I pack my carry-on bag as lightly as I can. It never ends up being as light as I want it to be, but I try. Here are a few useful and stress-reducing things I pack (or recommend packing) into my carry-on.
All of them, in their individual prescription bottles, always, without exception.
* Copies of prescriptions, with doctor signatures
I don’t do this, and one of these days I’m going to regret it. If something happens to my ‘script bottles, copies of prescriptions could save me. I could bring them to a local doctor or hospital and request duplicate prescriptions if a bottle were lost or stolen.
Next time I’m traveling abroad, I’m going to follow my own advice about this.
* Letters from doctors
I don’t do this either, but I don’t have any unusual treatment needs right now, and it’s unlikely that I’ll become incapacitated to the point where I’ll be unable to make medical decisions for myself.
If it’s likely that you’ll need local medical help at your destination, get a letter from your doctor describing your condition and treatment plan. Include phone numbers, including pager or on-call physician numbers at your usual hospital if you believe an untimely emergency could occur.
I have a bead-filled half-circle neck pillow that I cherish and bring on all my longer flights despite its inconvenient size and shape. Inflatable neck pillows take up far less space, but I love my squooshy beads. I’ve rigged a strap to my carry-on bag to tie the pillow on.
I used to use the little plane-supplied pillows to support my lower back. But they don’t provide those (or blankets) on many planes anymore, so it I need to get myself a small inflatable for the back.
* Heat or cold packs
No gel packs of any temperature over 3 oz, of course. For cold, I recommend going old school. That is, bring an empty zip-locking bag and a towel. Ask the flight attendants for ice. Put ice in bag and wrap bag in towel. Apply ice bag to achy joint.
For heat, I shop at camping or motorcycle stores for small but powerful hot packs. Bikers put these in their gloves and boots to keep their extremities from going numb on cold rides. They work best outside of a layer or two of clothing.
Yes, you are allowed to bring your own food onto airplanes. I do it for just about every flight I take that’s more than an hour long. I can (and will) write a whole post about good food to bring on the plane, but for now…
Protein is key. I like nuts and hardboiled eggs. Veggies, like carrot and celery sticks, with a humus or nut butter work well. On longer flights, I’ll put together a complex salad in a plastic container, with a couple of ounces of vinaigrette dressing in a separate container.
I also usually pack myself a cookie or a brownie–some sort of satisfying sweet that helps me to feel full.
* Lightweight entertainment and distraction
I love my paperback novels. My boyfriend prefers his PSP. Netbooks seem to weigh less every 3 months. Kids can be calmed by their favorite videos on a compact DVD player.
Don’t expect a personal seat-back on entertainment unit on every flight, especially on older bargain airlines like Alaska and Southwest. I’m always prepared to provide my own distraction both at the airport and in the air.
* Earplugs and sleep masks
Sensory deprivation is key for me to be able to sleep on a longer flight, and I prefer a specific style of earplug. (Transatlantic carriers usually provide cheap disposable masks and earplugs.) And there’s a rumor that sleeping promotes health and well-being.
* Slip-on shoes
I don’t pack these, I wear them. The more complicated the shoes, the harder it’s going to be to wrestle them off, then tie/buckle/zip/weld them back on after the security scan.*
If I’ve forgotten anything that you think is key, please comment here!