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What to pack in your cabin bag!

This is my ultimate check list of what I pack in my cabin bag to ensure the least amount of hassle on flights to anywhere.

So as you will know, I live in New Zealand. That’s pretty far from pretty much anywhere – except Australia and the South Pacific (our little idyll). For us Kiwis, travelling 10-12 hours on a plane in Economy class is pretty normal. And that’s only half way to Europe if that’s our final destination!

My cabin bag is a little wheelie bag because I can also throw my handbag on my shoulder and wheel my checked-in luggage and my cabin bag like holding the hands of two children. I can also use my cabin bag as a foot rest, which is especially comfy if I’m lucky enough to score a bulk head seat with the extra leg room. But even at 5’2″, my cabin bag sometimes pops under the seat in front of me and also doubles as a footrest.

I have my little ritual for making myself comfy in Economy and thought you might get some ideas.

Here is my cabin bag check list:

Tips for packing cabin bag
Pic Shutterstock/Hanoi Photography (Pin this pic for later!)

⇒  In the external pocket I put my laptop and travel documents which I print out (hotel confirmations, car rental bookings, etc) and slip into a clear folder.

⇒  A small zipped bag with chargers and cords is packed inside.

⇒  Light slip-on slippers and warm socks which I put on pretty much as soon as I get to my seat. I like to pack merino or possum socks because I wear leggings, which are nice and elasticatedly comfy, but can result in cold ankles. The slippers are little cheapie slide ons that I use for walking about and going to the loo. Especially for going to the loo! You don’t want to step on anything nasty – even basin water is an icky thought.

⇒  Neck pillow is essential. Once you’ve travelled with one you won’t go back! I make sure mine has a dome in front so I can fasten it around the bag handle and it takes up no room inside. It’s also brilliant for sliding round your head when you want to rest your chin on the pillow part. (See my range of micro bead and memory foam pillows in store >>) But lately I have upgraded to the award-winning Cabeau pillow which fits snugly like a memory foam neck brace. I love it!

⇒  Noise cancelling headphones are what most people insist on, but I find them too bulky when sleeping and especially with a neck pillow. Instead I use my iPhone earbuds which fit easily in my ears and create better sound than the airline head sets.

⇒  Eye mask. Don’t laugh, but this is also a key item because you need a dark space if you’re going to get some sleep.

⇒  Water bottle. I often forget this, but always regret it. I take a slim thermos which I can fill up before I get on the plane from a water fountain. They fit nicely into those ridiculously small seat pockets but means you won’t be dying of thirst in the middle of the night and pressing your hostie button for them to come and save you.

⇒  Pashmina or large scarf is always handy for creating more of a nest or wrapping round your shoulders if the plane is cold. I’ve usually also got a pair of clean underwear in case my luggage doesn’t arrive. I never pack an extra set of clothes for that event because if (and when) it happens, you’ll get some compensation to go out and buy some stuff.

⇒  I also have a book in there and take most of these things out as soon as I sit down so once I’m in, I’m done.

⇒  I also take prescription sleeping tablets which usually give me about 4 hours sleep, which is about ideal once you’ve had your dinner, watched a movie and read a little bit of your book before the tablet kicks in! Ask your doctor which ones will be ok for you, but I like Lorazipam or Temazipam.

And finally, it’s a mental game! Before you even get to the airport plan out the next few hours. Your book, a movie, eating (take your own treats too), do crosswords or sudoku, listen to music, get some work done, write a blog post (!) – whatever it is you need to do to dial yourself down and relax.

Happy flying!


I have opened my own online Travel Store and sell many of the above items, including a whole section on cabin bags.

Or, for my readers who are not in New Zealand, I have now curated this list on Amazon of gorgeous luggage and bags, plus clever and helpful travel accessories. SaveSaveSave

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Thursday 27th of June 2019

For last 2 international flights I have refrained from eating onboard meals because of the high sodium content. I was not bloated or jet lagged at all!


Friday 28th of June 2019

That's a good tip, thanks.

Jo Prior

Monday 28th of January 2019

Hi there. How do you manage to take your drink bottle on? I thought you had to dispose of liquids? Thank you in advance. Love reading your travel tips


Sunday 3rd of February 2019

Oh the drink bottle needs to be empty when you go through security. I fill it up on the other side from a water fountain or from the bottled water on the plane to avoid having to request a cup to my seat every half hour.


Wednesday 29th of August 2018

Saw you on breakfast tv this morning You were talking about travel adapters and I think you said that you should pack this accessory into your carryon because if it was in your hold luggage they could confiscate it. I don’t know whether I have this right Can you clarify that for me please


Wednesday 29th of August 2018

Hi Percy, no travel adapters are ok, it's battery cells/power banks that are the problem. Have a look at this post for more info

Christine Fisiihoi

Monday 27th of August 2018

Great travel tips, Megan. i managed to fit in a change though as I had an 8 hour stopover in Doha at a hotel and my bag had been checked through to Marrakech. Also, how much extra is the nine day tour for travelling on ones own?


Wednesday 29th of August 2018

Hi Christine, the extra is around $2K.

Jenny Parkinson

Sunday 19th of August 2018

I am very impressed as I never know what to take and am afraid of forgetting something


Sunday 19th of August 2018

Hahaha, great to hear Jenny!

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!