What is in my carry-on luggage when I fly to New York

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It is always a fascinating conversation starter when talking to people about travel to ask them what they take on the plane when travelling long-haul. During my numerous trips across the Pacific I have got this down to a pretty standard set of inclusions, which has covered me from everything from a lost bag and still being able to make a business meeting to a quick 3 day business trip to Los Angeles which meant I didn’t have to burn time waiting for my bags to arrive and was in my hotel within 20 minutes of landing at LAX.

What do you pack in your carry-on?

The basic premise of my packing list for my long-haul carry-on falls into 3 categories

  1. Comfort in-flight
  2. Ability to get work done
  3. What if the worst happens

Comfort

For my comfort in-flight no matter what class I am travelling in I always take a pair of shorts and comfortable t-shirt to sleep / rest in. I have often found that relying on airline pyjamas that I have been provided in Business and First class are generally too small, or they are almost always long sleeved and have pants instead of shorts. As a hot sleeper I struggle to sleep with pyjama pants on in winter let alone in a climate controlled metal tube at 38,000 feet.

Also no matter where I am travelling (either long-haul or short day trip to Brisbane or Melbourne) I will always pack my toiletry kit. It is so much nicer being able to brush your teeth with your own toothbrush and put on deodorant and cologne after you have finished your breakfast just prior to arrival into Los Angeles, San Francisco or Dallas after an overnight flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

Small light weight toiletry bag from Victorinox. Source: Victorinox

Without a doubt the best investment I have ever made was to buy some good quality noise-cancelling headphones. I use the Bose QC25 and they have changed the way I travel. I use them even when travelling in the front of the plane because no matter how good the airline supplied ones are (American Airlines supplies premium passengers with Bose headphones, but unfortunately collects them about 25 minutes prior to landing, which I always find strange seeing as the entertainment continues until you reach the gate), in my opinion nothing beats your own headphones that you can then keep listening too as you make your way through the terminal.

Bose QC25 Noise Cancelling Headphones are a must for any long-haul flight. Source: Bose website

A change of underwear (apologies if that’s too much information) – again there is something very refreshing about changing into a new set of underpants and socks just prior to landing after spending at least 14 hours sitting in the same position (generally longer if like me you often are connecting from a domestic flight before jumping on the flight across the Pacific). I find it also helps if you are connecting straight through to New York and you don’t have lounge access, sometimes if your connection is tight you might not have time to change once you have cleared immigration, then collected your bags and customs, only to recheck your bags and have to re-do security all over again.

Arriving into New York in winter also means making sure I have additional layers of clothing in my carry-on. I covered this in depth late last year about how to dress for a New York Winter – and I can’t emphasize it enough – the worst thing that could happen when travelling from a scorching Australian Summer of temperatures nudging 40 degrees celsius and arriving into the depths of a New York Winter with the wind chill can easily take the mercury to below 0, is to be caught without your bags and not even have a spare jumper, gloves, beanie and scarf ready to wear even before getting off the plane. I can’t recall the amount of times I been freezing just from the walk from the aircraft to the terminal at JFK Airport along the aerobridge.

Related article: Arriving into New York on Qantas: What you can expect

Work

One of the things I love the most about long-haul travel is the ability to completely cut off from the never ending stream of emails, calls and instant messages from colleagues and clients always needing something done 10 minutes ago. My standard routine on a flight outbound from Australia is to settle in and watch a movie whilst the first meal and refreshments are being served, and then as soon as the meal is cleared away and the movie finishes allow myself some completely uninterrupted time to get some much needed work done.

To ensure I can take advantage of this I always have my laptop, a MacBook Air 11in, (perfect for getting work done in all classes even in Economy), and my current notepad packed and within easy access of my carry-on. As I am lucky enough to have lounge access I always make sure I work on power in the lounge to ensure that I have full power available for the flight and it generally allows me about 4 – 5 hours of work time before I need to recharge. I generally hate having to recharge my laptop during the flight, even when inflight power is available. I find that when travelling in economy as I generally choose and aisle seat, if I have my laptop connected to power it makes it all the more difficult to get up when my seat mate invariably needs to get up to use the restroom, stretch their legs or grab a snack. If my power does run out I’ll plug it in and tuck my laptop into the seat pocket so that it is out of the way.

