To Check or Not to Check

Essential Items to Pack in Your Carry-On Luggage

Two of the most common nightmares for travelers: Missing your connecting flight and losing your luggage.

In both of these instances, you may be faced with having to survive a night without your essentials. Any woman will tell you it’s simply not an option to skip a day when it comes to your skin care routine. That would surely lead to dire acne consequences.

Today, I’m going to give you a comprehensive list of items to always keep in your carry-on bag. First, however, I’m going to start out by telling you a scary story.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

October 2009 *DUN, DUN, DUUUUN*

After a lovely four night cruise in the Caribbean with my mom and sisters, we arrive at the airport in Miami. We check in only to find that our flight is delayed by three hours due to heavy fog in Atlanta, our layover stop on our way home to Milwaukee. While this is super disappointing, we check our bags and head to the food court. We buy some playing cards in a gift shop and settle in for the long haul.

After a few hours, we finally board and take off en route to Atlanta. Once we get there, however, we circle the airport for a LONG time before finally being able to land. At this point we are barely going to make our connecting flight. We finally get off the plane and SPRINT to our next terminal. You probably already see where I’m going here… Yup. We miss our connecting flight home. Since it is now the wee hours of the morning, we are stuck in Atlanta.

Delta graciously pays for us to stay in a musty, pee-soaked Ramada Inn whose health inspection is clearly overdue. The bigger issue is, however, that ALL OF OUR ESSENTIALS are in our checked luggage, which is well on its way to Milwaukee. I have very little in my carry-on backpack that is of use aside from chap-stick, a water bottle, and two sticks of sugar-free gum. Luckily, Delta is able to provide us with a complimentary overnight essentials gift bag which consists of a Delta T-Shirt, a toothbrush and a stick of roll-on, dollar store deodorant.

To say we are all a bit peeved the next morning is an understatement. Our faces are sans makeup, our hair is sans product, and the yucky Ramada Inn bar soap has somehow managed to leave our skin both dry AND sticky. Regardless, the five of us faithfully arrive at our terminal, clad in our Delta T-shirts and yesterday’s underwear.

We didn’t just carry the weight of the world that day – we probably carried bed bugs too.

This harrowing situation might have been a bit more manageable if we had prepared a bit more for the worst case scenario. Unexpected things happen when you’re traveling, so it’s a good idea to assume you will experience the dreaded nightmares.

Without further ado, here are some things I recommend always packing in your carry-on bag:


Photo by Hanna Brannigan via Pexels
  • Face/Skincare Products – You may not be able to carry on the full tubes if they’re more than four ounces so you can transfer a small amount to some travel containers. To be honest, though, most travel sized toiletry bottles are too big for a single use and they take up too much space in my bag. Instead, I usually buy travel container jar pots since they are compact, stack-able, and they are the perfect size for 1-2 uses.
  • MakeupAt least pack the essentials in your carry-on, like foundation and mascara. You don’t want to brave a stressful day of travel with a bare face, trust me. For liquids, like foundation, I also use the travel jar pots.
  • Hairbrush – That mop ain’t gonna brush itself! Pack a mini/travel sized brush in your carry-on.
  • Deodorant – I’m not one to be picky about deodorant. However, as someone who has worked a lifetime in the hotel industry, I’ll tell you that any complimentary deodorant provided by hotels (or anyone else – I’m looking at you, Delta!) is the cheapest, stickiest, yuckiest brand in existence. I’m pretty sure whatever brand they are offering is strictly sold to hotels because no individual consumer in their right mind would purchase it. It’s worth it to just bring a travel sized stick of your own, believe me. Many popular brands, like Dove and Degree, sell travel sized options and they don’t take up much space.
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste – While most hotels offer complimentary oral care products, again, they are the cheapest of the cheap. I worked at a 4-star hotel and their complimentary toothbrushes were abysmal. They were flimsy and had approximately seven bristles on them. Just pack your own trusty toothbrush in your carry-on. Your plaque-free teeth will thank me.


Photo by Ylanite Koppens via Pexels
  • A Comfy Outfit – You don’t want to make my mistake and get stuck in a Delta t-shirt that you slept in the night before (did I forget to mention that? Yea, the t-shirt doubled as my jammies that night). I know a change of clothes takes up some valuable space in your carry-on, but it’s worth it to just play it safe. If you’re feeling extra motivated, it’s a handy hack to put your clothes in gallon-sized baggies and use a vacuum sealer to crunch them down and free up some real estate in your bag.
  • A warm sweater – Because airports are chilly. And because you might be traveling home from a tropical paradise just to miss your connecting flight in Minneapolis… in November.
  • A CHANGE OF UNDERWEAR – For the love of God, pack one in your carry-on.


Photo Credit: Pexel
  • Phone Charger/Portable Charger – This is a crucial one. You don’t want to get stuck in an unfamiliar city with a dead phone. That sounds like the beginning of an SVU episode – hard pass.
  • iPad/Electronic Toys – If you’re travelling with littles, they may need to be entertained for long periods of time if you’re dealing with flight delays, etc. There’s nothing like a good, long tantrum to really put the cherry on a stressful day of travel mishaps. Keep ’em busy!
  • Headphones – Kill time jamming or binge watching GOT without disturbing everyone in your terminal.


Photo by Craig Adderley via Pexels
  • Reusable Water Bottle – You can’t take liquids through security, but you CAN take an empty reusable water bottle and fill it up at a drinking fountain for free. Beats paying $7 for a bottle at the gift shop – multiplied by however many kids you have in tow.
  • A Good Book – I don’t know about you, but I can really waste the day engrossed in a good read. If your flight is delayed by several hours, you can kick back and lose yourself for a bit to kill time.
  • Medication – Whether it’s your prescriptions, Advil, or Benedryl, you don’t want to be stuck overnight without the meds you need. Keep them in your carry-on!

(Hopefully) Happy Traveling!

Traveling hiccups happen, but they don’t necessarily have to turn into nightmares. If you prepare for the worst, you will have enough essentials in your carry-on bag to survive harrowing ordeals like cancelled connections and overbooked flights. Whatever might come your way, you’ll be ready to deal!

Share your own travel horror story in the comments below. I’d love a good commiserating session!

Photo Alex Powell via Pexels

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