Packing the Perfect Carry-on

I’m about to take a trip — a really long trip.

I spend about two months a year teaching in my university’s mass communications program in Singapore. I leave Saturday for my 16th trip to the island.

While I’ve now spent more than a year of my life in Singapore, I still remember preparing for my first trip. I was nervous about everything — the flight (26-plus hours of travel), the teaching and how to pack to stay in another country for such an extended period of time. I prepared, then I prepared some more.

Singapore CBDFast forward eight years and I laugh when people ask me if I’ve started packing yet or what I take with me for such a long trip.

No, I have not started packing yet. In fact, my huge suitcases are still in the attic. I’ll pack Friday. It’s easy to pack for such a long trip because I take everything. And, as our director of international programs is fond to reminding me, “They have stores.” Yes, they have a lot of fabulous stores!

There is one area of packing that I always do last because I find it most difficult — the carry-on. I am, after all, going to Singapore to work. So, I need all of my teaching materials. I also have to figure out how to entertain myself during the epic flight. I always find myself on the plane, next to some person I have no interest talking to (Yes, I’m one of those who doesn’t like to talk to people on planes.), wishing I could just sleep a little bit more because I’m so bored and the in-flight movie sucks. Having the perfect carry-on bag is a requirement for my work success and for mental stability.

The art of packing a great carry-on bag is the reason I loved Gini Dietrich’s post on Travel Essentials for Speakers, Authors and MarComm Pros.

Gini has been traveling for 14 weeks, so I figure she also has a pretty good idea of what to pack in her carry-on. I’m not going to lie, just reading her post made me want to go shopping for a new MacBook Air and a Mophie, which I had never heard of before, but now am totally getting!

In the spirit of Gini’s post, here’s what you’ll find in my carry-on:

1. An Apple Store

This is only a slight overstatement. I travel with my MacBook, iPad, iPhone, and iPod.

My MacBook is probably my least favorite piece. I’m not a huge fan of lugging around my computer, and I rarely use it during the flight, but I’m not comfortable checking it. So, it’s coming along.

I seriously have no idea how I ever survived the Singapore trip without my iPad. I read books and blogs, watch movies, write blog posts, work on lectures, and play games, all during the epic flight. It’s also so much easier to carry around once I arrive on the island. I try to teach from it as much as possible. When I travel domestically, I only take my iPad. I’m just not brave enough to leave my laptop at home when I go overseas.

I always run the battery dead on my iPhone (See, I need a Mophie!), probably because my phone is just the easiest device to get out of my bag. I usually am texting, emailing and (I’ll be honest) Facebooking until the mean flight attendant makes me put it away.

For whatever reason, I don’t like having my music all on my phone (Maybe because I just like carrying things?). So, I always have my fully-loaded iPod.

2. Noise-reduction Headphones

There are people who want to talk to you on planes. There also are kids who want to cry for 16 hours straight. I sleep through most of that, thanks to these.

3. Books

I, like Gini, never have a time when I’m just reading one book. I usually have a digital book going (Right now, Evil at Heart) and have several other books in my carry-on (Choices for this trip are: The Effective Executive, Work Happy and Compassion Fatigue). It’s not unheard of for me to read three or four books during the flight, all while wearing my headphones and pretending I’m all alone.

4. Highlighters

I mark up my books — a lot. There are always highlighters and pens in my bag. These are my favorites.

5. Flash drive and external hard drive

I’m obsessed with making sure I have every resource possible to pull from for my classes. Because of this, I carry my flash drive (with my last semester’s coursework) and my Lacie (with my life on it). Ironically, everything on my Lacie also is on my Dropbox.

6. Notebook

I am a writer, which means I like to actually write things down. I always carry a small, spiral-bound journal with me.

7. Toiletries

A girl’s gotta have her hygiene gear. I specifically carry a toothbrush and toothpaste, hair ties, Advil, and lip balm. You must have these things on a long flight.

8. Lifesavers

I don’t know what the connection is between air travel and Lifesavers, but I must have Wintergreen or Peppermint Lifesavers on the plane. I also usually have a bottle of water, just so I don’t have to wait for the flight attendant when I want a drink.

When traveling domestically, I par down my “Apple Store” by leaving my laptop at home, limiting myself to one book and ditching my external hard drive. Everything else keeps me prepared and entertained during any flight. It’s a good checklist when packing a carry-on for conferencing and/or business.

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What did I miss? Do you have travel essentials that must be in your carry-on bag?

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