20 of our favorite carry-on essentials to avoid checking a bag

20 of our favorite carry-on essentials to avoid checking a bag

Checking a bag can often make air travel more complicated than it needs to be. When you check a suitcase, you’re also opening the door to an array of potential mishaps, delays and issues — think lost bags, damaged suitcases and waiting 30 minutes by the baggage carousel for your luggage to come out. And, who can forget those pesky checked baggage fees? While there are some tools to make checking a suitcase less stressful (hello, AirTags!), if you’ve got a choice, you’ll probably want to stick to a carry-on bag.

Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can use to avoid checking a bag for a trip of nearly any length. From rolling your clothing to carrying a backpack for your extra belongings or booking a place with a washer so you can refresh your clothing while you’re away, traveling with just a carry-on bag is possible.

If you’re looking to stick to just a carry-on bag on your next trip, you’ll want to be prepared. Here are 20 items we recommend taking along with you to maximize your space and travel light without leaving any essentials behind.

$295 at Away

The Bigger Carry-On Away

If you’re going to travel with just a cabin bag, you’re going to want to make sure your carry-on is top-notch. This extra-roomy hard-shell carry-on bag from luggage pros Away features a TSA-approved combination lock as well as an interior compression system that allows you to fit more inside your bag. In fact, we gave the Away Carry-On suitcase the title of the best overall hard-shell bag in our testing, and the Bigger version will give you all the same benefits with even more space.

$250 at Amazon

STM Goods Dux Backpack

Chances are you’re going to want a travel backpack as well to hold all your smaller essentials that won’t fit into your larger carry-on bag. We like this backpack that doubles as a travel pack and an adventure pack. It’s lightweight and versatile, and it’s made of water-resistant material. Several compartments can help you keep your travel essentials and gear neatly organized (including space to fit a 17-inch laptop), and interior pockets provide storage for your important documents. This backpack is available in four colors for every style: gray, black, blue and black camouflage.

$68 at Calpak

Calpak Packing Cubes 5-Piece Set

Packing cubes are an essential tool for helping you stay organized while you’re on the go without taking up too much space. You can use cubes of varying sizes to pack neatly rolled shirts, pants or dresses, as well as socks, undergarments and even shoes. This pack of five cubes from Calpak is made of mesh fabric that’s durable and water-resistant. Once your packing cubes are full, you can neatly organize them in your carry-on bag before heading to the airport.

$30 $25 at Amazon

Nishel Hanging Toiletry Bag

This hanging toiletry bag from Amazon lets you organize your shampoos, soaps, lotions and makeup in one small space. You’ll have to make sure your items are all less than 3 ounces in order to pass the TSA’s liquids rule, but you can then pack all your beauty items in one bag that features multiple zipper pockets and several roomy compartments. Once you arrive at your destination, you can easily hang your toiletry bag in the bathroom for easy reach. The best part? This bag is leak-free, so you won’t have to worry about liquids seeping into your luggage in the case of a spill.

$62 at Bite

Bite Daily Habits Set

The Bite Daily Habits Set is ideal for travelers looking to upgrade their dental hygiene on the road. It includes liquid-free toothpaste bits and mouthwash, as well as a travel toothbrush and floss. This kit includes four months of dental care essentials, and the fact there are no liquids included means you can breeze through TSA without any worry. Your dental care also comes in recyclable glass bottles, so the entire kit is plastic-free and waste-free. The Bite Daily Habits Kit comes in four different flavors to suit your taste: mint with fluoride, mint without fluoride, berry and charcoal.

$50 at Bloomingdale’s

Jenny Patinkin Carry-On Cuties Set

Don’t sacrifice on your skincare routine just because you’re sticking solely to a carry-on bag. This adorable travel pouch comes with a rose gold eye roller, four organic and reusable rounds, a petite rose quartz uplifting gua sha and a green tea makeup sponge. There’s also plenty of packing room left, so it’s perfect for bringing along small items like lip balm, tweezers and floss. Pack this travel pouch within a larger packing cube with your makeup and other toiletries or stuff it in your travel backpack by itself. Either way, you’ll have several beauty essentials along for the ride.

$39 at PillowPack


The PillowPack offers a sneaky way to bring even more clothing and essentials along for a plane journey without sacrificing any space in your suitcase. And, its dual purpose means it’s also useful in its own right to support your neck. This neck pillow comes entirely empty since it’s meant to be stuffed with soft items you need for your trip. In fact, the PillowPack holds eight shirts and four pairs of socks, thus saving that much room in your suitcase. While this isn’t our top pick for travel neck pillows (that’s the Cabeau Evolution S3), this is a solid option if you’re looking to maximize your packing space.

$17 at Amazon

Sheets Laundry Club Laundry Detergent Sheets

Laundry sheets are ideal for travel since you can pack them in your carry-on bag or backpack without worrying about TSA limits on liquids in your luggage. This 50-pack of laundry sheets from Sheets Laundry Club makes it easy to wash your clothes on the go, whether you have access to a washer or you have to hand-wash items in your hotel room’s sink. Either way, having a way to wash clothing on your own can help you pack less for your trip and avoid a checked bag, which is the ultimate goal.

