Please don’t drop that bag on my head – Packing for a long-haul flight.

Have you ever stood up in the aisle and while reaching into your carry-on bag, the plane wobbles, you wobble and your bag wobbles precariously above your companion’s head?

suitcase stack

Travelling Economy and even Premium Economy from Australia is a means to an end – an endurance test of up to 23 hours if you fly to Europe, Africa or the Americas. Having recently done a couple of long haul trips I think I have refined my packing down to workable essentials which make the process as comfortable as possible.

It still happens that checked-in baggage goes astray for a couple of days, so I always pack in my carry-on, sufficient clothes and toiletries to carry me over for a day or two until it is returned to me.


Cathay Pacific Premium Economy Amenities Pack

To date, the airlines I have travelled including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, QANTAS and Singapore have offered an amenities pack to long-haul travellers which have included socks, eye mask, ear plugs, lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a razor for men, and hand/body cream. Save space and use their items.

Always check the weight allowed for carry-on baggage. Jetstar recently announced a reduction from 10 to 7 kilograms. This means you can only pack about 4 to 5 kilograms.  Try to get the lightest bag possible as it is an investment in your shoulders and health. I recently had to replace my suitcase and although it cost a small fortune, it is lighter than my carry-on which when I bought that was the lightest available on the market. I have also weighed everything I pack including hair brushes.

We have all experienced those passengers who stop in the aisle, open their bag, rummage around looking for toiletries, clothes, books, etc. Then look around trying to find space in the overhead locker. Meanwhile a huge jam of people is forming in the aisle.  Not conducive to minimising stress. I have become smarter with this.  I place what I will need during the flight in the top of the carry-on so I can pull it out quickly and easily as soon as I find my seat. Sometimes I do this before I actually board. Remember if you are lucky and get an exit row or bulkhead seat, you are not allowed any luggage on the floor during take-off and landing so having a separate bag that can be placed beside your carry-on in the overhead locker and quickly located when you are allowed out of your seat is very useful.

I recently read of a woman who had her wallet stolen during the flight so leave it in the locked carry-on bag. You wouldn’t leave your handbag on the floor at a restaurant while you went to the toilet so why do it on a plane when you are sitting beside strangers.

I pack everything I need into an opaque plastic bag that is lighter than a pretty cloth bag and gives you a little bit of privacy. Not glamorous but practical. I also add an additional opaque plastic bag in which I can put my bra so that it isn’t in view of everyone as I walk through the cabin. My daughter is a flight attendant and she was horrified recently when a male passenger handed his jocks and trousers to her to hang up. Not a stylish look.

Essential items for my carry-on luggage

Essential items for my carry-on luggage

Now to the serious business of what to pack:

  • Travel pillow –there are inflatable ones that fit into your carry-on luggage or memory foam ones that have a loop and button to hook them around the handle of your trolley bag. They are a pain to carry around, and bulk out the carry-on so if you can sleep with the little pillow that the airline hands you so much the better. Leave it behind if travelling business class.
  • Clear plastic bag or wet pack – Remember that you have to package your liquids in a clear plastic bag so make it easy to reach at the top of your bag. Make sure they are no greater than 100ml.
  • In the wet pack:
    • Toiletries – deodorant (a stick is better than a roll-on which can pop the ball out if there are pressure changes), face moisturiser, unperfumed hand/body cream, hand sanitizer, and of course girl-things and a small glass nail file. That is why I say opaque plastic bag. Don’t pack the toothbrush as you are given one with a minute tube of paste. Do bring moisturiser as they are providing sachets which once open need to be used immediately or they leak everywhere. A small hairbrush with a comb or hair tie around the handle for those with long hair, and a small cloth to wash with at the end of the flight plus a small zip-lock plastic bag to store it in when wet.
    • Medications – my sister swears by melatonin for minimising jet-lag, and uses an anti-histamine to sleep, my husband uses red wine but me, I toss and turn, hear every noise and movement and now rely on a quarter of a sleeping tablet usually either Imovane or Normison which relaxes me just enough to sleep for a couple of hours. I avoid Zolpidem (Stilnox) because the effects last 24 hours. The only time I used it prior to a flight I left all our credit cards and money at home. My husband said I was awake but definitely not with it.
    • Also: eye drops to moisten dry eyes, a couple of Panadol in case of headaches, anti-histamines (I am prone to allergies), and a couple of band aids. Prescription drugs for at least a 24-hour period.
    • Makeup – a good general lipstick, light foundation, blush, and an eye liner which takes the redness away from the eyes. If you must pack perfume make it a light one.


