10 Essential Things to Pack for an International Flight

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Dec, 07, 2021

Thanks to Covid-19, a lot of peoples’ travel plans have been delayed during the past couple of years. International flights that used to be completely packed were left with only a fraction of their seats taken up, and international travel came pretty much to a halt. On a flight from Italy to New York in March of 2020, we were 2 of about 25 passengers in the entire airplane. Needless to say, things have been a little bit different.

Now, though, it looks like people are ready to take to the skies again and see some of the places they’ve always dreamt of. We’re so happy to see people able to stretch their limits and travel to new places again

because the world is such a big and beautiful place. However, many people who haven’t traveled in a while or who may have never been on an international flight are left wondering how to pack for a flight!

In this guide on the 10 essential things to pack when traveling on an international flight, we will specifically focus on what to pack in your carry-on for an international flight as well as what to bring on a flight during Covid. If you are looking for tips about how to find cheap flights for your next trip, be sure to read my post with cheap flight tips.

1.  A Water Bottle

black Mizu stainless steel tumbler

This might sound silly and you might be wondering how something so simple cracks this list of flight essentials. However, especially during Covid times, a water bottle is one of the most important things you can pack for your flight.

In the past before Covid, airlines served food and beverages, and bringing your own water bottle wasn’t necessary. Nowadays, though, airline food and beverage services are completely hit or miss.

We flew from Brazil to the United States and were served just animal crackers. Everything else was offered for sale, and we definitely didn’t want to pay $3 for a water bottle when water is free at the fountains.

Since airlines are particular about a shared container, aka pouring water from a pitcher into a cup, it is probably a good idea to bring some water of your own onto the flight.

While it might sound silly or unnecessary, you’ll thank me later when you’re 5 hours into your 8-hour international flight. Hydration is especially important when flying, so be sure to drink up!

2. A Warm Pair of Socks

Four warm pairs of socks

A warm pair of socks is a very underrated thing to pack in your carry-on for an international flight. While this isn’t very necessary on short flights, a comfortable, warm pair of socks can make a long-haul flight experience so much better.

For the part of the day leading up to your flight, you probably won’t want to wear heavy socks, because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. However, when you get on the plane and are situated in your seat, being able to take your shoes off and switch into a pair of comfortable, warm socks is one of the easiest ways to relax before your long trip.

As a side note, you should ALWAYS wear socks when flying. Unless you have TSA Pre-Check or fall into a select few different circumstances, odds are you will need to take off your shoes to go through security. For your own sake, wear socks. That floor is probably really gross.

On top of that, wearing long socks on a flight is great for your circulation and can help to prevent the formation of blood clots, which is especially important for pregnant women and people over 50.

3. Plug-in Headphones

black corded headphones

I know that we live in the age of AirPods, but there are two really solid reasons to bring plug-in headphones. Well, maybe even two different pairs.

Firstly, AirPods don’t last forever. Even with a fully charged case, you’re not going to make it through the entire day at the airport and an 8-hour flight. They will die eventually, and you will be sad.

Bringing a pair of plug-in headphones for your phone prevents this issue and ensures that you will always be able to listen to your music or watch your Netflix.

If you have an iPhone, this part is especially important. Most international flights provide access to movies and TV shows via a screen on the back of the seat in front of you. This is great!..until you realize you don’t have regular earbuds that plug into the screen and therefore don’t have audio.

Most airlines will provide earbuds for you but A) they are usually really bad quality and B) this is no longer a guarantee because of Covid. Bringing your own earbuds just to be safe is always a great idea, and I’m talking about the old-school ones with the straight plug, not the new fancy Apple plug.

4. A Portable Charger

person holding silver portable charger

This one can solve your AirPod problem! We have so many devices these days, and sitting still on an airplane for upwards of 8 hours can lead to a lot of screen time.

A lot of screen time leads to a lot of battery usage, and a lot of battery usage leads to a dead phone while you’re directly above the Atlantic Ocean without any way to listen to music or distract yourself for the remaining half of the flight.

Bringing a charged-up portable charger enables you to stay connected during your flight in the event that your airplane is not equipped with outlets at each seat.

You could even argue that a portable charger is one of the most essential things to pack for an international flight because it is what guarantees your ability to use most of the other essential things to pack for your flight. Do you see what I mean? Either way, try to charge all of your devices right before the flight to prevent the need to use this in the first place.

Our Favorite Portable Charger:

5. Downloaded Movies and Music

laptop streaming movies on Netflix

Most airplanes these days are equipped with Wifi, and if you booked your own flights, odds are the airline made a big point of telling you that. How cool!

Well, I’m not so sure. The Wifi is usually pretty spotty, and most of the time you need to pay to use it anyway. Some people might not mind this, but I’m of the mentality that I already spent hundreds of dollars on my flight – I don’t want to pay another $15 to use the Wifi.

One way I make sure that I won’t need it is by downloading my music and movies or TV shows ahead of time. Making sure your favorite playlists and Netflix content are downloaded before boarding the flight is a good way to guarantee you’ll have something to do while you’re in the sky. While these are digital, I still think they are essential things to pack for any international flight.

