We have a couple of trips coming up at the end of the month and I'm already thinking about packing. I have a tendency to over-pack, which results in shuffling junk between my checked luggage to avoid the overweight baggage fees. This always happens at the airport, usually in front of a long line of aggravated travelers who more often than not get a glimpse of my undies. The trips we're taking soon won't be long and therefore won't require checked luggage, but fitting the necessities into a carry-on is important.
Here are what I consider to be the main staples of any carry-on and why you should pack them:
1. Extra underwear and socks. You may miss your connecting flight and have your luggage arrive at your destination several days after you do. (This has happened to me.) The airline may lose your luggage (This has happened to me.) Won't you feel better conquering problems if you're wearing clean underoos? I always do. I also pack twice as many pairs of undies and socks than needed because you never know what is going to happen.
2. Plastic grocery or Ziploc bags. You may need somewhere to put trash during a flight. You may get carsick while crossing the French-Swiss border. (This has happened to me.) Or, you may need to wrap fragile souvenirs for the trip home or a place to put a wet swimsuit. Plastic bags come in handy and don't take up much room in your suitcase. If you don't use them, keep them in your suitcase for next time.
3. Snacks. If you're stranded in an airport, bus station, train station or on a plane, you'll need something to eat eventually. Packing your own snacks will prevent you from spending serious cash on overpriced food at gift shops. You can also make friends by sharing snacks. Once I was traveling from Denver to St. Louis after visiting my sister for the weekend. Mid-flight, my seat mate (who was traveling with her teenage daughter) pulled out a pack of crackers and the two started eating. Then she turned to me and offered me some! How nice! I didn't mind that she was hogging the armrest after that.
4. Toiletries. It's nice to have your contact lens solution, toothpaste and toothbrush, moisturizer, etc. with you in case you're separated from your luggage. At least you'll be able to see and have clean teeth for pictures while you're out sightseeing.
5. Baby wipes. Even before we had Z, I'd always pack baby wipes in my carry on. They're handy for wiping your hands or face, cleaning up spills, or preventing stains from setting in. You can "shower" in a pinch if need be. I've used them to wipe Versailles dust off my feet (remember, E?), pyramid dust off my jeans, and I've given them to strangers on planes to clean up sticky messes. Packs of baby wipes are inexpensive, smell good, and are easily transported.
If there's anything you cannot live without for an extended period of time, you better put it in your carry-on so it stays with you at all times. As I said before, you never know what is going to happen. If you can imagine it happening, then there's a chance it will. I think you'll be happier if traveling with clean underwear and socks, too. (Can you tell I'm passionate about clean undergarments?!)