Travel Essentials List: 30+ MUST-HAVE Items For Your Personal Item Bag

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Are you prepping for a trip and wondering what to pack in your personal item or carry-on? Here’s a travel essentials list to help you fill your bag with everything you need. Below, you’ll also find a printable checklist for easy reference.

Don’t forget the basics like a pen, tissues, and lip balm—they’re necessary when traveling on a plane. Over the years, I’ve learned which items are essential, like compression socks. After a trip to Italy where I forgot them and ended up with swollen feet, they are now a must-have on my list, especially for international flights.

featured blog image is a collage featuring two scenes. The first shows a kathy walking through an airport terminal, rolling a suitcase with a personal item bag atop of it. The second part of the collage highlights a close-up of a personal item bag placed on top of a carry-on luggage emphasizing its practical design and portability for travel. The text overlay "TRAVEL ESSENTIALS PERSONAL ITEM BAG".Pin

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This list is designed to help you pack efficiently for a smooth airport experience and a comfortable flight. While some items may not align with everyone’s travel style, they have proven effective for me and might also benefit others.

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What Personal Item Bag Should You Travel With?

When choosing your personal item bag, you have several great options depending on your personal preference and travel needs. These bags come in all sizes, so the one purchase can be placed under a seat unless you plan to use it as a carry-on and put it in the overhead compartment.

  • Backpack: Best for those who value hands-free mobility and easy access to their belongings.
  • Duffle Bag: Perfect for travelers who need flexibility and extra space for packing irregularly shaped items.
  • Rolling Personal-Item: This is ideal for those who prefer a suitcase that is easy to maneuver through airports and hotels and plan to check in luggage.

Note: You should look up the airline’s size and measurement for a personal item in advance of your flight. They may vary slightly.

Fact: A personal item bag is a smaller bag that fits under the seat in front of you on an airplane. It could be a backpack, purse, or laptop bag. Unlike your main carry-on suitcase, which goes in the overhead bin, your personal item is meant to hold essentials that you might need easy access to during the flight.

kathy pulling away luggage through the airport terminalPin

From personal experience, my preference oscillates between a backpack and a duffle bag. The choice largely depends on the trip’s specifics—distance and destination. I lean towards a backpack as a personal item when I check in other luggage or anticipate a lot of walking. It’s particularly useful on cruises: once I hand over my larger luggage to the porter, I can carry all essential items until I settle into my cabin.

Conversely, pairing a duffle bag with a non-checked carry-on suitcase is another strategy I use. This not only helps avoid back pain but also provides additional packing space. This setup proves invaluable for easy movement through airports and urban settings.

Ultimately, the best bag should improve your travel experience.

Pack Your Personal Item With These Travel Essentials

What should you pack in your personal item bag? Always include essentials like your passport, wallet, and travel documents. Here’s our list of 30 must-have items for your carry-on backpack, designed to make everything from breezy travel days to lengthy flights more comfortable.

Below is our travel essentials list of 30 items you should always have in your carry-on backpack. They’ll make everything from easy travel days to long-haul flights more comfortable.

The image is a graphic titled "Top Travel Essentials to Pack in Your Personal Item Bag." It displays icons representing six essential items for travel: Passport/ID, Wallet/Money/Credit Cards, Travel Documents, Medications, Headphones, and a Water Bottle. Each item is visually represented by a simple, colorful icon to easily identify these key travel essentials. Pin


1. Pack Your Passport and Official Government ID

female hand handing over passport

This travel essential is fundamental. You need your passport for international travel; for domestic trips, a government-issued ID is required. Always store these in a secure yet accessible spot in your carry-on. Think of your passport as your golden ticket to the world.

Also, check your passport’s expiration date. If it’s within a year of expiring, renew it sooner rather than later. Passport renewal can take time—recently, we experienced a three-month wait. With frequent delays, it’s wise to renew early and avoid potential stress.

Pro tip: Make photocopies or digital scans of your passport and email them to yourself. This way, if your passport is lost, you’ll have a backup copy for reference.

