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Stick to this list and enjoy your flight!
I used to pack my checked bag ever so carefully, while throwing this, that, and the other thing into a haphazard pile titled "carry on". But I got tired of elbowing my aisle-mates trying to rifle through a bag only Mary Poppins could handle.
Even during my haphazard pile days, I swore by my longchamp tote. They fold up to be so light and tiny that they are perfect for travelling, but they look like nice bags when they're opened up and used. I got one in an airport in Italy and haven't looked back. So, without further adieu...
My tried and trusted carry on list
1. Something warm
I always, always, always wind up freezing on airplanes and sweating like a farm animal in the airport. Whether it's a cozy sweater or some fuzzy socks (hint: both), something warm is usually the last thing I add to my carry on bag because it's the first thing I need when I board, and the first thing I need to ditch when I disembark.
2. Something to write on and with
It's wise to bring a pen, regardless. No one wants to be that dork asking to borrow one, amirite? Notebooks are great for jotting down ideas, playing games (by yourself or with your flying buddy), doodling, and a million other things. I bring my small Moleskine so it barely takes up any room.
3. My phone, charge, and charging block
I always download a few new games before a flight and make sure i'm happy with the music on my phone. I bring my full charger for the airport and a portable charging block for the flight, just in case. I use one of these.
4. Noise cancelling headphones
These are a lifesaver on flights, in airports, and during all kinds of travel situations (hello, hostels). Bonus, I swear they help my super sensitive ears deal with the pressure changes. They are a little pricier than the earbuds that come with your phone, but will shut out that screaming baby and are comfortable enough to sleep in.
5. For your health
Grab a little zipper makeup-style bag (like this one), and put all your little flight necessities in there. My list consists of hand sanitizer, lotion, gum, deodorant, and a sleeping pill if it's a long-haul flight. Oh, and lip chap! I can't leave the house without lip chap.
6. Laptop (with some movies or shows queued up)
I rarely bring my laptop out during flights, but I take it with me on every trip, and I don't want to put it in my checked bag, of course.
7. Water bottle + snack
Fill up your travel bottle after security (lots of places to do this) and get some (or lots of) snacks.
8. Wallet and passport
9. Dress up kit for landing
Sometimes you don't go directly to your hotel, or sometimes you have a 20+ hour layover. Flights are gruelling and take a toll on how I look and feel, so I like to grab another one of those little makeup bags and put in some tinted moisturizer, some mascara, some blush, and my favorite small earrings, ring, and watch.
10. Neck pillow
I am in love with these hoodie neck pillows. Even short flights can equal great nap-time.