We solved the age-old mystery: What to pack in a carry-on

It’s no surprise that here at EF, we like to travel. A lot. We travel to new cities, to faraway countries, to the coffee shop down the street (hey—it’s something!). So at this point, we have packing down to a science—and it’s time to share our secrets with you. Below, we’ve enlisted some fellow EF staff members to give you their greatest and strangest tips for what to pack in a carry-on.



An olive green tote filled with colored pencils, instant oatmeal packets, a baseball cap, and a passport illustrates some of the essentials on our list of what to pack in a carry-on

Baseball cap

“My biggest pet peeve is being behind slow people at TSA. I always wear a hat so I can put my belongings into it before they go through the scanner. Then I’m able to grab everything at once and go to my gate.”

–Ryan F., Tour Consultant, Mad Hatter


Instant oatmeal

“Airplane food can be…interesting. And expensive! So one of my favorite carry-on travel tips is to pack an oatmeal packet. Then, I just order a cup of hot water and enjoy my tasty (instant) snack.”

–Lana D., VP of People, The Oat G.O.A.T.



Safety supplies

“Since the pandemic began, I’ve been packing a toiletry bag with a bunch of masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. Essentially bringing a whole aisle in the pharmacy means I can skip a trip to CVS while traveling and makes me feel safe and prepared.”

–Sophie H., Marketing Manager, Health and Safety Monitor

Colored pencils

“I like to bring a couple of colored pencils and some blank postcards when I have a long travel day—for jotting down memories, writing letters, or just doodling!”

–Natasha F., UX Designer, Director of Arts & Aircrafts



“The fresh scent of citrus masks funky airplane smells, and they double as a great snack.”

–Madeline M., Copywriter, Citrus Sensei

Oranges, a tennis ball, and a map comprise some of our top items for what to pack in a carry-on, pictured here with embroidered felt patches of England and Italy's flags

Tennis ball

“Airplanes are cramped! A tennis ball works great for rolling out muscle knots and stretching after a full day of flying or walking around. Bonus: you’re always ready for a game of catch.”

–Rob W., Art Director, Ball Boy


Good recording app

“This might seem pretty obvious in terms of what to pack in a carry-on, but I always keep my phone on me. I love to record sounds with it when I travel. Spanish guitars, markets in India, an accordion on the Paris metro, church bells—these are the things that stick with me years later.”

–Will C., Business Analyst, Pocket Producer


A cell phone screen that says

One more sly tip:

“I’ve been on a lifelong mission to figure out how to travel light (overpackers anonymous, over here). My top trick? Here’s what not to pack in your carry-on bag: sneakers. Instead, tie them to your carry-on. That way, they don’t take up space inside!”

–Sarah B., Copywriter, Sneaky Sojourner


Editor’s note (2022): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.

Interested in some other tour planning tips?

Madeline Muller

Madeline is a copywriter at EF tours. She loves sitcoms, tacos, re-reading books, and befriending dogs. Her favorite city is Budapest.

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