Read more: Travel Mistakes Not to Make

2. Have All Tavel Documents Printed

Printing out all your travel documents is important, even in our digital era. While it might feel a bit old-fashioned and less eco-friendly, having physical copies is essential. Don’t leave home without them. You never know when you’ll need to present these documents, and you can’t always depend on technology. Being prepared with hard copies means you’re ready for any situation.

  • Flights
  • Hotel Reservations
  • Cruise Documents
  • Car Rental Reservations
  • Tour Confirmations
  • Travel Insurance
  • Copy of your vaccine card

3. A Pen!

red pen sitting on notebook

This is one travel essential people forget about, but a pen is handy for travel documents and filling out forms.

You might not think you need it because most things are digital these days, but you never know when you’ll need to jot something down or fill out a form that doesn’t have the option to do it digitally.

Besides, with all the germs going around, it is best to carry your own.


4. Wallet

Have you heard stories of travelers leaving their wallets at home? Such an oversight could jeopardize your travel plans, including missing your flight. Make sure your wallet—holding your driver’s license, credit cards, and cash—is in your personal item bag before you depart. I love the slim wallet above that I use for travel.

Tip: If you’re going abroad and worried about safety (pickpocketing…etc), you may want to invest in a money belt or a money pouch to put under your clothes.

5. Money | Foreign Currency | Travel Credit Card

Always carry some cash when you travel. In many places, credit cards aren’t universally accepted. While we love using credit cards to accumulate travel points (Chase Preferred or Sapphire Cards are our favorites), cash remains essential for tips and transactions where cards aren’t an option.

If you’re traveling internationally, obtaining some foreign currency through your bank before you leave can save you a lot of frustration later on. Airport exchange rates are notoriously high. Ordering from your bank can save both time and money. Should you forget to pick up cash beforehand, withdrawing money from an ATM at a well-established bank is a good alternative. This method typically offers better exchange rates than airport kiosks.

Toiletries, Health & Medications

6. Bring Disinfectant Wipes and Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are essential, especially nowadays. You’ll want to use them to clean surfaces like your tray table or armrests on the plane and at the airport. Don’t overlook the airplane bathrooms either—they can be less than pristine. Hand sanitizer is great in a pinch when soap and water aren’t readily available.

7. Medication | Vitamins

If you take medications or vitamins daily, pack them in your personal item and keep them easily accessible. It’s also wise to have essential travel medications on hand, such as Advil, Tylenol, Imodium, and Zyrtec.

Consider boosting your immune system with extra vitamin C or Airborne, especially when traveling. It’s a simple step that can help keep you healthy on the go.

8. Lip balm

Lip balm is a must-have! The air in planes is very dry, quickly dehydrating your lips. Keeping lip balm handy will help keep your lips moisturized throughout your flight. I can’t live without it.

9. Hand Lotion

Traveling can be tough on your hands, as the recycled air on planes tends to dry out your skin, leaving your hands feeling rough and stiff. It’s always a good idea to carry a small tube of hand lotion to keep your hands smooth and moisturized during your flight. Just make sure it’s 3 ounces or less to comply with airline regulations for liquids.

10. Disposable Travel Toothbrush or Listerine Strips

Disposable travel toothbrushes and Listerine strips are excellent for freshening up after long flights, especially after meals and naps. Give your mouth a quick brush or use a strip to freshen your breath and taste, making you feel more refreshed and ready to go.

11. Eyeglass Cleaning Cloth

Anyone who wears glasses should remember to pack a cleaning cloth. It’s a small but necessary item that’s easy to overlook. Smudged or dirty lenses can be a nuisance (I know), especially when traveling. Since these cloths are easy to lose, consider packing a few extras to ensure you always have one available.

12. Medications

Keep any necessary prescription medications close by, packing them in your personal item or carry-on bag. Also, consider including over-the-counter medications you might need during your flight or journey, such as Ibuprofen and allergy medications. Purchasing these items at the airport can be costly, so having them on hand can save money and discomfort. We always carry them in a pill organizer.

13. First Aid Kit

Having a small first aid kit is one of those things that is easily forgotten until we need one. You can make yourself one at home by simply putting in a few things you may need, like bandaids, alcohol swabs, and Neosporin, along with your meds above.

