What to Bring in Your Carry-On Bag

What to Bring in Your Carry-On BagI was 19 years old when I took my first airplane flight. Up until that point, I thought air travel was cool, sophisticated, and even luxurious. 11 years and dozens upon dozens of flights later, I’m whistling a different tune.

I hate flying.

But with far-flung family and business partners all over the country, it’s become a necessary evil in my life. Over the years, I’ve picked up some tricks that make flying a bit more enjoyable. One thing I’ve learned is how important your carry-on bag is. It’s a totable cache of “survival” supplies.

Below are some items I recommend packing in you carry-on bag that can help make the experience a bit more bearable.


Saddleback Briefcase 

Art of Manliness Saddleback Bag

First, you’re going to need a carry-on bag to hold all your carry-on items. My Saddleback Briefcase is what I pack when flying. It’s a heavy beast, but it offers plenty of room to store all your essentials. Plus, I always get compliments on it from the TSA agents when I’m going through security.



You need something to pass the time during that “no electronic devices” phase of takeoff and landing. Wired and Esquire are often my go-to inflight magazines. They’re fun, easy reads. If all else fails, you can always flip through the SkyMall catalog during that time and fantasize about the day when you finally own a Bigfoot garden statue and an official Harry Potter magic wand.


Toshiba Satellite U925T/U920T Ultrabook™

Toshiba Satellite Ultrabook


It’s a laptop. It’s a tablet. No, it’s both! This ultrabook combines the best of both the laptop and tablet worlds. One could say it’s the Hannah Montana of personal computing devices. Use laptop mode when you need to put the finishing touches on a business presentation before you land in DFW; use the tablet mode when you have time to leisurely read the latest pop-business psychology book you downloaded using the Kindle app.




I know some people are really picky about the type of headphones they use. I’m not one of them. If they play decent sound without distracting others, I’m satisfied. That’s why I just end up using the headphones that came with my iPhone.


Beef Jerky

Beef Jerky


Sadly, airlines have been getting stingier and stingier with their in-air snacks. Some are even making you pay for a small bag of Chex-Mix. Because a dozen honey roasted peanuts isn’t enough to sustain my ferocious man appetite and because I want to avoid the eye-gouging prices at the airport, I always bring my own snacks from home.


Meal replacement bars are popular with lots of folks, but I prefer something a bit more savory, like beef jerky. It’s loaded with belly-filling and muscle-building protein and leaves no mess. My jerky of choice? Field Trip Beef Jerky. All-natural and tasty.



Hand Sanitizer

Hand Sanitizer

Airplanes are flying canisters of germs. There are so many chances to catch something while flying. First, your fellow passengers are a threat. There are usually one or two folks on your flight who are coughing and sneezing. Second, you have to worry about the people that sat in your seat in previous flights. There’s a good chance some runny-nosed toddler wiped his nose with his hands and then rubbed them on the armrest your hand is resting on. Yeesh.


To avoid getting sick while flying I try to do two things. First, I don’t touch my face as much as possible. That’s how germs typically spread – putting your grubbing hands near your facial orifices (who else was scared straight by the movie Contagion?). Second, I slather my hands with hand sanitizer regularly. Yes, it is a bit OCD, but after a string of sick periods after flying, I’m doing all I can to prevent another one. And so far, it’s worked.


Empty Water Bottle

Water Bottle


Bring an empty bottle of water from home. Fill it up at the water fountain after you pass security. You just saved yourself $3 and have something to quench thirst after your little plastic cup of Diet Coke is empty. You’re welcome.


Dopp Kit

Dopp Kit

My wife and I once had our checked bags sent to the wrong destination. When we arrived to our correct destination, we didn’t have anything except for the clothes on our back — no toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, brushes, deodorants, etc. While we were able to acquire our needed toiletries at the hotel shop, it was an expense that could have been avoided by simply packing our respective dopp kit and make-up bag in our carry-on bags.


Change of Underwear


Always pack a change of underwear even if you have checked bags. In case your bags get lost, you’ll at least be able to put on some clean drawers. Makes a world of difference.


