carry-on travel in comfort & style: top 10 in-flight essentials


I love to travel, and am about to burn through passport number four, but getting places by airplane can be a drag.

If getting there can’t be fun all the time, at least you can be calm, fed, organized, stylish, entertained—even cozy and rested—whatever travel adventures await you, planned or not. Is this asking too much?

Whether packing for your own trip, or thinking of what to give the savvy traveler in your life, here are 11 of my top picks priced from $1.50 to $250.

Bonus: everything here is available on Amazon – most of it with free shipping, in case you need to get stuff in a hurry, or don’t want to run around town trying to find everything. Clicking through on the links here doesn’t cost you more and earns me a little commission when you shop…which I am definitely putting toward item #10, in Charcoal…or Olive …or Navy. I can’t decide!

Thank you and Enjoy!

darcie-boot1. Slip on boots:
Not having to unlace and retie helps you breeze through the airport. A low heel is helpful in case you have to run to your gate. Black boots go everywhere and with everything for instant style. Plus, one of your heaviest items is worn while you travel, not packed — which saves space and weight in your luggage.

michael-kors-tote2. The perfect tote:
This neutral color in camel takes you through every season, won’t clash with any color shoe or boot, and is less heavy looking that a black tote (although this model comes in black and lots of other great colors, just in case you can’t decide and *ahem* need to get more than one color).

Leather in a well-made brand is an investment that will last longer than a bag you have to replace every year. I don’t like logos all over my stuff, and this one clips off.

Look for a tote that zips on top, has straps that fit over your shoulder, and has side pockets for a water bottle, small umbrella or magazine on one side, your boarding documents in the other. This model as a zipper divider in the middle and will fit under the airplane seat.

Your “personal item” in addition to your carry-on bag never looked so good.

kindle-fire3. Endless books (or movies, music, and my favorite…magazines!)
make even a trip around the world go faster. The new Kindle fire is just $100, and has android apps for staying in touch via social media, getting work done or searching for a great cafe. At this price, I’m ready to give Kindle a try, after just using the Kindle app for years on my iPad.

moleskine-lg4. Go Analog: Favorite Travel Journal

I do my best thinking and dreaming with pen and paper. The classic Moleskine notebook is my go-to travel sketchbook, diary, and trip planner all-in-one. A pocket in the back holds receipts and ticket stubs.

My preference is for the blank, unlined pages, but you can get lined or grid pages. I buy them by half-dozen so I never run out and always have some on hand to give as spontaneous gifts. Your friends will want these when they see yours, whether they travel or not. Get extras.

5. Really good headphonesbose-noise-canceling-white-headphones
will tune out the sound of engine noise, or the people talking too loud in the row behind you. Noise-canceling technology lets you sleep like a baby even when the babies on your flight have no interest in doing so. Highly recommended for highly sensitive people.

Of course, you could also use them for their intended purpose: to listen to all that great media on your new kindle or loaded up on your smartphone. Whee!

Sadly, mine were lifted from a hotel room. But now I can get these fashionable, cream-colored ones.

sleepmask6. A comfy sleep mask
shuts out the light so you can sleep better on the plane, and in whatever lighting situation awaits you when you land.

After pen and paper, not having a proper sleep mask makes me the most nervous.

I keep a couple at home, one in my carry on, one in my checked bag. Just in case.

Have you heard that sleep (or maybe it’s hydration) is the best cosmetic? Sleep is the best pharmaceutical for sure, whatever may ail you.

Speaking of pharmaceuticals…

formula3037. Natural anxiety relief…Formula 303 is at the top of my lotions and potions list.

I’m a nervous flyer and have chronic back pain made worse by so much sitting and moving luggage. Just two tablets will ease muscle tension, invite relaxation, and calm nerves.

It’s nature’s form of Xanax made from plants, non-habit-forming and no bad side effects.

Good for sleeplessness due to jet-lag, too. I love this stuff!

kind-bar8. Convenient, gluten-free snacks are hard to come by on the road. Kind bars come in both savory and sweet flavors. The coconut almond reminds me of macaroon cookies, so I eat them when craving cookies. The savory blends have less sugar and are good when craving…crackers and such.

