50 Travel Essentials to Pack (According to a Flight Attendant)
As a former flight attendant, I have seen all the most useful and useless “travel essentials” on the market. Let me help you with your next packing list with this list of essential items to pack for travel.
You will learn some of the best travel items to include in your packing list along with recommendations for specific brands.
Yes, it includes some obvious items like a water bottle (think collapsible and sturdy) but also some not so obvious items. You will learn I am a big fan of disposable wipes when traveling, they are the ultimate hack to work around TSA liquid and gel limitations.
Table of Contents
- 50 Travel Essentials to Pack
- 1. Foldable Yoga Mat
- 2. Travel Water Bottle
- 3. TSA Approved Toiletry Kit
- 4. Hanging Toiletry Bag
- 5. Electrolyte Mix
- 6. Toilet Seat Covers
- 7. Antiperspirant Wipes
- 8. Shower Wipes
- 9. Hand Sanitizer Wipes
- 10. Travel Garbage Bags
- 11. Packing cubes
- 12. Compression Bags
- 13. Luggage Scale
- 14. Laundry Soap Sheets
- 15. Portable Shoe Horn
- 16. Travel Board Game
- 17. Tray Table Phone Mount
- 18. Travel Knitting Bag
- 19. Power Bank
- 20. Purse Organizer
- 21. Personal Item Bag
- 22. Electronic Organizer Bag
- 23. Microfiber Travel Towel
- 24. Noise Reduction Earplugs
- 25. Eye Mask
- 26. Travel Pillow
- 27. Travel Makeup Mirror
- 28. Universal Power Adaptor
- 29. Gaming Controller for Your Smartphone
- 30. Padded Laptop Sleeve
- 31. Mini Coloring Book
- 32. Colored Pencils
- 33. Individual Coffee Sachets
- 34. Compact Travel Mug
- 35. Travel Utensils
- 36. Travel Hair Straightener
- 37. Bluetooth Transmitter
- 38. Airplane Headphone Adaptor
- 39. Nicotine Lozenges
- 40. Waterless Disposable Toothbrush
- 41. Travel Packages of Facial Tissue
- 42. Document organizer
- 43. Breastmilk Cooler
- 44. Baby Ear Protection
- 45. Car Seat Travel Bag
- 46. Battery Safe Bag
- 47. Padded Packing Bags
- 48. Lighter Protector
- 49. Bathroom Freshener
- 50. Compression Socks
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50 Travel Essentials to Pack
1. Foldable Yoga Mat
This particular brand has good traction and is just thick enough to use in a studio or hard floor in a hotel room, but stays light enough to easily pack in a carry-on. I also enjoy the different color options which are not common in travel yoga mats.
Exercising in your hotel room, even just basic stretching is a great way to fight off jet lag and ease your muscles after a long travel day. But you don’t necessarily want to go all the way down to the hotel gym and you for sure don’t want to lie down directly on the hotel carpet.
This kind of foldable mat is perfect for stretching, doing cardio and if you are into yoga, exploring new studios or locations (beach) without needing to rent a mat.
2. Travel Water Bottle
Unlike most collapsible water bottles this one is easy to clean and stands up on its own if set on a table or seat. It’s also made out of food grade silicone so it's BPA free and doesn’t have that weird plastic smell you sometimes get with new water bottles.
Collapsible water bottles are a must when traveling by air. You are not allowed to bring liquids through airport security but at the same time staying hydrated while flying is really important.
Enter the collapsible water bottle. It takes up much less space when it’s empty and packed but can be filled at any water refill station once you’re through security and used during your flight.
3. TSA Approved Toiletry Kit
I love this travel toiletry set. It has the right mix and number of different types of containers to hold all of the liquids and gels you need to travel and is clearly TSA approved.
There are two reasons paying for a travel bottle set is worth it. One is the good ones are completely leak proof and designed to be packed in bags for extended amounts of time. Even if you buy travel sized normal products they often leak into your bag.
The second reason is it saves you so much time at security. Sets like this ensure all of your liquids and gels are in one place and are clearly within the set limits of one quart sized bag with all individual items being 100ml or less.
4. Hanging Toiletry Bag
Two main reasons to use this particular bag are great customer service when something goes wrong and they last forever, many flight attendants use this brand of bag. I also find they have good sized pockets for storing everything you need in the bathroom, like full sized hair brushes.
Hanging bags are super useful in hotel rooms since you can hang them up on the back of the door and have everything you need. They are also useful in alternative accommodations like hostels where you have to carry your toiletries in and out of the shower and bathroom with you. So no matter how you travel these come in very handy.
