20 Hand Luggage Essentials for Long-Haul Flights in 2020
“Twenty essential items! Twenty? Essential? For hand luggage? That sounds a little excessive, doesn’t it?”
Well, not really when you consider the list. Or perhaps it’s not a lot when you travel the way I do.
I’ll leave you to decide.
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1. Hand luggage bag 🛄
🛄 A great piece of durable and easy-to-access, easy-to-manoeuvre hand luggage is an invaluable investment. Whether this is in the form of a backpack or roll-on bag, take the time to figure out what works best for you. Also, be prepared to spend a little extra to get it. Does it need to carry a laptop, tablet, clothing or camera equipment, in addition to other bits and pieces? Figure out ahead of time what you’ll be loading into it and how you prefer to carry it. Some airlines allow passengers two carry on items. In this instance, a roll-on suitcase and an appropriately sized backpack or generous handbag may be what you’re looking for.
2. Passport, travel visas, and identification documents 🛂
🛂 You may want to keep these crucial items in a dedicated pouch or wallet for ease-of-access.
3. Travel itinerary and contact numbers 📲
📲 It’s likely that these are already stored on some cool App on your mobile device, but for some old-schoolers like me, intentionally storing this somewhere is a necessity.
4. Light-weight packing bag 🆒
🆒 It may seem pointless to have a bag inside your carry-on bag. After all, it’s not an exercise in packing nested dolls. However, I find it extremely helpful to carry a simple bag into which I can slip all my in-flight essentials. This means I don’t have to keep hassling the poor passenger on the aisle every time I want to access my hand luggage in the overhead storage compartment. It also allows me to minimize the pile of clutter that inevitably accumulates at my feet. This bag is zippered and usually has a see-through or netting side so I can easily identify what I’m looking for before I open it, without frantically scratching about in search of my sleeping kit or lip balm in the dark at 3am.
5. Sleeping kit 😴
😴 Eye mask: these sure come in handy when you have a neighbouring passenger who insists on reading in the early hours of the morning, or a nearby LED screen that mimics a strobe light in the dark of the plane, or a window seat passenger who constantly raises the window blinds to see if the plane is still heading in the right direction.
😴 Ear plugs: a necessity to drown out those blood-curdling cries from the inevitable babies nearby, or from the snoring passenger in the seat next to you.
😴 Nose strips: to avoid becoming the aforementioned snoring passenger!
😴 Neck gaiter: a stretchable bandana-like item that can act as a multi-purpose head-covering. In-flight it can cover the nose and mouth during sleep, acting as a superficial air filter. It may also minimize moisture loss from your body by retaining some of the exhaled moisture for your next inhaled breath.
6. Medication 💊
💊 Aside from obvious prescription drugs, you may want to consider packing inexpensive over-the-counter essentials in an attempt to combat dehydration headaches, sinus pain or earache from changing cabin pressure, a mild sedative to facilitate sleep when dealing with changing time zones, allergies from dust, and/or stomach-settlers to prevent discomfort from the airline foods.
7. Collapsible water bottle 🚰
🚰 These are a life-changer. They pack flat, are re-usable, are BPA-free and contribute negligible extra bulk to your luggage compared to the light-weight aluminium or plastic alternatives. In a small way they’re also great for the environment because they minimize unnecessary packaging waste.
8. Moisturizers 🙌
🙌 Modern airliners are taking to the skies with better climate control as they attempt to mitigate the toll that long-haul flights have on our bodies. Humidity control is a tricky one to manage, so you’d do well to make sure you have moisturizer available to minimize that conditioned cabin air sucking your body dry.
🙌 Lip balm
🙌 Skin lotion or cream
9. Technology 📱
📱 Ear phones: we generally all travel with our own ear phones, these days. Personally, I don’t bring my favourite in-ear phones with me. Instead, I rather slip an old pair into my travel bag. These tend to be some of the first items that get left behind on the plane or lost in transit. Unless I’m carrying my expensive noise cancelling ear phones with me (I don’t even possess a pair), the mid-range cheap variety suit my in-flight needs quite adequately.