  • On the plane I wear loose, uncrushable gym pants and a t-shirt. After I have passed through security, I go and change into this comfortable gear. It is easier to do this prior to boarding rather than waiting until after take-off. I place my folded clothes into one of the opaque plastic bags.
  • Support stockings – put them on before getting on.
  • Woollen socks as your feet do get cold particularly if sitting in a window seat. I find the socks in the amenities pack are not warm enough and too loose. Wool is warmer than cotton and your feet won’t sweat. It also keeps it shape better. If you can get hold of those disposable slippers that some hotels give away use a pair of those when going to the toilet as the floor often ends up wet.
  • Pashmina or wrap – useful to wrap around your head and shoulders for privacy while sleeping.
  • Jewellery – don’t wear anything that can come undone or apart easily. Earrings should be low profile. I remove my earrings when I am sleeping on a plane and I store them in the toes of old stockings which are light and soft and can be tied off and placed in my glasses case so they don’t get lost.
  • Comfortable shoes that don’t have metal in the heels so that you don’t need to take them off to walk through security – they still might insist you do so, or wear slip-ons. At this time of the year particularly going to Europe I wear a pair of black ankle boots that are waterproof but still elegant enough to wear at night or during the day all day.


My three favourite travelling handbags. The lightest is the Agnes b, virtually indestructible with three zip sections.

My three favourite travelling handbags. The lightest is the Agnes b, virtually indestructible with three zip sections.

  • Handbag – use the lightest one you have because it won’t seem heavy for the first hour but after filling it with my iPad (mini), water bottle, wallet, phone, glasses and magazine it started to feel as if I was practising for weight lifting.
  • Handbag with zips: one for documents and pen and another for wallet and passport,
  • paper clip & safety-pin – these are essential when needing to change the sim card in your phone. I also pin my Gite keys and car keys into my pocket so that if my bag is stolen I can still get into my accommodation and drive for assistance.
  • Camera – use the camera in your phone and leave your heavier camera in the carry-on bag.
  • Sunglasses as well as reading glasses – use their case as a good receptacle for earrings and pens.
  • Hand wipes – I started using these when travelling by myself as I didn’t want to get sick. It is also useful in washing down food trays and the handles of the toilet door.
  • Tissues – useful also as hand wipe.
  • Pen – you will need to fill in immigration forms
  • Torch – use your phone’s torch app.


  • Food –when I am bored or sitting still for a long time I need to nibble on something. I bring on board a few small packets of treats such as savoury nuts and trail packs. In Cairns I found lime and pepper Macadamia and chocolate Macadamia difficult to resist.
    • Water – I also carry on a bottle of water that is empty when I walk through security and then I fill prior to boarding. Sometimes you are given a bottle on board but not always and it can take time for the cabin staff to deliver your requested plastic cup of water.
    • Space and agility – Seating: Use seatguru to check out the best seating options and what to avoid. Check out the seat specifications of the airline before you book. I am tall and I know that Asian airlines generally have tighter space than other airlines.
  • I love looking out the window, but the aisle seat has the attraction that you don’t have to climb over someone to go to the toilet. If you do choose an aisle, remember that people sitting in the middle section have two aisles to choose from and if you are asleep they might climb over the other person.
    • Avoid being near the galley which is always noisy
    • Avoid choosing a seat near the toilets which are also noisy and it is where people will stand in the queue.


  • Download a couple of movies onto your iPad. If you don’t watch them during the flight they will come in handy during the trip. Occasionally the inflight entertainment has a glitch or the list of movies is not intriguing. Also download lots of books onto the iPad.
  • Take on a book and magazine to give your eyes a break from the electronic screen. Also pack a charger as in Premium Economy there are outlets in the seat for this facility.

Now I introduce myself to the person beside me, and hopefully I am offered a glass of champagne and then I settle back to anticipate the trip with pleasure.


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