9 Hand Luggage Essentials You Must Pack

Some people try to pack in a carry-on bag their entire luggage, whilst others put everything into their checked luggage and walk on the plane with nothing but the clothes on their back.  To be perfectly honest neither is sensible nor practical as hand luggage essentials.

The fact is there are rules and regulations as to how much hand luggage you can take on a plane and there are safety reasons why some items should be packed into your checked luggage, not to mention keeping your valuables close to you.

I have been travelling on flights for over 30 years and these are the essential items I include on my hand luggage packing list. Plus I’ve included tips on what not to pack in your carry-on bag and more advice to help ensure you meet your airline’s luggage allowances.

In this Carry On Checklist You Will Learn About:

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9 Hand Luggage Essentials

Regardless of how long you are planning to travel, where your destination is located and even the type of trip you have planned these items should be packed into your hand luggage.

The reasons you should pack these items in a carry-on bag include:

  • Your personal comfort during the flight
  • Checked luggage on a rare occasion does go missing eg. loaded onto the wrong flight or left behind
  • To prevent theft
  • For safety and security

1. Travel Documents

The first thing you will need when you get to the airport is your airline tickets and identification.  At your destination, you will need your transfer and accommodation vouchers.  Have them all handy in a travel document wallet* in your bag.

These include:

  • Passport
  • Tickets
  • Visas
  • International proof of vaccination (if required by your destination)
    • This isn’t just for Covid-19, but also includes other diseases like Yellow Fever
    • You may also need a recent internationally recognised negative PCR certificate test result (check your destination)
    • Australians may find this Smartraveller link useful in determining what they need
      • Other nationalities should have a similar official government website
  • International drivers license
  • Accommodation and transfer vouchers

Top Trip Tip: Don’t forget to make copies of your travel documents and pack those in your checked luggage

2. Glasses (Reading and Sunglasses)

Glasses are fragile and fragile items ideally should not be packed into your checked luggage.  Plus you may want your reading glasses to read and your sunglasses as soon as you arrive.

Top Trip Tip: Try to store glasses in a hardshell case for further protection

3. Entertainment

Plane journeys are long and boring and not all flights include onboard entertainment systems (or the onboard entertainment system breaks down) so it’s good to bring something with you.

One of the stock standard things to bring on a plane for entertainment is reading material.  This can come in many shapes and forms such as a good old-fashioned paperback book, a magazine, newspaper, e-Kindle versions* (if you don’t have a Kindle* you can download the Kindle App or listen to someone else read you the book.

If you are not a reader bring some small games like a deck of cards or compact brain teaser puzzles*, alternatively you can load up an electronic device with games.


Top Trip Tip: If you are travelling with others find out what they would like to do during the flight and pack accordingly

4. Water Bottle

More precisely an empty water bottle as you cannot take the water through security.  However, once you have made your way through security you can fill your water bottle from the drinking fountains.

Now you need to be aware of how the individual airport operates.  At my home town’s Perth airport, once you have made your way through security to the departure lounge there are no further security checks, whereas at Singapore airport there is an additional security check before moving into a holding lounge (that have more water fountains).  But at some other airports like Bali, you cannot take water on board the plane as there is an additional security check just prior to boarding.

Stay alert at the airport and watch the procedure for other flights boarding so that you can determine if and when you can fill your water bottle.

Top Trip Tip: If you are taking an infant or toddler you can take sterilised water through security, just declare the water as you go through

5. Something for Warmth

One thing I find with flying is that the cabin temperature is never ideal.  It is either too hot or more often too cold.  And if you are flying a low-cost carrier then there definitely will not be any blankets.

So pack a jumper, sweater, jacket or pashmina to keep you warm.

Top Trip Tip: If you plan on sleeping and know you need a bit more comfort then also pack a travel pillow and eye mask*

6. Valuables

Valuables refer to anything that is worth more than your standard clothing and toiletries.  And sadly things can walk.

