I’m soon to start packing for my flight to Vancouver and then onwards to Denver and remembered one question I get asked a lot on Instagram – what do I pack? What are my hand luggage essentials, particularly for long-haul flights? As a regular traveller (33 flights so far in 2018 – madness!), packing my hand luggage has become second nature to me. Half the time I don’t even bother to unpack it when I’m home and instead keep most of my travel essentials with me anyway – hey, you never know!
So, without further ado, here are my hand luggage essentials for long-haul flights:
A good suitcase
My first hand luggage essential is the luggage itself – I prefer a wheeled suitcase than a bag since I have back problems and it makes getting around much, much easier. I have been gifted suitcases by companies in the past and they’ve been good, but I just haven’t fallen in love. Until, that is, Away sent me one of their limited edition Kode with Klossy carry-on suitcases. While this collaboration edition is no longer available, their range of nine gorgeous colours is available for purchase.
My favourite thing about my Away suitcase is the wheels – this might sound odd but the wheels are so good! I’ve found that a lot of suitcases have quite small wheels that break easily or don’t roll so well (especially after a while) but I’ve been using my Away suitcase pretty much constantly for the last five months and the wheels are just as good as the day it arrived. Plus you can fit a deceiving amount of things in the bag – perfect for someone like me who hates to actually travel with checked baggage!
The small bag
Most airlines allow both a suitcase and a small personal item as well (such as a handbag or laptop bag). My bag of choice is the Christie camera bag (when I’m not taking my laptop) or the Camille camera bag (when I am taking my laptop) from GATTA Bag. These stylish camera bags don’t look like camera bags at all – my favourite! I’ve found most camera bags bulky and pretty ugly in all honesty (plus they tend to imply that you have an expensive camera which is not always the best signal to give out, particularly in cities that have problems with pickpockets) so I love the stylish pieces from GATTA.
PS: Get a $20 discount with the code ‘Penelope20’ on your first order!
I also love Jackie’s round-up of the best bags for travelling – she includes the wonderful GATTA Bag too!
The essential essentials
Before we get any further, I should probably remind you of the ‘essential’ essentials. Obviously, don’t forget:
- Passport (or ID card, depending on where you are from/where you’re travelling to)
- Boarding pass (I recommend printing it out, even if you have a mobile boarding pass)
- Visa/visa waiver as needed (and a print out just in case – for example, an ESTA if you’re going to the USA)
- Details of your flights, transportation and accommodation (I usually have these on my phone and written down/printed out as well – don’t forget to have the details in the local language as well!)
As a travel blogger and photographer, it’s pretty darned important that I have a camera on me. I actually recently upgrade my camera and I’m loving my new purchase.
Want to check out what the photos look like? Every single photo on my Cotswolds road trip post was taken with my Sony a6300!
Camera and lens
I currently own the Sony a6300 with the kit lens (16-50mm) and am loving it. It’s small enough and light enough to not be a hassle but the camera is excellent in low light (which was my main issue with my last camera) and also the burst mode is excellent to get that perfect twirling shot in an instagrammable dress (total priorities, duh).
I am considering upgrading to a different lens in a few months but for anyone shooting predominantly for Instagram then the kit lens is more than enough! My only complaint is that at the wider end (16mm) you get quite a bit of distortion and the largest aperture (lowest f-stop) is only 3.5, so I am definitely considering purchasing a wide angle prime lens (e.g. the 35mm f1.8 lens) at some point to complement my current kit.
While I use two tripods, I usually only travel with one unless I’m pretty sure I’ll need my full-size tripod. Why? Because it’s heavy. I have absolutely no other reason aside from I don’t want to deal with the weight (plus if you’re travelling on an airline that weighs your hand luggage, it might make it a bit too heavy).