14. Tissues

You never know when you’ll need a tissue. The small travel packs available in the travel section of your local pharmacy are perfect for on-the-go needs. Alternatively, you can take a bunch of tissues from a box at home and store them in a zip-lock bag. This is a simple and effective way to ensure you’re prepared for sniffles or spills.

Travel and Airplane Comforts

15. Travel Pillow

A blue travel neck pillow, an eye mask, and earplugs resting on a leather airplane seat, highlighting essential items for comfort during a flight.

Travel pillows are highly recommended for flights longer than three hours or if you’re catching a red-eye. There are various types, and finding the right one might take trial and error. It comes down to a personal choice.

Here are some popular options:

While I personally struggle to sleep on planes and may not be the best source of advice in this area, my husband swears by his regular travel pillow for catching some Z’s comfortably. Lately, I’ve been loving this Bcozzy Neck Pillow.

16. Shawl or Travel Blanket

A shawl or travel blanket is a must-have for long flights, especially in seating classes that aren’t provided. Even though some airlines offer them on international flights, bringing your own ensures comfort. A versatile shawl can be rolled into your personal bag and used as a pillow, neck wrap, head cover, or blanket, making it a practical choice for travel.

17. Eye Mask

An eye mask is crucial for catching some sleep on long flights. These masks help block out cabin light and are designed to be comfortable, avoiding pressure on your eyes. Look for an adjustable eye mask to ensure a perfect fit. We opted for a two-pack that has served us well through multiple trips.

18. Airplane Footrest

Traveling in economy class? Consider using an airplane footrest. This simple device hangs over your tray table and creates a hammock for your feet, elevating them to improve your seating position. It’s said to reduce swelling and soreness and may even help you sleep better during the flight. I’ve tried it, and it does work, but I prefer to rest my feet on my bag that I store in the seat in front of me.

Note: This footrest tends to be more beneficial for individuals who are shorter in height.

19. Compression Socks

Consider compression socks for any flight to improve blood circulation, reduce swelling, and prevent blood clots in your legs. They’re beneficial for travelers of all ages and flight lengths. They have made a world of difference for me when I fly. I no longer suffer from swollen feet the days after flying.

20. Collapsible Watter Bottle

Staying hydrated is key, especially during travel. Since water bottles can’t pass through security, bringing a collapsible water bottle is a practical option. You can easily fill it at water stations found in most international airports. These bottles are also convenient to store and useful throughout your travels.

Tip: Bring it empty with you and once you pass security, fill your water bottle up at a water station before you board the flight.

21. Easy Snacks

Pack some snacks that are easy to carry and eat on a plane, especially given the uncertainty of airport services and in-flight meals post-2020. Opt for packaged and sealed options like protein bars, nuts, and freeze-dried fruits to ensure you have something to munch on regardless of availability elsewhere.

22. Bring a Book to read

Always have a book handy, whether a physical copy or downloaded on your Kindle or Kindle app (free to download). Audiobooks are also a fantastic alternative for entertainment during your travels. If you’re using a Kindle or listening to audiobooks, make sure your books are downloaded before you lose Wi-Fi connectivity and board the flight. Remember to fully charge your device before leaving home.

Try Audible Premium Plus

ELectronics and Technology

23. Mobile Phone

A close-up of a person holding a smartphone in an airport terminal, with a large airplane visible through the window in the background.

In today’s digital world, mobile phones have become indispensable travel companions. Leaving home without one isn’t advisable, whether you’re traveling to another city, state, or country. Your phone is a top travel essential.

Throughout your vacation, you’ll rely on your smartphone for a variety of tasks. It often serves as your primary camera, which you likely use for accessing the internet, navigating with Google Maps, and much more. In many ways, a mobile phone acts as a mini-laptop, keeping you connected and informed wherever you go.

24. Get a Data Plan!

Don’t overlook the importance of a reliable data plan when traveling. Avoid relying on inconsistent free Wi-Fi and consider these options for staying connected:

  1. International Data Plan: Contact your cellphone provider for temporary international plans. For example, T-Mobile offers unlimited data in over 200 countries.
  2. Local SIM Card: Buy a local SIM card with unlimited data upon arrival. It’s often cost-effective.
  3. E-Sim: If your phone supports it, set up an e-Sim before you depart.
  4. Wi-Fi Hotspot: Consider a portable Wi-Fi hotspot for continuous access. We travel with this one as a backup, and it’s also a budget-friendly option if 2 or more people need to connect to Wi-Fi.