Another product to buy by the dozen. I usually travel with that many, especially if I’m going somewhere far away that doesn’t stock them. These make a decent breakfast in a pinch that wards off the low blood sugar crash.

Averting a cranky mood and the desperation to eat anything = priceless.

A nice thing to have on hand for your travel companion, adult or child, who may not have thought to pack a snack.

american-tourister-carryon-flower9. A lightweight, colorful carryon bag will make yours stand out from the sea of black bags – especially if you gate check it. This model also comes in a cute red, white and black color palette, in both carry on and checked luggage size.

American Tourister happens to also be my favorite wheeled luggage. I’m pretty hard on my bags, and I will always buy this brand. They have the best pocket placement, too, and aren’t expensive compared to other brands.

cashmere-shawl-sweater10. A cashmere sweater shawl in a whole palette of colors…more practical than a wrap, warmer and way less icky than an airline blanket (haven’t seen any of those lately on USA / Mexico flights anyway).

I can’t stand freezing to death for hours on a flight.

Alas…to be warm, comfortable, and stylish…means leaving my beloved fleece hoodie at home.

sockwell-chevron-compression-sock11. Another item that make flying and travel more comfortable: pretty wool compression socks. Who knew compression socks could be stylish…and so practical for long walks once off the plane? Chevrons! In many colors! Great even if you don’t care about compression in your socks.

I started wearing these on long-haul flights to help circulation, but now I always wear them when traveling. Wool is the only material I want on my feet, they manage to be both warming and cooling, so they work in any weather. The knee high length is perfect for your stylish boots.

If you run or ski or walk a lot, compression socks really help your legs and feet feel better. They’re not just for women of a certain age!

I sprained my ankle badly on a tropical trip and ended up cutting off the foot (of the sock!) so I could wear them with my flip flops. This brave act of cutting up a perfectly good $40 sock saved the body some additional wear and tear until I could get medical attention.

And there you have it…my personal Top 10 (11 actually) travel packing carryon must-haves. Some are still wish list items…Bose, Kindle and Cashmere…I am looking at you.

What are the things that make travel easier, more stylish and more comfortable for you?

What’s at the top of your travel packing wish list?

If you found this list helpful, I’d be so grateful if you shared it around.

3 Responses to carry-on travel in comfort & style: top 10 in-flight essentials

  1. Lauralyn November 26, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    I love this list! I want everything on it! Thank you for posting. I am dreaming….

  2. rachel November 26, 2014 at 6:28 am #

    AWESOME LIST! Super practical without being all traveling in sweatpants like so many people equate to comfort and ease these days. I LOVE how the accessories are stylish without being overstated.

    I really want a nice leather shoulder bag kind of like what you post here, to use as my personal item. Right now I have a very practical backpack, but I’d like something to feel a little more regal.

    Thanks for the post Lisa!

    <3 Rachel

    • Lisa Sonora November 27, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

      Rachel – thanks! Yeah, I am the queen of comfort here at home. I live in “yoga” pants and my boyfriend’s tee shirts…and then there is my fleece hoodie collection!

      But I do not leave the house like this – even if going to yoga – I throw a dress or skirt on over my yoga pants and top.

      Seeing people out and about in their yoga pants is a fashion offense, in my opinion. But don’t get me started! I haven’t been living in the USA for several years (though I’ve come back a lot for work stuff). The last few visits back to the US, I had this culture shock: since when are women running around in really revealing yoga pants. Yuk. But maybe that’s just me. Oops. I guess I got started…

      Let’s just go back to talking about bags…one of my favorite subjects.

      What I like about a simple, lightweight leather shoulder bag, is that it gets better with age instead of worse, will never go out of style, and becomes something of a travel buddy. Is that part weird?

      I like to have fewer nice items (this bag is not cheap at $250 or so, but not crazy, like bags that cost the price of a month’s rent in San Francisco) rather than lots of so-so stuff. So my practice is to save up for a piece I really want, which also helps thwart bad impulse buys.

      Also, I haven’t found backpacks to be that practical when traveling, which seems counterintuitive. I hate how they open and how they look… etc.

Leave a Reply