Packing 101: Make Your Own Amenity Kit

One of the things that people love about flying business or first class, aside from the gigantic seats and free-flowing liquor, is that the airlines fuss over them. Give them freebies. Think of all the little necessities. Like an amenity kit.

Well, you can so this too. A bit of planning, a few minutes in the drugstore, and you can make your own amenity kit that will make flying that little bit easier.

The real benefit these little kits give you, aside from the goodies inside, is a convenient place to put them so you know exactly where to find the thing you need, so that you don’t have to rummage around for 10 minutes trying to find your gum or whatever. I keep mine in my under-seat bag just so I get at anything I want even when we’re trapped in our seats by takeoff or landing.

I use a small orange mesh bag primarily cause the color makes it easy to find inside a larger dark bag, and the mesh makes it easier to find things inside in a potentially dark airplane cabin.

Amenity Kit

Here’s what I take:

– A small pen. Anytime you fly overseas, you’re going to have to fill out a customs form (if not other things) on arrival. If you have a pen handy, you never have to borrow one off your seatmate or worse, wait until you land to fill it out.

– Lip balm. To be honest, the only two things I really need to fly are a book and some lip balm. Flying is dehydrating, so I always end up with chapped lips.

-Face cleaner.  Flying long haul always makes me feel grubby. I used to bring along a tiny bottle of regular face cleaner, but that has the added complication of being a dreaded liquid, as well as then requiring water and then drying your face on stiff rough hand towels. So I recently came across small face cleaner wipes and they really do a good job of cleaning your face without leaving you feeling sticky.


Face cleaner

-Antibacterial gel – you saw that report that came out about how dirty seat back pockets are. Eeeeuw. Get a tiny bottle. I usually just leave it in this main bag without separating it with my other liquids; they’ve yet to catch me and seize it but your mileage may vary.

-Toothbrush/toothpaste. You can buy cheap foldable toothbrushes online which I like cause they fit in a small bag (and protect the bristles from getting stuff caught in them). I bought about 6 of these the last time I stocked up. For toothpaste, I always have a few “almost finished” mini-tubes from prior trips that I bring along in my amenity kit so that I’m not carrying the whole thing and then can toss it when done.

-Ear plugs. Ear plugs. Ear plugs. Do not travel with out them. Several of them in fact, so that if you lose a pair or two you’re still okay. From the roar of a jet engine to that baby that won’t stop screaming to that unexpected all-night wedding party happening outside your Indian hotel…. you get the idea. Just buy them in bulk. Ever since I found the incredibly garish hot pink ones, those are the one’s I’ve bought. They’re much easier to locate in the folds of the sheets when they’ve popped out of your ears.

-Eye mask. The first time I went to very northern Europe in midsummer I just happened to bring along a thin, cheap eyemask that I had gotten in an amenity kit from a previous trip to Asia. It was a lifesaver. I used it every night and would have been lost with out it. It was hard enough to buy headache medicine in Russia, I cannot imagine trying to mime “eye mask” to the lady at the chemists. My favorite style is the kind that has a bumped-out eye area that makes it so that you can comfortably open your eyes with it on. I usually keep it in a pocket on the carrying case for my noise-cancelling headphones intead of in the mesh bag itself. A little container of lotion oozed out a bit once and got all over it; that was not pretty.

Eye mask

-Medicines: depending on where you’re going this could just be a few Advil; on a longer flight where you want to get some sleep this could include Benadryl (my secret weapon sleeping pill), real sleeping pills, immodium, pepto bismol, heartburn medicine, migraine medicine, etc. Just a couple pills of each in a small pill box can be a lifesaver.

-Face moisturizer: I usually pack whatever free sample I have so sometimes decant something into a smaller screw-top container.

-Sunscreen: If you’re landing somewhere especially sunny, it’s a good idea to pack some so that you can apply it after your pre-arrival face washing is done. I often use free samples for this too — any SPF 20 will do, you just need to get something on there.

– Hand cream: Usually the richer the better, my hands get so dry and messed up when I fly that it’s always a relief to get some lotion on there.

-Emery board: For whatever reason every single time I fly I manage to tear an edge of a nail, or get it caught on something, then spend the next 10 hours getting more and more irritated by that little snag. Solution? An emery board (or part of one). At some hotel recently they had a package of cotton balls and such that included a little miniature one. Perfect for flying.