I usually only pack my Manfrotto BeFree tripod when I’m taking hold luggage or when I am travelling without needing to fly (and therefore no weight restrictions). Although the BeFree tripod only weighs in at 1.4kg (3lbs), this tends to tip me over most airlines restrictions because I manage to pack a ridiculous amount of things in a small space. #sorrynotsorry
My hand luggage essential tripod is my Joby GorillaPod – it’s tiny, lightweight and perfect for when you need to stabilise your camera or use it on self-timer (such as when I’m travelling alone). I use the medium sized GorillaPod (1K) as I use my mirrorless camera on it (which weighs just under 500g). The best thing about the GorillaPod is the flexible legs – you can wrap it around railings/trees/people (okay, maybe not people… but you could probably try?) or stand it up as normal. It’s great for when you’re on a mountain in Norway and need to balance it on a bunch of large rocks or at a restaurant in the Seychelles and want to wrap it around the railing to capture a sunset timelapse (true story).
Since I also use my tripod for capturing video on my phone, I also have a phone clamp for my tripod which is super handy for filming stories or doing a quick timelapse on my iPhone!
Also, don’t forget all your essential accessories like SD cards, battery chargers and so forth!
An outfit change
One of my hand luggage essentials that has become even more important to me after having my luggage lost twice in the past few months is an outfit change. Not only handy if your luggage is lost or delayed (but definitely vital if it is!!), a change of outfit is the perfect way to freshen up after a long haul flight.
I usually pack a change of underwear, a spare pair of socks and a change of clothes suitable for my destination such as this gorgeous Boohoo dress! I also carry an extra pair of socks if I’m wearing sandals, just in case my feet get cold on the flight – I love the socks from ALDO as they seem to never get holes in, unlike the majority of my socks (I go through socks at a worrying rate…).
Additionally, I tend to take a cosy hoodie too so I can be ultra comfy on my flight – plus it makes a good pillow if I forget my inflatable one (or if I need some extra back support). My hoodie of choice is this rather apt “catch flights not feelings” design from Save The People Co!
Since I travel so often, I’ve given up on having a toiletries bag and just keep my liquids in one of those plastic bags the airport gives you. Yep, I am super stylish. However, I did just buy a clear toiletries bag that is supposed to be TSA compliant, although I have seen some complaints that not all airports are happy with these being used. I will update you all when it arrives and I’ve used it a few times!
This is a definite essential! For both the long journey and for using in your destination, I always have a mini deodorant on me, such as this aluminium-free Lavanila one.
Whether or not I’m planning on wearing makeup, I always have a pack of makeup wipes in my hand luggage. They come in so handy if you need to freshen up during or after your flight and, of course, pretty handy for removing makeup as well. My favourites are these cucumber cleansing wipes as they’re gentle, have a light and refreshing scent and remove all makeup pretty darn well.
Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
For when I’m on the go, I always have a travel toothbrush in my hand luggage. It’s so handy because the toothbrush folds in on itself so it’s super compact and keeps the bristles totally clean. Another hand luggage essential is a travel sized toothpaste (or a larger one, depending on the length of my trip) such as this 25ml Colgate toothpaste or this larger 75ml whitening toothpaste.
As someone with long, thick hair who also loves a good nap on a flight, my hairbrush is essential on long-haul flights. Plus it’s pretty sensible to keep it in your hand luggage just in case some airline loses your luggage.
My hairbrush of choice (whether at home, abroad, travelling hand luggage only or with a big suitcase) is the Tangle Teezer ‘Ultimate’. I bought it in pink so I could easily spot it in my bag (since I put so much stuff in there…) and it’s served me well for a rather long time! If I need another then I’ll definitely be getting the same one (maybe in the violet scream, just for fun?) as it’s the only hairbrush I’ve found that actually detangles my ridiculously thick barnet without hurting my head.
Does anyone else find that their lips (and skin in general) get super dry on planes? I’m pretty sure it’s due to the air conditioning on the plane but UGH! So frustrating. My go-to lip rescue is the delicious smelling Burt’s Bees Vanilla Bean Lip Balm. It smells AMAZING and leaves my lips super soft instead of dry and horrible. Plus it doesn’t need to go in your liquids bag and is small enough to fit in a small side pocket – what’s not to love?