Getting work done at 38,000 feet

As I am often flying around the US on multiple different domestic airlines and knowing the dreadful state some of their aircraft are in, I also always make sure I take my iPad Air 2 for both work and entertainment reasons. I will load it up with a heap of unwatched TV shows and movies before I leave Australia and it also comes in very handy during meetings for note taking and replying to emails on the run.

Being away from my office so much means that I have to take a lot of cables, everything from laptop and phone chargers to camera batter charger and wireless internet hotspot chargers. To make accessing them as easy as possible I make sure they are all in one small cable carry case so that it is easy (especially in the confines of Economy) to just grab the case of out my bag and then find the cable that I need in my seat rather than blocking the entire aisle while I find the right cable.

An iPad makes for the perfect entertainment companion

As I am most often travelling for business I will also have a spare set of business cards tucked away in one of the pockets of my carry-on just in case I run out. I also use them as identification for my bags and put them in the ID card holder that comes with the bag, in addition to the airline issued tags from Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Velocity.

The simplest, yet most used, item of my work travel kit is a simple ball point pen that I always have with me. Not only does it allow to make some notes when working, or jotting down an idea when it comes into my head, but when it comes time to fill in the arrival documents just before landing into the United States, means I don’t have to pester the flight attendant to borrow their pen (and get the usual this pen is a boomerang speech) or worse – have to wait at immigration while I fill in the arrival card while I see other passengers moving through the immigration line and getting out into the fresh air before me.

What if the worst happens

As the Boy Scouts say, always be prepared. It will only take an airline losing your bag once while your on an international trip to make sure that you never again travel without a spare set of clothes in your carry-on. And this is definitely the case for me.

I now always travel with an additional set of clothes (shirt, pants, underwear and socks – in addition to the previously packed underwear and socks) so that you aren’t necessary having to go clothes shopping immediately after arrival if the airline does lose your bag(s).

Travel documentation – it goes without saying that you will need your boarding passes and passport in your carry-on luggage, however even paper copies of your itinerary, passport and emergency contacts can prove priceless should you be caught in an emergency situation.

A trick that my father taught me when I use to travel to and from Boarding school when I was younger was to always have some money stashed away for an emergency – now this wasn’t often heeded advice when I was younger – I just saw it as extra pocket money. Nowadays though I make sure that no matter what country I am travelling to I have at least $100 in local currently and $100 in Australian currency (all in small bills $5, 10 & $20), which I tuck away into a secret compartment that I have in my bag. It just provides that peace of mind that should anything happen to my wallet or credit cards while I am about and about I will always have a bit of cash to tide me over.

What bag(s) do I use for my travel?

After explaining what I take the follow-up question is usually what bags do you use to keep all that …stuff in, and have your bags ever been weighed or gate checked. As the picture at the top of the article shows my main carry-on that I use for all my domestic and international travel is the Tumi International Wheeled Office it fits within all the international and domestic carry-on requirements (just) and is also expandable should you decide to buy some extra goodies whilst I’m away. It is a great bag, and unfortunately it is no longer in production – its successor is (in my opinion) not as good so I’ll be using this one as long as I can.

Tumi International Wheeled Office

Depending on the length and purpose of the trip I also use a Tumi briefcase which partners well with the roll-aboard I take and means I can stash all of my work stuff in the briefcase and allow for more room in my roll-aboard. Generally I have found that by using a slim briefcase most airlines I have travelled with have happily accepted my briefcase as my “personal” item, with the few exceptions being low cost carriers (I am talking about you Jetstar!!). That being said I know I am one of those that will generally push the bounds of weight limits on my carry-ons, but at the same time I will always ensure that if I do take two I put my second (smaller) carry-on under the seat in front of me until all other passengers are on board. It is a major pet peeve of mine when other business travellers get on-board first and then take up more overhead space by putting both their carry-on bags in the overhead lockers rather than following common courtesy (and the rules) by putting one under their seat.

I hope this helps you with your plans for travelling, and to avoid any pitfalls of modern day travel. If you have any questions please feel free to use our Ask a Question section for any advice or recommendations.

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