Packing for Air Travel: The Complete Guide

Stacey Ebert

Air travel can be especially daunting for many travelers. Today’s version of air travel differs greatly from that of yesteryear. Today, people travel in comfortable casual clothing instead of wearing their Sunday best. Today there are restrictions on when to arrive, what to carry, and how much ‘stuff’ we can pack; as opposed to when travelers would show up, talk to an agent, carry on their paper ticket and check whatever luggage they thought they’d need.

My husband and I look forward to those long haul flights (and we regularly travel in economy class). I know it may sound strange, but it’s true. Once we can get ourselves to the airport, we let out a long sigh and know that the journey has begun. Once in flight, we’re stuck, but in a good way. There’s no gym to go to, no dishes to do, no errands to run, no hikes to go on, and (most of the time) no way to respond to those last minute emails. You’re officially tuned out. What you can do is enjoy this time to read what you like, watch what you like, play games, rest, snack, meditate, eat, chat and unwind. Let the pilot fly the plane while you get to go along for the ride.

What you pack for these flights will go a long way towards improving the experience and creating joy in the journey, whether it’s the food you bring or the comfort items that soothe you hours into a long haul flight, give some thought to the air time on either end of your adventure, and pack specifically for it.

Packing for a Long Haul Flight

What’s a long haul flight? In my opinion, anything over 5 hours. That 23 hour marathon to Thailand with a crazy layover in Abu Dhabi certainly counts. When planning for a long haul flight, comfort is key.

The Basics

Channel your inner Santa: Make that packing list and be sure to check it twice. Essentials and necessities make the cut, the rest is optional. What do you throw on when you get home after a long day to be your most comfortable? Make that feeling your goal of in flight.

Paperwork

No matter where you’re going or for how long your journey, you need proof of who you are. Grab those forms of identification and make and copies of everything from your passport and credit cards, to your driver’s license and health cards. These copies should be in the bag you have with on the airplane. Don’t make the mistake of checking them in your luggage. Some travelers even store an extra copy on their smartphones. Don’t forget to call your banks ahead of time to add those travel notifications and double check that you’ll have no fees abroad.

Entertainment

Netflix and chill is relative in flight. Whatever lessens your anxiety, puts your mind into the mellow zone and helps you wile away the hours, that’s what you should bring for your journey. Remember that not all planes still have seat back entertainment. Some now have streaming options to your device. Which means you have to have (or rent) a device. Double check through the airline website whether or not you need to download an app or join an airlines reward program to have full access.

You might want to pack:

Toiletries

Most airlines have done away with their overnight packages that used to be delivered to your seat during long haul flights. If you want to have a way to remove the fuzz from your teeth, the haze from your eyes, the stink from your underarms and make yourself look presentable for whatever happens when you arrive at your destination – pack a small toiletry kit for the plane.

Remember that you’ll have to abide by the TSA rules for liquids and pack everything in a quart sized ziplock bag

Consider including:

Tips for Toiletry Packing

The 3-1-1 rule is now standard worldwide and as long as your liquids fit in that quart sized ziplock bag – it’s a go. Medicines and baby formula can remain separate.

Snacks on Flights

Tummy rumbling isn’t fun in a meeting and certainly not on a long haul flight. Drink water, limit alcohol, and since take out doesn’t deliver at 40,000 feet, you might want to bring some of your favorite snacks on board.

Choose foods that are dry, non-perishable, non-liquid, non-stinky, not too crumbly, and if you can (for the sake of those highly allergic travelers sharing that circulated air with you) try to limit those nuts or nut-butters. Think small size, finger foods that can withstand the flight. While you can buy food at the airport, packing your own food from home is healthier and less expensive.

Do your best to stay hydrated before, during and after the flight. Consider bringing an empty water bottle that you can easily ask to have filled for you or do so yourself at water fountains or in the airport bathroom.

Consider these possibilities for your in-flight snack bag:

Tips for Packing Snacks

Packing for in-flight snacking is much like packing your picnic feast without that refrigerated cooler. Use what you have, repurpose what you can, and be sure you have a way to eat the deliciousness inside the container.

Personal Item Packing

There’s a difference between that carry on and a personal item. The carry on is your main piece of luggage, if you’re choosing not to check a bag. The Outbreaker travel backpack maximizes the carry on luggage allowance of most major airlines.

A personal item is a second, smaller item that fits under the seat in front of you. The Outbreaker daypack and duffle both fit the dimensions of a personal item and are perfect for packing your in-flight items.

Personal Item Packing List

This is as close to a ‘go bag list’ as possible. If you’re flying this stuff should be in your personal item and underneath the seat in front of you where you have easy access to it for the entire flight.

Include:

How to Pack a Backpack as a Personal Item

Think about weight distribution, what you’ll need to access most often, and what needs to remain well padded, or what needs to remain uncrushed.

How to Pack a Messenger Bag for a Personal Item

Since weight is not ergonomically distributed when carrying a messenger bag, proper and even distribution within the bag is important. Consider swapping sides with the bag instead of carrying it on the same shoulder all the time.

How to Pack a Handbag or Tote for a Personal Item

Rather than a bucket type bag or tote, go for something with decent internal organization to help keep your items easy to access in line ups at the airport, or mid-flight.

How to Pack a Briefcase for a Personal Item

Business travelers can travel light by maximizing the space inside a briefcase instead of carrying another bag as a personal item. Here are some tips for the savvy traveler:

How to Pack a Diaper Bag for a Personal Item

If you’re traveling with small children, the odds are good that your personal item is going to be a diaper bag. Use packing cubes to keep similar items together for quick and easy access (diapers in one, wipes in another, clothes in a third and another for snacks). Don’t bring the only one of baby’s favorite items on the road (buy two or three and leave one at home). Throw in a wet/dry bag to contain those inevitable messy kid-mergencies on the road.

What should go in a personal item to ensure a smooth flight with baby?

Invest in the Right Gear

Ever spent a redeye flight with your jacket balled up as a pillow and arrived with a serious cramp in your neck? Lesson learned: Pack a travel pillow. The key to comfort on a long flight can be the right gear. If you fly often, or if you’re flying a long way, it can be very worth it to make the investment in some of the essentials.

What should you consider?

Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

TL;DR

Travel isn’t always easy, but flying doesn’t have to be hard. Don’t let the anxiety of a flight, or what to pack, overshadow the joy of the travel adventure itself. Pack for your flight with the same care that you pack for your destination.