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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Plan your next vacation using these tools!

✈️ Book flights: Expedia & SkyScanner
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🩹 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.

Osprey Fairview 40L Women’s Travel Backpack, Black
  • Adjustable torso fit
  • Large panel zip access to main compartment
  • Dual front compression straps

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.

Amazon Basics Expandable Hardside Carry-On Luggage, 20-Inch Spinner with Four Spinner Wheels and Scratch-Resistant Surface, Navy Blue
  • 20″ SPINNER: Perfectly sized to meet carry-on restrictions for both domestic and international travel.
  • EXPANDABLE SPACE: Enjoy up to 15% more packing capacity with expandable design, maximizing your packing potential.
  • RELIABLE ANTI-SCRATCH SURFACE: Crafted from extra-thick ABS hard shell with a scratch-resistant finish, ensuring durability and strength for your travels. Fully lined with 150D-polyester interior for added protection.
  • EASY TO MOVE: Effortlessly maneuver through airports and terminals with four multi-directional double spinner wheels and a telescoping handle.
  • OPTIMIZED INTERIOR SPACE: Stay organized on the go with an interior organizer featuring dividers and three zippered pockets for small items.

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.

VASCHY Sling Bag for Men Women, Water Resistant One Strap Anti-theft Shoulder Bag Crossbody Chest Bag for Motorcycle/Hiking/Travel Black
  • ►HAND-FREE & ANTI-THEFT: Take the simple versatile sling bag on vacation and it provides to be water resistant and convenient for hand free. With…

  • ►DURABLE & PRACTICAL: The sling bag is made of water resistant polyester which is the popular and ideal material for ultra-strong and heavy duty…

  • ►KEEP ESSENTIALS ORGANIZED: Main compartment with zipper closure, padded compartment for tablet,a zippered pocket interior; Two exterior front…

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.

8-Piece Deluxe Compression Packing Cubes Travel – Maximize Space In Luggage With Double Capacity Design, Luxury Compressible Packing Cubes For Travel, Large, Small, & Medium Set
  • SPACE-SAVING DESIGN: Experience the revolution of packing with our HybridMax DOUBLE CAPACITY COMPRESSION DESIGN (patent-pending). No matter the…
  • FEEL THE LUXURY: Elevate your travels with our PREMIUM TWILL FABRIC packing cube bags. Unlike ordinary cubes with low-quality thin materials, ours…
  • DURABLE STITCHING & ZIPPERS: Say goodbye to travel worries. Our cubes feature robust reinforced stitching and SMOOTH 2-WAY ZIPPERS, ensuring secure,…

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.

20 Pack Vacuum Storage Bags, Space Saver Bags (4 Jumbo/4 Large/4 Medium/4 Small/4 Roll) Compression for Comforters and Blankets, Sealer Clothes Storage, Hand Pump Included
  • Multi-use: Our vacuum storage bags are essentials for both household space saving and travel organization. Function as storage bags for clothes and compression bags for travel.
  • Durable protection: With the triple-seal turbo valve & double-zip seal design, our vacuum bags get the air out in the suction process. Can be used repeatedly.
  • Hand Pump Included for Easy Use: Works with standard vacuum cleaner. Simply put the items in our storage vacuum bag, seal the zipper, suck out the air, close the lid. You can also use the pump…

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!

Miracle Made® Eco-Friendly Liquidless Laundry Detergent Sheets-32 Sheets for 64 Loads-Fresh Linen Scent-Plastic-Free, Biodegradable Travel Eco-Strips-Dye, Bleach, Paraben, Cruelty-Free
  • Elevate Your Laundry Experience: Embrace the ultimate concept of laundry detergent sheets – ultra-thin, gentle on the skin, and free from harmful toxins. Our natural ingredients make dirt vanish completely, leaving your clothes fresh, clean and wad free.
  • Exceptional Results for Every Fabric: Miracle Made laundry sheets are designed to cater to a wide range of fabrics, from everyday cotton to synthetic materials, delicate linens, and fabric blends. Our paraben-free formula effectively removes dirt while preserving the fabric’s texture and quality.
  • Family-Friendly Care: Our product is carefully crafted with families in mind. It’s safe for all ages, from the little ones to the elderly, with absolutely no plastic or harsh ingredients included. Enjoy peace of mind with every load.
  • Thoughtfully Practical Design: Experience laundry made easy with our convenient and lightweight design. These ultra-concentrated sheets make washing a breeze, providing an extra thorough cleaning. They’re pre-measured and pre-cut, saving you precious time, effort, and storage space.
  • Your On-the-Go Companion: Miracle Made laundry sheets are suitable for all types of washers. Simply drop one sheet from our recyclable box into the washer, and you’re good to go. Whether you’re at home or on the road, enjoy the convenience of high-quality laundry care wherever life takes you.

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.

2 Pcs Large Travel Laundry Bag Waterproof Wet Dry Bag Washable Dirty Clothes Drawstring Bag Bathing Suit Workout Bag for Gym Clothes Laundry Wet Clothes Swimming Yoga, Green Grey
  • 【Hight Quality Material】The washable dirty clothes bag is mainly made of polyester with a metal zipper, waterproof and thick, the waterproof wet…
  • 【Enough Space】The travel laundry bags is approx. 14.9 x 18.8 inch in size. A large measurement to hold many clothes for you, also suitable for…
  • 【Portable Drawstring to Hold】Design with convenient drawstring Our water-resistant laundry bag of polyester that withstands heavy use, with a…

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)!

