I was once stranded overnight in Oklahoma City on my way from LA to St. Louis – and needless to say, that was an experience.
Long story short, I had a layover in Phoenix and my connection there got delayed due to poor weather back home – before ultimately getting cancelled, along with every other flight to St. Louis that day.
According to the airline, the quickest way I could get to STL was to catch a different flight to Oklahoma City, spend the night there (on my own dime, mind you), and hop on the first flight out the next morning.
Also according to the airline, it was in my best interests to stay separated from my checked baggage (where all of my belongings were, because I was woefully unprepared for this situation) and plan to meet it when I arrived at my final destination.
So, that’s what I did.
And this is what I learned: never do that. Or, at any rate, only do that when your carry-on bags are well-packed.
Fact is, delays and cancellations happen all the time in transit – particularly during the winter months and heavy holiday travel season. So, in an effort to stay one step ahead of the game in the event of any travel mishap, here’s a list of what to always have in your carry-on luggage, no matter how far you’re going:
1. Change of clothes
For context, my stranded-in-OKC debacle took place over Christmas, when southern California tends to be a balmy 55 degrees and above, and the rest of the country is assaulted by arctic wrath. Since all of my clothes (including my winter coat) were in my checked bag, there I was at midnight in Oklahoma, dressed for 60 degrees and stepping off the plane in 10.
Shortly after, there I was, checking into an airport hotel and forced to sleep in the clothes I was in…and then wake up and get on another flight…in the same clothes.
It was gross – and a very valuable travel lesson. Always pack a change of clothes. While my case proves this tip useful when traveling domestically, it’s also pertinent for international travel, when bags can be lost for days or even weeks (*gulp*) and immediate access to stores is not always available.
For everyone’s sake, not just your own.
Use my mistake as an example. You will be so grateful to have this in the event you get stranded somewhere overnight.
It’s also great for red-eye flights, so you can go about your bedtime routine and convince your body to go to sleep no matter what time zone you’re in.
4. Glasses and/or extra contacts/contact solution
If you’re eyesight-impaired like I am, it’s a good idea to pack one or both of these in your carry-on. As a bonus, not only is this useful for travel situations, but it can also prove vital for your trip itself.
For example: one time, I forgot an extra pair of contacts on a visit to Vegas. One of my contacts ripped on the last night, and because I was too stubborn to wear glasses to the club, I found myself dancing to Skrillex with half my vision blurred. Really dumb idea in hindsight – I have since learned.
You never know when your trusty plastic cards will fail you. It’s always a good idea to carry some easily accessible spare cash in the event of unexpected taxi fares or airport mart necessities.
6. Phone charger
Seems obvious in today’s smartphone-obsessed world, but so important. Few things sound more nightmare-inducing to me than traveling solo with a dead phone.
Nothing causes a headache quite like travel delays. Grab a travel-size pack of pills to keep permanently stashed in your carry-on.
Depending on the length of your flight, you may be able to score a pair of these from the airline. But it’s always smart to pack your own – I forgot mine on a three-hour flight from Denver once and I don’t know that I’ve ever been more bored.
Keep all of these on your go-to carry-on packing list and you’ll be prepped for any travel situation gone awry.
Anything else I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!