Learn how to pack toiletries for carry-on luggage—a complete guide to packing liquids for a carry-on bag
When traveling with a carry-on only, getting liquids and goopy toiletries into a one-quart plastic bag can be a struggle. It would be great to take a full skin and hair care regimen. The truth is that there simply isn’t room for everything. But you can learn to travel with only the essentials. Follow this guide to learn how to pack toiletries in a carry-on bag.
Can I bring toiletries in my carry-on?
Absolutely! But you’ll need to take a little care with how you pack liquid toiletries for your flight.
Follow the TSA 3-1-1 guidelines for any liquids, gels or pastes that you pack. Then you’ll sail through security, no problem.
Keep reading for great tips for how to pack carry-on toiletries.
What toiletries can I bring in a carry-on bag?
You can bring any toiletries you like in your carry-on bag. Keep in mind that you will be limited to the TSA guidelines.
That means that you are limited to only the liquids you can get into one 1-quart clear plastic bag (like a 1-quart Ziploc storage bag), and none of those liquids can be in bottles larger than 3.4 ounces (even if they aren’t full).
Larger containers and bottles have to go in checked luggage, but there are exceptions such as medications and baby foods or formula.
I know that’s a tall order…but it can be done!
Read More → 5 Reasons to Pack Light
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Can I bring mascara in my carry-on? What about packing shampoo in my carry-on luggage?
If you’re bringing liquid shampoo with you in your carry-on luggage you must follow the rules for packing liquids. See the TSA website for the full guidelines.
To save space, you might think about getting a shampoo solid like this one.
Then you won’t have to pack it in your liquids bag.
Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance. You’ll want the peace of mind that comes with knowing your travel investment is covered.
Mascara has been kind of a grey area. I’ve had success with leaving anything goopy or pasty OUT of my 1-quart clear liquids bag as long as the container has some kind of wand in it (e.g., mascara, tubes of concealer, some lip glosses or liquid lipsticks) AND if I’m traveling within the United States.
When traveling outside the U.S, it’s worth taking the extra step to check on these guidelines for other airports you’ll be traveling through. For example, the Charles de Gaulle airport website used to specifically list mascara as subject to the 3-1-1 rule, but may still fall under the “gels” guidelines that includes “lip gloss, etc.”
To be safe, I always recommend erring on the side of caution and packing these items that seem to go either way in your 1-quart bag. OR at least leave room in a non-liquids toiletry bag so you can move them if necessary.
My thinking is, don’t put yourself in the position of giving TSA or any airport security a reason to pull your bags for extra screening or otherwise get yourself hung up and delayed at security.
What kind of bag should I use to pack toiletries in my carry-on luggage?
The requirements are that your bag be clear and no larger than one quart (or one liter).
You’ll find a lot of reasonably priced “TSA-approved” toiletries bag options at discount stores and on Amazon, of course.
Personally, a lot of those bag look much larger than one quart to me. And I’ve heard stories of travelers buying those bags only to be told at security (often overseas) that it’s too large.
You could find yourself having to leave some of those toiletry or makeup items behind. No, thank you.
Why risk it? I go super low tech here and just use a 1-quart Ziploc bag.
Tips for how to pack toiletries in a carry-on bag
But…how do I get it all my liquid toiletries in that little bag?
Hey, I hear you. This is a challenge, but you can do it! Here are my favorite simple tips for minimizing your liquid toiletries.
Cut your skin care regimen down to just the essentials
Cleanse, tone/liquid exfoliate, moisturize. That’s all you really need over the course of your trip, unless you’re traveling for longer than a week.
If you have room in your liquids bag after you’ve put in everything else that you need to take, then that’s the time to add in things like spot treatments on overnight masks.
To trim your skin care liquids even further, use facial cleansing cloths instead of packing liquid, gel or cream cleanser.
I never travel without these dry cloths that you activate with water. That way I can travel with the exact amount I need. They never dry out like the moist towelette ones.
Cut your hair care regimen down to the bare essentials
Only take what you absolutely need to care for your hair on your trip. For you that might be just shampoo and hairspray.
