Carry-On Liquid Success: Packing Tips & Must-Have Items

Packing carry-on liquids can be challenging. This guide simplifies the process, ensuring you fit essential toiletries in a one-quart bag. Master the art of selecting and packing your carry-on toiletries, and travel lighter with confidence.

Key Takeaways: Packing Toiletries for Carry-On Luggage

  • Follow the TSA 3-1-1 Liquids Rule: Travelers can bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in their carry-on, with each item being 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less.
  • Choose the Right Bag: A clear bag, no larger than one quart, is the limit for taking on the plane. A 1-quart Ziploc bag is commonly used.
  • Minimize & Optimize Toiletries: Focus on packing only essentials and consider using solid alternatives or utilizing your hotel’s amenities to save space in your liquids bag.

packed liquids for a carry-on

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The TSA 3-1-1 Liquids Rule

According to the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA), “You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. Placing these items in the small bag and separating from your carry-on baggage facilitates the screening process. Pack items that are in containers larger than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in checked baggage.

Any liquid, aerosol, gel, cream or paste that alarms during screening will require additional screening.”

Infographic image illustrating the TSA 3-1-1 liquids rules for packing liquid toiletries in your carry-on bag. Each passenger gets 1 one-quart clear bag for their liquids, which should be in containers of 3.4 ounces each or less.

What kind of bag should I use to pack toiletries in my carry-on luggage? 

For packing toiletries in a carry-on, use a clear bag no larger than one quart. While many “TSA-approved” bags are available online and in stores, some may seem larger than the limit. To avoid potential issues at security, a 1-quart Ziploc bag is a safe choice.

PRO TIP: Consider getting TSA Pre-check or Global Entry (which comes with TSA Pre-check eligibility) so that you can go through security without pulling your liquids bag out of your carry-on luggage.

Get the perfect packing list template

Want a simple printable packing list template? Just print it out and fill it out so you don’t forget anything you want to take on your trip. Get the blank printable packing list in the Plan, Ready, Go Etsy shop.

Looking for a digital packing list you can use on your computer or mobile device? The packing list spreadsheet includes two tabs to help you track everything you need to pack plus all of the things you want to buy before your trip. The packing list is pre-filled for a one-week trip and is fully editable so you can start from scratch or use the existing list as your starting point.

Get the packing list template spreadsheet in the Plan, Ready, Go Etsy shop.

Tips for packing liquids in carry-on luggage 

Packing all liquid toiletries in a quart bag can be tricky, but with the right strategies, it’s feasible. Here are tips to optimize liquid packing in your carry-on bag.

Cut your skin care regimen down to just the essentials 

Cleanser, toner/liquid exfoliator, facial moisturizer. When packing carry-on liquids, that’s all you need throughout 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, or face wash. I never travel without these dry cloths that I buy on Amazon and activate with water. That way I can travel with the exact amount I need. They never dry out like the moist towelette ones. 

Tip: use a digital and editable packing list to stay organized and make quick adjustments to your list as you pack for your trip.

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 altogether. 

toiletries packed in a 1-quart Ziploc bag for travel
When you learn how to pack toiletries in a carry-on bag you’ll be surprised how much you can take with you. This was enough for me for one week in Paris. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

Use your trip to use up the last of your toiletries 

I love to set aside my last bit of eyeliner or a 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 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-form versions like solid deodorants, solid shampoos, etc. They don’t need to be packed in your 1-quart liquids bag, which will free up space for you. 

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 and travel size liquids packing list ideas for carry-on travel

Use this list as a starting place for packing toiletries when traveling carry-on only. You can easily customize it for your own needs and how you like to travel. I like to minimize my toiletries as much as possible and go low maintenance for hair and makeup on my travels.

 Keep track of everything you’re packing with these blank printable packing lists.

You can purchase travel sizes of your favorite products or get some reusable travel-sized containers of various sizes so that you can just take with you a bit of your full-size products from home.

Skincare products 

Hair care products 

Set of travel bottles and towel in plastic bag inside a backpack


Face makeup 

Eye makeup 

  • I prefer to keep it simple here. I like to pack a good affordable eyebrow pencil with a clear eyebrow gel 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. 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 it, 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. 
Teeth hygiene and oral dental care products in golden travel cosmetic purse kit

Packing carry-on liquids FAQs

The TSA 3-1-1 liquids rule can be confusing when it comes to which specific items apply and which don’t. It’s important to remember and follow the TSA liquid rules for everyone’s safety and so you can get through the checkpoint without delay.

What is the 3-1-1 rule for flying with liquids?

The 3-1-1 rule refers to the TSA’s regulation that allows passengers to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes in their carry-on bag and through the security checkpoint. Each container within the bag must be 3.4 oz. (100 milliliters) or less.

Can I use any bag for my carry-on liquids?

While there are many “TSA-approved” clear toiletry bag options available, it’s recommended to use a clear bag no larger than one quart to avoid any discrepancies at security checkpoints. A 1-quart Ziploc bag is a commonly used and reliable option.

Are there any exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule for carry-on liquids?

Yes, there are exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule for carry-on liquids. These exemptions include medications and nourishment for babies and toddlers such as breast milk and formula.

Can I bring toiletries in my carry-on? 

Yes, you can bring toiletries in your carry-on. But you’ll need to take a little care with how you pack liquid toiletries for your flight. Follow the TSA 3-1-1 liquids rule for any liquids, gels, or pastes that you pack. Then you’ll sail through security with no problem.

Can I bring mascara in my carry-on? 

Yes, you can bring mascara in your carry-on. However, it’s important to note that mascara is considered a liquid, gel, or paste by most airlines. So, it must adhere to the liquid restrictions set by the airline or the security authority of the country you’re flying from. For the U.S., that means mascara must be in your 3-1-1 liquids bag and not just in a general makeup bag. It’s always a good idea to check with your airline or the security regulations of the country you’re departing from to ensure compliance.

Does toothpaste count as a liquid?

Yes, toothpaste is typically considered a liquid or gel by airline and security regulations. This means that if you’re bringing toothpaste in your carry-on bag, it must adhere to the liquid restrictions in place.

Final thoughts on packing toiletries in your carry-on 

Figuring out how to pack toiletries when traveling carry-on only can 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?

Related articles about traveling carry-on only 

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  1. Hello Darcy, loved reading your helpful articles. In one article you mentioned a Columbia rain jacket which I cannot find and I want to order it this week for an upcoming trip. Would you please tell me which Columbia rain jacket it is?

  2. I use contact lens cases for some of my lotions and moisturizers. I had an abundance of them leftover from the days when I wore contacts, so I began using them for travel. They are small, but can easily hold a week’s worth of moisturizer. Use different colored cases for different products, or label each one if you are afraid you won’t remember what is in each case.

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      That’s a great idea. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Thank you for these great tips! Traveling to India and trying to wrap my brain around what to do for 20 hours and how to pack our carry ons just in case our luggage gets lost!

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      You’re so welcome! Have a wonderful trip.

  4. Joyce Smith says:

    Thank you Darcy. Traveling internationally for the first time. Of the sites I’ve read, yours was the most helpful regarding liquid carryons. Thanks again

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I wrote this post because back when I went on my first international trip I also had trouble finding the information I needed to help me pack my liquids for carry-on only travel.

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