Founded in January 2008, The Art of Manliness is a blog focused on reviving the lost art of manliness. With over 2 million monthly page views, The Art of Manliness represents a new kind of magazine for men, one that focuses on helping men become better citizens, fathers, husbands, friends, and simply all around better men. Husband and wife team, Brett and Kate McKay head up the blog. They live in Tulsa, OK.


Brett McKay / The Art of Manliness
Brett McKay
Founded in January 2008, The Art of Manliness is a blog focused on reviving the lost art of manliness. With over 7 million monthly page views, The Art of Manliness represents a new kind of magazine for men, one that focuses on helping men become better citizens, fathers, husbands, friends, and simply all around better men. Husband and wife team, Brett and Kate McKay head up the blog. They live in Tulsa, OK.
Read More From Brett McKay
  • Chris

    That’s a nifty looking dopp kit. Where can I get one?

  • http://twitter.com/lordbard lordbard

    @ac8c3d47dbfa5669fe579c41d27b0efc:disqus That looks like the Col Littleton dopp kit

  • Victor

    Nice article, very timely as I have a Philly to SF flight in 2 weeks. Although I think AoM mentions Saddleback Leather a bit too much. It’s on almost every gift giving list on the site. Seems like paid advertising.

  • Jux2p0ze

    You’re all wusses…I traveled Taiwan and Spain for a week each with Saddleback briefcase and satchel. Honestly, they’re heavy, but earn you mucho style points everywhere I go. Check out the insaniacs that do ultra-light traveling.

  • Don

    I’m one of the picky headphone guys. When I remember to pack it, the sound-reducing set of headphones I use at work also helps a lot with distracting noises and loud nearby conversations, leaving you focus better on your reading or music.

  • Chris

    @lordbard Thanks!

  • KellyJ

    Looks like you’ve covered everything needed in a typical carryon:
    Your computer (because those baggage handlers/TSA weenies WILL steal your laptop from checked baggage).
    Something to read. I prefer a decent book that can last several hours.
    Food. I also bring a couple of extra McDs hamburgers in case a couple of whiny kids are on the plane. Amazing how fast they quiet down and enjoy their burger. About half the time a comped drink also shows up on your tray by a relieved stewardess.
    Spare skivies and shaving kit. Always assume your checked luggage (minus the computer) is heading in the opposite direction.
    Nice trick on the water bottle…I’ll have to remember that one.
    Vitamin C or the airline vitamin concoction. Powerup before flight.

  • B

    Good call on the water bottle and beef jerky! I’ll definitely have to remember those!

  • Davefromdownundah

    I take a mechanical pencil and a little notebook with me.

    Whenever I’m traveling and see something I like or want in one of those shops, I write it down. That way, when I get home, I can look it up, find out how much it is and save a ton of cash. Not to mention that you’ll also save space in your luggage. The shops that you can visit in airports? Their stuff is so overpriced, you’d be able to buy 3 of that widget with how much they charge AND probably for a cheaper brand too. Captive audience much?

  • Trollan

    Something else to consider is a flashlight. Flashlights are not restricted by the TSA, and are very useful as a defense item in a pinch, especially small handheld high-output LEDs like Surefire E2D Defender. They can temporarily blind a bad guy, and the crenelated bezel is an effective striking implement.

    Of course, they are also useful for seeing things in the dark :P

  • Daniel

    I would also add the following:
    - travel medicine pack (aspirin, advil, tums, pepto, paracetamol, nose spray, etc.); you never know when you need it
    - international plug converter for all your electronic gadgets
    - while i agree with the savory snacks, I’d also add mixed nuts (unsalted) to the jerky
    - gum
    - not just spare underwear, but also spare pair of socks
    - tissues

  • geauxldrush

    A light, usually cotton, scarf can come in handy and definitely doesn’t take up much space. I also like to keep any of my valuables with me.

