family of four standing looking out at ocean

I’ve recently returned from a one-week cruise on the Danube River with Adventures by Disney . On this family trip, days were filled with city tours, bike riding opportunities, and delicious meals . It was an incredible experience.

While I’m usually a carry-on only kind of girl, a river cruise is exactly the kind of trip that can test your resolve. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’d have given in to the urge to trade my carry-on for checked luggage. Checked luggage allows you the option to pack those regular-sized hair products, clothing, books and other vacation items we can’t live without. However, recent issues at airports (think long security lines, lost baggage and cancelled flights) around the world caused me to rethink that plan.

After all, what good is a suitcase full of treasures, if it never makes it to your destination?

So, carry-on it was. My family of four set out on our ten day-trip with one carry-on suitcase and one personal item bag (which you could tuck under the seat in front of you) each.

And guess what? I came home with clothes that weren’t worn and no regrets (except for the bottle of Apricot Jam (too big!) I had to leave behind).

Below you’ll find my full packing list and links to a few items that I think could make your carry-on life a million times easier.

1. Choose The Right Carry-on Bag

The carry-on bag you choose can make or break your entire experience, so make sure to choose one that has enough space, four 360-degree spinner wheels (that roll easily and smoothly) and a sturdy handle. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to get to the airport and find that your handle has broken off before your trip has even begun. The Bigger Carry-On is a great option for a carry-on bag and is sold at Away Travel. Amazon also has other solid options for carry-on bags, which you can see below:

2. Bring A Small Bag To Count As A Personal Item

If you’re looking for a good bag that counts as a personal item (and can be easily tcked under the seat in front of you), The Everywhere Bag is stylish in army green and has enough pockets to allow it to be more than a laptop tote bag. Plus, I love a bag that can easily slip over my carry-on’s handles for wheeling through the airport.

My kids prefer backpacks, but whatever we choose, we always make sure to pick one that is versatile enough that we can use it for toting items like water and sunscreen around in the city we’re exploring.

3. What Clothes To Pack

When it comes to choosing what clothes to bring along — we’ve got you covered. Here is a list of essential things to pack in your luggage.

  • Something to sleep in + ear plugs
  • Something to swim in (including a cover-up)
  • Underwear (1-2 per day)
  • Bras: Make sure to consider your clothing choices before packing these (Do you need a strapless? A lighter colour?)
  • Workout clothes: Be realistic and remember you can rinse things out and hang to dry in a pinch (or send to laundry) Don’t forget socks.
  • Jeans + Long Sleeve casual shirt: These are my unexpected cold weather gear.
  • Day wear: In the summer, I pick casual easy-to-roll, comfortable options: Simple dresses or a selection of one or two pairs of shorts/pants with a few brightly coloured tops.

4. What Shoes To Pack

This is where a lot of people fall apart, but packing the right shoes starts at buying the right shoes.  When shopping think about whether the pairs you’re choosing will make sense with multiple outfits. I don’t always bring running shoes but when I do, I wear them in the airport to save room in my bag. Usually, my shoe options include:

  • Running Shoes/Leather sneakers – Which I choose depends on whether this is an active vacation or one where closed toe footwear is required.
  • Comfortable walking sandals (Birkenstocks serve me well.)
  • Dressy shoe/sandal that can work with all evening items

5. Safety Items To Remember

We’re still in a pandemic, and it can still be hard to find what you need when you land in a new country. Bringing the items you’re used to from home, will add to your level of comfort. Opting for smaller sizes makes the packing easy.

  • Face masks
  • Clorox wipes
  • Hand sanitizer

6. Miscellaneous Items To Bring Along

From sunglasses to umbrellas (Hey! Sometimes it rains!), these are some of the miscellaneous items you’ll want to consider bringing along …just in case.

  • a single purse that goes easily from day to night
  • Sunglasses
  • Real glasses
  • A jacket that can double as rain protection
  • Small umbrella (if you use one)
  • Scarf that can be multipurpose (warmth or upgrading a white t-shirt)
  • Travel size Bug Spray (especially if there’s a brand you trust)
  • Sunscreen
  • Laundry bag

7. Don’t Forget Your Medications

Typically, I keep the medication light with some melatonin, vitamins and allergy meds but there’s comfort in knowing the brands I use at home are with me if I need them.

  • Melatonin (for sleep)
  • Back pain medication
  • Multivitamins
  • Allergy meds
  • Tylenol/Advil

8. Say Yes To Jewelry

Statement necklaces always get attention and can pull the simplest outfit up a notch. You can even get away with wearing an outfit twice, just by changing up the jewelry!

9. Pack The Toiletries

I always grab a few extra 1L plastic bags when going through the airport so that I always have one handy for carry-on liquids. You’ll also want to invest in some small bottles and jars so that you can take the products that usually live in bigger bottles (conditioner, face cream) along with you. Among the items that live in my carry-on toiletry bag:

  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush & paste
  • Q-tips
  • Hand cream
  • Facewash 
  • Face cream
  • Tweezers
  • Make-up
  • Razor and travel size shaving cream
  • Hair products including a comb and brush.

10. Don’t Forget The Business Stuff

This is why I know that for most of you, you’ll have more than enough room. As a travel writer, I always have to have my equipment along for the trip and that takes space. Here’s what I typically bring. If you don’t need to bring this stuff, that’s a lot of extra room either for another pair of shoes or to bring back something special

  • iPad for the plane – downloaded with my favourite shows, podcasts and movies
  • A universal adapter
  • Laptop and Charger,
  • Phone and Wall Charger (Remember not every room has a USB plug)
  • Extra battery chargers
  • Portable tripod
  • Work files
  • Headphones: iPod pros noise-cancelling headphones have been a game changer for my ability to sleep on noisy planes
  • Apple Watch and charger

Extra Tips To Remember While Packing

  1. Use the maximum size bag that your carrier allows. Usually 24”.
  2. Mark your carry on. There are options that range from a brightly coloured luggage tag to a luggage belt to a simple dollar store handkerchief. The key is to put something on your bag that sets it apart. That way if your bag isn’t stored in the bin near you, you’ll be able to quickly spot it from afar.
  3. Pack an extra bag. I love options that zip down to nothing. (see below). I tuck that extra bag into the base of my carry-on on the way there and then use it for any shopping needs on the way home. Checking your bag on the way home is a far less risky option.
  4. Once you’ve had a successful carry on trip, take the time on your return to use the contents to make a packing list note in your phone. Next time you’re ready to go, just use the list as a guide for a successful trip
  5. And finally, always be prepared to have your bag taken away from you at the gate. It happens. Tucking an Apple Air Tag inside your bag (so you can keep tags on its next adventure) before they take it away can offer some peace of mind too.