5. Electrolyte Mix
I like this brand because it comes in individual sachets of powder so it’s easy to pack and get through security. If you can stay hydrated during your flight it will help you fight jet lag and feel generally much better when you land at your destination.
In order to stay hydrated on a plane you would have to drink a full liter of water every hour, that’s assuming you arrive completely hydrated. I always found this impractical given the bathroom facilities available on most planes. Electrolyte drinks help make the most of the water you do drink during the flight.
6. Toilet Seat Covers
These toilet seat covers come in small individual packages which makes them easy to pack and travel with. They are also completely flushable which is really important if you are using them on a plane.
We all know public washrooms have varying degrees of cleanliness. Planes and airports are no exception, plus these are useful while on vacation in general. Toilet seat covers are lightweight and take up almost no room in your bag so there is no reason not to pack as many as you want.
7. Antiperspirant Wipes
There are several things I like about this brand, a big one is that the formula is completely clear so you don’t need to worry about staining. They are also individually packaged which makes packing them for travel so much easier than if you buy one of the larger 50 packs which are more common.
Antiperspirant wipes are a travel essential, especially on long haul flights. They are easy to use in airplane washrooms and they do not count towards your liquid or gel limitations so you can easily pack as many as you want in your carry on bag.
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8. Shower Wipes
This brand is designed for travel and outdoor adventures alike which means they are large towels in a compact package. The other big advantage of this brand is that they have a scrub side and a soft side.
These are great for freshening up after a long flight but I use them for all kinds of travel. Hostel living, after a bus trip, really anytime you feel gross, these wipes are a great solution when showering isn’t feasible.
9. Hand Sanitizer Wipes
I love that this brand has a fragrance free and comes in a big box of 30. They are also made with 70% alcohol which means they are strong enough to use on your hands but can also disinfect any surfaces like table trays.
For hand sanitizer, I prefer wipes over the gels and sprays when traveling because you can bring more with you and use them for the entire trip. They don’t count towards your TSA liquid and gel limitation and there is never any risk of them leaking all over your bag.
10. Travel Garbage Bags
These are useful for everyone, not just parents, hear me out. Diaper disposal bags are perfect because they come in easy to pack dispensers and are designed to be waterproof and combat smells. Arm and Hammer is particularly good at combating smells.
You will generate garbage during your flight and travels and this allows you to collect and dispose of it really easily. Also, if you have to carry the garbage around with you for a while looking for a garbage can this keeps everything else in your bag clean and odor free.
11. Packing cubes
I like this particular set of packing cubes because it comes with all the sizes and types of bags you need to pack effectively. The mesh fronts are great because they make it easy to see what you have packed in which cubes.
This set comes with a laundry bag and a shoe bag; both of which I consider essential. Do not underestimate the usefulness of a shoe bag. One important tip with a packing cube is to not overstuff them. They are meant to help you stay organized and pack only what you need. If you are struggling to fit everything you need in your bag then try using compression bags.
12. Compression Bags
The beauty of these compression bags is they are designed to be rolled and not use a vacuum.This means you can use them to pack on your way to and from your destination or while on an extended multi-destination trip.
One important thing to remember when you are using compression bags to pack is to weigh your suitcase. While compression bags are great for staying organized and packing more into a small suitcase. The weight can add up very quickly so keep an eye on it.
13. Luggage Scale
This brand makes a reliable and easy to pack electronic luggage scale. I also like that there are multiple color options which is a nice bonus.
Luggage scales are an essential vacation item. If you are planning to travel anywhere you want to buy souvenirs or shop at all, this one small purchase can save you from overweight luggage fees on your return flight. As someone who tends to pack light on the way to a destination, I still find it useful to know how much weight I can add at my destination without causing any problems at the airport.
14. Laundry Soap Sheets
This brand is used by backpackers and backcountry hikers alike. It’s not only easy to pack but environmentally friendly so can be used regardless of the type of travel you are doing.
The nice thing about laundry soap sheets is they do not count towards liquid and gel limitations going through airport security. Being able to wash clothes on the road means your packing list can be paired down to essential clothes which saves you time and money on luggage fees and airport lines.
15. Portable Shoe Horn
Unlike most portable shoe horns this one actually has a long metal handle which makes it way more useful than the “mini” versions you often find. The handle is collapsible and it comes with a travel bag which I like for organized travel.
Shoe horns are an underrated travel essential and should be included in your packing list. If you are traveling with nice dress shoes or as in my case, uniform shoes, a portable shoe horn can be a real lifesaver. Hotels used to provide them but often don’t anymore so it’s best to bring your own.
