My Favorite Carry-On Art Journal Supplies for Air Travel

My favorite carry-on art journaling supplies for air travel A few people wrote and asked me recently what supplies I took on the plane for my recent trip to Arizona, so I thought I'd share. It's pretty easy to take what you want when you are checking bags - but I like to see how light I can travel when I'm going for just a few days.

I also like to have some of my favorite supplies accessible in my carry-on bags for airport waiting time and hours on the plane.

art journaling in the airport

The toughest choice for me may be deciding which journals to take (and which ones to leave behind). Every journal is so unique - I have many and love them all, and I inevitably end up missing one while away. I like to consider which are easiest to carry in the bags I'm traveling with, though, and which respond to the supplies I take as well.

The truth is, I like to think I'm going to make beautiful, detailed spreads when I'm traveling to visit people - but that almost never happens. There is generally too much visiting, chatting and being in the experience to go off and devote much solitary, focused time to my creative journal practice. I wouldn't have it any other way, though - traveling is about people and places - and I get to do that personal type of art journaling at home all the time.

art journal supplies for air travel

So it helps me to think of my travel journaling practice as quick sketches, impressions, studies - a way of expressing some of the inspiration from the journey and capturing ideas to explore later. My intention stays light and I need only the most basic supplies to touch in with the practice - which makes packing easier.

So for this last trip, I took a moleskine for its familiarity, a new sketchbook that lays flat when open, and my big ol' homemade planner (which I'm not sure completely counts as a journal... but it goes with me and documents my life).

As for supplies, getting through TSA with options and basics is my focus.

I start with...

  • a small pair of craft scissors
  • a pencil sharpener
  • a small ruler (more for tearing edges than measuring things)
  • adhesives: a roll of washi tape (or two) and a glue stick. This last time I took Martha Stewart's gel glue - so it counted toward my fluids for carry-on (it's a 2 oz tube), but a glue stick does the trick just fine (I like Uhu best)
  • a kneaded eraser, and an old credit card for scraping paint on a page

Well considered drawing and writing options are a must...

my favaorite must-have art journal supplies for air travel carry-on

Paints... oh, how I love them. All of them. Lots of them. And I really prefer my acrylics - if I had to choose just one kind.

For traveling, though, I actually leave almost all of the acrylics at home - except for one little bottle of white - for when you need to cover over areas or blend or build up a layer on the page (like gesso).

Instead, I prefer to take watercolors and gouache.

In case you don't know much about gouache (I didn't until last year) - gouache paints are sort of like watercolors - and sometimes referred to as opaque watercolors. Their quality reminds me of chalk paints and they take some getting used to - yet they are very rich and really have a personality of their own. Plus, you can re-wet them like watercolors, and you don't have to worry about your brushes if you don't get them totally clean if you're out and about at a coffee shop or in nature (also like watercolors) - because you can re-wet them and clean them up later.

They are also inexpensive - which is a win-win if you are not checking a bag, and I'll tell you why....

TSA says you can have 1 quart size bag with your liquids, and each liquid needs to be less than 3.4 ounces. If you're not checking a bag - then that's the only bag for all of your liquid toiletries. It can be done - trust me.

But, paints are in tubes and considered a liquid for purposes of security checks. Plus, my toiletries take up that one bag you're allowed to carry on - so my paints go in another - which is technically breaking the rules. ssshhh...

So I've always had the fear that I may get asked to leave my paints or check my bag if I want to travel with them, plus my toiletries. If I have to leave a small, ten dollar set of gouache behind, no big deal.

In the six trips I've taken with this set-up though, I've never been confronted on technically having two bags of liquids. (I'm just going to go ahead and acknowledge my privilege here... because I'm not sure that would be the case for everyone.)

must-have air travel carry-on art journal supplies

So here's my air-travel paint supply list:

  • a small set of gouache paints (needs to be in a clear quart-size bag)
  • Koi watercolor field pocket sketch kit (fill the brush with water after passing through security)
  • small tube of payne's gray watercolor (needs to be in a clear quart-size bag)
  • small craft bottle of white acrylic (also in a clear quart-size bag)
  • an assortment of small brushes + paint rag
  • travel spray bottle (fill with water after passing through security)

I carry my loose supplies in a money bag - fancy, I know. And then all of it goes in my backpack with my laptop.

By the way - if you're going to travel without checking a bag - you need a good backpack. Both for the room it gives you and for distributing the weight of lugging that stuff around. (As for a purse... I have a small, light purse that lays flat in my carry-on that I can use once I get to the terminal or land in my destination.)

my favorite carry-on art journal supplies for air travel carry-on

Here are a few of the pages I made on my last trip...

visual journal art while traveling, Hali Karla visual journal art collage while traveling, Hali Karla visual journal art from my trip to Sedona, Hali Karla

The journal I missed most? My altered book, hands down.

Do you have art supply travel tips? Do share.