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Are you dreading an upcoming flight because it’s going to take hours…and hours…and hours? It’s understandable—long flights can be challenging because of the boredom, cramped legroom, shared armrests, recycled air, and tiny facilities. Not to mention the disruption to your regular schedule.

Fortunately there are a few ways you can make your long-haul flight more bearable just by planning your carry-on accordingly. Let’s look at a few ways you can pack to make your next long flight a breeze!

Choose the Right Carry-On Bag

First things first: get the right-sized bag for your flight. You don’t want to be that person shoving a suitcase into the little sizer outside of the boarding zone, and then begrudgingly handing it off to a flight attendant if the overhead bins are full.

If you can find a carry-on bag that will fit under your seat, you won’t run into this problem. Backpacks are always a great bet, and if you have issues carrying yours, there are wheeled backpacks, as well as ones with luggage straps to attach to your checked bag, so you can travel to your gate easier.

A few recommendations for carry-on backpacks for a long flight:

  • Asenlin 40l Travel Backpack: a top-rated travel backpack, this Asenlin carry-on bag is water resistant, has lots of compartments for your laptop, clothing, camera gear and other electronics, water bottle, and much more. It comes with separate storage containers to help organize items easier, has elastic bands on the inside to keep things in place, and has a luggage strap on the outside to secure to your roller bag as you make your way through the airport.
  • Matein 45l Travel Backpack: a bit larger, this backpack can fit absolutely anything you’ll need in a carry-on for a long flight. The Matein carry-on bag has a separate laptop compartment to make traveling through TSA screening easier, plus an anti-theft back pocket to store important documents, like your passport. My favorite part? The built-in USB port to charge your phone, headphones, or other devices.
  • Amazon Basics Laptop Backpack: I’m a fan of carry-on bags with lots of different compartments and mesh side pockets, so this backpack is my favorite of the bunch! When I’m on a long flight, I start to get antsy and don’t want to dig through a pile in my bag to find the right headphones, charger, and snacks—keeping everything organized into separate compartments (with smaller pockets and zippers inside of each!) is a huge win.

Pack a Travel Pillow and Blanket—and Layers

Even if your flight provides pillows and blankets, they may not be enough to keep you comfortable. And if you’re like me, you’ll need more than a thin little blanket once your temperature starts to drop as you drift off to sleep. Bring a hoodie or sweater so you can put it on or take it off as needed—if you’re starting out in a hot climate and don’t want to wear a hoodie in the airport, tie it to your backpack instead of packing it inside. This will give you extra room in your carry-on for other things.

A few recommendations to make your flight more comfortable:

  • Napfun Neck Pillow: I was never a fan of neck pillows, even for long flights, but have to admit this one makes a huge difference. This memory foam pillow has 360-degree support—including adjustable chin support—and comes with a travel bag to compress the pillow to fit better within your carry-on bag.
  • BlueHills Premium Soft Travel Blanket: this crazy soft blanket comes with a carrying case that you can attach to your roller bag as well as a clip you can attach to your carry-on bag—plus the case can be used as a pillow when the blanket is folded up inside of it. At 60”x43”, this blanket is fantastic for cozying up on your long flight.
  • Musicozy Sleep Headphones: my parents swear by these. If you fall asleep better with music or a podcast, these are more comfortable than noise canceling headphones or earbuds, which can literally be a pain if you’re like me and you tend to put your head down and sleep like you’re not paying attention in class. They connect via bluetooth and can double as a sleep mask—perfect for getting some shut-eye and drowning out the noise around you.

Wear Comfortable Shoes and Socks

Long flights can be hard on circulation because you’re sitting for many hours at a time, in the same position—and more likely than not, cramped next to another person (or people). This can lead to swelling and other issues, so you’ll want to bring along the right shoes and socks for the most comfortable experience possible.

If you can wear sneakers, slip-ons, or comfortable boots, you’re in good shape—be sure they fit comfortably and aren’t too tight, and can be loosened if needed. Compression socks also can go a long way toward being comfortable on your long flight. I recommend the CHARMKING Compression Socks, which are comfy, cushioned, and have a no-slip cuff to keep them from sagging.

Bring Snacks and a Water Bottle

Travelers in the US: you can bring snacks from home, but you can’t bring liquids over 100ml through security (though you can for sure bring an empty bottle and fill it up after you’re past the security checkpoint). Take along a water bottle to fill at the airport—if I’m traveling with a backpack that doesn’t have side pockets large enough for a water bottle or two, I usually clip a bottle to my bag using a carabiner.

As far as foods go, you can bring just about anything that’s solid and packaged, and that can fit into your carry-on bag—candy, cereal and granola, sandwiches and wraps, jumbo slice pizza…all of that is a-ok. Even smelly foods are technically ok to bring as long as they’re solid and packaged and can fit into your carry-on. So if you’re the kind of person who wants to eat hard salami or hard boiled eggs or pasta salad with garlic and onions on your flight, you can do it, and you’ll just risk the wrath of your seatmates and fellow passengers.

Note: there are exceptions for breast milk and baby / toddler food for travelers in the US who want to bring more than 100ml in their carry-on, so make sure to check TSA requirements well in advance.

Movies, Music, Podcasts, and Games

Even if there’s seat-back entertainment, you’ll probably want to bring along something for yourself as well. Honestly this is where I spend most of my time and effort in packing my carry-on for long flights—here are a few tips:

  • Download books on the Kindle app, and maybe bring a physical copy of a book you’d like to read as well—I like having the choice between reading material and the tactile comfort of a book if I’m tired of looking at a screen.
  • Download albums and playlists…way more than you think you’ll need.
  • If you use streaming services, download some movies and TV shows—and as with music, download more than you think you’ll need! Your mood might change and it’s fun to swap between shows to keep that long flight entertaining.
  • Bring whatever games you have and make sure you can play them offline in case you can’t or don’t want to connect to the in-flight wifi.
  • If you have work to bring with you, be sure you can access it offline.

Don’t forget your headphones and any chargers you’ll need for your devices! I usually bring my Bose noise canceling headphones, Pixel buds, a few different chargers, and an external battery pack.

What are your must-haves for your carry-on? Share your advice with the Frayed Passport community!

About the Author

As the managing director of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build a lifestyle that lets you travel the world whenever you want and however long you want, and not worry about where your next paycheck will come from. I've been to 20+ countries and five continents, lived for years as a full-time digital nomad, and have worked completely remotely since 2015. If you would like to share your story with our community, or partner with Frayed Passport, get in touch with me at sarah@frayedpassport.com!

Featured image by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash.

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