A flight attendant placing a carry on bag at the luggage compartment of the airplane

16 Carry On Packing Tips (By an Ex-Flight Attendant)

Need some help getting your carry-on suitcase ready for your next flight? Don’t worry because my 16 best carry on packing tips will have you sorted in no time. 

As a former flight attendant, I understand how to get the most out of a small suitcase. Read on for practical tips on how to keep your bag organized, quirky essentials to bring, and (my final tip) a special kind of bag to buy for extra space! 

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16 Packing Tips for Carry On Bags

1. Pack Your Preferred Coffee Creamer 

Seriously I promise the coffee on the plane will, at best, be mediocre, and if you’re dairy-free, they might not have anything to put in it. I always had coffee creamer in my flight bag to help with those early mornings and late-night flights. 

Liquid coffee creamer goes conveniently into those squeezable liquid travel containers.

My Pick
Silicone Travel Bottle Set

These handy bottles are leakproof and labeled with their capacity amount to get you through security with minimal fuss. These are also what I recommend packing your favorite flavored coffee creamer in!

2. Always Bring a Bag for Dirty Laundry. 

Bringing a laundry bag is a good idea to keep your clean clothes fresher and makes unpacking when you get home much  easier. You can dump the dirty clothes bag right in the washer when you get home. It’s an easy thing to forget since you of course initially pack your carry on with clean clothes. But you’ll thank yourself when it comes time to pack for the trip home!

3. Bring Laundry Soap Packets

If your plan is to travel only with a carry on, you may find yourself needing to do a little laundry — after all, carry on bags are small.

That’s why one of the most underrated carry on packing tips is to pack some laundry soap packets. This soap is an easy solution for when you are packing light and need to be able to do some laundry on the road. 

My Pick
Sink Suds Travel Laundry Soap Packets

Travel soap packs don’t take up much valuable space, are TSA compliant, and help you pack a minimal amount of clothes!

4. Fold Your Clothes Marie Kondo Style 

Clothes and other things on a suitcase

One of my best carry-on packing tips is to take the time to fold your clothes in Marie Kondo style. Marie Kondo folding is superior to the roll method often recommended for packing your entire wardrobe in your carry-on. 

The Marie Kondo method works better for 2 main reasons. One, you can see what you have packed in your suitcase at a glance which will help you pack light. The second reason is that it will save space and pack light.

5. Electrolytes Help with Jetlag

I always kept electrolytes in my flight bag during my time working as a flight attendant. You would be surprised at how much of the fatigue people feel when getting off a plane is dehydration. 

To stay hydrated on a plane, you would have to drink a full liter of water every hour which almost no one does. The easiest way around this is to buy some electrolytes to mix in with your water bottle when you land. 

My Pick
Liquid IV Electrolyte Pouches

These taste great and help you stay hydrated and stave off jet lag and nausea. Staying hydrated while flying is one of the easiest ways to start your vacation on the right foot!

6. Wear Comfortable Shoes on the Flight 

The author's view while sitting on a plane
Business class passengers are often given slippers, but they’re a good idea to bring in economy too!

Do not go barefoot or with just socks on the plane. Bring slippers with hard soles if you can’t stand your shoes for the entire flight. Why, you might ask? I will only say this, the liquid you see on the bathroom floor is never water.

7. Make a Packing List

A woman on top of a suitcase forcing it to close

A packing list is the easiest way to stay organized. Look at your travel days and plan outfits for each day and activity. Add a couple of extra socks, and you are good to go. 

Making a list is also an excellent opportunity to see if you can make this trip with a carry-on. Try to double up uses. For example, pack a dress that can transition from casual to dinner or pants that can be worn with most of the tops you are packing

8. Carry Anti-nausea Medication 

Even if you are not prone to motion sickness, it’s a good idea to have some of these anti-nausea pills on you. When I was a flight attendant, once I hit the 4-hour mark, I would always start to feel a bit queasy. It’s not the motion but the dehydration that begins to get to you after a while.

9. Bring a Refillable Water Bottle

I would get asked a lot of this question, and I would always say yes, bringing a reusable water bottle is a good idea. Going through security, it has to be empty, but once you are on the other side, there are usually lots of water refill stations. 

Plus, it gives you something to mix those electrolytes in!

10. Download Music and Movies on Your Device Before Your Flight

Never, ever depend on the airport or airplane wifi for entertainment. 

It is often slow, your gate might be out of range for some reason, and inflight wifi is getting more reliable. Remember that most commercial aircraft were built before inflight wifi was available, so they had to be retrofitted to install wifi. That means wifi is often not reliable on planes.

My Pick
DDgro Travel Tech Oorganizer

This organizer is such a lifesaver when it comes to packing for carry-on only travel. It keeps your cords, dongles, battery packs and chargers in one place. This makes it easier to find what you need during the flight and prevents you from forgetting any cords!

11. Pack Baby Wipes

Baby wipes are great for feeling fresh and clean during a long day of traveling and work great for cleaning hands or table trays. But giving your face and neck a wipe-down after a nap or a long flight can make all the difference in your mental space, and it’s such a refresh.

12. Bring Snacks for the Flight

Food on the other side of security is expensive, so it’s always a good idea to dedicate some of your carry-on space to snacks. To get through security, avoid liquid and gel forms of food.

