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What to ALWAYS Pack in Your Carry-On: Traveler Tips from Someone Who Just Lost Her Luggage

January 11, 2018

What to ALWAYS Pack in Your Carry-On: Traveler Tips from Someone Who Just Lost Her Luggage

I got into Reno last night for cyclocross nationals… but my Osprey duffel with most of my gear didn’t. That reminded me just how important it is to have a carry-on with the absolute essentials. Luckily, this trip, I did this somewhat accidentally, but was still missing some important stuff. (I had packed smart as far as what I needed, but pretty haphazard as far as what was going to fit where.)

I’ve never had a bag get lost before, which is pretty surprising given how many flights I’ve been on. So while it’s super annoying, it is serving as a good reminder. Now, every time that I fly, I’m going to make sure I have these things always in my carry-on in case the rest of my stuff doesn’t make it, or is super delayed.

Note that this is all stuff that’s going in my carry-on, not in my under-seat luggage. That’s a list for another day! As I said earlier this week, packing just a carry-on is awesome, but in cases like this—I’m gone for almost three weeks, and in vastly different climates the whole time—where I needed to check a bag, I should have packed just a little smarter.  

The goal here is to pack enough that you can get through a day or two without needing to go to Target to stock up on your ‘essentials,’ wasting time/money that you might not have, plus buying crappy substitutes for stuff you like. (My worst travel story was when I got to Austin, TX, three years ago for Nationals and it was freaking freezing and sleeting—totally unexpected. I hadn’t packed any cold-weather gear, and ended up dropping $150 at a Target and a Goodwill for crappy stuff that I didn’t love or really even want, but needed to stay warm/dry. Such a huge waste of money, and I felt terrible that I was perpetuating the ‘wear it once and discard’ clothing cycle. Not environmentally friendly. Now, I try really hard to not buy things that won’t get worn over and over—and I think situations like this are the danger zone for making “totally justified” impulse buys!)

Anyway, the carry-on emergency list:

Appropriate Outerwear: Luckily, in this case, I was going from cold to slightly less cold, so I had been wearing my winter coat and boots, but if the situation was reversed and my bag got lost when I got to Toronto, having my puffy coat tucked into my carry-on rather than in my checked back would have been a big deal.

Leggings and a Sweater: These can jam into a duffel and be wrinkle-free, so having them in as a spare outfit (and a comfy one that can work in almost every situation, style-wise!) (For men, obviously, sweater + jeans is probably the safer bet.) For this, quality matters, because you never know how long you’ll have to wait to reclaim your stuff, so think about leggings that don’t stretch and can be handwashed (I like Lululemon’s Align II or Rapha’s women’s leggings for this), and a sweater that will hold its shape and not get smelly by the end of Day 1. (I really like cashmere for this, plus since it’s handwash-only, I can wash it at night and lay flat to dry so it’s ready even if it takes two days to reclaim my stuff.

Tank top and run shorts: Because missing luggage is a crappy excuse to miss a workout.

Sneakers: If you’re not wearing them on your feet to fly, have them in your bag, so you can still get in a workout. Buying new sneakers would be a massive P in the A for me, since mine aren’t available in stores, and it would be really frustrating to have to find a decent substitute.

Socks + Underwear: I was SO relieved that I had thrown my bag with my underwear into my carry-on (I am a big fan of packing categories of clothes into smaller bags for easier organization). Even if you’re keeping your carryon minimal, make sure you have at least a couple pairs of each (and a sports bra!).

Pashmina scarf: I haven’t talked much about these in a while, but still one of my favorite things to have on hand since it’s a pillow, blanket, shawl, scarf, and—in a pinch—skirt or even halter top all rolled into one.

Mini-toiletry kit: I was almost kicking myself since my main toiletries bag is still sitting in Denver waiting to board as I write this, but then I remembered that in my backpack, I actually did have a mini-toiletry kit for emergencies! Have a small bag with a tiny travel toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, any of your absolute can’t-live-without staples that never gets unpacked and is always sitting in your carry-on. (I actually keep mine in my purse at all times, because our schedule is so kooky you never know when you’ll need it!)

Chargers: Never. Ever. put your chargers in your regular checked luggage. That’s just asking for a dead computer or phone. And I’m guilty of this when space and fast packing dictated it—but having my luggage delayed really reminded me about it.


Phew! Fingers crossed that my bag makes it—even though I have clothes to get me through the day, that’s going to be a massive hassle if it doesn’t!

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