Start Your Vacation Stress-Free With These Carry-On Packing Tips

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When packing a carry-on bag for vacation, it can be useful to have an idea of what you should and should not bring. For one thing, you’re definitely not going to want to load your carry-on with too many liquids because these will likely be confiscated during security checks. If you’re traveling for two weeks or more and have a large amount of clothing to pack, you’re probably not going to want to stuff everything in your carry-on bag either. Though packing a carry-on can be simple, there's definitely a method to it.

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So, how do you pack a TSA-approved carry-on? An even better question is … how do you pack a carry-on bag when traveling with family? Well, we will say this. It all begins with planning. Make or just follow a plan so you don't leave your essentials at home. To make things simple, we’ve listed some important tips for packing your carry-on ahead of your vacation!

Essential things to pack in your carry-on

1. Passport

Your passport is definitely one of the first things you'll want to throw into your carry-on before heading to the airport. If a carry-on is all you’ll be traveling with, it can help to place your passport into a pocket that's easily accessible. It's also a good idea to pack your passport early on to make sure you don't leave it behind!

2. Other travel documents

Aside from your passport, there are a few other travel documents you won't want to leave home without. These include flight tickets, boarding passes, hotel details, and other important documents. For fast and easy packing, locate these items a few days ahead of your flight. If you need anything printed, make sure to do that early as well. It is also a good idea to download important documents onto your mobile phone just in case your physical copies get misplaced. In most cases, digital files can be used as a stand-alone. To be on the safe side, it still makes sense to have hard copies as well.

3. Travel wallet

A travel wallet will be a convenient place to store things like your passport, travel documents, cash, and credit cards. Having these items all in one place will make it easier to keep track of them and you can easily fit your travel wallet into your carry-on. It is recommended that travelers only carry a limited amount of cash in their travel wallets. The rest of your cash can be placed elsewhere in your carry-on. Putting credit or debit cards into your travel wallet is optional as well — you might be better off storing these in another safe spot in your carry-on.

4. Medication

Medication is another one of those things you’ll need to pay special attention to when packing. It is better to pack medication in your carry-on as you’ll be able to access it more easily if you need to. This tip especially comes in handy in the event of travel delays. Be sure to fill your prescriptions well in advance to ensure you have enough medication for your trip.

Luggage Packing Medicine Beaches

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Another useful tip when it comes to travel and medication is packing a little more into your carry-on than you think you’ll need. Though there may be pharmacies at your destination, the available medications can vary from place to place. As much as possible, try to stick to bringing medications that are in a pill or other type of solid form. If you must travel with liquid medication, make a point of letting the screening officers know.

5. Toothbrush & toothpaste

Toothpaste is a common, everyday item but you'd be surprised by how many people leave it behind when packing for a vacation. The perspective for some is that it will be provided at their resort, but it isn’t always. Just in case, pack some into your carry-on along with a toothbrush. These items might come in handy along the way as well especially if you’ll be taking an early morning or late-night flight. Packing toothpaste into your carry-on ensures you’re well prepared for any eventualities, including delays.

Good to know: One small tube of toothpaste is usually enough if you’ll be traveling with your family. This means you all won't need to bring separate tubes. Most travel-sized tubes of toothpaste are about 3.4oz, which is in line with TSA regulations.

6. Change of clothes

An absolute carry-on essential is an extra set of clothing. As delays in the arrival of your luggage are sometimes unavoidable, this will help ensure you at least have something to change into once you get to your resort. If you’re traveling with kids, ensure you have an extra set of clothing for everyone, including undergarments. Younger children may require more than one change of clothing in their carry-on, or in yours. Roll any clothing you put into your carry-on as opposed to folding it — this can help save space.

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For travel to a warm-weather destination, ensure your change of clothing is lightweight and comfortable. If you'll be staying at a family-friendly resort like Beaches Resorts where there are multiple swimming pools, easy access to the beach, and a water park, you might want to consider throwing a swimsuit into your carry-on as well. This will allow you to get your vacation started no matter the eventualities. This could also come in handy if you arrive before the check-in time — you’ll be able to change and take a dip in the pool without having to unpack your suitcase.

Expert tip: Layered looks are best if you’ll be traveling from a colder destination to a much warmer one. This will make it a lot easier to change to suit the temperature once you get to your destination.