Think granola bars and dried fruit. Bringing your snacks will save you money and time to feed yourself if there are any flight delays. See my guide to bringing food on a plane for more.

13. Wear Your Bulkiest Clothes as Your Plane Outfit

Almost any season, you will see me boarding a flight wearing nice jeans, heels or boots, and a conspicuously heavy sweater or coat. Unless it is the dead of summer, I have a cardigan and scarf. 

There are several reasons for this: planes are cold, and two, things I will need when I land but would take up too much space in my carry-on bag. The advantage of the bulky sweater or coat is that it doubles as a pillow if you have a window seat. 

14. Bring a Book or E-reader

The author stretching her legs on her seat in the airplane
Bring a book or an e-reader so you’ll have something to pass the time!

It is essential to bring some of your own analogue entertainment on the plane. If the plane’s Wi-Fi does not work or you get unlucky with a charging station, you still have something to do. Magazines, adult coloring books, or anything you like that will help you pass time on the plane but does not depend on technology.

15. Pack a Spare Change of Clothes

Even if you are traveling with checked luggage, always pack at least one set of spare clothes in your carry-on. This way, if your checked bag goes missing, you have at least one day’s worth of necessities while the airline sorts out where your suitcase ended up.

16. Use a Tote Bag as Your Personal Item

My Pick
Travel Duffel Tote

This tote bag is specifically designed to function as a personal item. Plus it has a trolley sleeve to slide over your carry on suitcase for easy carrying in the airport!

In addition to your carry on bag, most airlines give you a second smaller “personal item” that you can put below the seat in front of you. While you could use one of these personal items backpacks, my favorite bag to use as my personal item is actually a tote bag. 

Tote bags are washable, squishy, and easy to carry through airports. I don’t like putting my purse directly on the floor of an aircraft. 

Let’s just say that airplane floors are not the cleanest, and I find tote bags easily fit under the seat in front of me, and I can put my purse, snacks, and books in them quickly. If they get stained or dirty during my travels, I can throw them in a washing machine or replace them.  

📚 Related Reading: 15 Packing Tips for First Time Flyers 

FAQs About Packing a Carry on Bag

View of the author while on her flight

How do you pack the most in a carry on?

1. The rolling method.
This method is very popular and involves rolling all outfits together and stacking them in your suitcase like burritos. Rolling does allow you to fit a lot into your carry-on, and your clothes arrive unwrinkled. It is also a fast way to pack. With this method, I find you can’t tell what you have packed and the suitcase ends up very disorganized. Which leads to forgetting something or packing more than you need to.

2. The Marie Kondo folding method.
This method involved folding everything into neat little squares and vertically organizing your clothes. This is one of my best packing tips. It does take more time than the rolling method, but you can see everything you have packed at a glance. This way you are less likely to forget anything, and the clothes arrive in a much fresher state. Also, I would argue because you can see everything, you end up with more space in your carry-on suitcase.

3. Packing cubes.
Packing cubes can be combined with either of the first two methods or used independently. Packing cubes are small flexible bags that allow you to fit more in your suitcase. For example, you can use one cube for tops, another for intimates, and a third for pants. They will all squish together in the suitcase but stay organized. I often use these for checked bags as they help keep things tidy, but they work well for packing just a carry-on. There are 3 main strategies that can be used for packing the most in a carry on.

What should I not pack in carry-on bags? 

There are a few things you must avoid packing in your carry-on. The most obvious ones are weapons or other prohibited items. It would be best to avoid packing sharp objects such as knives, axes, and razor blades. Plastic knitting needles, nail scissors, and nail clippers are acceptable in your carry-on. 

You should also avoid any liquids, gels or pastes in bottles larger than 3.4 ounces or 100ml. Even if you have something less than half full, but the container is large enough for 250ml, security will likely confiscate the entire thing. The safest thing to do is buy one of those travel toiletry kits and use those containers to bring what you need on the flight. 

How should I pack a carry on for a 10 day trip? 

The following are key tips for fitting enough clothing into a carry on for a 10 day trip: first, minimize the number of shoes. Bring one pair you will wear and a small pair in the carry-on. Pack clothes that all work together and only one pair of jeans. Use travel-sized toiletries and check if your accommodations have laundry facilities. 

If not, bring some travel laundry soap and wash a couple of items in the bathroom sink. It is better to wash clothes and pack less than to bring ten days’ worth of clothes. If I am bringing only a carry-on, my packing list usually includes five tops, one pair of jeans, one skirt or pair of trousers, two dresses, a cardigan, one set of PJs, and enough intimates to last the entire ten days. The tops are usually cheap, so if there is something I want to bring home, I can leave the tops behind to make space. 

What are some dos and don’ts when packing for a flight?  

The following are some dos and don’ts when packing for a flight: 
– Do make sure you can lift your carry-on bag into the overhead bin. This means being able to lift the bag above your head and pivot.
– Do place all money, valuables, and travel documents in your carry on luggage.
– Do pack your electronics in your carry on or personal item luggage.
– Don’t travel with liquids more than 100ml unless they are in your checked baggage.
– Don’t pack lighters, nail files, or pocket-knives in your carry-on luggage.
– Don’t pack fresh fruit or vegetables for international flights.

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That’s it for this list of carry on packing tips! I hope you found them helpful. Next read our list of long haul flight tips.