Continuing with the saga of ‘planes dry my skin out’, I always have some form of moisturiser on me. Sadly my favourite one that I bought in the Seychelles (pure coconut oil with vanilla from La Digue) doesn’t come in a travel size so I only take it when I’m travelling with hold luggage.
My hand luggage essential moisturiser for my face is the Kind to Skin SPF 30 by Simple or, if I’ve been splurging, the Benefit Triple Performing moisturiser. For the rest of my body, I use the Sanctuary Spa mini body lotion – it has aloe vera and argan oil and is great for keeping your skin hydrated!
When my skin is feeling a little dull and under the weather (particularly in winter) I adore the Lumene Valo Glow Boost Essence with hyaluronic acid and Vitamin C for boosting your skin’s radiance. I actually have the mini size so it’s great if you have quite a full liquids bag already!
If I know I’m likely to be wearing makeup (especially mascara), then I tend to also bring along a micellar water and cotton pads as I find these are much less abrasive than makeup wipes. It took me ages to find a travel-sized micellar water and I actually ended up finding a mini one that came free with a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine in the airport! Sadly they don’t seem to actually make this size for retail (darn it!) so I would recommend either this Marcelle Travel Essentials Kit, which also comes with eye makeup remover pads, moisturisers and a mini mascara, or if you don’t need any extras then this Bioderma micellar water is only 100ml so a perfect size.
Travel size hair care
I almost finished this section without adding in a bit about hair care! If I’m travelling with hold luggage then I tend to bring larger ones in my suitcase since it generally works out cheaper than buying the travel sized ones especially, plus I’m usually only taking hold luggage if I’m going on a long trip. If I’m going on a long trip but with hand luggage only (because I’m cheap and buy budget airfares), I will usually buy larger sized shampoo and condition at the airport or in my destination, especially if the destination is generally cheaper than the UK.
For travel sized hair care, my usual choices are the following:
Aussie Mega Shampoo (90ml)
Aussie Mega Conditioner (90ml)
Leave-in conditioning spray (I love this for detangling if I need a bit extra!)
I always have a (safety) razor in my hand luggage, which I’ve never had an issue with at airports. Additionally, I always carry tweezers, a nail file, hair ties (always two on my wrist or in my hair too!) and cotton buds (Q-tips).
I also usually bring some form of body wash or shower gel, unless I’m pretty certain where I’m staying will have some. I’ve never been a huge fan of using soap so I usually just get one of the mini travel shower gels.
Hand luggage essentials for sleep
My favourite category! Now, if there’s one thing I love more than travel then it’s most certainly sleeping. I mean, sleep is great – duh.
Since I spend quite a lot of my time on long-haul flights (and buses… and trains…) I’ve become pretty good at the art of sleeping, well, basically anywhere. It’s a bit weird to calculate how many different beds I’ve slept in within the past month alone…
So, how do I sleep so well while on the go?
Firstly, I always carry a large scarf/blanket with me. It’s basically a cross between a thin beach towel and a ginormous scarf (sometimes called a hammam towel) – while I bought mine in a small store in Lagos, Portugal, you can find some gorgeous ones online too. It’s great to use as a blanket OR pillow on long flights, as a shawl at religious sites and also as a beach towel. Perfect!
I also usually have my inflatable neck pillow on me for a long flight, it’s essential for a long haul flight! Plus don’t forget a comfy silk eye mask to block out all light to ensure a good
random whatever hour your flight is night’s sleep.
I’m not a fan of earplugs personally since I can’t actually sleep in silence (darn tinnitus – I have to listen to something so I don’t just concentrate on the ringing sound), but if you are the type of person who requires silence to be able to sleep then definitely don’t forget a good pair of earplugs. If you’re more a fan of listening to music or a podcast while you sleep, then this brings me to the next section…
A great pair of headphones
I never go anywhere without a pair of headphones and I mean anywhere. Even down to Starbucks. I always carry a pair of headphones or earphones since if I ever want to concentrate, it usually requires some form of background music. For example, I wrote 70% of this post listening to the Mamma Mia 2 soundtrack and the other 30% watching Law & Order so if you find any random ABBA lyrics… you know why.
