Traveling comfortably these days takes patience and planning. Knowing what to pack -- and what to have on hand in case of delays -- can make the difference between a pleasant and unpleasant journey. When flying, or even on a long car trip -- particularly when multiple stops are scheduled -- it's always a good idea to stock a carry-on bag of must-haves that is easily accessible.
What Constitutes a Carry-On?
The Federal Aviation Administration stipulates that the bag fit completely under the seat or in the overhead bin. Different planes come with varying overhead and under-the-seat allowances, of course, meaning that a bag that makes it onto one flight might get stuck in cargo on another. That said, most domestic carriers allow for a suitcase that is 45 inches overall (length plus width plus height) while being no longer than 22 inches. International carriers often have tighter restrictions and allow for only 20 inches in length.
What to Take
Because you never know when weather or other unforeseen events will cause travel delays, pack a carry-on bag containing items you would be very unhappy to lose.
Comfy Clothes for a Quick Change
For women, include one change of clothes made of a lightweight, wrinkle-resistant fabric. For men and kids, lightweight nylon sports shorts or sweat suits are easy to carry and don't take up much room. If your main luggage is lost or you become detained for any reason, you'll want to have a fresh change of clothes within reach. Always carry a pair of slip-on athletic socks in your carry-on bag, particularly when going through airport security. You'll have to take off your shoes for security screening, and you don't want to walk through the metal detector with bare feet, because you really don't know where those who went before you have been.
Travel-Size Packaged Antibacterial Towelettes
These are great for keeping your hands and face clean, or as anyone who has ever been stuck for hours on a runway, circling an airport overhead during a ground delay, or detained in the airport overnight because of flight cancellations, a quick clean up is very refreshing when showers aren't available. It's also a good idea to pack a travel toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste in case you're delayed for a long period of time.
Travel-Size Containers of Nonprescription Headache or Cold Remedies
Don't pack an assortment of over-the-counter medications in one bottle, as you may be selected for a random security search. On that note, always pack prescription medications in your purse, briefcase, or carry-on, in case you're separated from your luggage. Again, keep medications separate in their original containers.
Nonmetallic Nail Buffer or Emery Board
Fingernails rarely survive the rush of boarding a plane and juggling luggage into overhead compartments.
During a long flight, these can shield you from unpleasant or irritating noises that are out of your control.
What Not to Take
No Liquids, Gels or Aerosols of More Than 3 Ounces in Your Carry-On
The Transportation Security Administration requires that items 3 ounces or less be placed in a quart-sized zip-top plastic bag that must be placed in a bin for screening. Only one bag is allowed per passenger, so take only those products you can't live without. Most drugstores offer travel size products; however, expensive perfumed lotions and skin-care products may be harder to find (it's worth the time to search when you consider how you'll feel when you see your designer bottle of anti-aging cream tossed in a waste basket). Salons often carry hair-care products in travel sizes, which are worth the extra cost as you can always bring them back home and keep on hand for quick refills. Also, keep in mind that many airports have shopping outlets that carry essentials.
Keep Valuable Jewelry at Home
Instead, wear only what you absolutely have to bring, or pack jewelry in a protected travel pouch that is kept with you in a purse, briefcase, or carry-on. Do not pack any valuables in your checked luggage, as these items are subject to random security searches and the TSA is not responsible for lost or damaged belongings. Tip: Ship valuables you may need to your destination so the items can be insured.
Put Undeveloped Film in Your Checked Baggage
Preserve your memories by keeping film in your carry-on bag. High-powered equipment used to screen checked bags can damage film.
Take Only Clothes and Shoes You'll Wear. Pack intelligently and efficiently by taking only what you know you'll wear. Don't pack varieties of prints and patterns that can't be worn with other items in your wardrobe. Stick with simple, solid colors such as black, white, and khaki.
TSA restrictions limit passengers flying within the United States (including international flights going to and from the United States) to one carry-on and one personal item, which include purses, briefcases, laptops and small backpacks. In addition to one carry-on and one personal item, passengers may bring onboard a coat, umbrella, book or newspaper, small bag of food (no liquids) and devices such as wheelchairs and walkers. Persons traveling with children can also bring on strollers, safety seats and diaper bags. If a flight is crowded, airlines may request that you check your carry-on bag. Rules vary from airline to airline, so be sure to check with your carrier before heading out the airport.
Contact the airline for current information, and always check tsa.gov before you go for new rules that may apply due to special circumstances.