What to Pack in Your Carry-on for a Long-Haul Flight

Posted by - March 13, 2017 | Category: Library

All Nippon Airways Star Wars R2D2 plane

Many moons ago I flew from Calgary to Guatemala City with a change of planes at LAX. I wasn’t aware I was supposed to pick up my checked bag in LA and lug it over to the next terminal for my connecting flight. So it went missing. For four long days.

Since it was one of my early big trips, I had absolutely no clue what I should have packed in my carry-on. I went four days in the same clothes. No deodorant. No toothbrush. No toothpaste. Just a Lonely Planet guidebook, some gum, and my passport and wallet.

I did end up buying a souvenir t-shirt to make it through, and I also had to buy deodorant and toothpaste. Plus, I had to wash my clothes every night in the sink, praying that they would be dry by morning. 

Now honestly, is that really how you want to be spending your vacation time?

My motto for packing nowadays is hope for the best, but plan for the worst. It’s not every day that an airline loses your checked bag, but when it does happen, you want to be prepared.

Empty airport checkin counters

Most airlines allow one carry-on item (the dimensions of which can vary, so check your airline’s website) plus one “personal item” — a purse, camera bag, laptop bag, etc. Over the past few years, I’ve been milking those limits for all their worth.

During the past year alone, I’ve taken four long-haul return flights (three to Asia and one to South America), so I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at determining what should (and what should not) be in your carry-on for a long-haul flight.

The end goal of any well-thought-out carry-on is comfort. Comfort not only when you reach your destination, but also in-flight.

Let’s face it, most of us will end up crammed into the ever-shrinking seats in economy class. Last week I flew from Santiago, Chile to Bangkok, Thailand, and one of the legs (Houston to Tokyo) was 14 hours. Since I used reward points, I was unable to choose which seat I was assigned, and ended up in the middle seat (thanks United).

Long haul flight back seat plane monitor

If comfort is key to getting your trip off to a good start, there are plenty of deals to be had on First Class and Business Class flights (if you know where to look).

A company called Ultimate Class Airfares offers complimentary quotes on discounted First and Business Class tickets (up to 75% off) for both last-minute and well-in-advance purchases. Although they have a specialized team dedicated to tracking down discounted First and Business Class flights to and from Asia, they can sift through the seemingly endless offerings to find you the most competitive price on flights – to and from anywhere in the world.

There’s no charge for the service, so it’s worth a shot to get a free quote to see if you can splurge on a budget for your next long-haul flight.

What Type of Carry-on Bag Should You Choose?

Carry On Bags Osprey and Moleskin

I currently have a stellar Moleskin Weekender Bag (which can be used as a messenger bag or backpack) and an Osprey daypack that I use for my carry-on. I love that the Moleskin bag is soft sided, so it can scrunch into those little metal “does your bag fit our dimensions” thingies you often see at the check-in counter. The Osprey daypack is pretty small, but fits my laptop, charging cables, electrical outlet adapter, coffee thermos (which doubles as my water bottle as well — and, it keeps the water COLD) and the rest of my assorted electronics — smartphone, iPod, tablet.

What type of carry-on bag you should choose depends on your own travel style. One downside to the Moleskin bag I have is that it doesn’t have wheels, so lugging it and the daypack around can get a bit hard on the old shoulders after a while. When you’re choosing your bag, look for something roomy, flexible, and versatile. And remember that the contents should be easily accessible for going through security.

Change of Clothes

If there is one thing I learned after the lost luggage debacle from all those years ago, it is this — you NEED a change of clothing in your carry-on on a long-haul flight. Believe me, you won’t be winning any friends spending day after day in the same outfit.

At a bare minimum, I carry an extra pair of shorts, t-shirt, and underwear as well as a pair of flip-flops — since they take up little room and weigh practically nothing.

Bathroom Essentials

Current TSA regulations allow up to 1 litre of liquids with a maximum of 100 ml per item. I don’t use the full allotment, but I do carry eye drops to combat that nasty dry, recycled air in-flight, a travel-sized tube of toothpaste to give the pearly whites a refresh before landing, and a facial moisturizer to prevent my skin from looking like the Bolivian Salt Flats.

I also throw in a small cologne sample (I usually just waltz up to perfume counters at any mall and ask if they have any samples. Even if I don’t like the smell, smelling like so-so cologne is a heckuva lot better than smelling like B.O.). My regular cologne goes into the checked bag of course. 

My electric toothbrush and deodorant round out the bathroom contingent in my carry-on.


I never leave anything of value in my checked bag. So my camera, lenses, GoPro, and bank and credit cards all go into my carry-on.


If you have any medications you need to take regularly, ensure that they are packed in your carry-on as well. I usually throw in some Tylenol, low-dose Aspirin (apparently they help prevent blood clotting, but I’m no doctor), and some melatonin (or something stronger) to help me fall asleep.


I always tuck a small travel umbrella into my carry-on as well — you never know when the torrential rains are going to hit, especially in Asia.

Although I tend to fall asleep to my iPod in-flight (I created a special playlist just for the occasion), you may want to invest in some noise-cancelling headphones to drown out that crying baby or that snoring neighbor. At the very least, get yourself some ear plugs and a sleep mask. I usually also bring along a travel pillow as well to help induce slumber.

Remember it will get cold during the flight, so be sure to bring along something to keep you warm during your time onboard. I tend to always bring along my trusty hoodie, since I can pull the hood down over my eyes.

Finally, NEVER go to the bathroom wearing just your socks, or <shudders> your bare feet. I usually wear slip-on shoes on flights (they’re great for getting in and out of security quickly as well), but if I’m not for some reason, sometimes I’ll toss a pair of hotel slippers into my carry-on as well, just to keep an extra layer of protection between me and the millions of germs in that sky dumpster. Because that’s what that airplane bathroom really is.

A Note About Checking Your Carry-on

Airport checkin counters

You know when the gate staff at the airline makes an announcement, canvassing for volunteers to check their carry-on luggage free of charge? They’ve usually got some sob story about the flight being full and they’re trying to free up space in the overhead for everyone else’s junk.

Yeah, don’t ever do that on a long-haul flight.

It’s fine to do if it’s just a short hop with no transfer of plane, but if you’ve got multiple legs on your long-haul trek, it’s just an invitation for the airline to lose your luggage.

I once flew from Lisbon, Portugal to Sydney, Australia and the initial leg of the journey was chock-full, so I decided: “Hey, I’ll do the right thing and check my carry-on like a good little flier.” It was 10 days before I would see it again. Even though the staff ensured me it would get checked all the way through. My laptop was in that carry-on as well. Never. Again.

Have I missed anything? What do you pack in your carry-on bag for long-haul flights?

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4 comments - add one
  1. What about some snacks to bring on the plane to tie you over in between meal for long haul flights? Also, I always try to carry a pair of headphones with me in case I feel like watching the in-flight movies.

    1. No snacks for you! Kidding. I usually bring a couple of granola bars or a muffin as well. Just be sure to eat all your grub before you get to your destination — some places like Australia have pretty strict quarantine rules when it comes to bringing food in.

  2. I too always pack a small umbrella – I guess it’s the Brit in me that can’t risk getting caught in the rain! However it’s worth nothing that the UK airports always make you remove them, along with any electronics/jacket/shoes, to inspect it separately.

    1. Thanks for your comment Julia — I never knew they asked to remove the umbrella. I do usually carry a travel umbrella in my checked bag, but that’s definitely good intel! 🙂


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