Going, Packing, Planning

Surviving an International Flight

Packing the optimal carry-on for an international flight is no small task. It’s a balancing act of bringing what you need to stay as comfortable as possible for hours and hours in an economy seat, and not overpacking and feeling suffocated by all of your things. I have curated my carry-on to a tried and true method that has gotten me through many overnight flights!  

The following post contains affiliate links. All links are my personal, honest recommendations based on experience!  

packing a carry-on for international travel

  1. I love to throw a ball cap in my bag to cover up plane hair. Any flight longer than 6 hours normally results in disastrous hair, especially for those of us with bangs. I like to be able to hide it, if necessary! Also, go Cats!
  2. This is my favorite neck pillow that I have found to date. Nothing is perfect, but this one is made of memory foam and will at least provide a few hours of rest.  
  3. My iPad. Of course. After a number of super expensive cases literally disintegrating in the one year I have owned my iPad Air 2, I found an inexpensive case that has held up beautifully. 
  4. Because I actually have to get work done while I’m in Italy, I needed a Bluetooth keyboard to make typing and answering e-mails easier. I settled on this one after a ton of research, and so far it has worked great! I wanted a keyboard that could be independent of my iPad, since I normally use the iPad for watching movies and online shopping, not working. 
  5. I got my trusty North Face backpack for grad school, and it hasn’t failed me yet. Unfortunately because that was 4 years ago, they don’t sell this exact version anymore. It looks like there is an updated model that honestly looks very similar. I will say this backpack can feel a little on the small side, but it absolutely fits everything pictured and more. Sometimes it’s good for me to be a bit restricted on size. I don’t always travel with a backpack, but since we are going to be in 4 cities and on multiple trains, I was trying to make my life as easy as possible. 
  6. My Longchamp. I cannot say enough about this bag. First of all, it folds down to this small, so I always travel with it in my larger carry-on so I have a bag for wandering around cities. It is water-proof, spill-proof, and virtually indestructible. I love that I can carry all of my essentials, including my DSLR camera, without having to carry around a large backpack. 
  7. I don’t know how I got on a plane before I got my Beats. I have the Beats Studio 2 and they’re amazing. It does look like the Beats Studio 3 are now out, but honestly the ones I have are awesome and cheaper.  
  8. I don’t go anywhere without my Kindle! I have the basic Kindle e-reader, but many of my friends have the Kindle Paperwhite and love that they can easily have a backlit screen in the dark. Like my iPad, I had the expensive Amazon-made case for my Kindle, but it actually fell apart after a couple of months. I have had much more success with this case
  9. I travel with both my Beats headphones and my earbuds. It may be overkill, but there are definitely times when giant over-the-ear Beats feel inappropriate in public.  
  10. I like to wrangle all of my charging cords in one place. I bought this pretty canvas bag from the Container Store, but honestly any pouch will do.
  11. I used to use a large, travel wallet for international travel. It got to be too much though, and who actually needs to travel with 15 credit cards? I discovered this little beauty at a Fossil store last year, and it has slots for 3 credit cards and fits my passport and folded cash perfectly. I love that it has a wrist strap too, so I don’t always have to have it in a bag. Sadly, I no longer see it on the Fossil website, but this one might be similar? And maybe fit a phone too? Someone let me know if you try it!  
  12. I always have a notebook when I travel. I love to write down memories, doodle, and generally just have a place to record my thoughts. Moleskine is always my favorite! 
  13. Sometimes for long flights, it’s just nice to have a carry-on cocktail. You can buy the alcohol on the plane (or bring your own minis), and you’re all set.
  14. I have begun traveling with two portable chargers. My first one is large and can recharge my devices multiple times in flight. I also travel with the Pearl Charger, which is purse-sized and doubles as a lighted compact! I love this small charger and the unique design.   
  15. I honestly think my “freshen up kit” is the most important part of my carry-on. See more details below. 
  16. For someone who loves to travel, I get terribly motion sick. I hate to take any medication because it always makes me drowsy. I discovered Sea-Bands about 10 years ago, and I never go anywhere without them. I don’t leave them on all flight because they will bruise your wrists, but I need them during takeoff and landing, and if there is any rough turbulence. You can get them at any drugstore.  