6. A Sweatshirt

gray and white supreme shirt

When I think about how to pack for a flight, one of the first things that I make sure to bring is a sweatshirt. It doesn’t matter where I’m going – I have a sweatshirt with me on every flight that I go on.

Airplanes are usually a bit chilly, and having a sweatshirt is one of the easiest things you can do to make yourself comfortable on an international flight. Your destination doesn’t matter – airplanes above Fiji are just as cold as airplanes above Norway. In fact, you can even flip this one around – if you are going to a very cold place, you may overlook bringing a sweatshirt because you’ll need a parka at your destination instead. Don’t make this mistake – pack both.

I recommend finding a sweatshirt that is comfortable and warm but also fairly easy to stow away in a backpack or carry-on. When you arrive at your destination, you might want to be able to take off your sweatshirt, and there is nothing more annoying than needing to carry it as you go through immigration and customs.

Finding one that is made of a nice athletic material usually is a good idea, as they tend to fold up pretty easily without taking up too much room.

7. Toothbrush and Toothpaste

toothbrush on white background

These might be the single most overlooked and forgotten items on this list, but you’ll definitely thank me later. Most people pack their bathroom items into their checked bag if they have one, and that is usually a good idea because of liquid size restrictions in carry-ons.

However, I really recommend bringing your toothbrush and a travel-sized container of toothpaste onto the plane with you. After all, if you are going on a flight that is 6 hours or more, you will probably be eating a meal, or napping, or drinking coffee, and there is nothing more refreshing than brushing your teeth afterward while on a flight.

I know that might sound silly, but it is true. Airplanes are small and while they are very clean, they can sometimes leave you feeling kind of crumby. This is especially true if you don’t get very good sleep.

Anything you can do to make yourself feel fresh and clean is usually a good idea. If you are going on a red-eye flight – that is, one that takes off at night time and lands in the morning – a toothbrush and toothpaste might be the single most important essential item to pack. You’ll thank me later.

Also, keep in mind that toothpaste is considered a liquid and your toothpaste container should be less than 3.4 fluid ounces.

…Or you could be cool like us and use waste-free, bite-sized toothpaste that will never break any TSA rules. Toothpaste “tablets” are becoming very popular, as they are toothpaste that comes in tablet form, allowing you to forgo any TSA liquids restriction dilemma at security. Our favorite brand is Bite and we don’t get on any plane without it.

Our Favorite Travel Toothpaste:

8. A Book or E-Books

black kindle paperwhite on brown wooden table

You can call me old-school, or you can call me a nerd, but I find that long flights are the place I do the most reading. I can only watch Netflix and listen to Spotify for so long.

I am a big fan of Kindles, and my Kindle comes with me on every flight that I go on. If your devices die, or you get sick of looking at a lit-up screen and want a different alternative, books and Kindles can be your best friend.

As a side note, I am a really big fan of the Kindle Paperwhite. Two good friends of mine from Italy each had one, and they turned me on to the idea very quickly. The Kindle Paperwhite uses technology that makes the screen appear like paper, and it emits very minimal amounts of blue light.

Blue light is the dangerous light from devices that causes heavy strain on your eyes. Reading on a Kindle Paperwhite feels just like reading from a real book, but you can bring 50 books with you instead!

Our Favorite Kindle:

9. Melatonin

oval white medication pills

I swear by this. Firstly just let me say, melatonin is completely natural. Your body produces it every night when it is time for bed! This is not a drug by any means.

Melatonin is the natural hormone your body produces that helps to lull you to sleep when you are tired. When used in supplement or pill form, it makes for a really great sleep aid.

I usually bring a couple of melatonin tablets with me on every trip just in case. Airplanes can be very tough to sleep on sometimes, and taking a melatonin tablet is usually a good way to make your body forget about the uncomfortable position it’s in as it tries to fall asleep.

I want to follow this recommendation up with a warning, though. While melatonin is a natural supplement, it should not be abused. Taking too much melatonin is detrimental to your body’s chemistry, and it can lead to disrupted sleep patterns and low-quality sleep if taken consistently.

Don’t use melatonin as a sleep aid every night, because it will work against you. For a flight, though, it can be your best friend!

10. Snacks

fruits and vegetables in metal cups

Kind of like how I mentioned the water bottle earlier in this post, bringing your own snacks can be a nice way to guarantee you have something to eat on your flight. Since the quality of service has generally declined because of the pandemic, you can never be sure that you will be served good snacks or meals. Animal crackers and pretzels are fine, but are they going to fill you up for the whole trip?

Fact: you can bring food through security at an airport. Just make sure it is in a sealed container to be safe.

Also, I mentioned earlier that doing anything you can to make yourself feel fresh and clean is important, right? What better way to feel fresh and clean than bringing healthy, clean snacks like fresh fruit and vegetables? Even if you aren’t a big fruit or vegetable person, bringing some apple slices or baby carrots on your flight is extremely satisfying. Trust me!

Thanks for reading my post on the 10 essential things to pack for traveling on an international flight! I hope that this post gives you a better idea of how to pack for a flight to a new and exciting place. My goal was to answer your questions about what to bring on a flight during Covid in a carry-on, so hopefully, this helps!

Would you add anything to this list?

Comment your international flight packing list below!


Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.

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Meet The Author - Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.