Other things to consider adding: Gum if you have air pressure issues in your ears. Mints. An energy bar. A tiny bottle of hot sauce (if you need to spice up that airline meal), floss (get the dentist to give you those tiny disks of Glide the next time you get your teeth cleaned).

Once you have this kit put together, all you need to do when packing is figure out what needs to be replaced or refilled. It’s always there in your little mesh bag, ready to go.

Bonus carry on items:

Water bottle: Airports are increasingly likely to have stations where you can fill up your own water bottle with filtered water on the other side of security. This is great if you don’t want to spend $3.50 on a bottle of water.

Noise-canceling headphones: I’m somewhat torn on these. I have the large over-ear ones, and while you can’t really sleep in them, they do a good job of blocking out some of the white noise engine roar and make it a lot easier to understand the conversation happening in the inflight movies (I’m also somewhat hard of hearing, so normally miss a lot of this with all the background noise on the plane).

Do you have any must-have carry on items you always bring on long flights?

Packing 101 – No, you don’t need that

There are two elements to the art of packing: deciding what to bring and figuring out how to get it all in the bag you have.

I decide what to bring based on some simple principles:



1 Colors matter: Everything needs to match everything else. Easiest to stick to one neutral color (black, brown), then pick one or possibly two others (blue, green) for everything else. If all the shorts and skirts and shirts you bring are in within this color group, then you should be able to mix and match things pretty easily.

2 “Bring Layers!” : everybody says this but it’s still good advice. Instead of bringing that big winter coat that you might need, make sure you have a couple cardigans and a trenchcoat. You might end up wearing four layers of clothes one day, like I did on a recent trip to Stockholm, but heck: you’re warm.

3 Who cares: Guess what? These people in Bangkok, or London, or Monteverde, they don’t care what you’re wearing. You don’t need to impress them. Even more importantly, you’ll never see them again, so if you are wearing the same thing you wore two days ago, who the heck will even notice?

4 Avoid formal occasions: Once in a great while I feel like I have to pack “special” clothes for a “special” occasion, and every time I regret it. Either it never happens and I’ve brought extra clothes for no reason, or I end up someplace fancy where the surprisingly casual dress of the other diners makes me feel like a rube.

5 Don’t skimp on shoes: Always bring more than one pair of walking shoes. Rain, mud, blisters, aching feet — they happen. Having an extra pair can really make a big difference. I’m amazed at how just switching the shoes you’re wearing can give a new lease on life to aching feet at the end of a long day. Oh, and those “fancy” shoes you want to bring? The cute ones? Forget it. Leave them at home. See #3 above.

6 Socks and Underwear: I make no attempt to be one of those preening “light packers” who manage to pack for a week in a tiny knapsack – I just want to pack efficiently and make sure that everything I bring actually gets used. Therefore I’ll often pack a whole week’s worth of socks and underwear just so that I don’t have to do any sink-laundry while traveling. I mean really, do you really want to wash clothes in a bathroom sink after a long day of sightseeing? I don’t.

7 Finally: The little bits and pieces: depending on where you’re going, you may need:

  • nail clippers
  • headlamp (instead of a flashlight, they’re much more useful)
  • dental floss (can be used for so much besides teeth!)
  • gallon size ziploc bags (I use these all the time, for everything)
  • an extra luggage lock (in case one goes missing or you buy so many souvenirs you have to bring home an extra bag filled with your dirty clothes)
  • an extra bag – see above (you can get cheap sturdy pack-in-a-pocket duffels from REI that are perfect for this)

Now, how to get it all in there:

Eagle Creek pack-it cubes: it took me a long time to warm up to these… they do seem a bit precious, and might seem like a waste of money, but they do one really important thing: they keep things from shifting around in your bag and getting wrinkled. They can also make figuring out the geometry of bag-packing easier: they fit together better than hodge-podge stacks of clothes and once you’ve worked out how they best fit in your bag, you can pack them the same way next time. I also utilize ziploc bags a lot, for keeping smaller things organized (and to keep shoes from dirtying things up). It’s especially useful to pack this way if you’re going to be living out of your suitcase and moving around a lot. If you’re staying at one hotel the whole time then it really doesn’t matter that much.