snacks, you’ll need something to wash them down with. This is especially important if you are flying on a discount airline that does not serve any beverages. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating bringing a water bottle WITH water in it. Remember that airport prison? Bring an empty bottle and head to a drinking fountain to fill it up as soon as you clear security. Bonus points if you have a bottle you can connect a carabiner clip to. That way you can clip it to the outside of your bag and that action will allow you more space inside your bag and also protect your belongings from potential leaks.
- Sweatshirt or Sweater – I have an airplane trip horror story…and it doesn’t involve a plane malfunction! When our children were little, we had taken a trip to Disney. I was careful about how I packed our carry-ons for the trip down to the park, but on the way home, I didn’t think what I packed mattered. After all, if they lost our luggage, we’d be home anyway. On top of that, it was summer, so knowing that we wouldn’t encounter any snowstorms made me overconfident. I learned a lesson that day – the hard way! As we were flying into Chicago, we ran into a thunderstorm. We were one of the last planes to be allowed to land and I was counting my blessings…that is, until I walked off the plane and into the airport. It felt like the North Pole! The air conditioning was cranked so low that the place was freezing. We had light summer clothing on. We found out we had to spend the night on cots in the airport, since all the planes were grounded. The best I could do was negotiate for an extra blanket for each of us. All night long, if my nose slipped out from under my blankets, it immediately froze. I would have paid BIG MONEY for a sweatshirt or warm pair of pants. I now always bring a warm sweatshirt and usually wear pants on the plane.
- A change of clothing – This is somewhat optional, at least until you get to your destination and your suitcases don’t. It is good to have an extra set to wear while you’re waiting for the airline to track down your baggage. Also, you can layer up if you’re caught for an extended time in an airport (see above). Wet swimsuits are not the best clothing items to pack in your carry-on. Ask me how I know.
I should end with an honest admission that there are times when I envy the person ahead of me that is getting on the airplane with a small purse as their only carry-on item. However, as carefree as traveling light seems, it becomes a big care when something goes awry. Remember the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared!