21 Long Haul Flight Essentials: What to Take In Your Carry On Bag

I fly long haul a lot, so it’s a good job I’m one of those people who loves flying. Still, what you take on board a long haul flight can make all the difference to your flying experience. I’ve created this list over years and now they go into my hand luggage every time I fly for more than a few hours. Here’s my list of long haul flight essentials.

1. Collapsable water bottle

collapsible water bottle

If there’s one thing a long haul flight is guaranteed to do (apart from get you to your destination), it’s dehydrate you and those tiny bottles and cups of water they hand out on flights just don’t cut it. However, ask the cabin crew nicely and they will usually fill up a bottle for you. It’s one less job for them to quench your constant water supply and you’ll make a small difference to the environment by using less disposable plastic.

Buying tip: if you get a collapsible water bottle, you won’t be stuck with a bulky bottle to carry around post-flight. The Nomader, above, is by far the most popular bottle with a sturdy, leak-proof design while being BPA-free, food grade. Another tip – think twice before you take your metal, insulated, screw top bottle with you. They’re great when you go from home to car to office but I find mine too heavy to take around on day trips. I’d rather go for a bottle that is lighter with more capacity. You’ll likely drink water more quickly in a hot country anyway so it usually won’t have a chance to get warm.

2. A pen

Right to rain pen

Sure, maybe you’ll find time and inspiration somewhere between your 2nd and 3rd Bloody Mary to start scratching out your memoir but a pen is a long haul flight essential for a different, far more dull reason. Chances are, if you’re flying long haul, you’re going to a country that’s not home and you’re going to have to fill in immigration and customs forms ready for landing. These are usually handed out in-flight and if you have them completed before you get off the plane, it’s usually quicker to get through the immigration queue. Advice: if you lend your pen to a stranger on your flight, keep a beady eye on them. The chance of getting a pen back on a flight is less than 10%.

Buying tip: You can obviously throw any old pen in your bag but at least make sure it’s got a retractable, leakproof ballpoint. Lids and ink go wild in packed bags. There are some great, low cost technical pens out there that are leakproof, write at any angle and can usually write on damp paper…in case your Bloody Mary ends up on the page. Rite in the Rain and Tombow Airpress Pens are my favourite.

3. Medication (essential & backup)

pill box

Obviously, you’re going to be packing your essential medication but it’s wise to take a few just-in-case items on board too. Most airlines prevent their staff from handing out any pills on a flight so it’s best to pack your own. Dehydration can leave you with a headache, cabin pressure can trigger sinus problems, the lack of proper cleaning can set off dust allergies and strange food might give you stomach issues. Work out what you think you’ll need and pop it in a handy pill carrying case. Tip: if you have essential medication, take two days’ worth of pills in your hand luggage just in case your suitcase goes missing. It will usually come back to you within 24-48 hours. Since I got diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I travel with this larger pill pack. I like it because I can separate two pods for my hand luggage.

Caution: technically, you shouldn’t travel will pills out of their official packaging and, for prescription meds, you should have the prescription attached to the bottle. However, in all my years of carrying my non-prescription pills in a carrying case, I’ve never been questioned or stopped. I use one like this pill case. It’s subtle and fits easy into my handbag.

4. Hand Sanitizer

hand sanitizer

Have you any idea how filthy an airplane is? Want to find out – read this. If you don’t want to read the gory details, take it from me – the answer is disgustingly filthy. And that’s all without mention of the dreaded covid. While you’re unlikely to be allowed onboard a few hours in advance to sanitise the entire plane, you can take your own measures, in the form of hand sanitiser. The rule is simple – put some on your hands every time you’re about to touch something that will go in your mouth and you should be fine.

Buying tips: Pick it up in your local drugstore or supermarket. A small pack will be more than enough for a week or two, and will go into carry-on. If you’re worried, buy a multipack on Amazon.

5. Travel Organizer

pink travel organizer

I’m not a fan of passport covers because the second you need to use your passport, you need to pull it out of its (usually too snug) cover. However, one long haul flight essential for me is a travel organizer like this one to keep all my travel documents and essentials together. Not only that, I find it far easier to pull out the whole organiser than fish around in my bag for that small piece of paper with my hotel booking on it that’s decided to form a strong bond with a squashed banana.

Buying tips: if your handbag is black, don’t buy a black organizer (like I did). You’ll have a near heart attack every time you look inside and think, just for a second, that it’s not there. Also, try to get one with a zipped interior pocket for keeping loose coins.

6. Eye Mask

sleep mask and ear plugs

If you’re on a long haul flight, and you don’t want to set yourself up for jet lag, you’re going to need to get some sleep. And did you know, one of the most significant factors in determining whether you will get jet-lag is exposure to light. Especially, shutting it out while you’re trying to sleep (and your seat neighbour is trying to read under a very bright overhead reading light). Cue: eye mask. Buying tip: Beware the ultra cheap kits – the masks will be so snug they irritate your face. Go for a moulded eye mask.

A tip on sleep and jet-lag: I get horrific jet-lag. I’ve tried everything – fasting, setting myself to the new zone when I get on the plane and keeping hydrated. Let me tell you, no amount of hydration is going to cure jet-lag. But I did find something that works. I bought a sun lamp (a great purchase in sales or on Black Friday). Initially I bought it to deal with winter blues but when I looked at the manual I found it had tips on shifting your body clock for a trip. I tried it on my last few trips, sceptical, but it worked. You do need to use it a few days before your trip and it is portable (though I didn’t take it with me). Result: I bounced into China raring to go, like jet-lag-ness had become my new super travel power.

7. Natural sleeping pills (or meditation app)

Don’t you take sleeping pills, someone once asked me and I had to hide my sense of horror. I don’t want to cause undue worry but, personally, I can’t think of anything more dangerous than drugging yourself on a flight. If there’s an emergency, I want to be alert enough to function. And in a survival scenario, I wouldn’t count on others to help a drugged, semi-conscious person off a plane.

But what if you really, really can’t sleep? Try something herbal like Kalms. You’ll get a calming feeling without knocking yourself out. For something much more natural, I also love the meditation app, Calm, which you can use offline and includes beautiful, soothing sleep stories to help you fall asleep. If you have broader problems with sleep (I used to), I really recommend the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker – it’s life changing. Perhaps pack if for your trip?

8. Ear Plugs

There’s little point pulling your eye mask down if you’re sensitive to noise and can’t for the life of you block out the yelp of children crying or the rowdy bunch of boozers at the back. Pack some ear plugs and you’ll sleep much sounder. Buying tip: I wear ear-plugs as standard even at home and you after a lot of trial and error, Mack’s ear plugs block the most noise in my experience.

9. Ear pressure relieving ear-plugs

Speaking of things you might shove in your ears on a plane, if you suffer from painful ears when you fliy (I do, thanks to an underlying ear and nose problem), I highly recommend picking up some EarPlanes. These ear plugs are specially designed for flights and stop your ears from popping during take off and landing. I can’t tell you the number of times these little pieces of soft silicone have made the difference between a pain free flight and me wanting to rip the cabin door open to relieve the pain when I’ve forgot to pack them. I typically only put them in for take-off and landing, when you’re ears pop most. That means I can still use my headphones for movies and music. They are available for both adults and children. You can buy EarPlanes on Amazon.

10. Travel Pillow

I admit, I’ve never used once used a travel pillow – the reality of carrying it around for the rest of my trip usually puts me off. Plus, on most flights, your headrest has corners that turn in to cradle your head. Failing that, a rolled up jumper works for me. However, I know that I’m in the minority amongst most of my travel friends and I know it’s a popular option for long-haul flights. Buying tip: these travel pillows get the highest star reviews on Amazon. Or consider getting an inflatable pillow which you can pack down after your flight.

11. A small bottle of essential oil

essential oil bottle

Airplanes smell – of course they do, all those humans excreting their breath, body odours and worse, all locked in a compressed, confined space for hours. Toilets, despite the best efforts of the cabin crew, quickly become ‘scented’ and sometimes, even the smell of the plane food can leave me wanting to gag. The answer, I travel with a small (15ml) bottle of Decléor Arommesence Oil and whenever there’s an awful odour, I rub a few drops on the back of my hand, wrist or neck – horrible scent, solved.

Buying tip: if Decléor isn’t in your budget, any essential oil will work. The Body Shop does a good range. Just make sure you love the scent before you buy or you’ll be swapping one gagging experience for another. Also check it’s blended body or face oil, not the pure oil, so you can rub it on your skin. Bonus: the oil good for keeping your skin hydrated and can freshen up your underarms, meaning you can get by with taking deodorant in your carry-on.

12. Lip balm

lip balm tube

Speaking of dehydration, another of my beauty long haul flight essentials is a stick of lip balm. My favourite is the 8-hour lip balm by Elizabeth Arden. Sure, it’s expensive but unlike it’s much cheaper counterparts, it isn’t designed to dry your lips, creating a long-term addiction to lip balm. I can use this product once every few days meaning is lasts much longer.

Buying tip: make sure you buy a stick of lip balm rather than one you apply with your finger. Planes and travel generally will bring your hands into contact with a lot of germs. You don’t want to transfer those straight to your lips. Bonus: The Elizabeth Arden lip balm contains SPF so you can keep your lips sun-safe if you’re off to warm climes. If you go for an alternative brand, make sure it has SPF.

13. Travel hair brush and hairbands

foldable hair brush

There’s something about long haul flights that turns my normally lifeless, straight hair into something to make Medusa jealous. Planes are also the ideal environment for causing hair static. A travel hairbrush and hair band can keep everything in place. I like these round travel compacts because they fold away, they’re tiny and lightweight and include a mirror – you know, just in case you want to check how terrible you look at 3 a.m. (Always a bad idea, in case you were at all unsure).

14. Small make-up bag

make-up bag

Over the course of a long haul flight, you’ll probably spend way too much time ferreting around in your handbag/purse. Keep your bag contents organised and you’ll find stuff much easier – something that’s especially helpful when you’re hovering in the aisle or searching your bag under your seat. I keep all my travel documents, pen and currency in my travel wallet and I have a separate, lightweight bag for my beauty bits like my essential oil, hair brush, pill pack, lip balm and hand sanitizer. Buying Tip: I love the Sea to Summit range of packing cubes and bags. Sure, you can find a prettier beauty-bag than this one but you can’t beat it for being ultra lightweight, which is vital when you’re packing your long haul travel essentials.

15. Headphones

travel headphones

Let’s face it, airline headphones are usually poor quality and if you’re going to endure a long haul flight, where you’re probably going to spend several hours glued to the in-flight entertainment system, it’s best done with your own headphones. Most modern airlines now have the standard jack instead of the weird 2-pin thing. I’m still desperately wishing for the day when I can connect my Apple Airpods via bluetooth.

I usually travel with my old iPhone headphones that have the standard jack. They’re good enough for me, but there are some great noise cancelling headphones on the market if you want to also drown out the snoring noise coming from the inebriated man in seat 12C.

Buying tip: I love my B&O large ‘can’ headphones but they don’t leave the house – not only are they wireless and therefore unlikely to connect to the movies on the plane, they’re too expensive to break or lose and I don’t want to carry them around for my whole trip. In other words, take a small pair. Bonus: By taking your own headphones, you’re again helping save a little bit of plastic going into landfill. Just pick a wired pair for the wi-fi reason I mention above.

16. Entertainment

Amazon Kindle

I have a maximum 1-movie tolerance on a flight, which on a 12-hour trip leaves me with 10 hours to play with. I can consume a few hours sleeping, but realistically, the rest of the time I’m awake and twiddling my thumbs. Usually, the stranger next to me isn’t too keen to play ‘let me draw a moustache on you while you sleep’ so I pack other entertainment because we all know the devil makes work for idle hands.

For me, reading is my favourite way to kill time, making my Kindle one of my long haul flight essentials. It’s less bulky than a paper book, allows me to carry a whole library of books on board and the in-built light means I don’t need to upset my neighbour by shining the light in his eyes.

Everyone’s entertainment needs will differ but everyone will do well to pack something to pass the time. Here are 10 popular things to do on a long flight:

  • Watch movies
  • Listen to music
  • Play games on your tablet or phone
  • Pack a puzzle book
  • Start that novel you keep meaning to write
  • Clean up your emails
  • Sort your photos on your phone
  • Make new friends (if your neighbour is also chatty)
  • Do some ‘big thinking’ – we rarely have the time and space to do it
  • Research your destination (pack a guidebook or ask the cabin crew)

Looking for some books to get you psyched for your trip? Check out my list of the 50 Best Travel Books of All Time

17. Portable battery charger

Anker mini portable battery charger

Yes, it’s the 21st century and most of us travel with more electronic devices than we do changes of underwear. However, not all airlines have caught up and you won’t always find a USB charging port at your seat. Or, at all. So, if you think you’re going to run out of juice on your essential travel gadget, make sure you put a portable charger in your carry-on. I love the Anker brand – they’re usually lightweight and reliable. Packing tip: don’t forget to pack the associated cable for charging your device. Also, power banks take an age to fully charge so do this a couple of days before you fly.

18. Pair of cozy socks

fluffy sock pack

You don’t want to spent a long haul flight with your boots/trainers/high-heels on; trust me. But you also don’t want to have to grapple under the seat every time you want to walk up and down the aisle. The solution: a cheap pair of comfortable cozy socks like these ones. There’s a reason airlines used to include a pair in the amenities kit back in the day. An extra pair of socks will keep your feet warm and give some sense of protection against the filth of the floor. Tip: fluffy socks or not, I’d still recommend popping your shoes on to use the bathroom. Prefer slip on shoes? I love my Butterfly Twist ballerina shoes. The slip on easy and fold down into their travel pouch.