  • funkentelechy

    Not sure about about an extra set of drawers…sounds like the perfect opportunity to test your “commando” skills :)

  • KH

    Great list, I especially like the concept of carrying a small water bottle and I typically tote hand sanitizing spray instead of gel (because when I get to the hotel I’m going to want to watch TV but won’t want to touch the grimy remote).

    Other essentials for a great travel day:
    - Bose QC 15 headphones. You only *think* your current headphones are sufficient. Bose will transport you out of a noisy plane and into your own cushy world. Plus, they are typically only used by frequent travelers so flight attendants seem kinder to those who wear them (true story).
    - Rented movies on your tablet. You want to see a movie but don’t ever have time. Now’s the time! Download your rental pre-flight, pop on those noise canceling headphones, enjoy!

    - Large scarf folded and rolled into carry-on. It comes in handy as a blanket on frigid flights w/o the risk of bed bugs from airline blankets. Its true save-the-day properties are apparent when you have to sleep in an airport or get on the ground with a kid.
    - Single-use eye drops and hand cream. Flights are ridiculously drying. A couple eye-drops can greatly reduce irritation and stave off the infamous “red-eye.”
    - A small mirror, bonus points if it has an interesting design on the back. It will come in handy when you use those eye drops but its true powers are revealed when you hand it to the crying child next to you. Funny face game just met its match.

    - Lunch. A basic sandwich and a handful of nuts eaten during your regular mealtime can greatly reduce GI issues that can accompany traveling. Stop at a sandwich shop on your way to the airport, become the envy of your fellow travelers during beverage service.
    - I too carry a small flashlight. It is an easy way to be a hero when an earring or beloved toy go missing on a plane, but is a real God-send when your resort loses power or your flight is the last to arrive and the trek to the rental lot is something best done in the light.
    - Bonus points: Neck pillow. This seems ridiculous, sure. But the moment you prop your magazine or iPad on your lap using a neck pillow, you realize why so many people are willing to look ridiculous toting them through the airport. Can hold up that magazine just fine? The pillow can also serve as a buffer if you are seated next to anyone who gets weird about the shared armrest and yes, you can actually use it as a pillow.

  • Furr B.

    Any prescription medications you just cannot be without should be in your carry-on. For people on certain kinds of medications, because it can be quite dangerous to abruptly stop taking them – and can you imagine the fun of trying to get an emergency supply in a strange city?

  • cowpoke

    A bandana is a cheap and handy item. It can be used as a sleep mask to block out the light, a wash cloth and has a dozen other uses. A few pairs of disposable foam ear plugs are great too, I’ve made instant friends with the flight crew by offering them a pair when they’ve helped me out.

  • ruefrak

    The toothbrush/underwear is important. If you’re checking a bag, you need to go in with the assumption that your bag will get lost. So to that I would add that if you’re traveling somewhere as a beach destination (Hawaii, the Bahamas, etc.) I would suggest also packing your swimsuit in your carry on. I remember there was nothing worse than my first day in the Bahamas where my luggage was misdirected. All my friends had their swimsuits in their carry on except for me. So I got to sit on the side lines and watch everyone else have a good time.

  • Hotrod56425

    I simply carry a bag big enough to be a carry on, with most of the stuff listed, and enough clothes for a week of vacation. I never check a bag.

  • Sean

    Good list. The dopp kit and underwear are especially sanity savers.

    I add a clean T shirt and socks to wear the next day if I’m delayed overnight.

    I’ve gone to using an iPad mini as my flying electronic companion, mostly because it can be charged with a regular USB charger and has a really long battery life. I also carry a charger and cable for it and a 6000mAh battery pack that will recharge it if I can’t find an outlet. A 6 foot extension cord allows you to sit away from whatever outlet you can find in the airport and also to share the outlet with a traveling companion or ask a stranger to share with you. The same charger and battery pack will charge my phone.

    Re: headphones – noise canceling headphones are a godsend. They filter out 80% of the jet or airport noise and let you turn your music or movie volume down to a reasonable level. For really long flights I couldn’t imagine going without them. My favorite is the Jabra C820s, which is less than half the price of the Bose headphones, 99% as effective, and they are comfortable and fold fairly flat.