📱 Entertainment device: while in-flight entertainment can keep one semi-engaged for so long, one often just wants to play your familiar tunes or open that book that you were loath to put down before your trip. Cue your smart phone for your tunes to lull you to sleep, or your e-reader, pre-loaded with your arsenal of books and saving you lugging that paperback with you while also saving the passenger in the seat next to you from the constant glow of your reading light! Your device will also become an invaluable asset when you get delayed and stuck in an airport for hours.
📱 Portable charging pack: contrary to popular belief, USB charging ports are not found in every seat panel, let alone in every airport. So, invest in a decent battery pack to juice up your devices while in transit. At the time of writing this article, airline policy is that battery packs must be carried in hand luggage. If stored in the hold, out of sight, a malfunction would likely go unnoticed and could be catastrophic. This applies to all battery-powered devices and power banks.
📱 Charging cords: aside from all your device charging cords, don’t forget to include international adaptors and, of course, your portable battery pack recharge cord!
10. Personal hygiene 🚻
🚻 Oral care: do your fellow passengers (and even the airline staff) a favour and prioritize your oral care. A mini brush, a small tube of toothpaste, some mouthwash and even some floss will go a long way in making your extended transit more tolerable for everyone.
🚻 Odour-control: a deo stick or even essential oil can mask a multitude of unpleasant odours.
🚻 Face wipes: face it, we all look on enviously while the elitist passengers in business and first class get handed their heated face towels. We, too, can pretend to live in modest luxury by bringing along some disposable face wipes. A wipe of the face, neck and arms goes a long way in making you feel more human after what feels like an interminable time in the air.
🚻 Feminine hygiene products: Ladies, you don’t want to be cruising at 35,000-feet and wish you had your stuff. Remember to include an emergency pack for your transit.
11. Hand sanitizer 😷
😷 Don’t be fooled, your aircraft is a germ incubator. A small bottle of sanitizer is worthwhile keeping close at hand.
12. Hair care 💇
💇 Hair brush: few people ever emerge from a long-haul flight looking fresh and ready to wow the world. However, a little hair TLC goes a long way in making one feel a little more presentable after waking up or disembarking.
💇 Hair ties: as a male this isn’t something I need to necessarily worry about (although I’d find them helpful to keep some of my items tied together), but I’ve noticed some other longer haired passengers that certainly could’ve benefitted from some hair ties. My wife swears by them, too!
💇 Dry shampoo: here, again, this isn’t top of my list, but I’m told this item can be a near life-saver for the more beauty conscious.
13. Eye care 👓
👓 Glasses case: for prescription glasses or reading glasses: too many times I’ve had to slip my specs into the seat pocket in front of me then spend my sleeping time wondering if my knees are going to crush my glasses. A case does take up precious hand luggage space, but it provides peace of mind as well as additional storage space for ear plugs, nose strips or even your medication.
👓 Contact lens case and solution: it’s far from ideal to be wearing your contact lenses while on a long-haul flight. Desiccated lenses from the bone-dry air are less than pleasant to wear and not kind to your eyes but it may be worthwhile having your lenses and solution nearby for when you arrive at your destination.
14. Beauty basics 💄
💄 For those of the fairer persuasion who says you can’t put your best face forward, even after a 12-hour flight, by keeping these items near at hand. Don’t forget to include an all-important carry container.
💄 Tinted moisturizer
💄 Blemish cover stick
💄 Tinted lip gloss
💄 Emery board
💄 Soap petals
15. Clothing 👔
👔 Change of clothing: I can’t emphasize enough the benefit of carrying a basic change of clothing (minimally, underwear and a shirt). If you’re taking multiple flights, it’s always a small miracle when your checked luggage arrives at your destination with you. When it doesn’t, or when your flights are delayed, you’ll be glad you made space for those pack-flat, crease-resistant, fresh items of clothing that might help you turn the arrivals hall into a fashion runway.
👔 Socks: pack in a pair of inexpensive, comfy socks. They’ll not only keep your feet protected from the drafty vents at ground level, they’ll also offer you a mild hygiene barrier when walking through the cabin on those less-than-sanitized walkways and washroom floors!
👔 Compression stockings: these have become the must-have of long-haul flights, particularly for those who struggle with swelling feet, ankles and calves. If you don’t have the stockings, at least remember to move about the cabin every few hours to get your circulation moving and to stretch those legs, minimizing the risk of deep vein thromboses (DVT’s) and stiffness.