7. Entertainment

For long flights especially, a little entertainment can be useful. This is even more important if you’ll be traveling with children. Some of the items you might want to include in your carry-on are books (1 or 2), a phone or tablet (with books or favorite shows), and these other games for kids on a plane. Whether yours will be a short or long flight, you won't regret having something to do for yourself and everyone else in your travel group as well.

8. Sunscreen

Warm winter getaways of all varieties require sunscreen. This is an absolute essential in your carry-on as keeping sunscreen near at hand can help ensure your skin is well protected from the moment you arrive at your sunny destination. Simply slather some on the moment you get off the plane. Size matters if this item is going to be placed in your carry-on. Go for a small, kid-friendly sunscreen that’s within the 3.4oz restriction for liquid items in your carry-on bag. The whole family will be able to use your carry-on sunscreen and you all can switch to individual preferences if necessary once you arrive and unpack.

9. Eye mask and travel pillow

Eye masks and travel pillows are comfort items that’ll help ensure you’re as relaxed as possible during your travels. If you plan on sleeping on the flight, these can be life savers. While your eye mask will help keep the light out, a travel pillow will help support your neck. You can easily fit an eye mask into your carry-on and most types of travel pillows might be able to fit in there as well. Some travel pillows can be fastened to the outside of your carry-on bag or personal item which can help you save space.

10. A jacket or cardigan

Even if you aren't going anywhere cold, a jacket or cardigan can be useful when traveling by plane. Chances are the temperature on the plane or in the airport will be cold enough to warrant their use. If you don’t want to bring a jacket or cardigan a simple long-sleeved shirt can help you stay warm on your flight. If you do go for a jacket or cardigan, opt for something light that you can take off and store in your carry-on without weighing it down.

Expert tip: Our ultimate family beach vacation packing list has everything you'll need for an amazing family vacation! If you're still early on in the planning process, here's how to plan a family vacation.

Carry-on packing tips

Make sure your carry-on bag is allowed on the plane

Most airlines allow carry-on bags, but this is something should verify ahead of your flight. After checking whether your airline allows carry-ons, there are a few other things to think about. We’ll list the most important below:

Size: This tends to vary between airlines so you should check to see if your carry-on meets the size requirement. Contact the airline to find out about size guidelines. This is important as carry-on bags are required to either fit into the overhead compartment or under your seat. Usually, the dimensions for an acceptable carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 centimeters x 35 centimeters x 56 centimeters). These measurements should include the handle and wheels.

Weight: There is usually a weight limit for carry-ons as well. You might want to use a luggage scale before leaving home to check that your bag isn’t too heavy. If it is, you can wind up having to check it in which will cost more. This can add up if you’re traveling with family, and you’ll probably want to avoid any unexpected charges at the airport.

While packing with your family, weigh everyone’s bags and distribute items between luggage so you’ll all have a smooth check-in process. Checking the weight of your carry-on bag is useful even if your airline doesn't have a weight limit as you’re going to need to lug your bag along with you until you get to your resort. Carrying or rolling along a heavy bag can be cumbersome!

Style: The general look of your carry-on bag doesn’t matter. What matters is the type of bag you use as your carry-on. Choose a bag that you’ll easily be able to carry with you when you’re getting around at the airport. Make sure it’ll be easy to access the items you need quickly as well. It's a good idea to go for a carry-on bag with pockets or compartments that can help you stay organized as you travel. This will help you get quick access to the things you need as well.

Get your carry-on packing list organized

A carry-on packing list can help you get your vacation packing going. You can either create one on your own or hop online and download a pre-made list. Do this a few days to a couple of weeks before your trip. Putting your packing list together can help point out things that you might need to go pick up at the store or even things you need to locate at home ahead of your vacation. You might also be able to tick some sharable things off your list if a family member or another person in your travel group already has the item.

Minimize the toiletries/liquids

Due to air travel restrictions, you’ll need to be precise with the amount of liquid you pack in your carry-on. There are specific size stipulations you’ll need to stick to — all liquid products in your carry-on must be no more than 3.4 oz. Anything larger than that found in your carry-on will very likely be confiscated by a TSA officer. Generally, the less liquid you have in your carry-on, the quicker you’ll be able to get through security.

Luggage Toiletries Beaches

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When it comes to liquids in your carry-on, stick to travel sizes and you’ll be fine. Try to bring only toiletries and other liquids that you need for that particular day. You can even narrow that down to things you absolutely need on the flight. Don’t try to save money by bringing drinks from home unless you’ll be drinking them ahead of these checks. You can buy drinks both at the airport and on the plane. If you're really thirsty, try to wait until you’ve passed through security to get drinks.

