Four air travel essentials

Four air travel essentials — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

It's no secret that I really enjoy traveling. I'm pretty much always down for an adventure to somewhere fun, whether it be a place I've been many times before or somewhere new. (This is another reason why I love the flexible schedule of a grad student. I'm going to miss it so much!)

I've spent the vast majority of my life traveling by plane thanks to having a flight attendant for a mom the first years of my life, and it's definitely the way I prefer to travel. I also started a long distance relationship a few months ago, so I've been on a plane at least once a month since August. You could say I've learned a few things along the way. ;) 

Below are four of my air travel essentials. Any of them would make great last-minute gifts for the traveler in your life (or yourself!). I'd love to hear what you use or pack to ease your travels, too!

Travel essentials: Carry-on wheeled luggage, Longchamp bag, reusable quart bag — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

1. Four-wheeled carry-on-approved luggage

I never check a bag anymore unless I absolutely need to. I took a huge bag with me when I studied abroad in Italy a few years ago, and it was the worst idea ever. I had to lug it around during my last week of travels—and it is not easy to navigate the many bridges in Venice with a 50-pound bag. I was there for six weeks over the summer, so I definitely didn't need a huge bag. Ever since, I've only been taking a carry-on with me. I've successfully packed for a late fall/early winter trip to South Dakota, multiple trips to San Francisco in December, a trip to New Orleans in January, multiple trips home in all seasons, and a late spring trip to Vienna in only a carry-on bag. Not only is it a huge hassle to travel with checked luggage, it usually costs extra, and you may have to deal with lost luggage. Not worth it to me anymore.

After my first wheeled carry-on luggage met an unexpected end a couple of years ago at an academic conference, I purchased my Kipling 'New York Lite' bag (thanks to a gift card I won in a contest). I had initially heard that four-wheeled/"spinner" bags are not a good idea because the wheels can easily break when they're tossed around by the baggage handlers, but it turns out that they're a bad idea on bags that you plan to check. If it's a carry-on bag, they're awesome! It's nice to have the option to wheel them behind you or next to you (I find that it's easier to wheel it behind if the ground is carpeted or is otherwise difficult for the wheels to glide on).

If you're an avid traveler, it's worth investing in a nice carry-on bag. I almost didn't include it in this list because it's such a no-brainer! Be sure to check your preferred airlines for their maximum carry-on bag dimensions to make sure the bag you're interested in will fit in their aircraft.

2. A large zip-top tote

I seriously have no idea how I traveled without my Longchamp 'Le Pliage Neo' large tote. I purchased mine a year ago specifically to use for conferences, and I seriously adore it for air travel (or any travel, really). I took it with me to Vienna and managed to not only fit my 13" MacBook (in a case) and accessories but my burgundy Kate Spade bag (stuffed with my DSLR camera and other small items). It fits a surprising amount. I think it can also fold down for storage, but I haven't done that with mine since it is almost always in use. The zipper top is especially nice for air travel since you'll need to get through security and probably don't want everything to fall out on the conveyor belt. I can also usually fit it under the seat in front of me with it standing (zipper top up), but on the smaller planes it needs to be on its side or in the overhead bin.

If you don't have a tote with a zip-top, I would definitely consider buying one; Nordstrom has a lot of options! You might be like me and wonder what you did before it!

3. Reusable quart-sized bag

I've been through my fair share of the plastic disposable quart-sized baggies and dealt with them when they break and I don't have anything extra to use. Since I started flying so much recently, I finally decided to get myself one of the (truly) reusable quart-sized zip-top bags. I picked up mine from the Container Store, and it's held up well for the past few months. (It helps that I no longer need to remove it from my bag; see why below.)

I always struggle with what liquids to bring with me due to the size restriction of the quart-sized bag. My tip? You don't need to put chapstick, lipstick, contact lenses, and small makeup tubes like mascara in your liquids bag. Save that room for the bigger and more liquid-y items! (Though, I think the reusable bag can hold more than the regular disposable bags...or maybe it's just the shape of the bag?)

4. TSA Precheck

If you travel by plane, you've dealt with TSA...and for most people, it's not a very fun experience. Not only do you have to remove coats, belts, and shoes, but you have to pull out your laptops and liquids bag. Have you ever struggled with this process and tried not to anger the people behind you? Been there, done that. It's a pain, to say the least.

At the end of the summer, I finally signed up for TSA Precheck, and guys: it's amazing. Seriously. If you travel relatively often, it is SO worth it. After applying and being interviewed and fingerprinted (which takes all of five minutes), you pay only $85 (good for five years), are given a known traveler number (KTN), and can bypass all of the annoying things about security. You just have to enter your KTN into your airline profiles (but if you don't have a profile, you just have to add it when you book or after the fact with your confirmation number). If you travel internationally often, you can opt for Global Entry, which speeds up your customs process ($100 for five years). Note that you still have to go through the normal TSA when you reenter the US from a foreign country, even if you have Precheck or Global Entry.

Now it's your turn; I'd love to hear your travel essentials! :)