$10 at Amazon

Hongyutai Retractable Portable Clothesline for Travel

Having your own portable clothesline makes it considerably easier to avoid checking a bag. You can hand wash some of your clothing during your trip, then simply hang it to dry while you’re out sightseeing for the day. Built-in clips are included on this clothesline, so you can wind it up in your luggage without having to bring clothespins or other accessories along. This portable clothesline is also retractable and stretchy, so you can customize its size to the space you’re inhabiting.

$110 at Allbirds

Allbirds Wool Runner

Save space by bringing a versatile pair of sneakers that you can wear throughout your whole trip. Merino wool is a natural fiber that helps keep your feet dry and odor-free, so it’s ideal for wearing over and over again during a single trip. With that in mind, the Allbirds Wool Runners — one of our favorite travel shoes — are a great option to wear hiking, biking or for any other sightseeing during your trip. Wear these shoes from the airport to your destination to save space in your luggage.

$40 $39 at Amazon

The Earthling Co. Solid Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

Shampoo and conditioner bars from The Earthling Co. can help you check off several boxes on your packing and travel lists. You get the benefit of bringing shampoo and conditioner along on your trip without having to worry about TSA limits on liquids for carry-on luggage. And, as an added benefit, you can avoid creating more plastic waste along the way. These haircare bars come in compostable packaging and you can store them in nearly any container within your carry-on bag.

From $45 at Backcountry

Columbia Men's Silver Ridge Convertible Pant

If your goal is to pack just a few items of clothing, consider bringing a convertible pair of pants along. This pair for men from Columbia (a similar pair is also available for women) can be perfect for active trips as well as leisure travel, mostly because they can turn from pants to shorts and back again with ease. These particular convertible pants also come in eight different colors to suit any style, and you can choose tailored options based on your length and waist size. They also come with multiple pockets, a built-in belt and UPF 50 sun protection.

$50 From $29 at Amazon

Travelon Anti-Theft Classic Mini Shoulder Bag

Having a crossbody bag in tow for your trip can help you keep your documents organized and within reach at all times. This bag is perfect for travelers, as it’s got a locking main compartment and internal slots with RFID-blocking technology. The crossbody strap is adjustable to fit most body types. Plus, it’s available in five different colors to match any outfit.

$70 at Amazon

T&S Impact Convertible Jacket to Carry-On Shoulder Bag

This convertible jacket does the unthinkable by transforming from a travel jacket into a carry-on bag, making it an incredibly versatile tool for avoiding a checked bag. You can wear the jacket on the plane with your items packed inside the liner only to turn it into a bag at any point after that. In addition to offering several larger compartments for clothing or electronics, this jacket-bag combo also boasts a cell phone pocket, a tablet pocket, a special place for toiletries and a sunglasses hook. It also comes in six different colors and multiple sizes from extra small to 3XL.

$22 $20 at Amazon

Amazon Basics Vacuum Compression Storage Bags With Hand Pump, Medium 5-Pack

This five-pack of compression bags from Amazon allows you to maximize storage space for clothing and other items by allowing you to pump out the excess air. A hand pump is included, but you can also connect a vacuum hose for better suction and faster results. These bags are reusable, and they can be purchased in multiple sizes and counts depending on how many you need.

$33 at Amazon

LifeStraw Peak Series Collapsible Squeeze Water Bottle

The LifeStraw Peak Series Collapsible Squeeze water bottle is our top pick for travelers. The reason why is pretty simple: Not only does it filter your water for you, but it also collapses down into a small size that’s perfect for packing in your carry-on. Once you’re through airport security, fill up the bottle and stay hydrated on your flight and once you arrive at your destination.

$76 at Cadence

Cadence Capsules Build Your 6

If you want to stick with your regular lotions, soaps and beauty products but they’re too big to fit in your carry-on bag, consider investing in this reusable and customizable set from Cadence. We love the Build Your 6 pack, which offers six customizable, leakproof and magnetic containers that allow you to take all of your essentials on the go with you. Say goodbye to single-use plastics and hello to this aesthetic set that you’ll want to use over and over again.

From $14 at Amazon

Pack All Water-Resistant Travel Shoe Bags

If you’re struggling to fit an extra set of shoes in your carry-on bag, this travel shoe bag from Amazon can help do the trick. Not only is it made from water-resistant materials, but it has a handy strap for easy carrying. This travel shoe bag comes in seven different colors and designs, and it can easily hold one large pair of shoes or two smaller pairs of sandals.

$37 From $25 at Amazon

Teamoy Double-Layer Jewelry Organizer

Ensure your most precious items arrive without tangles and knots and are safe in one place with this travel jewelry case. It’s small enough to fit in your carry-on bag but has plenty of space for all of your rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and more. Best of all, both layers can be closed by a zipper to keep everything secure throughout your whole journey.

$27 at Amazon

Polare Luxury RFID-Blocking Leather Passport Holder Travel Wallet

A travel wallet is essential for any traveler. We love this wallet and passport holder combination because of the variety of storage options it offers. Not only does it come in six color options, but you’ll also have space to store your passport, cash, space for multiple travel credit cards and business cards and much more. Plus, it’s small enough to slip in any carry-on bag or backpack.

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