The Best Carry On Travel Gear for 2020

Megan Lee

This year, you’ve decided to whittle your packing list to just the essentials and you’re ready to tackle the challenge of taking only carry on backpack on your next trip. But how can you optimize the space in your carry on? It’s a tough question, and the answer lies in including high-quality gear that is packable and, as often as possible, does double duty.

Pair our carry on buyer’s guide with your travel gotta-have-it’s, and you’ll be traveling smarter, and lighter, in no time.

Travel Gear

Having the most efficiently packed carry on bag starts with buying the right equipment. Here are our recommendations for what kinds of travel accessories to pack in your carry on luggage in 2018.

First step: Choose the right travel backpack.

Setout Travel Backpack

At 45 L and under $200, the Setout travel backpack is just right for most travelers. This is a maximum sized carry on bag with special organization to keep your laptop and tablets safe. You’ll have plenty of room to bring everything you need and still travel with only a carry on.

The padded hip straps ensure a comfortable carry, even fully loaded and the weather resistant coating means that a little rain won’t do any harm.

  • Good for: Just about everyone who wants to travel carry on only and is looking for great value in a durable pack
  • Cost: $199
  • Get your own

Outbreaker Travel Backpack

The Outbreaker travel backpack comes in two sizes, 35L and 45L, which means you can choose your own adventure, packing more, or less. With an obsessive level of organization, these bags will meet the needs of cultural explorers who enjoy keeping everything in its place.

Fully featured, with adjustable harness system, and made of waterproof sailcloth, this bag goes the extra mile.

  • Good for: Travelers who love to stay organized and travel a lot, and those looking for a smaller carry on without sacrificing features
  • Cost: 35L: $269  45L: $299
  • Get your own

ClearlyQuartz’ Water Bottle

Some of the greatest travel stories lie across the boundaries of “potable drinking water.” Rather than consider these destinations a no-go (or packing easy-to-lose purifying tablets or steripens), just take your ClearlyQuartz water bottle.

It actively self-cleans thanks to its internal 280nm UV-C LED light. Purify with the touch of a button—anytime, anywhere.

New on the market for 2018, following an Indiegogo campaign, this high quality water bottle is a natural inclusion for our best travel gear of 2018 list!

  • Good for: You want an easy, portable solution for water purifying on the go
  • Cost: TBD


Mark & Graham Leather Charger Roll Up

Between your tablet, cell phone, and laptop, you’ve got cords everywhere. Avoid the tangles by organizing your chargers neatly into this pocket-sized roll up system. Made of leather (built to last) in a variety of colors, you can monogram it, too!

    • Good for: Keeping your cords organized
    • Cost: $49
    • Get your own

Rek’s Round Lumolux Sunglasses

Billed as virtually unbreakable (we’ll let you be the judge of that), these sunglasses are anti-scratch and anti-reflective, but are pro-comfort and lightweight. Their memory-flex polymer construction means you can drop these in the bottom of your carry on and they’re likely to survive. Get ‘em quick—they’re on sale now!

  • Good for: Travelers who have broken other glasses, or those who want basic sun protection
  • Cost: $50, on sale now for < $30
  • Get your own

Griffin Technology iPad Cover

Griffin’s Survivor Journey Folio works for the iPad (2017), the iPad Pro (9.7 inch), the iPad Air, and the iPad Air 2. An incredibly versatile cover, it’s main shell adds a strong layer of protection from cracked screens and scratches. Fold back the cover to act as a stand while binge-watching Stranger Things en route to your next great destination.

  • Good for: Fashionable, high quality protection; doubles as a stand
  • Cost: $50
  • Get your own


Flashpackers can’t possibly travel without their beloved electronics. Here’s the gear to look slick on the go.

TRNDlabs BEAM External Battery

Power banks weighing you down? Not anymore. We love TRNDlabs external battery, the BEAM, equipped with a 2500 mAh capacity battery. A minimalist design that’s slim and sleek, top your battery with the help of one of 2018’s best external battery packs.

  • Good for: Recharging your devices while out and about
  • Cost: $19 USD
  • Get your own

NOVA True Wireless Earbuds from TRNDlabs

One of the best luxury travel accessories this year is NOVA’s True Wireless Earbuds. Low profile, with great bluetooth sound and operate with a single button. Make calls, listen to the latest episode of This American Life, and charge with ease thanks to its portable pocket charger. You’ve got 3-4 hours before your next charge.

  • Good for: People who love listening to music and appreciate high sound quality but hate tangled cords
  • Cost: $69 USD on sale
  • Get your own

Ollo Clip’s Core Lens Set

If you use your travels to gather badass new visual content for your social media—or are simply unsatisfied with iPhone camera quality in your images—this little camera accessory will do wonders for capturing your memories.