My top pick for in-ear headphones are the wonderful (and cheap) JVC earphones that come in six different colours and start at less than £8! They’re great for keeping background noise out and your choice of music in your ears (and not in everyone else’s, like some cheap headphones). Plus they’re also cheap enough that if you DO lose them while travelling, it’s not a huge deal. They also come with multiple sizes of earpieces so they fit everyone comfortably.
For Bluetooth headphones (which I use with my iPhone 7+), I love my Sudio Sweden Regent over-ear headphones. They’re comfy enough to wear while sleeping on a plane and they fold up nice and compact. Plus, unlike another pair I’ve owned, they don’t accidentally turn on in my bag and random start playing music… so that’s definitely a bonus!
My absolute never-leave-home-without item is my portable charger. Well, I actually have three. Y’know, just in case.
My hand luggage essential charger is my 26,800mAh battery pack with 3 USB ports – one friend refers to it as my ‘charger brick’. I can charge my phone at least 4 times from 1% to 100% battery, perfect for when you won’t have access to a charging port for a while!
Don’t forget all your charger cables either!
Another item I never leave home without is a water bottle and it’s definitely a carry on essential as well. Depending on which sized handbag I have, I either take my 1L bottle with a sipper lid or my slimline metal water bottle.
Before security, I either drink the water or throw it away (depends how much is in there and how much I need to go to the bathroom at that point…) so there’s no issue with security and the liquid restrictions.
Erm, how could you ever forget SNACKS?! Possibly the most important item to ever have in your hand luggage (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, you should probably pack the passport first), snacks are a must have on a long-haul flight!
Since I’m lactose intolerant, I always try to pack enough snacks just in case I can’t find anything that I can actually eat. I try not to bring any snacks that contain nuts since occasionally you might have someone on your flight with a nut allergy – they usually announce it and request that you don’t consume anything containing nuts. If I do take some (generally if I have a long layover), then I love KIND bars. Just be careful if you can’t have dairy since one of them contains dairy (caramel almond and sea salt) – I’m not entirely sure why they aren’t ALL dairy free but oh well!
Other snacks I love include:
TREK protein flapjacks (dairy and gluten-free, also vegan)
Primal Pantry protein bars (dairy and gluten-free, vegan)
Nakd salted caramel nibbles (dairy and gluten-free, vegan)
These are all great for snacking on when you’re on the go and don’t take up much room in your bag at all!
Hand luggage essentials list
After throwing ten million recommendations at you, I thought I’d be a nice human and collate it into a concise (ish) list for you:
Passport and/or ID card
Visa (if needed)
Details of flights/accommodation/transportation
Camera and lens(es)
Battery and battery charger
Change of clothing (socks, underwear, outfit)
TSA compliant clear toiletries bag
Body and/or face moisturiser (<100ml)
Makeup/other toiletries (<100ml)
Makeup remover (e.g. micellar water, <100ml)
Shampoo (<100ml) and conditioner (<100ml)
Leave-in conditioning spray (<100ml)
Shower gel/body wash (<100ml)
Q-tips/cotton buds; Cotton pads; Tweezers; Nail file
Inflatable neck pillow
Earplugs (if needed)
In-ear headphones and/or over-ear headphones
Portable charger and charger cables
This list may look like a lot but it entirely depends on what you require – I just happen to aim to be prepared for pretty much everything! While the list looks huge, the majority of it will fit in one hand luggage bag (it all fits neatly in my tote handbag, including my 13″ MacBook Pro just to destroy my shoulder even more).
I hope you enjoyed reading the ridiculously long list of things I take in my hand luggage! I usually also pack a book to read on the flight (or download things to my Kindle or my iPhone) – I just finished reading My Mamma Mia Summer, which is a wonderful light summer read, and I also highly recommend Prisoners of Geography, an incredible book about geopolitics that should be on any traveller’s reading list!
Let me know in the comments if I’ve left out anything that you consider a hand luggage essential – maybe I’ll realise I need to pack even more items!
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