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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

11 Things to Always Pack in Your Carry-On

Even if you're not taking a long-haul flight, extended delays from weather or maintenance can drain patience, not to mention your mobile phone, before you even squeeze into your ever-shrinking seat. Pack these easy, budget-friendly travel essentials, and you'll be flying easy in no time.

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Power up with chargers

Traveling with a phone, laptop, or tablet? If it needs power and you’ll be using it during your travels, be sure to keep your power cords in your carry-on, not in checked bags. Also take along a small portable power pack (they start at about $20) so if your phone is on 2 percent and there’s not a plug in site (though you’ll find them under your seat on most airplanes these days) you can still listen to your tunes in-flight or use a taxi app when you land.

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Clean the scene with sanitizer

Planes are dirty. There, we said it. Have you seen how long cleaning crews have between legs to freshen up a plane between flights? Usually in the less-than-10 minute range. Which is why hand sanitizer and/or disinfectant wipes are a must for to not only clean your hands, but to wipe your tray too. Just how dirty are those trays? They can harbor an average of 2,155 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch. While you’re at it, wipe down your armrest and the spot where you’re about to rest your head if you snagged a prime seat next to a window.

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Control the noise

To create your own stress-free island in the back of the plane, be sure to pack headphones. Don’t count on airlines to provide auditory accessories, as many are now charging for disposable ear buds, and the ones you borrow might not be as germ-proof as you’d like to think they are. And if you pack noise-canceling headphones, you can check out without having to listen to music that might otherwise keep you awake. Make sure you know these 18 things you should never do on a plane.

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Don’t forget a snack

Although we applaud Delta for handing out Biscoff cookies (they’re delish), a cookie does not a dinner make. And when airlines do serve food, it’s pretty universally awful. Pack a substantial snack such as protein bars, dried fruit (only if triggering asthma from sulfites isn’t a concern), and/or trail mix or a sandwich or salad for a healthy boost until you get to your destination. These are the 13 foods you should never eat on an airplane.

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Hydration station

While you’re packing your snacks, add a refillable water bottle to your must-haves. After you go through security, fill it at a fountain or restaurant before you board (not on the plane where water isn’t potable in bathrooms, and is questionable at best in galleys). Staying hydrated on a flight is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick on a plane (add a vitamin packet for real pick-me-up).

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Sleep soundly with ear plugs and eye mask

You don’t need to pay a premium to get a first-class dopp kit. You can make your own for $8 at the drugstore by buying disposable ear plugs and a light-blocking eye mask. These travel essentials pack up small and let you sleep any place at any time. (Extra points for throwing in a pair of dollar store disposable socks for a true premium-class experience.) Check out these expert tips for getting to sleep on an airplane.

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Wrap up with a large scarf

More than just a stylish accessory, a large wrap doubles as a blanket, can be folded up to be a pillow, and can even become a sarong skirt in a pinch, to say, cover up a pair of leggings. If you’ll be touring cultural sites at your destination, a sarong can come in handy to cover shorts or a mini when entering churches, synagogues, and other holy places of interest.

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A (few) aspirin a day to keep headaches at bay

All this talk of delays is sure to bring on a headache, but if you’re on a plane, there’s no chance to buy a painkiller. Always keep a few in your carry-on luggage for emergencies. While you’re at, throw some upset stomach remedies in your bag as well because flying—and deviating from your regular diet—can upset a delicate system. These are the golden rules for taking the stress out of air travel.

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Go analog with unplugged diversions

If you get stuck on the runway for a long delay, some airlines will make you stay powered down until take-off. Keep yourself entertained with an old-school paper book, magazine, newspaper, pad and paper, or stress-free adult coloring book.

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Refresh with toothbrush and facewipes

Whether you’re on an overnight flight or just been on the road for what feels like 24 hours, pack a toothbrush with powdered tooth powder and pre-moistened face wipes, and you’ll feel as fresh as if you were waking up at home. Check out these other ways to make flying economy feel like first class.

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Change it up Superman style

Finally, if you’re checking luggage, add a change of clothes (or even just a fresh pair of underwear, socks, and clean T-shirt), to transform yourself into a truly super flier, or at least just a prepared traveler, even if your suitcase doesn’t make it to your final destination. Don’t miss these other important things airlines don’t want to tell you (but every flier should know).

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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Reader’s Digest editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of revenue from our partners, such as Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Email us at [email protected].

Melissa Klurman
Melissa is an intrepid explorer and award-winning travel journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She covers topics ranging from family travel and Disney to honeymoons and romantic beaches, and everything in between.