Lastly, make sure you store liquid items in your carry-on in a clear ziplock bag. Also, think about where you place these items in your bag. Using a separate pocket or compartment in your carry-on for liquid items can be helpful just in case you’re required to take them out when going through security.

Good to know: If you’ll be traveling with infants or toddlers, you can bring milk, formula, or other drinks that your child will need on your flight. Alert the security officer of these items as soon as you can. The items will need to be screened so ensure you can access them easily.

Put the things you’ll need first in the easiest-to-reach places

For easy access to important items, place things into your carry-on in the order that they will be used. Consider how often you’ll have to take certain items out of your bag and pack accordingly. Things like tablets, games, and other entertainment items can be placed at the bottom of your carry-on or in a pocket that's inside your bag as you’ll most likely use these after you’ve boarded your flight and are settled in. Anything you’ll need to reach easily as you make your way through customs and immigration should be placed at the top or in a side pocket of your bag. This includes your passport, travel documents, and cash for drinks and snacks.

Think about what carry-on items will be shared within your travel group

If you’ll be traveling in a group, one of the best ways to save space in your carry-on is by avoiding duplication. There are quite a few items that can be shared within a family or a group of friends when traveling. This includes things like toothpaste, lotion, sunscreen, books, games, and more. This is especially useful when traveling with multiple children.

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In terms of carry-ons, most airlines will allow everyone in your travel group to have their own. For ease of movement, you can distribute essential items among the different bags. For smaller children, a carry-on might just be a diaper bag. It can also be replaced with another item that they’ll need. When traveling with children, keep in mind that you’ll usually end up holding their carry-ons, so pack light!

Make use of the airline’s personal item allowance

In addition to a carry-on, travelers are usually allowed to bring one personal item with them on their flight. This is typically smaller than a carry-on and it should ideally be able to fit snuggly underneath the seat in front of you. The ideal personal item should be small, but with enough room to fit things like electronics, a passport, and other valuables that you choose not to store in a carry-on.

Carry On Bags Airline Beaches

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Parents with children may find it useful to store snacks, water, diapers, and other essentials in their personal items. While many airlines allow personal items, it won’t hurt to confirm this with your specific carrier ahead of time. It can be convenient to opt for a personal item that doubles as a daypack, so you’ll be able to use it during your trip. Things like messenger bags, small backpacks, and even laptop bags can be used as personal items. Pack your personal item with your carry-on in mind as you’ll need to carry both of these items around at the airport.

Prepare for the worst: think about your checked luggage getting lost

The chances of your checked bag being lost or delayed during a flight are slim, but it doesn't hurt to prepare for this just in case. Having a Plan B —in this case, your carry-on — can help ensure you’re well prepared for whatever happens. With this in mind, pack a few essentials into your carry-on so that you're not left totally stranded. Be careful not to go overboard as your carry-on does need to be a certain size. As stated previously, carry-on essentials can include a change of clothing and underwear, a small tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush, and anything you would need immediately after you land.

Bonus tip: Add a GPS tracker to your checked luggage in case anything gets lost.

Carry-on packing tips for stress-free travel

When it comes to air travel, the easier it is to get to your destination, the better. Whether it relates to selecting a convenient seat ahead of time or packing a carry-on effectively, making an effort to simplify things can really help you have a more stress-free travel experience. Now that you've read these useful tips, it's time to get ready for your vacation!

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If you’re already packing, you probably have some idea of where you're headed. If not, we've got some cool vacation ideas for families. Included in this list are some amazing all-inclusive family resorts that can be just what you're looking for. Beaches Resorts can be ideal if you're looking for a resort near a beach with activities for kids and adults, a water park, Kids Camps, a spa, and so much more. Planning on traveling soon? Our Turks & Caicos packing list and Jamaica packing list include some more essentials you won’t want to leave behind!

Expert tip: Want to make sure your kids are kept well entertained during your family vacation? Definitely take a look at our toddler toys for a beach vacation and games for kids on a plane!

Kylie Morrow

About Kylie Morrow

Writing for 13 years, Kylie discovered that experiences tell the best stories. As a Caribbean mother who wrote for newspapers, magazines, and blogs, she believes inspiration is even found in our kids!