I've Been to 30 Countries—Here's What I'd Never Pack in My Carry-On

Updated 06/01/18

How can you tell if someone is a seasoned traveler or not? A quick scan of an Instagram profile may help, as well as counting the number of stamps in a passport. But perhaps there's a more observant way to spot a jet-setter. You simply stand in the arrivals terminal and see who waits at baggage claim.

Obviously there are plenty of reasons to check a bag, whether you've been around the world or you very rarely leave your hometown. But if you're on the road often, chances are that you never bother with the risk and wait associated with a large suitcase. Take travel and adventure writer Brenna Wilson, for instance. She estimates that she's been to at least 30 countries (although she doesn't like to think of those experiences as checking boxes off a list) and added Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Costa Rica so far this year.

Through it all, she usually only packs a carry-on bag.

"I've had so many instances where my flight was delayed or canceled, and with a carry-on it's so much easier to jump on another flight—especially if I have a layover in a different country," she says. "It makes life much easier when I have that flexibility. Plus, when you travel as often as I do, every second counts."

Given Breanna's expertise, we asked for her advice on what you can and cannot take on a plane. Who knows? Maybe to a casual observer, you can appear to be a seasoned traveler after your very first flight.

What Can You Not Take On a Plane

What shouldn't be in a carry on?

Liquids: "I've learned to avoid liquids in my carry-on altogether—even shampoo! Companies like Lush make shampoo bars that are game changers!"

TSA's Liquid Rule specifies that liquids, gels, creams, and aerosols can go into a carry-on if they're packed in containers that are 3.4 ounces or smaller. Make sure to only pack what you know you'll need because you can most likely shop for toiletries after you arrive. 

Food: "I just made it through customs with salt cod from Canada that I was pretty stoked about, but I don't recommend this if you're already a nervous traveler," she says. "Definitely put food in your checked stuff."

Solid foods can be packed into a carry-on, like sandwiches, cereal, and candy, and there are even special instructions for taking on canned goods. It's always a good idea to pack a meal before a flight, if only to avoid costly terminal restaurants. 

Alcohol: "I always find it surprising how many people get to security with full bottles of something expensive," Breanna jokes. 

There is an exception to the rule for putting alcohol in a carry-on bag: It has to be made of 24 percent alcohol or less. But since that can be tough to follow for a carry-on, it's better to skip packing the booze altogether.

Battery packs: "There's almost always a plug on the airplane," she says. "I always check the model of airplane I'll be flying first, just in case." 

Battery packs are allowed in carry-on bags, of course, but Breanna suggests packing just one; you're likely not going to need extras. 

Guidebooks: "If you still like to travel with a physical guidebook, keep it in your checked bag. You probably won't look at it until you arrive anyways," Breanna says. 

If you like the recommendations of a guidebook but you'd rather not pack one to save space, try saving those tips on an offline version of Google Maps. 

Non-essentials: "Anything that's not important, or that you don't need immediately, goes in a checked bag," she says. "Just in case that bag goes missing for a few days."

A carry-on should always include your wallet and passport, but it's also a good idea to pack a set of clothes (including underwear) and a few toiletries, too. That way, if you ever have an unexpectedly long layover, you won't feel too uncomfortable in dirty clothes. 

 

What do you pack in your carry on?

"I keep my wardrobe super simple. I always have at least three white T-shirts in my carry on," Breanna says. Camera equipment always goes in, too, and I have a system to how I organize it based on what I need most. Noise-cancelling headphones, a neck pillow, and a refillable water bottle are always at the top so I can pull them out easily when I get to my seat on the airplane."

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