But instead of stressing about what to pack in a carry-on, take some pointers from Rebecca Atencio, a United Airlines flight attendant who’s been traveling professionally for over 15 years. “People would be shocked by what we bring on flights,” she says. “We basically have little apartments on wheels.”
“People would be shocked by what we bring on flights. We basically have little apartments on wheels.” —Rebecca Atencio, flight attendant
She mentions some predictable selections, like warm layers for when the cabin gets cold and hand sanitizer for keeping germs at bay, but seven of Atencio’s go-tos are likely to surprise you—in a good way. Below, find a curated list of thetravel necessities to bring in your carry-on, straight from a flight attendant, so you can fly fearlessly.
What to pack in your carry-on, according to a flight attendant
1. Face and hand moisturizer
It’s no secret that airplane air can get a little stale. Between pressurization and the constant circulation of air, sitting in a cabin can dry out our skin, especially our face and hands. “Most people I know just keep a little bottle of Trader Joe’s hand cream in their aprons,” Atencio says. As for their faces, “I know a lot of flight attendants get the La Mer moisturizer, especially when it’s cheaper in other countries. I haven’t personally tried it myself, but I know every single flight attendant has invested some serious money in moisturizer,” she adds.
2. An electric toothbrush
Anywhere Atencio goes, her electric toothbrush goes, too. “If you’re used to a Sonicare at home, you’re not going to be happy with a regular toothbrush on the road,” she says. “It takes up just as much room as a regular toothbrush, and the charge can last me about a month.”
If you haven’t invested in an electric toothbrush, consider going all-in with a Phillips Sonicare or opt for something more affordable, like the Quip.
3. A cute swimsuit
Take it from a flight attendant: You never know when the opportunity for a quick dip will arise. “Even if you’re going to Alaska, there might be a hot tub,” says Atencio. “I always pack a bathing suit, just in case.”
Next time you fly, throw your suit in your bag. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
4. Colorful packing cubes
No matter what type of suitcase or bag you’re using, Atencio recommends always organizing everything in convenient packing cubes. Rather than digging through clothes to find a pair of undies, or scrambling to find a plastic bag to pack dirty shoes, throw outfits in their own packing cubes to separate your items in a way that makes sense—and helps you stay organized in the process. “They don’t have to be fancy,” she says.
Pro tip: look for cubes with color, especially if you’re packing in a black suitcase. “We’re assigned plain black luggage,” Atencio says. “So you won’t be able to find anything if everything is black. I use ones that are bright and colorful to make it easier.”
5. Remedies for sensitive ears and throats
If you think you get clogged and stuffy from a quick flight, imagine how someone who spends three to four days a week in the air must feel. Whether it’s cough drops, an antihistamine, or immunity-boosting supplements, pack what will help you comfortably get through your flight. If you’re someone with really sensitive ears and struggle with the pressure, Atencio suggests checking out Fisherman’s Friend Menthol Lozenges, which she always keeps on-hand. “If you have sinus issues or have a tickle in your throat, they just open everything up,” she says.
6. A hydrating facial spray
Atencio also suggests packing some facial spray for a hydro boost mid-flight. “Spray a little on when you get up from a nap, and it’s like an espresso shot on your face,” she says.
Our picks: Eir NYC’s Fresh Eir and One Ocean Beauty’s Blue Light Protection + Hydration Mist, which will keep your face protected from all that cross-continental screen time.
7. S’well bottle
Atencio also never packs a carry-on without her S’well water bottle. “Even if I’m not working, I never don’t have water with me,” she says. While any water bottle will do, Atencio suggests using one with a screw cap rather than a suction bottle or one with a straw because air pressure from the plane can mess with the suction. “When you open it to take a sip, the pressurization will shoot water everywhere,” she says. Noted!
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