What’s in my carry-on?

It’s always hard to toe the delicate line of just-perfect-packing and over-packing. I have traveled overseas countless times, but still I always struggle with what to bring for those 5-, 7-, 9-, or 11-hour flights that seem to drone on forever. To add to the stresses of flying, I also have a difficult time sleeping on planes and have tried staying up for the entire flight and also closing my eyes, but not sleeping a wink. I think that this time crossing the Atlantic, I did a pretty good job at bringing what I needed while keeping the weight down in all of my bags.

One thing that can help pass the time waiting in airports is packing correctly before you go. It can be so disappointing to forget earplugs or headphones only to be kept awake by the person chatting or snoring in the row behind you or forgetting your eye mask and having the person next to you leave their light on while they snooze away. On this trip, my headphones drowned out the yelling guys behind me (seriously, dudes?!). So, let me tell you what I bring in my carry-on backpack to help me try to get some shut-eye once I’m settled in for a transatlantic flight.

In my carry-on


Landing documents, Passport, and a Pen

1. Passport, Landing Documents, and a Pen

Of course, having your passport is imperative when traveling abroad. Be sure that you know where it is at all times and that it is easy to get to in a moment’s notice.

Since I’ll be studying abroad for a whole semester, I will need my landing documents in order to enter Italy (they didn’t end up asking for them, though). I have included my entrance papers as well as itineraries and any other documents that may be helpful in case I get into a bind.

Also, always have a pen handy. I almost always forget this and end up having to borrow one from a fellow passenger when they pass around the customs cards (they didn’t do it this time when I landed in Amsterdam). Better yet, pack two pens and make a friend on board (or not).

Headphones, Alternate Headphones, Adapter, Ear Plugs

2. Headphones or Ear Plugs

I love podcasts. Before boarding my long transatlantic flight, I often have to have small connecting flights since the “International” part of “San Antonio International Airport” is a bit misleading. When my husband and I wait around in airports for hours, we like to walk around listening to podcasts like Oh No! Ross and Carrie, The TED Radio Hour, Stuff You Should Know, My Favorite Murder, and The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. It keeps us up and moving and wears us out while waiting around.

It’s also important to pack those headphones since the plane can get loud, as can snoring people and crying babies (no one blames you, babies! you are beautiful and wonderful and parents who fly with their kids are brave people). While ear plugs are small and comfy to wear, noise cancelling headphones like my Beats Studio3 Wireless can help drown out the noises of passengers and the droning of the plane and can help you get to sleep. Pop on the podcast “Sleep With Me” for a boring, monotonous bedtime story that will help you catch some Zzz’s.

Ibuprofen and Sleepy Meds

3. A Sleep Aid

I am lousy at sleeping on planes. The only time I have actually gotten to relax enough while sitting up was when I popped a Xanax just before boarding. This time, I will brought a sleep aid with me like a Z-Quil. I got a few hours sleep listening to the wonderful “Sleep With Me” Podcast. I was snoozing before I knew it! There’s a reason why this duo looks like they’re about to drop the next hot single… they’re the best around you can buy over the counter.

Travel Hygiene Kit

4. Travel Hygiene Kit

So, we’ve made it through the 9-hour flight and got to sleep a little bit (yay!). Now we’re not feeling so fresh… cue the personal hygiene kit! In my kit I’ve got a few individually wrapped wet wipes to freshen up and also to wipe down the tray table at my seat, some hotel lotion and mouth wash from one of our recent stays in Vegas, a tooth brush and floss provided by my dentist’s office (shout out to Texas Dental!), tooth paste, and some gum. After a trip to the bathroom, I’ll feel great; rested and ready to head out into the city!

Books and Notebooks

4. A Book or a Notebook

Instead of watching movies or Netflix, I prefer to read in the airport and on the plane. The countdown of the time it takes to watch one movie or three episodes of a TV show makes me anxious, so reading a long book can keep my mind occupied if I’m on a long flight. For this trip, I’ve packed a ton of books that I can read there and then either bring back with me if I’ve got enough room, or leave in Italy if I’m bringing back too many souvenirs. This time I’m bringing the book What If! Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions with me on board. This one was given to me by my friend Topher (hi, Topher!) and will definitely be returning to my bookshelf when I come back.

A notebook is also a way to pass the time without looking at screens. Writing down all the things you wish to see, your expectations of what you think your trip will be like, and what you think you’ll miss from home can get you excited about your trip. Also, jot down important and useful phrases and words in the language you are about to be immersed in. It’ll help you get acclimated and you’ll know where to find your useful cheat sheet.

Comfy Stuff to Travel With

5. Neck Pillow, Comfy Blanket, and Cozy Socks

So I hate those C-shaped neck pillows. Maybe my neck is really long, but I always feel like they jut my head forward and I can’t lay to the side onto them without completely collapsing my neck to the side. Turns out this is not just a problem that I have. I recently purchased the Trtl neck pillow on Amazon. It’s a wrap-around fleece with velcro to hold it tight with a sturdy plastic insert that goes between your chin and your shoulder letting your head rest comfortably to the side. I’ve gotta say… I used it on the transatlantic flight… AND I LOVED IT. My mom and dad both got Trtls this summer, so we can also see how they work for them!

I love to indulge when I fly by grabbing myself a new pair of fluffy, cozy aloe-infused socks to wear on flights. You can change into them on board, but be mindful if you have stinky feet. These pink ones will keep my swollen feet comfy and warm on board.

I also love bringing my own blanket. I hate using the blanket provided on overnight flights and while my own personal blanket does take up space, it is comforting to have something that smells and feels like home on long trips. This time I’m bringing a blanket scarf that is HUGE like the size of a throw. It’s not too heavy and can fold down quite compact, but is super warm and comfy to get under. Plus, it’s super cute and is a way to spice up the small wardrobe I’m taking with me.

Water Bottle

6. Refillable Water Bottle

ALWAYS. This trip, I’m bringing my husband’s 18 oz. Hydro Flask. It’s small enough to fit into the side pocket of my backpack. One trip to Starbucks at the airport to ask for ice and I will be able to refill this puppy over and over. It is so easy to get dehydrated and dry on planes, so making sure that you’re hydrated before you get on board is important. Plus, the flight attendant will probably keep it filled for you if you ask nicely. Make sure if you have a super cool old band sticker (bonus points if it was your band) to put it on there so that you look extra cool.

Tulip Charger

7. Electronics Charger

A few years ago, my mom gave me a Tulip phone charger for Christmas. You just charge up its lithium battery and you can get a complete charge off of this thing! It’s great to bring in case you spend too much time using the airport’s poor wifi and end up draining your battery. Charge up your phone so that you can order an Uber or Lyft once you land or download a city map so that you can find your hotel quickly.

Posted in Study Abroad Italy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Ashlee!!! I miss you and I’m so glad you are sharing this amazing life journey of yours! Can’t wait to read more.

    We forever will have ‘ketchup’

  2. Great tips, Ashlee. Remember to walk around some on your flight to avoid blood clots! Compression socks are great too.

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