Preparing for your First International Business Trip: Carry-on

Getting ready for your first business trip abroad can be very stressful! I’ve put together a comprehensive list of items that can help you prepare, hopefully cutting down on your anxiety. Click here to read the first installment, which covered passports, travel advisories, and vaccinations.  Click here to read the second installment, which covered food, transportation, and language.  Click here  to read the third installment, which covered credit cards, currency exchange, points, and cell phone, data, and text plans. This time, we’re talking about what to put in your carry-on for the travel.Solo Vintage

Carry-on.  When you travel internationally your flights will obviously be much longer, and different than your typical domestic flight.  It’s key that you prepare for this when packing your carry-on. (Pictured: The gorgeous Solo Vintage Leather Carryall.)

Here are things I always pack to help make my international flights as comfortable as possible.

  • Kindle– If you haven’t invested in a Kindle now’s the time.  When traveling internationally you’ll need more stuff in your carry-on and won’t have room for a bunch of big books.  I was a person that loved to hold a physical book in my hand and was very skeptical of eReaders.  I never thought I would be able to transition, but the Kindle Paperwhite is as close to a real book as it gets in my opinion.  The screen on it made to resemble an actual book so your eyes will hardly notice the difference.  Here’s a review I did on the Kindle Paperwhite.
  • Eye mask– Flight attendants, and other passengers, have no regard for your sleep needs! They turn lights on or raise window shades willy-nilly. My eye-mask blocks all of that, helping me sleep uninterrupted.
  • Compression socks– This is to keep you feet from swelling.  You can find much more details about compression socks in a previous post I did here.
  • Slippers– This is so you don’t have to put your shoes on every time you want to get up on the plane.  They also will keep your feet warm, they feel soft, and it adds to that “cozy” feeling that can help you sleep.
  • IPhone–  I use my IPhone for all the normal things anyone else uses their IPhone for, but in addition it is important for me to have because of my white noise  app.
  • Noise Canceling Headphones– These are key! I use the  headphones with my White Noise app, and together they block all of the regular plane noise—voices, announcements, dishes, etc—but gives me the background noise I need to sleep comfortably.
  • Laptop and chargers- This may be a given but don’t forget to include your laptop and any type of chargers you may need in your carry-on.
  • Knitting– We all have our hobbies.  Mine is knitting so I always make sure it’s included stuff to knit in my carry-on.  Consider bringing something like this to pass the time when traveling internationally yourself.
  • Travel pillow and Pashmina/Travel Blanket– For me, nothing is more frustrating than being exhausted on a plane and not able to sleep. Plus, sleeping on the plane allows you to wake up refreshed, or at least not zombie like, when you get to your destination.
  • Tylenol PM– Some people love Ambien, others wine, and others more natural sleep remedies. But I have found that nothing gets me to sleep, and keeps me there, as well as Tylenol PM.  Some will suggest Benadryl instead of Tylenol PM.  This is because Tylenol PM also has stuff to help with aches and pains which isn’t needed for sleep per se, but when I’m traveling I’m normally experiencing some sort of ache and/or pain so it still works best me.  Consult your doctor for help on deciding this.
  • Toiletry bag- There are a few toiletry items you can bring that can make the difference between your skin feeling like sandpaper or,well, skin when you land. Then there are a few things I bring that help me feel as clean as possible during 25 hours of travel.  Don’t forget that this stuff has to go in a ziplock bag to go through security.

  1. Face Wipes—I love the Yes to Cucumbers wipes
  2. Eye cream
  3. Face moisturizer
  4. Disposable toothbrushes such as Wisps
  5. Hand lotion
  6. Hand sanitizer
  7. Deodorant
  • Snacks- I always pack a few snacks (almonds, crackers, dried fruit).  This way if the flight attendants haven’t made it to you and you’re about to pass out from hunger, you have something to tide you over.
  • Emergen-C-Gives me energy, helps me stay healthy. Bring it on every trip.
  • Bonus tips- Be sure you dress comfortably.  When I fly to Manila, I usually wear yoga pants and a long sleeved t-shirt. Maybe not the most fashionable, but I’m comfy during all of my 24 hours of flying.  If you plan to go straight to the office when arriving I would recommended wearing leggings, a jersey dress, cardigan, and comfy flats. This way you’ll look great when you get off the plane but feel like you’re wearing PJs.  You could also bring a change of clothes with you if you are going straight to the office and change in the airport bathroom.  It’s not ideal but people do it!   

Readers, what have your experiences been with carry-on for international flights?  Any additional tips?

Next week’s installment will wrap up the series, covering Global Entry, packing your luggage, and a few odds and ends.


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  1. Good stuff.
    I also take contact eye solution and a pair of regular glasses which are just personal. I don’t like to leave my contacts in when I sleep.
    I also have traded my kindle (which I love) for an iPad mini with the Kindle app. It works great and also gives you the free TV on Southwest flights right now. I only get my laptop out for business stuff. You can also use it for itunes, white noise apps, etc. etc.

  2. I agree with all you said plus what DaninMCI added.

    I carry my iPad and make sure that before I leave my house I download the content I want to read, such as Sunday newspapers and magazine articles, and the crossword puzzles I want to work on.

  3. I always carry a mini medical kit that includes the basics: ibuprofen, migraine medicine, peptobismol, Claritin, and often a single dose of DayQuil/NyQuil. When you’re on a 36 hour travel plan, and you get sick internationally, there is absolutely nothing worse than trying to figure out how to say “peptobismol” in another language.

    Also, a pen. Always a pen. It’s great to have so you don’t have to beg one from the flight attendant to fill out customs forms.

  4. Tylenol makes a product called Simply Sleep – it contains only the ‘sleep’ part of Tylenol PM without none of the acetaminophen. For awhile it wasn’t on store shelves (the big Tylenol product recall) but I have seen it back on shelves. A much better option since it doesn’t have the pain reliever part and works just as well as Tylenol PM in my opinion.

  5. The above are good suggestions. I’d add that anything you need within the first 48 hours of your trip should go in the carry-on with you. This includes any OTC or prescription meds, any tech you need for work that can’t easily be replicated locally (laptop, projector adaptor, whatever), any clothes you need initially (suit for work, dress for an event, etc.).

    Luggage can and does get lost. Most of the time it catches up to you within a day or two, but getting caught with nothing but the yoga pants and t-shirt you wore on the plane when you have a big presentation shortly after arrival sucks. So, pack whatever you need in the first 48 hours in your carryon. That gives your carry on time to catch up to you and gives you time to find replacements for what you might need if it looks like the luggage is actually lost.

    Also, any valuables should go in the carry on. Don’t check anything you are not ok with losing. Sometimes luggage does go AWOL permanently and sometimes there’s theft from bags. So, anything of value should go in the plane with you.

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