The optics include Fisheye, Super-Wide, and Macro 15x lens capabilities, and its parts attach and align instantly. Even your mom could figure it out!

    • Good for: Taking higher-quality photos while still using your smartphone
    • Cost: $100
    • Get your own



You have limited space to work with, so make sure your gear is highly-optimized to be the following: multifunctional, layerable, easy to clean, and odor-repellent.

The Bluffworks Travel Dress Shirt

A travel shirt that is wrinkle free AND soft to touch? We didn’t think it was possible, but Bluffworks proved us all wrong. 

  • Good for: A lot of travel with not a lot of access to laundry
  • Cost: $125
  • Get your own


Light, durable, and a wide toe box. Need we say more? If you’re gearing up for travel in multiple climates, and worry your sandals won’t do it all, consider Xeros instead. Boasting the sole of a sandal plus the casual comfort of canvas, these shoes can handle just about anything (and might make you forget you ever used to pack actual sandals in the first place).

Our cofounder, Jeremy, is a big fan of this footwear. “I particularly love my Xeros because they make for such light packing, but are so superior to flip-flops.”

Lilly Pulitzer Palm Breeze Wrap

This oversized and 100% cotton beach wrap is a great addition to your carry on clothing supply. The wrap works in a pinch—whether you need an added layer of warmth, a touch of chic to your travel look, or a spot to sit in a park. The pom pom, tassel, and print combo add of personality enhancing its utility.

  • Good for: Beaches, temples, snuggling on long bus or plane rides
  • Cost: $80-$110
  • Get your own

Anatomie’s Skyler Travel Pant for Women

As one traveler put it: “I washed them in the sink w Dr. Bronner’s travel soap. They dry quick overnight. No wrinkles, they wipe clean & no lint. Great for long days of traveling & comfy on planes & trains.” These high waisted travel pants are too cute. I’m a big fan of Anatomie. 

  • Good for: Super-subtle yet memorable style
  • Cost: $225
  • Get your own

Sammy Slip Ons from UGG

We all have that favorite pair of travel shoes. While we were longtime fans of Tom’s canvas slip ons, there’s a new shoe in town. Boasting cushioning foam and a comfortable insole with leather lining, this shoe has a rubber outsole as well.

  • Good for: Quick and comfy shoes for cozy lunches or urban exploring
  • Cost: $50-$80
  • Get your own

Patagonia Men’s Stretch All-Wear Hybrid Shorts

We’ve been singing the praises of this pair of shorts for quite some time, and still firmly believe they earn a spot on our list of the best travel gear in 2018. Why? These shorts go the distance. From land to sea, they look good, are quick to dry, and ready to rumble.

  • Good for: Just about anything—including swiming!
  • Cost: $69
  • Get your own

Quick Dry Swimsuits by TYR

Fabrics that dry quickly are worth paying for when you travel. Choose from a variety of styles, patterns, and fits to meet your needs. Paired with our wet/dry bag, this is the perfect swim combo.

  • Good for: A quick-to-dry swimming solution
  • Cost: Varies
  • Get your own

Other Travel Gear to Downsize for 2020

Before you start stuffing all of your awesome new gear into your carry on, consider purchasing these travel essentials in more carry on friendly sizes:

Toiletry Bag

Those tiny bottles don’t need a big compartment. Personally, I like leather and something bright—keep your muted tones to your pack itself. Check out this one on Amazon for $95.

Travel Pillow & Eye Mask

Kill two birds with one (very rested) stone with Travel Developer’s two-in-one Voyage pillow at $19.95.


Books are bulky. And not ideal for carry-on travel. Since you still want to read, invest in an e-reader and have access to multiple books on the go. We like Kindle’s Paperwhite for $100. And don’t worry, those precious books (and their glorious smell!) will be waiting for you when you get back.

Prescription Bottles

Packing a whole bottle of 100+ pills is unnecessary. Instead, pack what you need (or anticipate needing) in smaller containers. Kick it up a couple of cute notches with Vera Bradley’s Travel Pill Case for less than 10 bucks.


A separate personal item, in addition to your carry on sized travel backpack is allowed by most airlines (basic economy tickets are the exception). Stash items that need easy access (like boarding passes and snacks) and add a few more liters of space to your packing experience. If you like backpacks, then this daypack is perfect, and fits up to a 15″ laptop. If you prefer a duffle, this one meets the exact size guidelines for a personal item on most major airlines. Both of them are made of waterproof fabric. How cool is that?


Begin the new year by improving your carry on packing prowess. Armed with the right gear, you can pack for a week, or months, all from the comfort of your carry on backpack. Invest in high quality, durable items and learn to pack better and lighter. 

  • Start with the right carry on bag for you
  • Pack fewer, higer quality items that are versatile
  • Choose electronics carefully
  • Downsize what you can

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