Cultural Experience | Packing Lists

Packing for your layover: Top 10 carry-on essentials

Plan for the worst to make the best out of your time in the terminal.

A twenty-four hour flight delay after flying across the Atlantic? Not a problem. Stranded in the terminal with hours to spare before your connecting flight? Bring it on. Don’t let the traveler’s blues get to you the next time you find yourself camping out in an airport. Come prepared with these carry-on essentials:

1. Clear plastic baggy of medicines, contacts, and the essential toiletries

If you’re like me and are blind without your contacts, don’t even think about packing your stash of extras into your suitcase. Bring a few spare pairs or some contact solution just in case you decide to catch some Z’s. Packing all essential medicines into a carry on tote is a must, especially when considering the limited options at the duty-free shops. Anticipate being in the airport for long hours, so pack your most essential toiletries—that means deodorant and a toothbrush! Boost up your airport hygiene with facial soap or cleansing wipes, and a travel-size container of face moisturizer. Do not underestimate the power of the airplane air jets blasting on your face throughout your ride. Your skin will dry out fast, so every few hours find the nearest bathroom to splash your skin with water, and then gently lather on the moisturizer.

Here are the toiletries you can find in my bag:

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleansing Cloths – 25 count

Mini foldable toothbrush packaged with a small tube of toothpaste

Secret Clinical Strength Antiperspirant Deodorant – travel size

Face moisturizer

Remember: Airports only allow 3.4 ounces (100ml) of liquid or less per container. Pack wisely!

2. Wallet, cash, ID & passport

Let’s be honest, you won’t get too far in an airport without some identification. For international travel, pack your passport along with a paper photocopy of your picture in it. Worst-case scenario, you lose your passport while traveling and need to get a replacement fast. Having a photocopy of your passport picture might help you avoid some obstacles along the way.

Tip: Swap out your typical bulky wallet with all of the punch cards from your favorite restaurants and extra gift cards, for a smaller case to hold just the essentials. The less you travel with, the better.

I’m personally a fan of the Vera Bradley zip-around wallets since it keeps all of my cards and cash secure in a small plush case.

3. A good read

When I’m packing for a long trip, the first thing I think to bring is good book. Typically, I make a trip to the local bookstore or look to online blogs for suggestions. If you want to be extra prepared and equip yourself with some of your favorite TV shows and movies as well, download your book and TV selections onto an iPad, or any device that can digitally store videos and books. That way, your “book” can double as a movie screen later.

During my most recent trip to Israel, I brought the book Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. If you are into a more modern-day romantic novel, definitely try it out!

4. Pre-made playlist

Be sure to download enough songs for a playlist that can last you for 16-24 hours of music time on your music device or phone. It is likely that you will fall asleep with your headphones in, so avoid your workout music selections and simply create a separate playlist for naps. Forgetting your headphones is one of the most frustrating mistakes you can make while traveling, so triple check your bag before you leave.

They may be on the pricey side, but if you truly want to enjoy all of your favorite tunes, invest in noise canceling headphones. I suggest purchasing the Sony MDR-NC8 Noise Canceling Headphones.

5. Empty water bottle

Come prepared with your own empty water bottle container or buy one at the duty free shops in the airport. Bringing your own? Be eco-friendly and avoid the disposable plastic bottles by packing your favorite Camelbak bottle (a popular choice for travelers).

6. Change of clothes—underwear and all

We return to the importance of personal hygiene. You probably will go a significant amount of time without showering, so do your best to remain as “fresh” as possible—whatever it takes.

7. Hoodie

Airports and airplanes tend to become very, very cold. If you are waiting for your flight in the terminal, chances are, you will start seeking a comfy spot on the hard laminate floor to lie on. Do yourself a favor and bring along a sweatshirt with a hood to avoid pressing your face against the dirty airport ground.

8. Blow up neck pillow

Lugging around a neck pillow can be a pain. It is usually a struggle squeezing a neck pillow into a small carry on bag, so a blow up pillow is a go-to for packing.  Pick yourself up an inflatable neck rest—you will thank yourself later.

9. Cords and chargers

Chances are, you will be traveling with a handful of devices that will need charging after a few hours of constant use while waiting for your plane. Help yourself out with the smart purchase of a universal plug adapter. Regardless of where you travel, a universal plug adapter should work in virtually all countries. My favorite is the SKRoss World Adapter Pro+ converter. It has worked well for me in Israel and Ireland!

10. Power bars and healthy snacks (yogurt covered almonds)

What’s a trip without food? Stock up on your favorite healthy treats to keep up your energy and fuel your body. If you are an almond fan, try the Rickland Orchards Greek On The Go! Greek yogurt coated almonds

Hanna Handler

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | 9 stories

Hanna is a junior student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign studying communications, public relations, media sales, and art and design. She is a member of The Illinettes Dance Team, the official dance team of the school, the Vice President of Public Relations for Panhellenic Council, and the Vice President of PRSSA. She is also a sister of Delta Gamma. She will begin her first internship experience at Edelman this summer in Chicago and in the past year, has traveled to Mexico, Ireland, and Israel.


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