20 of our favorite carry-on essentials to avoid checked bags

Checking luggage can often make air travel more complicated than it really is. When you check a suitcase, you also open the door to a host of potential errors, delays and problems – think lost luggage, damaged suitcases and waiting 30 minutes on the luggage carousel to get your luggage. And, who can forget those pesky checked bag fees? While there are tools to take the stress out of checking your suitcase (hello, AirTags!), you’ll probably want to stick with your carry-on bag if you have the choice.

Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can use to avoid checking bags on almost any length of trip. From rolling up your clothes to carrying a backpack to store your extras, or booking a place with a washing machine so you can wash your clothes on the go, it’s possible to travel with just one carry-on bag.

If you just want to take a handbag with you on your next trip, you need to be prepared. We recommend the following 20 items to keep with you to maximize your space and travel lights without leaving any essentials behind.

larger carry-on luggage

If you plan to travel with only one carry-on bag, you will want to make sure your carry-on bag is top-notch. This extra roomy hardshell tote from luggage pros Away features a TSA-approved combination lock as well as an internal compression system that lets you fit more inside the bag. In fact, we awarded the Away Carry-On the best overall hardshell bag for a suitcase in our tests, and the larger version will give you the same benefits with more space.

STM Goods Dux Backpack

You’ll most likely want a travel backpack that can hold all the small essentials that won’t fit in a larger handbag. We love this backpack that doubles as a travel bag and adventure bag. It’s lightweight, versatile, and made of waterproof material. Multiple compartments help you keep your travel essentials and gear organized (including room for a 17-inch laptop), while an interior pocket holds your important documents. This backpack is available in four colors: Grey, Black, Blue and Black Camouflage.

Calpak Packing Cubes Set of 5

Organizers are essential tools that help you stay organized while on the go without taking up too much space. You can use cubes of different sizes to pack neatly rolled shirts, pants or dresses, as well as socks, underwear and even shoes. This pack of five cubes from Calpak is made of durable and waterproof mesh fabric. Once your packing cubes are full, you can organize them neatly in your carry-on bag before heading to the airport.

Nishel Hanging Cosmetic Bag

This hanging makeup bag from Amazon lets you organize your shampoo, soap, lotion, and makeup in one small space. You’ll have to make sure everything is under 3 ounces to pass TSA’s liquid rules, but you can pack all your grooming items in one bag with multiple zippered pockets and multiple roomy compartments. Once you arrive at your destination, you can easily hang your toiletry bag in the bathroom for easy access. the best part? The bag is leak-proof, so you don’t have to worry about liquids seeping into your luggage in the event of a spill.

Bite Daily Habits Set

The Bite Daily Habits Set is perfect for travelers looking to improve their dental hygiene while on the go. It includes toothpaste and mouthwash without liquid, as well as a travel toothbrush and floss. The kit includes four months of dental care essentials and is liquid-free, meaning you can go through TSA security with ease and peace of mind. Your dental care products are also packaged in recyclable glass bottles, so the entire kit is free of plastic and waste. The Bite Daily Habits Kit comes in four different flavors to suit your tastes: Fluoride Mint, Fluorid Mint, Berry, and Charcoal.

Jenny Patinkin Cuties Carry Set

Don’t sacrifice your skincare routine just because you only stick to your carry-on bag. This adorable travel pouch comes with a rose gold eye roller, four reusable organic round products, a petite rose quartz revitalizing gua sha and a green tea makeup sponge. There’s also plenty of storage space, perfect for carrying small essentials like lip balm, tweezers, and dental floss. Pack this travel bag with your cosmetics and other toiletries in a larger packing cube, or by itself in your travel backpack. Either way, you’ll have a variety of grooming essentials on hand.

Zipplicity Neck Bag

The Zipplicity Neck Bag offers a sneaky way to carry more clothes and essentials for plane travel without sacrificing luggage space. And, its dual purpose means it can also be used to support your neck by itself. This neck pillow is completely empty as it is filled with soft items for travel. In fact, the PillowPack holds eight shirts and four pairs of socks, saving you that much space in your suitcase. While this isn’t our top choice for travel neck pillows (namely the Cabeau Evolution S3), it’s a solid choice if you’re looking to maximize packing space.

Laundry Club Laundry Detergent Sheets

Laundry sheets are great for traveling because you can pack them in your carry-on bag or backpack without worrying about TSA restrictions on liquids in luggage. This pack of 50 laundry sheets from Sheets Laundry Club makes it easy to do laundry on the go, whether you have access to a washing machine or have to hand wash items in your hotel room sink. Either way, having a way to do your own laundry can help you pack less for your trip and avoid checked bags, which is the ultimate goal.

