What to pack in your hand luggage on an international flight


You probably know that you need to pack your hand baggage sensibly, with things that you will require during the flight. Learn how to pack them right, for easy access and make your flight comfortable.

International flights, unlike flights operating in the domestic sector, have a fairly generous hand baggage allowance. Most airlines allow one hand baggage of up to 7kgs, in addition to a laptop bag or handbag. However, the dimensions of these bags are lesser than those allowed in the checked-in baggage that goes into the cargo.

Passengers must carefully read the baggage instructions on the website of the carrier they are flying with, to ensure that the size and the weight of their hand baggage comply with the airline's policies. Baggage allowance also depends on the 'Class' that you are flying by. Premium Economy and Business Class etc., allow more baggage.



I have come across travelers who stuff what doesn't go into the checked-in baggage into their hand baggage or use the hand baggage to carry whatever they need for their trip, without giving much thought to the whole packing process. The point I am getting at is that many travelers do not use the hand baggage to carry things for their in-flight needs.

When I am flying, I treat my hand baggage as my companion, especially during the long haul flights. It contains everything that I require during the flight. I pack the baggage sensibly with essential items, taking into consideration my health and hygiene and of course emergency supplies in case my checked-in baggage gets misplaced.

Having a carefully packed carry on hand baggage provides me with some bit of security. So, what do I pack in my hand baggage? Let me share my packing secrets with you.

The Bag

I prefer a duffle bag over a stroller suitcase as it is spacious and comes with the advantage of a variety of pockets – both inner and outside. The pockets are a real bonus as a lot of stuff can be thrown into these pockets for easy access.

While most consider overhead storage bins convenient for stashing their hand baggage, I prefer to shove mine under the seat ahead of mine. Having the bag right at my feet makes it easier for me to access things when I need them. I do not like the idea of standing in the aisle, mid-flight, trying to get the bag down from the hold. It is too much of a physical strain. When it is under the seat ahead of mine, I just pull it out, unzip it and access whatever I need.

Smart packing tips

It is sensible to be organized when packing your hand baggage, instead of dumping things into it. Being organized makes it easier to look for things when you need them. Isn't it better to know what is where, rather than having to rummage through the stuff?

Here is a packing tip that you can use –

Pack pouches, within your hand baggage

I compartmentalise the things that I put in my cabin baggage. So, all things of one kind are stored in ziplock pouches or the like. This is an effective way of finding what you need, without fretting and fuming.

I got this idea from the toiletries pouch that is regulated by the TSA rules followed by airlines. According to the regulation, each bottle or jar of liquid, paste and gel in the carry-on baggage, should not exceed 100ml. And all the contents must fit into the ziplock pouch that the airline provides or prescribes.

Similarly, I use small pouches to carry effects that I would constantly be in need of or use, during the flight. You can do the same. I carry a pouch with chewing gum, headphones, a notepad and pen, my reading glasses, earplugs etc. I also carry a toiletry pouch wherein I store things that I need during the flight, such as moisturizer, hand-sanitiser, lip balm etc. I transfer the stuff that I will need into the pouch after I am done with the security check. When I need to freshen up, I take the whole pouch along to the loo. If you are travelling with kids you can pack stuff to keep them entertained.

Look at it this way, in case you choose to put your bag in the overhead compartment you can remove these small pouches and hold them in the pocket at the back of the seat in front of you. It saves you the trouble to fish out stuff that you need, each time.

Things to pack inside pouches

Of course, your requirements will be separate from mine, and this is just to give you a broad idea of how to compartmentalize your packing, in the hand baggage. When on a long-haul flight I keep an emergency supply of the following items in small pouches.

Pouch One

  • Anti-histamine tablets, because someone's strong perfume or body odour can trigger an allergic reaction
  • A mild analgesic, like Disprin, for I tend to get headaches in stale, recycled air
  • Hand and face creams to prevent moisture loss and dryness, a side-effect of air conditioning - though you'll probably find moisturizer in the bathroom, I prefer carrying my own, for hygiene purpose
  • Lip balm or a tube of lip gloss or lipstick
  • Lozenges or imli goli to suck on to prevent air pressure from causing ear discomfort
  • Earplugs or cotton to prevent the pressure in the air from building up
  • Eye masks for a bit of shuteye, because these aren't provided to Economy class passengers


Pouch Two

I pack a second pouch that I keep handy and it has the following items in it –

  • Deodorant or a miniature bottle of perfume
  • A bottle of hand sanitizer
  • A pack of moisturizer wet wipes
  • A pack of regular tissues
  • Sanitary essentials that women need


Pouch Three

This pouch has things for my entertainment. You'll probably find plenty of in-flight entertainment to keep you engaged on long-haul flights, but if you are someone like me, you'd do well to carry your own stuff to keep you entertained. When I say someone like me, I mean someone who wouldn't be interested in the movies and television serials that are played on a loop.

I prefer carrying my own little entertainment kit comprising a book or two, and maybe a magazine for light reading. I also have some good music on my phone. I also carry a notepad and a pen to jot down thoughts that come to mind.

When my daughter was young, I would carry things to keep her occupied. Things like a portable gaming device and puzzle and coloring/drawing books. Only you would know how to best keep yourself occupied. I have seen people on long-haul flights with prayer beads or chanting slokas from a prayer book.

Miscellaneous essentials

I always choose to carry a few essential items in my hand baggage which make traveling easy.
  • A few healthy snacks of my choice
  • A neck pillow for added comfort
  • A jacket or a jumper
  • Socks
  • A small foldable bag into which I stash stuff that I buy at the Duty-free stores



Pack clothes in your hand baggage

Make sure to pack a few clothes in your carry-on luggage, just in case your checked-in baggage gets delayed or you need a change of clothes at a layover or stopover.

Check the temperature of your destination and accordingly pack a woolen jacket, gloves, beanie and scarf if it is cold there.

Finally, make wise use of the baggage allowance and keep your specific needs in mind, when packing your bags.


Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

Follow Juana or read 547 articles authored by Juana

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