👔 Sweater: a decent, breathable sweater that packs tightly and is crease-resistant is crucial. As mentioned before, climate control on long haul flights is tricky. Those airline blankets can be a life-saver, but your sweater just might offer you an added level of comfort.
👔 Zip-off cargo pants: this is a personal favourite of mine! From a clothing perspective, my zip-off cargo pants are my standard flight item. The plethora of pockets and zippers allow me to keep my phone, sleeping kit, wallet and passport(s) on my person and in dedicated pockets. I may feel like an in-flight human closet, but I appreciate having access to my critical items. If I’m hot or cold I easily zip on/off my pocketless pant legs for comfort while all my aforementioned personal belongings remain accessible and securely on me.
16. Snack-attack survival kit 😋
😋 I dismissed this idea until we were delayed in an airport in transit for an extended time and my wife hauled out her little survival kit neatly packed in a Ziploc bag. She was my instant hero! Besides, it saved us having to shell out unnecessary Forex at the airport. Mints, energy bar, chocolate and vitamin chewable candies are some examples of simple saviours.
17. High-value items 💸
You won’t want to be checking your high value items in with your checked baggage. This is outright unwise. So, even if you won’t be using these in-flight, you would do well to carry these with you:
💸 Laptop computers
💸 Tablets and iPads
💸 Cameras and lenses
18. Pen 🖊
🖊 Preferably retractable so you don’t have to deal with missing lids or leaking ink. At the very least, you’ll be glad you have one with you when you’re required to fill out those intrusive customs and immigration forms and you’re the only one with a writing implement at hand!
19. Bullet journal 📓
📓 We’re sold on the concept of bullet journaling and can no longer go anywhere without our bullet journals. Whether you bullet journal or journal in your own way, your protracted flight may well see you writing the outline to your next bestselling book. You’ll be glad you brought your journal along. If not for your pending book’s outline, then perhaps for the sake of just journaling, planning or doodling.
20. Travel pillow 💤
💤 The jury is still out on this one. The pillow always takes up so much space and is a hassle to have to lug around. On rare occasions it’s saved us when we’ve landed up at destinations where pillows have been less-than-plentiful or less-than-hygienic. But for in-flight purposes, the head rests on most airlines now allow you to fold up the edges to cup your head or cradle your neck, offering you decent support and saving you the indignity of landing up on your neighbour’s shoulder in mid-sleep. Perhaps our pillow days are over and the airlines excuse-for-a-pillow or a rolled-up item of clothing might suffice?
Handy tips ℹ️
ℹ️ Bright colours may be better! When it comes to these travel accessories, don’t try to be too stylish in your purchases by buying neutral colours. When you’re looking for that sleeping kit or make-up bag in the middle of the night in the confines of your cramped economy class seat, you don’t want a camouflaged container that blends in perfectly with the lining of your travel bag. You’ll likely want to find it quickly and effortlessly. So, colour it up a little and buy some outrageously visible items. And remember, if you feel self-conscious about your gaudy travel kit, consider what the odds are that any judgemental fellow travellers will ever see you again!
ℹ️ Take a photo of the packed contents of your checked baggage before zipping it up and handing it off at the check-in counter. This not only reminds you what was in your luggage should it go missing, it also gives you an idea whether your luggage was opened and tampered with without your knowledge while in transit.
ℹ️ Consider shrink wrapping your checked luggage. It’s no secret: airport baggage handling is brutal. Once you’ve released your precious cargo at the check-in counter, nobody treats your bags with care. Nobody! If you ever see your bag again you can be sure it’s been through the ringer. If you think about it, it’s no small miracle that your checked bag makes it to your final destination on the same flight arriving at the same time as you, given how much baggage is handled in the bowels of those monstrous terminal buildings! And when you do retrieve them from the baggage carousel at your final destination, they’re often looking somewhat worse for wear. Trust me, they’ve seen a lot since you checked them in thousands of kilometres ago. If they could talk they would have their own stories to tell that you may never want to know about!
Have I omitted anything significant from this exhaustive list that you think should be included? I’d love to hear your feedback so I can add (or remove) items to my list.