Gemice Travel Bottles for Toiletries, Tsa Approved, Travel Size Containers, BPA Free Leak Proof Tubs Refillable Liquid Accessories for Cometic Shampoo and Lotion Soap
  • Leak Proof Travel Bottles: 3-layer leak-proof design prevents liquid leakage or spillage, offers protection to your luggage and cloths. Opal shape allows no liquids stuck in…
  • 3oz TSA Airline Carry on Approved: Set of small bottles, perfect for shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion and more.
  • Food Grade BPA Free Silicone Designed with safety first and convenience a close second. Our silicone travel bottles are made of BPA free food grade silicone, making it safe…

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.

Gillette Venus Extra Smooth On The Go Razor For Women, Handle + 1 Blade Refill + 1 Travel Case, Great Addition To Your Travel Size Toiletries
  • COMPACT & PORTABLE: With a mini handle and travel case for on-the-go use. Easily fits into your purse or travel bag. The mini handle will fit any Venus blade refill (except Simply Venus and Venus Pubic Hair Razor)
  • 5 BLADES FOR A LASTING SMOOTH: 5 blades designed for an extra smooth shave that lasts and also resists rust
  • 30 DAYS OF SMOOTH SHAVES: Each blade refill lasts up to 30 days of smooth shaves (based on twice/week shave)

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!

Wet Brush Detangling Hair Brush Set, Original Detangler & Mini Combo, Purple – Ultra-Soft IntelliFlex Bristles, Glide Through Tangles With Ease For All Hair Types – Pain-Free For Women, Men
  • Original & Mini Detangler: The Wet Brush Original & Mini Detangler help your hair stay strong and healthy! Gently loosens knots, on wet or dry hair, without pulling or snagging. The moment you use it, you’ll feel the difference.
  • Untangle Your World: IntelliFlex bristles glide through tangles with ease, with 45% less breakage and 55% less effort for 100% happier hair.
  • Painless: Flexible bristles minimize pain and protect against split ends and breakage.

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.

Anker Portable Charger, Power Bank, 20,000mAh Battery Pack with PowerIQ Technology and USB-C (Recharging Only) for iPhone 15/15 Plus/15 Pro/15 Pro Max, iPhone 14/13/12 Series, Samsung Galaxy (Black)
  • Ultra-High Cell Capacity: The massive 20,000mAh cell capacity provides more than 5 charges for iPhone XS, almost 5 full charges for Samsung Galaxy S10, more than 4 charges for iPhone 11, and over 2 and a half charges for iPad mini 5.
  • Advanced Charging Technology: Anker’s exclusive PowerIQ and VoltageBoost technology combine to deliver an optimized charge to your devices, while the trickle-charging mode is the best way to charge low-power accessories.
  • Simultaneous Charging: Twin USB ports allow you to charge two devices at the same time. The USB-C port cannot charge other devices.

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.

Bevegekos Travel Accessories Organizer Case, Tripped Gear Carrying Pouch for Electronics & Tech Essentials, Charger & Cords, Cables (Medium, Navy Blue)
  • For Whom: This organizer Pouch is designed for office staffs, biz travelers who need to store & keep their electronics organized.
  • 2 Storage Compartments Design: This travel tech kit comes with 2 compartments, can hold electronic accessories like power bank, external hard drive, SD memory card, cables, earphone & connector adapter, etc
  • Bigger Size: This accessory organizer is an updated version, with dimension: 8.7 x 5.1 x 1.6 inch. Can hold things a little bigger.

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.

Holii Travel Pill Organizer, 8 Compartments Portable Pill Case, Daily Pill Box to Hold Vitamins, Small Pill Container for Pocket Purse Medicine Organizer(Blue)
  • Portable Size: Size of this portable pill box is 4.33×3.54×1.18inch, can easily placed in your wallet, suitcase, backpack, handbag, and your coat pocket, also very convenient to carry on a trip.
  • Large Capacity: The daily pill case has 8 compartments (6+2), 6 small chambers for little pills and 2 large chambers for vitamins. Pills of different sizes are placed in compartments of different sizes.
  • Good Material: The high-quality pill box is made of food-grade PP material with grain fiber, which is very durable and strong, silicone sealing ring makes the inner space of the pill box more closed, and the compartment cover effectively prevents the pills from falling out or mixing up together.

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.

Teskyer Luggage Tags, 3 Pack Premium PU Leather Luggage Tags Privacy Protection Travel Bag Labels Suitcase Tags
  • Teskyer luggage tags made by high quality eco-friendly polyurethane leather, soft and slim, extramely durable, suitable for long-term reuse! Any quality problem, please feel…
  • Each item has 2 pieces both sides printed information card, you can write down two different addresses on the two sides, and we kindly provide another card as a spare
  • There is a round spring snap on the bottom of the strap, you just need to press the spring ring and put in the strap, just one step to attach the luggage tag on your luggage…

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