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must haves

11 Must-Haves for Your Carry-on Bag

Dreading a long flight? Pack these 11 things in your carry-on to make the hours fly by—even if you’ve landed the worst seat in coach!

Inflatable Pillow

Sleep is a crucial way to kill time on a long-haul flight, and a comfortable pillow is an essential sleep aid. We put extra emphasis on the word “comfortable” here—those airline-provided pillows just don’t cut it. We recommend the Travelrest Ultimate Inflatable Travel Pillow, which we give high marks for comfort, portability, durability, and value.

Eye Mask

Continuing with the sleeping theme, bring an eye mask so you can sleep when you want, not whenever the cabin crew deems it “lights out” time. You’ll also be grateful to have this if your seatmate switches on the reading light. Not convinced? There’s some evidence that eliminating exposure to light can even help with jet lag.

Earplugs or Noise-Canceling Headphones

With crying babies, loud talkers, and the roar of jet engines a threat on every flight, you need to be proactive about blocking out the noise. We suggest noise-canceling headphones for use with your in-flight entertainment, plus earplugs for sleeping. Some earplugs not only eliminate noise but also reduce ear pain from changes in altitude.

Sanitizing Wipes

You really don’t want to know how many germs are lurking on the tray table in front of you, but suffice it to say that the infamous norovirus and the super-bug MRSA feel quite at home there. Pack sanitizing wipes to clean your tray table, seat-back entertainment system, controls, and armrests. We recommend the variety that does double duty as hand sanitizer so you can clean your hands before eating, too.

Compression Socks

Deep Vein Thrombosis (or DVT) isn’t called “economy-class syndrome” for nothing. All that sitting in a cramped airline seat can lead to dangerous blood clots. In addition to moving around the cabin frequently, we also suggest compression socks for those at highest risk for DVT.

Non-Electronic Entertainment

This may be the age of the e-reader, but your Kindle, iPad, and Nook are useless if the battery dies or your device fails. Pack a paperback, a magazine, or a crossword puzzle as a back-up to entertain yourself.

Sleep Aids

Over-the-counter and doctor-prescribed sleep aids can be a lifesaver on long flights. Never take anything for the first time on a flight, though—you never know how you’ll react to it. Sleeping pills aside, make sure you also pack aspirin and stomach-settling medicines in case of a headache or a sudden bout of indigestion. Remember that there’s no pharmacy in the sky!

Food and Water

Meal service can be sporadic or just plain unappetizing, so keep plenty of snacks on hand in case you get hungry (or delayed). Bring a big water bottle and fill it up post-security. You’ll stay hydrated without having to keep bugging the flight attendants every time you need a drink.

Pen and Paper

What to pack in your carry-on: pen

A pen is always great to have on international flights, since there’s usually a landing card to fill out. Throw in a pad of paper as well and you can use all that airtime to do some work, write letters, or even play Hangman with your seatmate.

Chewing Gum

Don’t scoff. A nice piece of gum can relieve pressure in your ears, eliminate post-airplane-meal breath, and refresh you after a nap. Try it!

Shawl or Large Scarf

Wear a shawl or a large scarf, preferably in a dark color, on your flight. It can double as a blanket or a mini-tent to block out light. You can also roll it up and use it as a makeshift pillow.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current products, pricing, and availability.

We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

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