Do you need to pack a change of clothes in case your case goes missing? In all my travels I’ve never packed as much as a change of underwear ‘on the off chance’ my bag might go missing. Why? Mainly because the chances of your bag going missing are slim – less than 1% – so that’s a lot of extra bulk for a small risk. Also: shops. Most places have them so you’re going to be able to restock easily. The better thing to do is buy travel insurance.

19. Compression socks

Need compression socks? There’s a huge market for compression socks because, well, DVT is a scary idea. However, some people are more at risk than others and you should meet with your doctor before you fly if you think you might be at risk. Regardless, compression socks do decrease your chance of DVT. You can find more information about DVT, flights and compression socks here. You can pick up a cheap pair of compression socks on Amazon.

20. Travel toothbrush and toothpaste

travel toothbrush

Another item that used to be given out for free by airlines for good reason – if you’re facing a long flight with a stint of sleep in between, you’re probably going to want to brush your teeth. You can take a standard toothbrush on board but I haven’t yet found a cover that keeps the toothbrush head covered enough that it doesn’t leave gunk inside my beauty bag. Instead, I travel with a slim sonic toothbrush, which keeps my bag (and teeth!) clean, is much smaller than my regular electric toothbrush and is powered by a battery that lasts my whole trip.

21. Neck Gaiter or scarf

neck gaiter

This is a tip I got from a flight attendant. After far too many doses of flight flu, I now pack a neck gaiter like this one. They’re brilliant for travel anyway – can double as a hair bandana, hair band, sun protector, sweat absorber and neck warmer. For flights, pull it over your nose and you’ll reap two benefits: filter out some of the coughs and sneezes shared by others, and keep your nasal passage warm. Wait, what? This might seem like an odd thing to do but when our noses get cold, the common cold thrives. Given airlines keep long haul flights frigid (to stop people from passing out, apparently), it’s good to pack your own toasty face protector.

Buying tip: some neck gaiters are designed for snow and are fleecy. Pick one that works for your destination or go for a thin version that packs small. What about face masks? Most airlines no longer require medical masks. Some people still feel more comfortable wearing one. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Want the quick option? You can find this list of all these products on my my Indiana Jo Amazon Store. 

Want this in a check list? You can find my Printable Packing List here.

Affiliate Links: I receive a small commission from Amazon sales, at no extra cost to you.

So, that’s my list of long haul flight essentials and what to take on board. Did I miss anything? What are your long haul travel essentials? Let me know in the comments below. 

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These 15 long haul flight essentials can make the difference between a comfortable long haul flight and hours of discomfort and frustration mid-air.

27 thoughts on “21 Long Haul Flight Essentials: What to Take In Your Carry On Bag”

  1. Given that carry on cabin luggage weight is usually restricted to only a few kgs, as much as I find these tips great, I’m not sure all the items would fit in a handbag? With food, snacks, socks, underwear, travel chargers and cables, kindle, hair brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, cleansing wipes, soft shoes, hand cleanser, essential oil, decoleur cream or similar, water bottle, sleep kit, pill box, shawl or neck gaitor, ear plugs, phone, light box, and probably a few more things I’ve missed, that’s one heck of a big handbag I’d need and would be pretty weighty.

    • Hi Maggie, I usually have a handbag (essential) and a small backpack. Most airlines going long haul will usually let you take a surprisingly large amount on board and definitely a handbag/backpack. If you want a light version, a small fold up shopper will fit the extras like cables but isn’t so secure while you’re having a nap. A fold up backpack is a good alternative. Check out my ultimate packing list for a recommendation.

  2. Hi Jo
    Been reading all these messages, I have found this very useful, I am going to Grenada next month on my own which I am finding daunting as I haven’t been abroad alone before.
    Have you anymore tips?

    • Hi Sharon, I travelled to Grenada alone – it’s a great city and very friendly. I wrote a post that’s been very popular for solo travellers. While you may not feel lonely on your travels, I have lots of tips on the site for solo travel.

  3. Great list! I always take my kindle with me on long journeys, reading is one of my favourite ways to pass time! I would also recommend bringing a range of snacks, sometimes the meals they serve onboard either don’t cut it or taste horrible! Having food of your own means you can guarantee you won’t too hungry before landing!

    • Snacks! You’re absolutely right. I suppose it’s just so routine to me to have half of my bag made up of food that I assumed this was normal for everybody ;p

  4. I always take spare undies. I have had my checked luggage part company with me three times now……
    I now also take a photo of my checked luggage on my phone. It makes communicating with the airport officials about what exactly is missing much simpler.
    And I wear a shawl. Acts as a blanket and you can wrap it around your head if your neighbour is using their light, or just rather too chatty……..