16. Travel Board Game
Hasbro Grab and Go make great portable games to bring on long travel days. Clue is a personal favorite because it is engaging without lasting too long and doesn’t have too many small pieces to lose.
I have come across many families that get on a long haul flight with an Ipad thinking that will last them the 10+ hours of flying time in terms of entertainment for their children. It doesn’t go well. Analogue entertainment is very important, bring a book and a couple of games like this to keep yourself and any dependants entertained.
17. Tray Table Phone Mount
This handy little gadget is an affordable comfort item for people that fly frequently. It allows you to use your tray table to prop up your phone in a comfortable position to watch movies, tv etc.
Having something to prop up your phone during long flights can make such a difference after a few hours. I also personally like to have my hands free to eat a meal, snack or work on my next knitting project.
18. Travel Knitting Bag
Luxia is an excellent brand that designs bags specifically for crafters. This particular one is small enough to fit into a backpack or carry on but contains everything you need to keep working on your most recent knitting or crochet project.
I am a big fan of bringing knitting projects on flights with me. They make the long wait times feel productive and all flight attendants know that during delays knitters and crafters are the calmest passengers. This brings me back to my often repeated advice, always bring analogue activities with you on an airplane, and never depend on battery life and outlets to keep yourself entertained on long flights.
19. Power Bank
The thing about outlets at airports is that there are never enough of them. Based on experience, boarding areas, for some inexplicable reason never have many that work. So if you are planning to be able to use your smartphone during a long travel day, just bring a portable charger. Any flight attendant who has been flying for longer than three months has a power bank in their flight bag because at a certain point, you give up thinking you are going to find power outlets that work.
20. Purse Organizer
What I like about this set of pouches is that they are mesh so you and any TSA agent can quickly see what's in them. There is also an assortment of sizes which is great for organizing everything you need.
When you get on a plane you generally have two bags, your carry on and your personal item (a purse is a personal item). These pouches will help you keep your personal item (purse, tote or small backpack) organized and this will reduce your travel stress level by a wide margin.
There is nothing worse than getting on your flight and spending twenty minutes hunting for the cord you need, or the disinfectant wipe you are pretty sure you put in your bag.
21. Personal Item Bag
This is an ideal personal item to bring on a flight with you. It fits easily under the seat in front of you and is durable and waterproof.
Most airlines allow you to bring one carry-on luggage and a personal item into the cabin with you. Your personal item generally has to fit under the seat in front of you. Most people bring their purses as a personal item.
I prefer to bring a soft sided, easily washed bag like this one. I put my purse along with other in-flight travel essentials, like my water bottle and toiletry bag in this duffel bag so they are accessible for the entire flight and I don’t have to go into the overhead bin.
22. Electronic Organizer Bag
I like this particular brand because it is waterproof and big enough to carry a power bank. It has pockets that are perfect for organizing cords and you can even stash your phone in it when you are not using it during the flight.
Electronic organizers are a travel essential because they are important for keeping your carry on luggage organized while you are traveling.
They also help you not forget your charging cords and adaptors.. Trust me, if you find yourself needing to purchase one of those at an airport the prices are shockingly high.
23. Microfiber Travel Towel
I like this particular travel towel because it comes with a case and is actually a good sized towel. Often travel towels are a bit too small to be useful for the sake of being “portable.”
These towels are generally marketed for outdoor adventure but I find having my own towel, especially one that is really absorbent and dries quickly, is helpful in all travel situations.
It’s good to have for days at the beach, to use at swimming pools or if you find the towels at the hotel are generally lacking. Microfiber towels become a true travel essential if you are planning to spend any amount of time in a hostel.
24. Noise Reduction Earplugs
I use these noise reduction earplugs on every flight. They filter out the background noise like the engines but allow you to hear if someone is speaking directly to you or if there are any announcements made over the PA.
The traveling case means you won’t lose them in your purse. These earplugs are on my list of travel essentials because they give you the ability to turn down the volume of a boarding lounge or flight without missing vital information. This really does reduce stress levels and makes traveling a much more pleasant experience.
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25. Eye Mask
I prefer this brand of eye mask because it is made with 19mm silk on both sides. This means not only is it really soft, it is breathable and stays cool while you sleep
An eye mask is essential to sleep on a plane, or even just relax. There is a surprising amount of ambient light even when the main overhead lights are off on a plane. I also find that people getting up to use the washroom or walking down the aisle is less disturbing if they are wearing an eye mask.