Learn how to keep your valuables safe on a trip with these…


Often people pack their jewellery in their check luggage along with their clothing.  This is fine if it’s costume jewellery, but if you have expensive gold, silver, platinum and precious stones then pack it in your hand luggage.


All types of cameras are expensive and fragile so much so that airlines include camera bags as part of your carry-on baggage allowance.

Cash and credit cards

You’d think this would be a given but you’d be surprised how many people throw their wallets into their checked luggage.  Just put it in your pocket.


Now keys are not generally valuable to anyone but you.  However, checked luggage does go missing on occasion sometimes reappearing later in the day or several days later.  Either way, you don’t want to return from your trip and not be able to get into your car or home.

Top Trip Tip: As a rough guide at least one bag goes missing on each flight (I use to work in the lost luggage department at Qantas).  If you need to use something as soon as you arrive pack it into your hand carry.


I mentioned earlier to avoid packing anything fragile into your checked luggage.  Electronics fall into that range; they also fall into the valuables range.

So pack mobile phones, iPads and laptops all into your hand luggage.  Again laptop bags are usually allowed as part of your carry on allowance.

Top Trip Tip: Don’t forget to pack the power adapters, particularly if you are going on a long flight – some airlines now provide power docking points.  If not pop them into your checked luggage

8. Essential Medication

As mentioned before pack in your bag anything you cannot do without and that includes your medical prescriptions.  My husband likes to have his prescriptions pre-sorted into a weekly pill organiser box* that he adds to his bag.  Alternatively, just pack your medication boxes.

Top Trip Tip: If travelling overseas don’t forget to take copies of the scrip for your medication to prove that you need the medicine

9. Health and Safety

As of 2020, our world has changed and so too have the regulations of movement through airports and on planes.

In Australia, it is mandatory to wear a face mask in all airports regardless of whether you are travelling, saying bon voyage or greeting a flight. Therefore you must pack a face mask.

Even prior to 2020, I would also pack in my carry-on a small bottle of hand sanitiser* and antiseptic wipes*. The wipes can offer you the added peace of mind that your tray table, inflight entertainment system and armrests have been wiped clean.

What Not to Pack in Your Hand Carry

Due to safety and security, there are some things that you can’t pack into your hand luggage but some of which you most certainly can be pack into your checked luggage.

girls with backpack carry on looking at airport departure boards
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Too much liquid

Now you can take liquids on board a plane, but only in 100ml (3.4oz) bottles all placed in a one-litre clear plastic zip lock bag, that should be taken out of your carry-on as you make your way through security.

All other liquids such as large bottles of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant and sprays must be packed into your check luggage.

Dangerous goods

It always amuses me that this even needs to be stated, but you can’t take dangerous goods on board a plane.  Yep, no guns, gases, flammable liquid, explosives, corrosives, magnetic products and toxic substances!

The one exception is a personal cigarette lighter or box of safety matches and this must be kept in your pocket.  If it catches alight you’ll know about it and of course, can then ask for an extinguisher.


Finally, beyond large dangerous sharp items like a machete, you are also not allowed to take on board small sharp items like pocket knives, tweezers and metal nail files.  It doesn’t mean you can’t take them on your trip; they just need to be packed into your main luggage.  Oh and leave the machete at home 😉

Top Trip Tip: If there is anything you are concerned you may not be able to take on board the flight, check with your airline website, and your ticket and ask at the check-in counter.  Do this before your checked bag has gone down the chute!

Carry On Baggage Allowance

Finally, you need to pack these carry-on items into a bag.

The size of your hand luggage bag and the amount of luggage you can take on board varies from airline to airline and whether you are travelling domestically or internationally, business or economy class.  For the most accurate answer on hand luggage allowance and sizes refer to your carrier’s website.

But basically, it is one carry-on bag plus one small personal handbag or laptop/camera bag or suit bag.

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