    • I’ve had the spare undies chat with many travellers. So far I’ve been lucky but if I had your experience, I’d only take carry on ;p Smart tip on the luggage photo and shawl.

      • I have had the ‘hand luggage only’ debate so many times! The trouble is, people who recommend this say they fly long haul and maybe they do, but I fly twice a year and it is 4 flights each time, back to back. Half way round the world. That is 4 sets of landings and takeoffs…..and of course 4 sets of security! If I have everything in hand luggage all that security is a nightmare. To say nothing of running through airports trying to get to the right terminal and gate dragging the wretched luggage with you.

        Now I check everything I can and, as I never fly through America, I can check it right through to my destination (New Zealand to Scandinavia ). I only carry a handbag, with only what I absolutely need. I carry 2nd hand disposable books, and discard them as I go.
        I also wear a very very small waist pack that takes my phone, credit card and passport. I once had a flight with a ‘brace brace brace’ hydrolic failure landing at Bangkok. All was good and we were alowed to deplane normally, but I had to consider being without anything (including no money or passport) in Bangkok, as all my stuff was in my handbag! So now I wear the waist pack under my clothes at all times. Phone, passport and credit card will see me through.

  5. Very useful tips! Carrying a Kindle has made taking long-haul flights so much more enjoyable. I also won’t get on a plane without an eye mask. Love my Airplane Mode mask which I got from Amazon! –

  6. My bag always has wet wipes and no I’m not a mother of toddlers anymore. Freshen your face and hands when feeling jaded Also a pack of mints. I didn’t think of essential oil but lovely idea. I like the idea of lavender for sleeping which i can never do on planes, but nap all time at home (makes no sense) and maybe peppermint or eucalyptus for waking up Is fluid allowed ?

    • Thanks for the wet wipes tip! Fluid is allowed up to 100ml but you won’t need that much – most bottles are under 5ml.

      • Please please don’t encourage use of scented products on planes! I use oils sparingly in my daily life, but with the proximity and air flow in a plane, the scents of varying passengers add up, don’t dissipate quickly, and oils are very strong\potent and destroy people with allergies, can trigger headaches and aggravate asthma. For your fellow seat mates, they now smell the bathroom AND the oils AND the feet of the shoeless AND the curries, and can’t escape.

        • Hi Vlad, it’s really difficult to account for everybody’s sensitivities. I only ever use oil sparingly and I agree that the other sense on the plane in a confined space can be overwhelming which is why I do add a dab of oil to myself. It’s nothing excessive. I know people who have asthma, I personally suffer from migraines, and I’ve never had any complaints with the amount of oil I use.

          • Saying you know people with astma is easy, experiencing how an astma attack feels when someone dabs oil on their hand is another thing. I get an asthma attack when someone sprays deodorant in another room… with 2 Doors inbetween closed. What is minor for you can be huge annoyance or even dangerous for another person. It is difficult to account for everybody sensitivities but you are flying in a closed box… you wouldn’t want to be sitting next to me with oil lol

          • That sounds horrible and I’m sorry that you have such a bad experience with scents on a plane. Has your doctor suggested any solutions? I ask because there are definitely people spraying deodorants, perfumes and bathroom deodorisers on every flight. They even sell these products on board. Hope you’re able to find a solution.

  7. Hi,

    I am “Buttock challenged”. Rather thin or non existent ones as my friends tease me.

    I travel frequently on. 14-16 hr flights from Toronto – Delhi. By 3-4 hours, they start hurting. And then there is frequent just shifting weight from right to left and so on..Any practical suggestions?

    Have already tried car seat cushions. No avail.

    • Hi Shashank, my dad has the same trouble and sitting next to him on a flight is like sitting next to a two year old who’s eaten three bags of Haribos (he can’t keep still). I’d definitely experiment with padding on your seat whether it’s a cushion, rolled up jumper or an inflatable travel pillow. The only thing I can equate to this is when I sit to meditate for long periods of time (though not 14 hours!). Then, I find sitting with my hips higher than the rest of my legs helps a little. So, perhaps try putting the padding just under your bottom. The other things my dad does are: stand frequently, drink beer and try to sleep. It might also be worth mentioning it to the cabin crew. I’m sure you’re not the first person to suffer this and they might have smart solution. In which case, can you come back and let my dad know!

    • I have this also! it may be pressure on your tail bone that causes all sorts of pains around the hips. I got one of these and notices an immediate difference.

      [Memory foam seat cushion for back, sciatica and tailbone pain]


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