If you’re staying in a hotel, you can minimize the toiletries you pack in your carry-on by using the products the hotel provides.
Or try a shampoo bar like this one and leave shampoo out of your liquid toiletries bag all together.
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Use you trip to use up the last of your toiletries
I love to set aside my last bit of eyeliner or sample of a skin care product for a specific trip coming up. Then I take those with me on my trip and just throw them out before I come home.
When you travel carry-on only, every bit of space you make for yourself (especially on a return trip when you might have souvenirs to bring back) can really help.
Replace as many liquid toiletries as you can with solids (or powders that travel well)
There are a lot of liquid toiletries that you can replace with solid versions like solid deodorants, shampoos, etc. They don’t need to be packed in your 1-quart liquids bag, which will free up space for you.
You can try this popular solid shampoo bar.
You can also get solid conditioner bars like this one.
You can even buy solid lotion to help keep you moisturized while you travel.
If it works for you, instead of liquid foundation and concealer, use a mineral makeup like this one.
You’ll save so much space in your carry-on liquids bag.
Share toiletry space with your travel partner
If you have a travel partner who uses very little in the way of liquid toiletries use him or her as your mule to get a few extra things on the plane.
My husband’s liquids bag holds shampoo, toothpaste, and antibacterial ointment. That’s it. So, he usually also takes my shampoo and we share the toothpaste. Now that’s love!
Buy toiletries at your destination
If you’re going to be traveling long-term you might opt to wait until you reach your destination to purchase some toiletries or over-the-counter liquid medications.
For example, if you’re planning to spend several weeks in one place (or road tripping at your destination) you could wait until you arrive to purchase things like shampoo, toothpaste or sunscreen that you know you will use daily (or multiple times per day).
Toiletries packing list for carry-on travel
Use this list as a starting place for packing toiletries when traveling carry-on only. You can easily customize for your own needs and how you like to travel.
I personally like to minimize my toiletries as much as possible and go really low maintenance for hair and makeup on my travels.
You can purchase travel sizes of your favorite products or get some re-usable containers of various sizes so that you can just take with you a bit of your full-size products from home.
This “Amazon’s Choice” set comes with many different kinds of containers in different sizes.
Skin care products
Cleanse with these dry cloths you activate with water. They’re perfect for traveling light.
I swear by this day moisturizer with SPF 30.
And I never travel without my travel size bottle of this liquid exfoliant.
Or try this travel size skin regimen kit from my favorite skin care brand.
Hair care products
Try this solid shampoo bar, so you don’t have to pack it in your liquids bag.
This solid conditioner gets great reviews.
I also usually take a small hairspray with me like this one.
I like to travel with a long-lasting concealer or foundation/concealer combo. This concealer is my favorite.
I also like this “foundcealer.”
To cut down on the quantity of liquids you pack in your carry-on, you might want to try a powder mineral foundation like this one.
Then perhaps try an eyeliner like this one.
A good tubing mascara like this one will help prevent smudges.
If taking an eyeshadow, consider using a retractable eyeshadow stick like this one. It’s less likely to break up during travel like a traditional powder eyeshadow.
Keep it simple with a flattering lip gloss like this.
Or perhaps even just use lip balm. I never travel without this one, especially on those long, dry flights.
Miscellaneous toiletries and liquids
Travel is the perfect excuse to use up those little toothpaste and floss samples you get from your regular dental checkups.
And we never travel without this little item to help remove stains, since at least one of us (me) is a pretty messy eater.
Final thoughts on packing toiletries in your carry-on
Figuring out how to pack toiletries when traveling carry-on only can definitely be a challenge…and it can also be highly personal. What works for one person may not work for you.
You also might find that you enjoy the challenge of packing for longer and longer trips with a minimal number of toiletries. And certainly, with all the solid toiletries options available, you should be able to get any liquids you need into that 1-quart Ziploc bag.
Do you have any tips or tricks for packing your toiletries when traveling carry-on only? Leave them in the comments below!
Related articles about traveling carry-on only
- What to Take on a Flight (in Your Carry-on)
- Travel Essentials for Women
- The 10 Best Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Carry-on Only
- How to Pack Light for a One-week Trip
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