16 Carry-On Travel Essentials to Make Your Packing Easier

Going on vacation and travelling with only a carry-on? There are useful items to make your life (and packing!) easier with some carry-on travel essentials. From the obvious packing cubes to unique items like a portable washing machine, these carry-on travel essentials are perfect for domestic and international travel!

Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to travelling with a carry-on. It’s cut down on wait times at the airport, it prevents me from the risk of losing my luggage, and it’s so much more convenient being able to throw a backpack on or wheel a small suitcase around. 

Carry-on travel may seem impossible, but once you figure out the logistics and realize what you really need to travel with, it becomes second nature.

From trips to the Caribbean, safaris in South Africa, to trips across Europe, if I can travel with just a carry on, you can do it too! Check out these carry-on travel essentials to help make that possible!

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🌍Favourite travel item: Packing cubes
🧳Favourite travel bag: Osprey 40L Fairview
📱 ESims: Airalo
🩹 DIY Travel Medical Kit
💸 20 Cheap Travel Items Under $20

Carry-on backpack or suitcase

Let’s start with one of the most important carry-on travel essentials: a durable carry-on backpack or carry-on suitcase. I used to travel with a soft-shelled suitcase, but have since switched to a backpack because I love how easy it is.

Plus, in locations like London or Rome, we walk around a lot and I like being able to carry my stuff on me rather than wheeling it through some uneven, older streets.

My favourite carry-on bag has been the Osprey Fairview 40/Farpoint 40. The Fairview is designed for female fit and the Farpoint is designed for men and fits the dimensions for carry-on travel.

This convertible backpack has proved to be a great investment. It can fit a lot inside, and its compression straps help keep everything neatly organized. It comes with various zippered pouches and a water resistant sleeve, including a sleeve that can accommodate 16” devices.

Whether you want to use it as a backpack or use the shoulder strap to carry it, it’s super lightweight, and comes with hip and shoulder belts if you need some extra support – or decide to end up trekking with it!

I’ve used a number of carry-on suitcases in my days, and this Amazon Basics 21-inch hardside spinner carry-on suitcase has proven itself with 4.6 out of 5 stars based on 40,000 reviews!

This handy suitcase comes with four wheels which are durable enough for planes, trains, vehicles, and walking down streets! It’s lightweight shell and interior compartments help keep your belongings organized.

Personal item bag

Since airlines allow you to have a carry-on plus a personal item that has to fit under the seat, I bring a sling bag. It fits in all the essentials I want to have on me, like my passport, pen, phone, tablet, headphones, and anything else I may need during the flight!

Usually my husband will use this to walk around whenever we get to where we’re going, so it pulls double-duty during our travels. I like having something small in front of me to cut down on any chance of pickpocketing, plus if I’m wearing a backpack it makes it less bulky and awkward to have a sling bag instead of a regular purse or shoulder bag.

Packing cubes

The most obvious carry-on travel essential is undoubtedly packing cubes. Once I discovered packing cubes, my entire life changed.

It helped organize all of my belongings into neat little packages, which is amazing if you get searched through airport security and need to open your suitcase – your things don’t go everywhere!

You can organize them however you like and play around with how you pack them (such as rolling vs. laying flat), to see how much you can get in your packing cubes. I really like the Well Traveled Compression Packing Cubes.

They’re made from durable material and come with dual compression zippers to help squeeze down your cubes. Plus, they come equipped with extra sturdy handles, luggage identifier tags, and they’re water resistant.

The 8 piece deluxe packing cube set from Well Traveled is enough for both me and my husband, but if you’re looking for something a little less money, there are plenty of inexpensive packing cubes available to pick from!

My Well Traveled packing cubes fitting neatly in my Osprey!

Vacuum bags

If you’re having a hard time figuring out what exactly you’re going to bring, or are travelling through a variety of climates, travel vacuum bags are incredible for carry-on travel.

Keep in mind they work best with clothing material that doesn’t wrinkle easily, but you can pack a ton of clothing into these vacuum bags.

If you’re using a carry-on suitcase, it works even better because the bags compress down into solid bricks, which if you’re using a backpack they may not be as pliable to fit into the space you need.

There is one downside, though: you will have to put the pump in your bag or suitcase to make sure you can fit it all back in coming home!

Scrubba Wash Bag

One of the concerns I first had when travelling with a carry-on was the lack of clothing that would last the entirety of my trips.

I used to bring laundry strips or tide packs with me to hotels to wash some undergarments and t-shirts in the bathtub or sink, but quite honestly that can be pretty unhygienic. If where you’re travelling doesn’t have laundry services, or if you’re out trekking or camping, you can be a little stuck when it comes to clean clothes.

Doing laundry on our balcony in Curacao.

I now travel with the Scrubba Wash Bag. It’s essentially a portable washing machine, and it’s been a total game changer!

The Scrubba Wash Bag works best if you have a day or two to dry your clothing (even better if you can hang it outside, or bring quick-dry clothing), but it’s saved me from bringing numerous articles of clothing.

Check out my Scrubba Wash Bag review!

