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I’ve received multiple emails from readers asking what’s in my carry-on bag so I thought it would be interesting to actually open up all of the pockets and find out exactly what’s inside. I do this every few months to clean out receipts, old hotel key cards, medicine, snacks and boarding passes … so it’s a good excuse to do it again. What inside my carry-on bag is far more important to me than anything that’s in my checked luggage so here’s what I’ve got. RELATED: Stop overpacking: 10 things you don’t need to pack

1. Briggs & Riley roller bag and Roots duffel bag
First of all, regardless of whether I go away for a day or two months, I always travel with my Briggs & Riley roller bag. I’ve had it for years and I love it because it fits under every airline seat (except some American Airlines planes that have those ridiculously huge entertainment boxes installed on the floor under most aisle seats). It has a lot of pockets, it’s durable and has a lifetime warranty. Being durable is key for me because I’m rough on it as I pack it to the rim and usually have a heavy bag on top of it. I’m also always in a hurry so it’s getting a lot of wear and tear. FYI: To fasten my other carry-on bag (a Roots duffel bag like this one) to my roller bag, I use a LugBuddy. They don’t make them anymore but here’s something similar.

2. Laptop and privacy shield
I like to be productive when I’m flying so I always have my laptop with me. I just bought a new 14 inch Lenovo Yoga 9, which has been great. What surprises me is that most travelers – especially business travelers – don’t use a privacy shield. It’s shocking the information I’ve read on some of my surrounding seatmates’ laptops, including a script a TV star was reading. You can also get a privacy shield for your phone, which I should probably get for my iPhone 14 Pro. I also have a mouse pad in my bag to use when there are glass tables in the hotel room.

3. Tech case organizer and gadgets
I have so many tech gadgets that in order to find anything, I need to have a tech organizer like this one from Bagsmart. Inside them all is a hot mess. I have an external hard drive to find all my photos in case I need one for a story I’m writing. I have extra charging cables for my phone and watch, there are plug adapters, international adapters, USB car charger, a Belkin USB-C Multimedia Hub, so I can connect multiple devices to my laptop, which only has one USB port. I have a headset to do interviews. I also have a clip-on light for interviews and AAA batteries.

4. Travel journal
I used to be afraid to fly and one of the ways I was able to take my mind off being on a plane was either reading a newspaper or writing in a journal. I started buying these small leather journals two decades ago and every flight, you will see me recording all the details in it. I record my destination, the date, airline, aircraft type, flight number, seat number, departure time, pushback from the gate, takeoff time, flight time, weather … I also record the purpose of my trip, where I stayed, including hotel room number, restaurants, transportation, purchases and weather.

5. Hat and socks
Planes are usually really cold so I always keep an extra pair of socks and a winter hat – even in the summer – just in case I get stuck next to an exit row window which can be freezing.

6. Mini portable fan
On the flip side, when I’m going somewhere warm, I keep a portable fan in my bag. Right now, I have a neck fan so I can be hands free. It looks like a pair of headphones but it’s really keeping me cool. learned about it last summer while walking the scorching hot streets of Rome and saw a number of tourists with them. My wife and kids prefer this handheld fan, which is great too.

7. Medical kit and health gadgets
I always have a large Ziploc bag packed with almost everything you would need in case you get sick, like disinfectant wipes (to wipe down airplane seats and hotel room high-touch points), antibiotics, Tylenol, Band-Aids, anti-diarrhea pills, Tums, cough drops (I always keep a pack of the Italian brand Honees on hand), a thermometer, pulse oximeter, allergy pills, an epi-pen, asthma inhaler, a peak flow meter, Neosporin, SPF lip balm, Vaseline,  nose drops, eyedrops, the Bug Bite Thing and a couple KN95 masks (I carried these well before the pandemic).

8. Sleep aids
I’ve never taken any sleeping meds including melatonin, so you won’t find them in my bag. However, I do have plenty of earplugs and this soft and comfy eye mask, which are both key when trying to sleep on a plane. I also have AirPods and wired EarPods to listen to music.

9. Reusable water bottle and snacks
I always carry an empty reusable water bottle that I fill up post security and I have a bag full of snacks. Usually granola bars, dried fruit, crackers and Trader Joe’s Teriyaki turkey jerky (but I don’t open it on a plane unless I’m desperate because it smells so strong).

10. Compact extra bag
I keep a compact bag that folds up into the size of a mini packet of tissues (which I also carry) for going to the grocery store and/or that I can turn into an extra carry-on if I’m told my bag is too heavy (some international airlines weigh them).

11. Portable luggage scale
Speaking of weight, I carry a portable luggage scale too, to weigh my wife’s checked luggage, especially when we’re flying an airline other than American Airlines (AA) because she tends to pack the bags over 50 pounds. I have elite status on AA so I get up to 70 pounds per checked bag and Natalie fortunately never exceeds that weight limit.

12. Gaffer tape and other tools
I never travel without gaffer tape because it can fix pretty much anything. It’s like duct tape but doesn’t leave the residue behind. I often use it to cover annoying lights (see photo above). I also have a mini tape measure to measure seats for my stories and a mini screwdriver to fix things – especially for my kids. Speaking of my kids, I just found a couple of rubber corner protectors, which I don’t think I need any more since my kids are getting older but they’re great for using on sharp tables in hotel rooms.

13. Extra pair of glasses
Once I turned 45, my eyesight began to deteriorate so I now wear inexpensive reading glasses that I get on Amazon. I have multiple pairs in my bag, just in case I lose them, they break or scratch. I also have an extra pair of sunglasses.

14. Pens
Many airlines have stopped offering pens and when you have to fill out immigration forms, it’s nice to have your own instead of asking to borrow one from your seatmate, which mine always seem to hit me up for.

15. Door stopper
I recently started carrying a doorstopper as an extra layer of security in hotels. I have written multiple stories about how easy it is for thieves to break into a hotel room, even with the safety latch on. Watch this video for more about that and other safety tips from a former CIA agent and FBI officer.

16. Apple AirTags
I think everyone knows the importance of AirTags or any tracking device. There have been countless stories about how travelers have found their bags when they’ve been stolen including last week when a traveler to L.A. found her bag at a homeless encampment. I use my AirTags in case my checked-luggage gets stolen and to see if it’s loaded on the plane and when it’s offloaded so I don’t have to rush to the carrousel, only to be standing around with a bunch of passengers.

17. Back up credit cards and cash  
I don’t carry a lot of cash but I do have petty cash in multiple currencies. My credit cards all have no foreign exchange fees and I get alerts when they are used.

18. Important documents
Not that the other things listed aren’t important but the most important thing in my bag when I’m traveling internationally is my passport, NEXUS card (I use it to enter Canada and it gives me Global Entry and TSA PreCheck), my frequent flier cards, although I rarely use them since most are digital, and travel insurance cards in case, God forbid, something happens.

So there you have it. This is pretty much everything in my bag. I’m sure I missed some stuff and I do add and subtract things depending on where I’m going – especially on a cruise. Here’s what I pack for a cruise.


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2 Comments On "What's inside my carry-on bag? The essential items I never travel without"
  1. scott|

    Do you carry a neck pillow and if so, which one?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Hi Scott,

      I rarely use one because I try to avoid redeyes and I’ve been fortunate enough to get upgraded on int’l flights. However, I do have this one ( at home for the long trips in coach and it’s widely regarded as the best.

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