If disconnecting is your goal, enjoy your break! However, these options can ensure you’re always connected for seamless internet access.

For added security, a VPN like NordVPN can protect your data and ensure unrestricted site access abroad.

25. Headphones or Earbuds

When flying, bring your own headphones, whether they’re noise-canceling models or your favorite earbuds. While you might not need them for short flights, they’re essential for long-haul journeys. The headphones provided on planes often lack quality and comfort.

Remember that most airplanes have a standard audio jack and do not support Bluetooth. If your headphones are wireless, they won’t connect directly to the plane’s entertainment system. However, there are solutions:

  1. Wired Headphones: Simply use headphones that come with a standard audio jack.
  2. Wireless Transmitter: Invest in a wireless transmitter that plugs into the plane’s audio jack, allowing you to use your Bluetooth headphones seamlessly.

26. Necessary Chargers and Adapters

Pack the necessary chargers and adapters for your electronics, including any international adapters you might need. It’s easy to forget these essentials, but replacing them quickly becomes expensive.

Here’s a typical list of what you might need to pack:

To keep everything organized and easily accessible, consider packing all these chargers and cables in an electronic travel case. This keeps your items compact and simplifies packing them into your backpack or personal item bag.

27. Backup Charger

A backup charger is one of the best additions to your travel essentials list. Always carry one during your travels, as you never know when it will come in handy. Choose a compact model that can easily fit in your purse or a small backpack, ensuring you’re always prepared to recharge your devices on the go.

28. Laptop or Tablet

A tablet can often suffice for travel due to its lightweight and ease of carrying. However, there might be times when you need a laptop, perhaps for work or to transfer photos to an external hard drive.

Regardless of the electronics you bring, always pack them in your personal item or carry-on bag. It’s important to keep valuable items like these with you and not in checked luggage to avoid loss or damage.

29. Camera

Many rely solely on smartphones as their go-to cameras during travel. However, if you plan to bring additional cameras, avoid packing them in your luggage and keep them safely with you at all times.

30. External Hardrive

If you do bring a camera, you might need to transfer photos and videos to an external hard drive when capturing them during your travels. Keep this drive secure in your personal items, as it’s a key for safeguarding your memories.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to back up your photos to a cloud storage service like SmugMug. This adds an extra layer of security and ensures that your travel memories are preserved, even if physical devices are lost or damaged.

Tip: Create an In-Flight Pouch or Organizer


The Monos backpack and duffels have this quick-snap pouch that makes travel so easy, which is why I love to use Metro Duffel. I pack most of my in-flight essentials in this pouch, and when I get to my seat, I snap it off the bag and slip the back of it into the seat in front of me.

Whenever I travel on a plane, I gather everything I know I will need for the flight and place it in a handy travel pouch that I can keep in the seat pocket in front of me. Before sliding my personal item under the seat in front of me, I will take out my. This way, I’m not constantly reaching for my backpack or duffel to get items like lip balm, eyeglass cloth, charging cable, hand wipes, headsets, eye mask, socks, etc.

You can organize your backpack into different categories in travel pouches that you see fit: in-flight items, first-aid, and electronics not needed during flight.

Printable Checklist for Travel Items to Pack in Your Personal Item Bag

image thumbnail of a packing list for personal item bag checklistPin

We’ve created a printable PDF of the travel essentials to pack in your item bag for the plane mentioned in this post. You can cross off anything you don’t plan to take, or that doesn’t make sense for your traveling style.

The checklist will open in a new window. You can hit “Save As” to save it to your computer or Print It.


Kathy Ava

Meet Kathy Ava, a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena, and the owner and main writer of Tasty Itinerary. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she's become a pro at crafting unforgettable tasty itineraries. She's always on the hunt for delicious, fun travel destinations and cruise itineraries. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it, so always say yes to dessert.

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