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 27 travel essentials I never leave home without.
Don't leave home without them: 27 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.
Brita's BPA-free Premium Filtering Bottle holds 26 oz of water and features the brand's famous filter. The filter reduces chlorine, improving the taste and odour of your water. With 30,000 reviews on Amazon, shoppers call it a "surprisingly sturdy" water bottle.
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. Reviewers say the LARQ bottle is a worthwhile (albeit expensive) investment and call it a backpacker "must-have."
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 24,000 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. Universal Bluetooth Wireless Audio Transmitte
A universal Bluetooth what? This nifty little device allows you to connect your wireless headphones to an airplane's entertainment system so you can go without the aforementioned corded headphones. Cool, right?
This two-in-one Bluetooth transmitter and receiver offers users a playtime of up to 22 hours. The device has earned a 4.2-star rating from 2,600 reviews. It "works like a charm," according to one shopper.
Connect your wireless headphones to any device or share the experience with a friend with the Airfly Pro. This pocket-sized device allows you to connect two pairs of AirPods or wireless headphones to any 3.5mm audio jack so you can watch a movie with a friend on a plane or anywhere you might need to share a device.
4. 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 51 per cent off, this Line & Dot maxi sweater dress is perfect for the colder months.
Splurge: The Somerset Maxi Dress
Dubbed Anthropologie's "best-reviewed dress, ever," this maxi dress is available in several colours, materials and prints. It's "amazing," raves one reviewer. "So comfy and so flattering."
Save: H&M Zip-Up Cardigan
This cozy and affordable cardigan comes in four colours for fall, including black and light blue, and sizes XXS to XXL.
Yes, it's expensive, but if you have a bit of cash on hand, Reformation's cashmere cardigan is my no.1 draft pick of the season. It's beyond luxe, ultra cozy, and there's something about wearing cashmere on a plane that makes you feel like Kris Jenner's long-lost child.
5. 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 8,200 reviews from Amazon shoppers and an average rating of 4.4 stars.
This contour sleep mask is made from high-grade mulberry silk that's designed with eyelash extensions in mind.
22 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 or an eReader
A cozy scarf (never trust the forecast — airplanes are freezing)
Compression 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 my go-to and it's incredibly versatile)
A travel-sized version of your beauty essentials (sunscreen, face wash, etc.) I love Cadence's bundle for organizing my must-haves (and saving on plastic).
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