Hongyutai Retractable Portable Travel Clothesline

Having your own portable clothesline makes it easier to avoid checked bags. You can hand wash some of your laundry while traveling and hang it to dry when you’re out sightseeing. This clothesline has built-in clips, so you can clip it in your luggage without carrying clothespins or other accessories. This portable clothesline is also stretchable and elastic, so you can customize the size to your living space.

Allbirds Wool Runner

Pack a pair of versatile sneakers that you can wear throughout the trip to save space. Merino wool is a natural fiber that helps keep feet dry and odor-free, so it’s perfect for repeated wear on a single trip. With that in mind, the Allbirds Wool Runners — one of our favorite travel shoes — are a great choice for hiking, biking, or any other sight-seeing activity on the go. Wear these shoes from the airport to your destination to save luggage space.

The Earthman Company Solid Shampoo and Conditioner Bar

Shampoo and Conditioner Bar from The Earthling Co. Can help you tick a few boxes on your packing list and travel checklist. You can take your shampoo and conditioner with you on the go without worrying about TSA restrictions on liquids in carry-on luggage. And, as an added bonus, you avoid creating even more plastic waste in the process. These hair sticks come in compostable packaging, so you can store them in almost any container in your carry-on bag.

Columbia Men's Silver Ridge Convertible Pants

If your goal is just to pack a few clothes, consider bringing a pair of convertible pants. This men’s pair from Columbia (the same women’s is also available) is perfect for sports travel and leisure travel, mainly because they can easily change from trousers to shorts and back again. These special convertible pants also come in seven different colors to suit any style, and you can choose a tailored option based on your length and waist. They also feature multiple pockets, an internal waist belt, and UPF 50 sun protection.

Travelon Anti-Theft Classic Mini Shoulder Bag

Carrying a messenger bag while traveling can help keep your files organized and always within reach. This bag is perfect for travelers as it has a locking main compartment and interior slots with RFID blocking technology. The crossbody strap is adjustable to fit most body shapes. Plus, it’s available in 14 different colors to complement any outfit.

T&S Impact Convertible Jacket to Hand Bag

This convertible jacket does incredible things by transforming from a safari jacket to a handbag, making it an extremely flexible tool for avoiding checked bags. You can wear this jacket on a plane, pack your stuff in the lining, and turn it into a bag anytime afterwards. In addition to offering several larger compartments for clothing or electronics, this jacket bag combo also boasts a phone pocket, a tablet pocket, a dedicated toiletry compartment and a sunglasses hook. It’s also available in seven different colors and in a variety of sizes, from extra small to 3XL.

Amazon Basics Vacuum Compression Storage Bags with Hand Pump, Medium Pack of 5

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

Amazon $33

LifeStraw Peak Collection Collapsible Squeeze Bottle

The LifeStraw Peak Series Collapsible Squeeze Water Bottle is our traveller’s top choice. The reason is simple: not only does it filter water for you, but it also folds down into a small size, perfect for taking anywhere. After going through airport security, fill up your bottle and stay hydrated on your flight and upon arrival at your destination.

Cadence Capsules Build Your 6

If you want to stick to your regular lotions, soaps, and grooming products, but they’re too large to fit in your carry-on bag, consider buying this reusable and customizable set from Cadence. We love the Build Your 6-Pack, which offers six customizable, leak-proof, and magnetic containers so you can keep all your essentials on hand. Say goodbye to single-use plastic and say hello to this aesthetic set you’ll want to use over and over again.

Pack all waterproof travel shoe bags

If you’re struggling to fit an extra pair of shoes in your carry-on bag, this travel shoe bag from Amazon is here to help. Not only is it made of waterproof material, but it also comes with a hand strap for easy carrying. Available in seven different colors and designs, this travel shoe bag can easily accommodate a pair of large shoes or two pairs of small sandals.

Teamoy Double Layer Jewelry Organizer

Make sure your most precious items arrive tangle and knot free and safely stored in one place with this travel jewelry box. It’s compact enough to fit in your carry-on bag, yet has room enough for all your rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and more. Best of all, both layers can be zipped closed to keep everything safe throughout your journey.

Polare Luxury RFID Blocking Leather Passport Holder Travel Wallet

A travel wallet is essential for any traveler. We love this wallet and passport holder combo because it offers a variety of storage options. Not only is it available in six colors, but you’ll also have room for your passport, cash, multiple travel credit cards and business cards, and more. Plus, it’s small enough to fit in any carry-on bag or backpack.

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