Packing is just about the most annoying way a person can spend an hour, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Packing the perfect carry-on isn’t as much of an art as it is a formula, and the equation for putting together a carry-on that will carry you through the disaster of plane delays, inflight boredom and — perhaps the most frustrating and tear-inducing — the loss of your checked bag is quite simple. Allow me to head over to the chalkboard (before your eyes glaze over) and go over my best packing tips from the highs and lows of my recent jaunts. Because you don’t know true horror until the Christmas presents you hand made for your family end up being lost cargo.
First, do as you normally do — pour yourself a glass of wine and lay out all of the items you plan on packing in either your carry-on tote or your checked bags. Now take a deep breath, because it’s probably the night before your trip, and you’ve put this off until the few hours before you have to wake up to catch a cab for the airport.
Finally, the math problem: if x + y = z, and your carry-on bag is “z,” then what do variables “x” and “y” stand for?
The “x” stands for all items you’d cry over or kick yourself for losing, and the “y” would be things your family or friends would justifiably kill you for forgetting. These are general categories that we’ll break down even further below. Let’s begin.
1. Makeup staples
Be sure to put your makeup essentials in your carry-on bag, because if your checked luggage gets lost, at least you'll have the tools you're used to using to look your best (or at least look like your normal self) on your trip.
More specifically, if you're in a pinch to find space in your carry-on bag, then only pack your priciest makeup pieces or the products you won't be able to replace at the drugstore. I remember the time I put my Moroccan oil in my checked bag that came back to me a day late to a wedding in the middle of nowhere. You should have seen my hair.
2. Required items for a specific event
If your main reason for travel is for a function with a specific dress code or other requirements (like shower gifts or souvenirs for the kiddos), make sure you pack them in your carry-on. For example, a bridesmaids dress or an outfit you spent months putting together for New Year's Eve (possibly spending a pretty penny on it, knowing full well that you probably wouldn't wear it anywhere other than this one special occasion) should stay with you on the plane, not below in cargo.
3. Valuables, both sentimental and monetary
Duh, things that are as priceless as diamonds should stay on your person. But, things that are also irreplaceable and tied tightly to the strings of your heart should also stick with you in your carry-on.
Think: the blanket your grandmother made for you that you like to sleep with in new places, or the necklace you got for nearly nothing in a Paris flea market, but inspires some of your best work. It's safest to travel with these things in the cabin than to risk them being lost, even for just a little while, because you stuffed them in your checked luggage.
4. Gadgets, especially those that keep you sane on the plane
Even if you've double-checked the contents of your bags — both in your carry-on and in your checked bag — go back over them again to be certain the items (e.g. ebooks, movies, and music) meant for inflight entertainment are in your carry-on. I mean, you can only read the inflight magazine from cover to cover for so long before annoying the hell out of your neighbor with puppy photos and childhood memories all because you hate the music and movie playlist provided. Don't be that person! PLEASE don't.
5. One extra outfit is a must
Great — you spilled coffee on your shirt on the plane, but your problems worsen when you land after finding out your checked bags didn't make it but they'll be in touch once they locate them. Do you have the time and money to buy all of the clothes you'll need for the duration of the trip? Don't you hate having to borrow sometimes from friends, especially when it comes to swimwear? Do yourself a favor and pack one light outfit, including corresponding undergarments that you may need like a strapless bra or a bathing suit.
6. Pack emergency information
Get old school and print out — yes, I said print out — your travel itinerary with all pertinent information on places and people you will need to reach. Why, you ask? Let's imagine for a moment that your phone dies, and your phone charger is misplaced, and/or your laptop is stolen. Whoops! There goes the hotel details you saved, and directions (along with contact information) you had in your notes app that you may have needed for the next leg of your trip. What if you needed to find your friends at the airport to catch a ride, for instance? (Who memorizes cell numbers these days?)
Maybe your situation isn't that drastic — fine. Maybe it's only about saving you from having to sit there and charge your phone or laptop in the airport when you land in order to access the address of your hotel, for example, when you could've simply just hopped in a cab and charged up in the comfort of your hotel room if you would have remembered to print out the information.
7. Comforting, calming items
If you need sleep on the flight in order to function properly when you land, then you'll need any sleep accessories in your carry-on that will allow you to doze off most comfortably. This includes any noise cancellation headphones or ear plugs, maybe a blanket or sweater in case you get cold easily, a neck cushion, and an eye mask. And, most importantly, bring any medications or health related items and accessories onto the plane with you — not in your checked luggage below the plane — especially if any of them help to reduce your anxiety from fear of flying.
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