Freshen up kit for international travel

Possibly most importantly, I keep all of the essentials I need to feel great in-flight in a cute little bag. The key here is to keep it small so it doesn’t take up too much room in your bag, and so you can grab it quickly when you go wait in line for 45 minutes for the restroom. But really, can we rant about that for a second? Don’t feel bad about taking a few extra minutes in the restroom to freshen up since you did wait an eternity for your turn.  

  1. I love my Vera Bradley medium makeup case, but any small makeup bag will work. 
  2. I use these Pacifica wipes for my face. I have extremely sensitive skin, so not just any facial cleansing wipes will do. I like these because they smell fresh, I’m not allergic to them, and they aren’t too expensive.  
  3. If you have dry, coarse hair like me, it may be a good idea to spray your ends with some conditioner before you decide to get comfy and go to sleep. This will hopefully help your hair frizz less and keep it from getting damaged from the dry air on the plane.  
  4. GLAMGLOW. This is the most important item in this case and maybe in the entire world. Thank goodness Amanda discovered this before our flight to Africa last summer, because it is truly a miracle worker. Before you fall asleep on the plane, wipe off all your makeup and clean your face. Then, apply the Glamglow Thirstymud mask and leave it on all flight. I normally get off the plane with 8 more pimples than when I got on, but my skin actually looked better after a 15 hour flight to South Africa than it did before. I will never not travel with this.  
  5. detox eye roller is a great way to look more awake before you land than you actually are. Plus, it feels great! 
  6. Visine is a must on long flights to keep your eyes from feeling like they have sand in them.  
  7. As I’ve mentioned a million times, the air on planes is very very dry. Bring a small bottle of your favorite lotion to keep your skin feeling hydrated in-flight. I do suggest you choose a scent that is light though to avoid annoying your seatmates with something crazy smelling (looking at you, Bath and Body Works).  
  8. Mini deodorant. I hope I don’t need to explain this one.  
  9. Purchase a mini toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth before settling in to sleep, and before you land. It may seem excessive, but a full size toothbrush likely won’t fit in your small makeup bag, and you will be thankful you have it.
  10. I bring the makeup essentials, and keep it very minimal. I have a favorite powder from Clinique that will smooth over any redness.  
  11. Similarly, I have a small mascara just to wake up my eyes a little more before getting off the plane. You could also throw in the Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment in Rose for a little lip love (my favorite). 
  12. Your go-to perfume is probably offered as a rollerball from Ulta or Sephora. Roll it on your wrists and neck before getting off the plane to feel fresher. Plus, this is TSA approved. 
  13. Spills happen. Be prepared.  
  14. Have I mentioned I love Pacifica? Even with the Glamglow on your face, your skin may feel a little dehydrated mid-flight. Spray this Hydrating Mist on to add some moisture to your skin. 

There are a few more essentials not pictured that are definitely worth mentioning:

  • S’well bottle: bring a reusable water bottle, both to have while traveling and to keep yourself hydrated in flight. Most flight attendants will fill up your bottle so you don’t have to keep asking for tiny cups of water. The more water you drink, the better you will feel when you get off the plane.  
  • Compression socks: These may not be an essential for everyone, but DVT runs in my family so I don’t want to take chances. Plus, these are way cuter than your mom’s compression socks.  
  • Travel scarf: Amanda and I bought these scarves for our trip to South Africa last summer, and they were really great. The discreet zippered pocket is big enough for your passport and money, and it looks like a cute infinity scarf! I have mine in tow to Italy. 
  • Germs: I highly suggest bringing Wet Ones, hand sanitizer, and Emergen-C on the plane. Drink the Emergen-C at the beginning and end of the flight, and wipe down everything (tray tables, arm rests, everything!) with wet wipes. 
  • Gummy Bears: Everyone has that one travel snack they can’t live without. I personally can’t get on a plane without gummy bears. Seriously. If you want a little extra pizazz, try some champagne gummy bears
  • DON’T FORGET: Don’t make a crazy mistake and forget things like your medications, jewelry, and of course, your PASSPORT. 

Thank you for hanging with me through all of that information. Who knew so much though went into packing a carry-on? What essentials can you not live without on long flights? 


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