26. Travel Pillow
This brand is longer than the average travel pillow which allows you to adjust it depending on what type of seat you are in. I also love that it is machine washable so you can get it properly clean after using it on a flight.
I used to think travel pillows were completely unnecessary and would just use my sweater or coat to sleep on. But once I started doing more international travel I realized they were a game changer, especially if you are in a middle seat.
27. Travel Makeup Mirror
With three different light settings, this travel makeup mirror stands out as one of the best options. It also has a long battery life and comes with a charging cord so no batteries are needed.
Travel mirrors fold flat for easy storage and stand up on their own making them perfect for hotels, hostels, and public washroom makeup application. The lighting in most airplane toilets is terrible (read- it adds ten years) so having something you can use with a light gives you a much better idea of what your makeup actually looks like.
28. Universal Power Adaptor
I prefer travel adaptors that are all in one unit so you are not dealing with multiple pieces. This one is good because it also has multiple USB ports which are awesome for when you only have one outlet to work with and multiple devices to charge
When flying internationally a travel adaptor is at the top of the list of travel essentials. Different countries have different styles of plugs so you cannot simply use your charge from home, you need an adaptor.
29. Gaming Controller for Your Smartphone
Being compatible with multiple types of phones and systems is a huge bonus for this brand. Also, it is rechargeable so you are not relying entirely on the battery life for travel.
I like this type of controller because it allows me to turn my phone into a portable gaming device without actually needing to purchase a separate system. It also holds my phone at a more comfortable angle for gaming which makes a difference when you are using it on a long flight or extended layover. Just don’t forget your headphones!
30. Padded Laptop Sleeve
Arvok is a brand of laptop sleeves that is water resistant which I find reassuring and can be used for laptops or tablets depending on sizing. I also like all the color options but that’s a personal preference.
This type of laptop case works particularly well when traveling because it offers flexibility. There is more protection than a laptop pocket in a backpack but is not as bulky as a full laptop case.
31. Mini Coloring Book
These coloring books are so easy to pack and are hours of relaxing entertainment on planes or even during long layovers at airports.
Coloring books are easy to use while flying and they do not depend on batteries or chargers. I also like that they are easy to pick up and put down. There are lots of interruptions to activities while traveling so sometimes it’s easier to do something like color rather than trying to read a book.
32. Colored Pencils
Finding compact and organized sets of colored pencils for coloring on a flight is quite difficult. I found these are a great option because they stay organized and pack easily.
These pencils are good quality so they are still fun to use and come with a sharpener. I recommend using colored pencils during travel for coloring books because there is no risk of leaking or exploding ink.
33. Individual Coffee Sachets
This is my favorite brand of instant coffee. I usually have some of the Dark Roast and Decaf blends in my purse when traveling.
Coffee on planes is almost universally terrible so it’s best to come prepared with your own. Also, I have found it saves time and money at airports not buying coffees to go when you can just get hot water to put in a travel mug.
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34. Compact Travel Mug
This travel mug is basically perfect for airplane travel, it is collapsible so takes up almost no space in your bag and is easy to rinse and reuse during your flight. The zarf it comes with means you don’t need to worry about burning your fingers on the outside of the cup
Personally, I think a travel mug that can hold hot drinks is a travel essential. It allows you to bring your own tea bags and instant coffee to have drinks whenever you want without spending a fortune on bad airport take out coffee. This one can also be used to hold snacks or cold drinks while you are on vacation.
35. Travel Utensils
This travel utensil set meets all of the requirements for a good travel set. It’s easy to wash, eco. friendly, comes with a carrying case, and is durable.
I consider utensils a travel essential in my carry on. The cutlery on planes particularly in economy classes is often inefficient. Also, as you’re traveling cutlery can be hard to come by, so it’s nice to have a proper fork to eat take out with.
36. Travel Hair Straightener
This brand of hair styling tools is specifically designed for international travel. It has built-in dual voltage capability, which is important for international travel and means you don’t have to bring a currency converter.
While hair dryers are often available in hotels, hair straighteners are something you will invariably have to bring yourself. Their slim profile and versatility make them an easy hair styling tool to pack in your carry on or checked luggage.
37. Bluetooth Transmitter
A reliable brand, this transmitter creates a strong Bluetooth signal and is compatible with all of your Bluetooth headphones including air pods.
Usually, airplanes require you to plug into a traditional headphone jack rendering your Bluetooth headphones useless. This handy gadget allows you to use Bluetooth headphones with an inflight entertainment system.
38. Airplane Headphone Adaptor
This is one of the few brands that still make reliable adapters of this type. While this is not really a travel essential it is always on my packing list as a just in case item.
