Forty-five centimeters. Since the advances of the Somme Campaign, never has such a small measure seemed so significant. But this summer, that 45cm – the maximum size of your free carry-on bag on most airlines – is all that separates you from the pure purgatory of being unprepared for the endless delays at the terminals.
Like those brave souls before you, you can expect to spend this summer mired in an endless, motionless swamp of shattered bodies, disease, PTSD, and the Sunglass Hut (continue, we leave the Somme for Stansted now). But unlike the first wave of holiday cannon fodder, which found itself overdoing it this semester, you at least know what to expect – and that by keeping your holiday essentials in your carry-on, you’re less likely to be caught in chaos. Airport bosses warn that delays are likely to extend into the peak of this year’s summer season, so there’s no excuse for getting caught napping — not, at least, without a good mask and scented travel pillow.
But with only 45x36x20cm to play with (a little more with BA; a little less, inevitably, with Ryanair), what are the absolute essentials you need to cram into your carry-on? Oh, just these…
Passport, bag, printout of vaccination certificate, polyethylene bag with liquids less than 100 ml. All obvious, maybe, but you know. no I want to be the only one holding a line of 2,000 people because you forgot to decant your contact lens fluid. Just imagine the tutting!
One extra polythene bag
Get another one while you’re in Security. With no room for your laptop on this trip, and no in-flight entertainment on many airlines, your best bet for watching movies hands-free is to put your phone in the polybag and hang it on the tray table in the front seat. (It works).
tiny plastic bottle
Boots sells great ones, and they’re not just good for running your stuff through scanning machines. Pack a reservation and – since you can be wandering around World Duty Free for a few hours – you can get a few hundred pounds of Jo Malone out of those sample bottles.
Think density. Bring a bag of chips and you’re wasting precious inches of packaging on empty air; go Hobnobs and you’ll be maxing out every millimeter with solid chocolate and cookie satisfaction. (And don’t be tempted to bring celery from home just because it’s the last thing left in the fridge and you can’t throw it away. No one goes. Go eat.)
Just a few sheets (folded not curled, natch). If you’re stuck at the airport long enough to need a number 2, your ass won’t thank you for inflicting this standard public luxury thing on it.
pump action pad
Those memory foam travel pillows? Half of your carry-on baggage allowance went to one. Try an inflatable: the AirComfy works like a dream, and its push-button pump keeps you from turning purple when it’s time to blow it up. It even makes a comfortable bench at the boarding gate…
Not just for napping in flight. Earplugs will block out children’s noise at Candy Crush; eye masks will double as blinders on a horse if you’re tempted by the giant Toblerone counter in Duty Free; and the right herbal sleeping pills ease even the most anxious wait to see whether or not your plane will take off. These, these and these are excellent. Plus, this ensures a worry-free surface to support your head on and a combed, conditioned arrival to boot.
No This one kind; these are for your children. It doesn’t matter what kind of cheap plastic tat or tartrazine-powered gutrot you give them: the important thing is that you ration no faster than one new thing every hour or two. (Woe to the father who throws the kitchen sink at the kids when boarding is delayed an hour… and finds it happens three more times.)
Refillable water bottle – and the means to refill it
Don’t even bother asking at Pret A Manger; they will say they can’t. Take a look at wateratairports.com, however, and you’ll find a world treasure map of tap water dispensers, from Teeside to Tehran.
Your rights – written
It is not enough to know them; you need to be able to show them to the tabard tyrant behind the table. For that, you want everything printed from an authoritative and trusted source – here’s something to get you started.
Book (but not that one)
You might have enough time on your hands to get through War and peace, but that doesn’t mean you will. Leave the tome you are trying to read in hold luggage; keep the trash easy you really want to read closely. They’re called airport romances for a reason.
Masks (and only masks)
No other clothing allowed. With premium carry-on space, this is a good time to ‘use your baggage allowance’ – you might look like the Michelin Man under all those sweaters and coats, but it’s worth it. The only exception to the rule is if you are traveling with babies who are prone to vomiting, in which case…
spare clothes for all
When the baby boards, whoever is holding it gets a shirt too.
The only card game that is: a) so simple you can still play it when your brain has been anesthetized by an alarm clock at 4:15 am; and b) has a vicious streak enough to keep all age groups interested in a full day of play (‘E That is revenge for making me draw four cards six hours ago. Suck it, grandson!’).
the rope of power
Strictly for emergency use only – but if you’re stuck at the end of the queue and about to miss your flight, wave your working cord at the people queuing in front of you (of course they won’t check where it’s from) and go through them with confidence. Wrong but effective.
A tangle of technology
Charging cables, headphone cords, power pack cords, headphone splitters, spare batteries – and, crucially, plug adapters. Because you know you have to go through all that horrible hell all over again at a foreign airport for your flight home, right…?