Traveling: Your Carry-On (Part 2)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

When traveling, properly packing a carry-on is more important than most people think. The first step to the process is choosing the bag that best suits your travel needs. Now that the proper bag is picked out, what should we put in it?

The Basics

You're not going to get very far without this one. Fortunately I've never forgotten mine and hopefully I never will. If you are an avid traveler, be sure that there are adequate pages available for stamps, visas, etc. If you're running low, you may need to make a trip to your local embassy in order to get pages added.
Plane tickets
Another essential. Be sure to put these in an easily accessible (but secure) location.

Other Essentials

Digital camera
Why go somewhere if you can't document the experience? Unless you're a film junkie, take a digital camera. Not only are they generally smaller (mine isn't, but I am generalizing here), but for long trips I would much rather be able to transfer pictures from my camera to my laptop than lug around a bunch of film. Digital also presents you with instant results which guarantees better pictures in the long run.
Altoids, gum or Listerine breath strips
After the terrorist scare in Britain last summer, some airlines will not allow you to carry toothpaste in your carry-on. Because it's inevitable that I'm probably going to eat something on the trip that will leave my breath smelling pretty rank, I carry some type of breath freshener. I'm sure my fellow passengers appreciate my sweet-smelling breath in the close quarters of the plane.
Sleeping mask and ear plugs
I already covered the rationale behind this one.
This one seems pretty basic, but you'd be amazed at how often you might need a pen. Perhaps you just want to play Sudoku on the plane. Perhaps you will be required to fill out an country entry card on the plane. It really doesn't matter; you just need to trust me on this one.
Relevant guide book
I like to know what there is to do when I get to where I'm going. A good guide book can fill you in on what to do, where to stay, and where to eat. Many people prefer the Lonely Planet guides, but they contain a bit too much information for me. My favorite is the DK Eyewitness Travel guides. They contain a little less information, but are much more colorful and easy to navigate.
Irrelevant book book
It's a good idea to have some basic reading material (any old book will do) for the times when you stuck for a long period of time, especially when that place doesn't have electricity.
I was tempted to list this first, but I didn't want to look too much like a nerd. A laptop is indispensable when it comes to communication, entertainment and photo storage.
Cables, cords and adapters
Your camera, laptop or iPod isn't going to be much use when the batteries are drained. Be sure to pack all necessary cords for your electronics, as well as plug adapters for your country of destination.
Hand sanitizer
I'm not a germ-a-phobe, but I've been in some situations where I wished I had something to clean my hands with. A small bottle of waterless hand sanitizer or some hand wipes will do the trick and they take up hardly any room in your bag.
Pack of tissues
I shouldn't even need to explain the necessity of carrying these. Not only are these good for runny (bloody?) noses and accidental spills, but the first time you end up in a bathroom on the outskirts of Istanbul with no toilet paper, you'll wish you had packed some tissues.
Just because the airline advertises an in-flight meal doesn't mean that it isn't going to be absolute crap. It doesn't hurt to have a candy bar, peanuts, chips (crips, if your British), or some dried fruit in the event that you can't get something to eat for a while.
Bottle of water
This one can be iffy, since some airlines won't let you bring bottled water on board, but since it's pretty cheap, it doesn't hurt to try.

Splurge Items

The following items aren't absolutely necessary, but they sure are nice to have if you can afford them.

MP3 player
I prefer an iPod, but any ol' MP3 player with long battery life will do. I use mine for music, audio books and podcasts.
Media player
In the even that you are stuck on a long layover in an airport or the in-flight movies are absolute rubbish, it's nice to have something else on which to watch video or catch up on unwatched television shows. Options include video iPod, PSP, portable DVD player or a portable dedicated media player. You'll need to determine which is most beneficial for your needs. The video iPod consolidates media into a single player (see MP3 player above) but screen size is rather diminished. The video iPod also has the ability to play some basic games, which can be a good time waster. The PSP has a larger variety of games and can play movies, as long as the movies are in a specific format (bah!). Portable DVD players are the cheapest of this lot, but are fairly bulky and require you to drag a bunch of DVDs along on the trip. There are a handful of other portable dedicated media players on the market which do a good job of playing video and digitally recorded television in a variety of formats. Many of these media players also allow the transfer and storage of digital pictures, which is an added bonus.
This is probably the least important in this line-up, but if you end up in a place like central Chad (read no electricity) or stumbling around in a dark hotel room, a small flashlight isn't a bad thing to have. I have a battery-less flashlight that can be charged by shaking it (kinetic energy), which is pretty handy when there aren't any double-A's available.
GPS device
Whether you're wandering around in a strange place or trying to find your way to a specific destination, a GPS is an invaluable device. Used in conjunction with Google Earth, it can become a powerful tool indeed.
Portable external hard drive
In the event of laptop failure or theft, it's nice to have a backup solution. A portable hard drive allows the backup storage of crucial information as well as movie and photo storage. When it comes to choosing a particular type, be sure to get something durable with high-capacity. Also make sure the drive can be powered both by USB or by external power sources.


Aside from a pair of sunglasses (in a hard case), packing clothing in a carry-on is optional. It really depends on how paranoid you are about your luggage getting lost. If I'm traveling to India, for example, I would pack an extra change of clothes, as the odds of my checked luggage being lost are better than average. If I'm traveling to London, the odds of my luggage being lost are considerably less, so I opt for a lightweight rain jacket in place of a change of clothes.

So that's what I pack in my carry-on. Your results may vary, but these items are designed to keep me occupied on those long layovers, keep me fed on those stretches without a meal, keep me in-touch with friends and family, keep me clothed in the event that my luggage is lost, and keep me prepared for almost any contingency.


Anonymous Batir said...

Very interesting guide. My only addition is to have a small handbag with the sanitary essentials and some clothes in case your bag does not connect with you eventually. I learned this the hard way.
In addition, if you wear glasses never travel without a spare.

3/16/2007 12:26 AM  
Blogger Dave said...


Good points. I added clothing as optional items, but I believe it is a good idea to carry them on, if possible. And thanks for the glasses tip; I don't wear them (other than sunglasses) so the thought hadn't crossed my mind.

3/16/2007 8:51 AM  
Anonymous AfroLotus said...

This is a great blog! I came across it by accident, but so glad I did. I'll be travelling to Jordan in another month or so, and I find your advice more helpful that most of what I've been reading for months now. Thanks again!

10/10/2009 5:21 PM  

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