Breeze through TSA airport security with these tips from an elite frequent flier on how to effectively pack your carry-on toiletry bag. I always have a carry-on toiletry bag and never get stopped or lose my toiletries. Please use the tips in this article to pack a better carry-on toiletry bag.
Choose Essentials for Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag
Let’s face it, you’re probably wondering what to put into a carry-on toiletry bag. Space is limited so you’ll need to eliminate some items. I’ll offer some strategies on how to make decisions about what stays and what goes into your carry-on toiletry bag. I’ll also tell you what’s in my carry-on toiletry bag.
Pro Tip: Always carry backup quart bags in your luggage. Read about how to choose the best toiletry bag.
Meet TSA Rules for Liquids in a Carry-On Toiletry Bag
TSA specifies, “liquids, creams and gels” in a quantity no larger than 3 ounces or 100 mL. They must all fit into a quart size plastic bag, and the bag must close.
For example, you could pack your zip top bag with four 3-ounce bottles of your favorite shampoo, if that’s all you need. You just can’t bring the 12 ounce bottle, even if it fits into the quart bag. I can’t tell you how many sad faces I’ve seen when TSA takes away a beloved full-size bottle of perfume or lotion because it’s larger than 3 ounces.
Also, liquid or gel toiletries must go in the carry-on toiletry bag, including mascara and powdered cosmetics. Read more about how to avoid common toiletry bag problems.
Pro Tip: Limit the bottle sizes to 100 mL or 3.4 ounces.
Solids Stay Out of Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag
TSA allows solids of any size (as long as they meet the other security rules). So it’s important to make a distinction between toiletries that are NOT solid, such as gel deodorants; and toiletries that ARE solid, such as solid deodorant sticks like Tom’s Deodorant Stick Sensitive Care Fragrance Free 2.25 Ounces and Dove Anti-Perspirant Deodorant, Sensitive Skin 2.60 oz. Solid toiletries do NOT have to go in the bag. Consider traveling with a deodorant that says “solid” on the package to save space in your plastic bag.
Another way to save space is to remove toiletry accessories–like floss, nail scissors and your toothbrush– from your carry-on toiletry bag, even though you may use these items with the liquids. TSA does not require that these go in the bag, and they take up a lot of space.
If you need to bring special food, freeze it beforehand so that it is a solid when you pass through TSA.
Pro Tip: Don’t waste precious space in your carry-on toiletry bag with solids, including solid deodorants, and accessories. Instead, pack these into your suitcase or personal item.
Pack Hard-to-Find Items in Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag
Look at all the liquids, creams and gels that you want to bring. Now ask yourself which of those items are the most difficult to replace on the road. Pack only the items that are impossible or difficult to find later, or that you’re going to need immediately in flight.
For instance, if you’re staying a hotel, it will offer shampoo, conditioner and lotion. If you’re staying with friends, they will have toothpaste and contact solution. If you’re bouncing between hotels and friends, you might be able to score extra travel shampoo and conditioner first, but not toothpaste. Neither is likely to have that special eye cream that you can’t live without.
In my bag, I pack these toiletries: face cleanser to wash off road grime; hand and eye cream for in-flight dry skin relief; a tiny toothpaste for in-flight brushing; and a tube of eye gel for those red eye flights. These are my must-haves that I don’t leave home without. Everything else is optional, depending on where I’m going and for how long.
The bottom line is that instead of carrying on all of your toiletries, I encourage you to think strategically about what will be available where you are going: What items are a must-have and which items are easily replaced?
Pro Tip: Eliminate all the items from your carry-on toiletry bag that you don’t need in flight and will find easily later.
Pack Items Tightly in Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag
If you’ve ever played the game Candy Crush or Tetris, you’re in luck. The skills you acquired playing will serve you well in packing your toiletry bag. Be sure to choose 3-ounce containers that pack tightly together in your carry-on toiletry bag. From the photo above, you can see that I use round, thin containers. The benefit of these is that they pack flat, and I can stack them two deep when needed.
Many containers that you can buy for travel are cylinder shapes. Drug stores typically sell these in the travel size toiletry section of the store. These generally work fine. However, I have moved away from using them because they’re slightly bulky, often leak, don’t pack tightly.
Refillable Containers for Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag
I opt for refillable containers that are either long, skinny cylinders or rectangular shapes. These pack tighter, and it’s easier to get the zipper around them on the fly. Dot & Dot makes a very durable set that is BPA-free. Each is exactly 3 ounces and can safely be filled with toiletries or food.
My personal favorite shape is the flat cylinder, such as the Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo – 1 oz Small Travel Size Bottle [30 mL]. These pack flat and tight. I recently scored these at a hotel and have reused them for months. It’s easy to refill them with your own supplies. Then pack tightly into one bag everything you might need, such as: shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, face lotion, hand lotion, cleanser and body wash.
Pro Tip: Choose 3-ounce containers that pack together flat, tight and don’t leak.
Plastic Wrap Single-Use Liquids in Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag
Plastic wrap is my latest discovery for how to pack carry-on toiletries that don’t fit into bottles: Glad Press’n Seal Plastic Wrap, 70 sq ft . It seals really well, and most other brands will, too. For short trips, squirt 2 to 3 ounces of thicker liquids, such as sunscreen or hair gel, onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Fold and seal. These pack very small. You can toss what you don’t use at the end of your trip.
Pro Tip: Use plastic wrap instead of travel sized containers to bring single-use items in your carry-on toiletry bag. Dispose of unused liquids at the end of your trip.