4 Things You Should Always Pack in Your Carry-On

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One of the biggest headaches associated with air travel is when you lose your baggage. Money expert Clark Howard says he avoids that — along with any baggage fees — by bringing his bags as a carry-on along with a backpack.

“When do I check a bag? If you’re a longtime listener to the Clark Howard Podcast, you know the answer to this: It doesn’t happen,” Clark says. “If I can’t take it in my carry-on or backpack, it does not go on the trip.”

Clark Says He Always Packs These Items in His Carry-On Bags

In the latest Air Travel Consumer Report, the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that airlines in the U.S. “mishandled” over 200,000 bags in February 2023 alone.

Because of this potential for lost luggage, Clark wants you to try to avoid checking bags. But if you must, be sure to always have these four critical items in your carry-on. Otherwise, the loss of your bag could ruin your trip.

1. Three Days of Clothing

To pack a carry-on the right way, you’re going to have to choose a bag that is flexible and has many compartments. What will you put in it?

“Three days’ worth of clothes, five days’ worth of underwear,” Clark says.

2. Toothbrush and Toothpaste

You don’t want to leave your oral health and hygiene in a bag somewhere out of your reach; keep it on you.

Looking for something I can easily stash in my carry-on, I found this three-piece travel-size set on Amazon. It has a 4-out-of-5 star rating and includes mouthwash, toothpaste and a folding toothbrush.

travel pack with toothpaste, mouthwash and toothbrush for sale on Amazon
Screenshot via amazon.com

3. Electronics

No matter if it’s a cell phone, tablet or computer, if you can help it, you never want to put your electronics in a checked bag. They can get damaged – or even stolen!

“Airlines, in their terms of service or contract of carriage, specifically will not cover anything of value,” Clark says.

For example, United Airlines states, “UA shall not be liable for damage caused by a Passenger’s property, whether such damage is to the Passenger’s own property or to other’s property.”


4. Prescription Drugs

When it comes to packing your medications for your trip, Clark has one of his Never-Not-Ever Rules:

“Never, ever, not ever should you put your medicine in a checked suitcase,” Clark says. “In the baggage you take with you or in the backpack you have with you, your meds go there.”

Final Thoughts

Clark loves to fly but he has an issue with some of the policies of the airlines, particularly when it comes to luggage. “They have these massive baggage fees and then they lose your bags!” he says.

To solve that issue, he always tries to pack everything he needs in his carry-on bags. If you have to check your bags, he wants you to protect yourself from the possibility of the airline losing your luggage by always packing the following items in a carry-on:

  • Three days’ worth of clothes and five days’ worth of underwear
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Electronics
  • Prescription drugs

You may have room for some other small essentials you always bring with you on trips and Clark is no different. 

One other must-have item Clark always packs when he travels is a $10 carbon monoxide detector.


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