    I always carry a small flashlight and a writing instrument, usually a cheap ballpoint and a Sharpie.

    TSA compliant multitools are now available. I have one from Leatherman. It can be very nice to have a pair of small scissors or bottle opener or tiny screwdriver or tweezers available.

    I use sanitizing handwipes instead of the gel. I find them to be more effective in actually cleaning my hands rather than just adding goo.

    I carry an inflatable neck pillow because airline seats are impossible to sleep in without neck support. Because it’s inflatable it folds up tiny for packing and is adjustable.

  • http://twitter.com/Psychobobicus Psychobobicus

    I’m surprised no one mentioned it yet, but I’ve found that stuffing the contents of my pockets and my wristwatch into my carry-on right before the TSA check saves a lot of time. I never set off the alarm now because I always make sure I don’t have anything in my pockets. As soon as I get through the line I can re-populate my pockets at my leisure.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-TravelChocolate/100000776485600 John TravelChocolate

      Great tip – I do that all the time.

  • JJ

    Not sure if TSA rules have changed, but the last I checked the rule with water bottles is it’s the container volume that matters, not whether it’s empty. So even if it’s over 3 fl. oz., empty or not, you could end up having to toss a nice personal water bottle.

    • Matt

      This comment was quite a while ago, but I figured I’d respond anyway. You are 100% allowed to bring any empty containers through security regardless of volume. It’s just the liquid they are worried about.

  • @1077idaho

    My shaving kit has become a large freezer bag. Rather than having to empty liquids out of a dopp kit to fly, it all goes in one big bag for security. Plus, I can see what’s in there, like ear plugs, antacids, dental floss, athletic tape, etc.

    For a water bottle, I take an empty Gatorade bottle. If the TSA sez no, toss it. If you lose it traveling, no biggie, buy another.

    There’s a neat little tool called the Shard, made by Gerber. No blade, so TSA ok, but a bottle opener, pry bar, wire stripper, two screwdrivers, in a tool that’ll fit on a keyring.
    I also buy paperbacks at the dollar shelf at the local used bookstore, then leave them wherever I finish them on my trip. Less to carry home, and you can give them to someone else, or exchange them if your hotel has a spot for that.

  • http://twitter.com/Otto_ki Otto_ki

    The dopp kit is awesome

  • El Tham

    Underwear, socks,T-shirts,etc need to be washed en route. A hassle, so I pack old worn items which can be disposed of, appropriately. One can also buy disposal men’s and women’s briefs inexpensively.

    Baby wipes can do multiple tasks. Mouth mask(s) can be a really life-saver what with the recycled air.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wjfogle3 William Fogle

    I always carry a manicure kit. Finger nail file, nail clippers, tweezers. Also a small flashlight. Inside a small flashlight you have batteries. Phone card for making calls, emergency and relatives numbers and PLENTY OF CASH. Iodine for water purification, especially if you are traveling out of the country. Prior to 9/11 I always carried my 45 auto pistol. If I had been on a 9/11 plane before the rules changed there would have been several dead hijackers and one safe plane. Also wear steel toed shoes if possible. Maybe I worry to much but I have never been caught in a situation where I was not prepared, even when a couple of armed guys tried to rob me in Detroit. I agree with dried food.

    • http://twitter.com/soaked2thebone Dianne

      Not even the pilot was allowed to carry a gun and ammo onto the plane prior to

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Smith/100000100734966 Richard Smith

    You left out rescue flares and a rifle and ammo to hunt food with after the plane crashes somewhere in the wilderness.

  • aiden

    i would suggest waiting untill on the plain to fill up your bottle. lots of air lines do not allow water even after security and will confescate any water. i can not tell you haw many times ive had to glug down 2 litres in 2 minutes because they wanted to take my bottle away. ask for some water once on the plane or even use water from the tap which can be cleaner than the water youve filled from a fountain in the terminal.