If you end up on an older plane that hasn’t been upgraded in a while this is the only way to use your own headphones for the inflight entertainment. Given that it takes up almost no space in your bag, I think these are worth having.
39. Nicotine Lozenges
Nicorette is a reliable brand for this type of product and these ones double as breath mints. Lozenges are super easy to pack and don’t trigger TSA security rules.
This is not essential for everyone, but for some people, it is an absolute essential. If you are a smoker and going to be on a long haul flight I recommend packing some kind of nicotine supplement to help curb your craving,
40. Waterless Disposable Toothbrush
These are amazing for freshening up after an inflight meal or waking up from a nap. This brand in particular is great because they are biodegradable and prepasted, which means you don't have to bring toothpaste with you in your carry on.
The water in airplane bathrooms is not potable, meaning if you want to brush your teeth during a flight you need to bring your own bottled water, in addition to your toothbrush and toothpaste. With these, it is just one simple item and you don’t even need water to get a clean feeling.
41. Travel Packages of Facial Tissue
Kleenex makes these great slim packages that are easy to pack in multiple bags and also they have a plastic outer layer. This keeps them dry and clean until you are ready to use them.
We all need kleenex when traveling and at no point during your travel days are they really provided. They work great as extra napkins when eating but also for the invariable stuffy feeling when you have been on a plane too long.
42. Document organizer
I find a document organizer like this one makes travel days so much easier. It keeps boarding passes, ID and currency all organized and in the same place, so you’re not hunting for documents in the security line or at the gate.
Hard copies of hotel reservations and tickets are also a good idea to stick into a document organizer just to make sure you have all the confirmation numbers in one place.
43. Breastmilk Cooler
While compact and easy to carry this cooler can easily fit up to six bottles with specially designed ice packs. The entire bag is insulated and can also fit snacks for both you and your child.
If you are traveling with an infant or toddler, breastmilk and formula are considered medically necessary liquids and are therefore exempt from TSA liquid and gel limitations. Make sure you bring more than you think you are going to need for the travel time in case of delays.
44. Baby Ear Protection
This brand is great because it is specifically designed for small infants. There is no pressure on the baby’s ears and it has a soft top to be gentle on the top of the baby's head.
Ambient noise on an airplane is actually quite loud so it can be distressing for infants, and over an extended amount of time, it might damage their hearing. It’s much easier to keep a baby calm and possibly get them to sleep if they have something that creates a quiet atmosphere.
45. Car Seat Travel Bag
I like this brand of car seat bag because it has a handle on the front making it easier to carry through the airport. The whole bag is double stitched which makes it very durable.
These bags are useful for keeping your car seat clean and dry in transit. I would also say it makes it easier to identify at the gate if you happen to be on a flight with a lot of infants.
46. Battery Safe Bag
If you need to travel with lithium batteries, especially on international flights, having a battery safe bag will make a world of difference when going through security.
TSA agents will confiscate lithium batteries because of the fire risk they pose. The only way to get them through security is to have them packed in a fireproof case like this one.
47. Padded Packing Bags
These bags are inflatable and leakproof which is ideal for packing any fragile bottles of liquid, not just wine.
If you are planning to do any shopping while on vacation it is a good idea to pack a few of these bags with you to take on your trip. That way if you buy any fragile items you can pack them up safely to bring home.
48. Lighter Protector
If you need to bring a lighter, make sure you only bring one and use something like this lighter case. You need to be able to demonstrate you have taken steps to ensure the lighter won’t accidentally ignite during the flight.
Remember you are not allowed to use a lighter or even take it out of its case at any time during the flight.
49. Bathroom Freshener
You have to be careful with strong scents while traveling. That’s why I love these bathroom fresheners, not only do they not use up any of your liquid and gel allowance but they use essential oils so the scent is never overpowering even in enclosed spaces.
Traveling on a long trip you always come across a few bathrooms that smell questionable. That’s why I always carry a bottle of these dissolvable air fresheners with me while traveling and expect to use public washrooms in shared spaces.
50. Compression Socks
These are very affordable compression socks with a wide variety of sizes and colors. 1-2 short sentence summary of why this specific brand of product is a good choice in this category.
Most flight attendants wear medical grade compression tights while working. It helps with the altitude shifts and being on our feet all day. But it is also important for passengers to keep good circulation going through their legs due to sitting for long periods of time in a pressurized cabin. Many people experience swollen ankles and feet while flying and compression socks are a great way to combat that.
That’s everything! I hope you found this list of 50 travel essentials helpful!
Next up, check out my 16 Carry On Packing Tips.