Laundry strips

Keeping in the theme of doing laundry while travelling, it’s essential to bring some type of product to wash your clothes with!

Some people like to travel with mini tide packs. Those are great, but if they burst in your suitcase or backpack it can be a bit messy. I like using laundry strips because they’re dry, lightweight, and very easy to transport. It also doesn’t hurt to throw in a Tide stick, too!

Laundry bag

If you don’t have the chance to do laundry during your travels, keep your worn clothing items separate from the rest with a travel laundry bag.

This is especially important if you’ve been sweating up a storm – just trust me on this. Damp and smelly clothes (let’s be real here, shall we?) aren’t a good mix with the rest of your clean clothes.

If you don’t want a dedicated laundry bag for your travels, or if your packing cube set doesn’t come with one, a plastic bag will work in a pinch.

Shoe bag

If you’re travelling with an extra pair of shoes or sandals, you’ll likely want to keep your shoes off your packing cubes to keep them clean.

Or, if you’re out hiking, on the beach, or walking through anything questionable, a shoe bag will prevent any ick from getting onto your clothing or other items in your suitcase.

Toiletry bottles

Have you ever seen people at the checkin counter at the airport have to unload their huge shampoo bottles or gigantic bottles of lotion or body wash? You don’t need to do that – ever!

You’re likely travelling for a week or two at a time, and the products you use on a daily basis will fit into travel toiletry bottles. If you’re heading to an all-inclusive resort, you don’t have to worry about bringing any toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, or body lotion – unless you’re particular about the products you use. This makes toiletry bottles one of the top travel essentials for women (since you know, we always have an assortment of products we carry with us every where we go)!

Many resorts also have mouthwash, toothbrushes, and even razors in the room, but be sure to double check those details prior to leaving.

If you have to have certain products, put them into toiletry bottles which will cut down on space and weight in your carry-on luggage! You’re allowed to have 100 ml of liquid per bottle, and as long as it all fits into a quart-sized bag, you’re golden.

Related: What to Pack for an All-Inclusive Vacation (Plus Free Printable Checklist!)

Mini razor

One of the items that’s always a pain for me to bring is a razor! And yes, you can bring a disposable razor on board with you in your carry on bag!

Fortunately, things just got easier with the Gillette Venus Extra Smooth On The Go mini travel razor! This tiny (and cute!) travel razor cuts down on bulky razor handles and allows you to pack a razor safely in your suitcase or carry-on bag.

Mini hairbrush 

Keeping within the same mini theme, one of my favourite carry-on essentials is my mini Wet Brush hairbrush. If you haven’t used a Wetbrush before, it’s completely changed my life.

I have long hair that knots quite frequently, and the Wet Brush magically detangles my hair (without it hurting, either)! I’ve told all my friends and family about it, so if you haven’t already tried it, give it a whirl!

It’s great for travelling to all-inclusive vacations to use after being in the pool or the ocean, but also it’s a great brush to have and use on a day-to-day basis.

You can get a Wet Brush multi-pack, which is usually what I recommend to people. Use a regular sized hairbrush for home and pack the mini for travel!

Portable charger 

I will not travel anywhere without my portable charger. As someone who uses my phone for just about everything – from emails to social media to photos – I need to have a good charge going at all times!

Of course, there are a variety of portable chargers for all phone types, so be sure to check compatibility before you buy.

I personally use the Anker Portable Charger and it’s gone with me all over the world. I throw it in my purse or sling bag (plus charge cable) on days when I know I’m going to be taking a lot of photos or videos.

Cable organizer 

I’m proud to announce I’ve graduated from throwing cables at random into my backpack and have upgraded to a cable organizer case.

This compact case keeps all of our cables organized for the phone, tablets, FitBits and more. Saving space and keeping things tidy is essential for carry-on travel, and if you travel with a few electronics, this will help keep everything neatly tucked away.

Pill organizer

I knew I was getting older when I got excited about making a DIY travel medical kit and looking at travel pill organizers – but hear me out! A pill organizer is a great space-saver for travel and helps keep all your medications in one spot.

Plus, I’d rather be over prepared than finding myself short in some instances. You never know when you may need some type of over-the-counter medication.

Here’s what I always bring with me:

  • Tylenol/Advil/Ibuprofen
  • Benadryl
  • Gravol (or the generic Dramamine)
  • Imodium (or the generic Loperamide)

You can pick up a lot of these generics from your local dollar store or pharmacy, and in many cases I actually prefer the generic pills. They’re cheaper, too, and great to throw into a travel first-aid kit.

Luggage ID tag

I highly recommend having a luggage ID tag for your bags. You don’t have to display it on the outside (although there are a number of cute luggage tags to pick from!) and many bags and suitcases come with their own ID tag spot built into the bag or suitcase. Even if you have your bag on you at all times, you never know what can happen. Make sure you ID your items!

Luggage Tracker 

The bounceback of travel really brought to light issues with the airline industry and staffing – and with that, lost luggage. Apple AirTag or Samsung SmartTag can help identify where any lost or stolen luggage is. Whether or not you find that information helpful is up to you, but it points you in the right direction in the event your suitcase is lost, missing, or stolen.

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