Liquids in your Carry-on Bag

On the Plane
On the Plane

After my post last week, I started thinking about the rules for carry-on luggage.  If you follow my advice to pack light, you may be concerned about the amount of liquids you are allowed to bring on the plane.  The allowance may seem small, but there are ways to make it work.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed and new rules were put into place that called for better passenger screening.   Many items, such as sharp objects and sports equipment like baseball bats and hockey sticks, were banned from the passenger cabin.

In 2006, more rules were added that disallowed lighter fluid, paint thinner and other flammables.  At that time the limitation on personal liquids was also put into place.

Many people are confused or misinformed about the liquids rule, so I thought I’d try to explain it.  Here are the basics:

1.  All liquids – and gels, pastes, aerosols and creams – that you carry or pack in carry-on luggage are considered together.

2.  You are allowed to bring liquids in containers up to 3.4 oz. each (100 ml).

3.  You may take as many containers as fit in a one quart-sized zip top bag.

My 3-1-1 Liquids Bag
My 3-1-1 Liquids Bag

4.  You are allowed one bag per person.

5.  The bag must be clear and you will have to take it out of your bag for security screening.

The rule is often referred to as the 3-1-1 liquids rule – 3 oz. containers, a 1 quart bag, 1 bag per person.

There are exceptions.  Liquid medicine and infant formula or breast milk are allowed but should be declared at the beginning of the screening process. These liquids will be scanned – usually with an x-ray.  Medicines should be accompanied by a copy of the prescription.

That’s enough about the rules.  How do they translate to packing?

You really can fit quite a bit into a quart bag.  Start with a travel-sized toothpaste.  You may not be able to bring your favorite brand, but there are usually several to choose from.  Pharmacies often have the travel sized products in a separate section or aisle.  Don’t try to bring a half empty large tube – you may have it taken away – the tube itself should be small.

Shampoo and conditioner are next.   You may want to try a combination product.  If you use shampoo with a built-in conditioner, you will need one bottle instead of two.  You can sometimes buy travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner, but if they don’t have your favorite brand, put your own shampoo in a different 3.4 oz. bottle.  (I use an old bottle from another product).

Several weeks before your trip, fill your shampoo (and conditioner) bottle. Make a note of the date.  See how long it takes to use up the shampoo.  If you run out too quickly, try to find a shampoo that comes in a more concentrated form.

A shampoo bar is an option that does not need to be packed with liquids.  A shampoo bar looks like a bar of soap, but is made for your hair.  Try a few types before you travel to see which one works the best for you.  An online search will yield several companies that sell bars made from natural and organic ingredients.

You could also try a dry shampoo. Instead of expensive dry shampoo, I take along a small bottle of baby powder.  It’s cheaper and works just as well for my sometimes oily hair (I wouldn’t recommend it for dark hair).  It’s not great for everyday, because it doesn’t clean the hair; but it absorbs some of the excess oil and gives it a fresh smell.

Liquid body wash  can be replaced by a bar of soap.  If you use soap or shampoo bars, make sure you bring a plastic bag or container to put them in; after you use them they will be wet.  Some (not all) hotels give free samples of soap and shampoo, but if you are brand loyal, you will want your own.

Liquid make-up usually comes in small bottles.  Can you adjust your routine to use only non-liquid forms during your trip?  Remember, mascara is also liquid, so it will have to go in the zip top bag.

Does your favorite perfume come in a travel wipe?  Some do.  If you only wear perfume occasionally, it’s an easy choice to leave home.  If you wear it often, be courteous of other passengers and skip it on the plane.  Heavy perfume in an enclosed area can be very uncomfortable for others.

Don't skip the deodorant! The small elevator to our apartment in Paris.
Don’t skip the deodorant!
The small elevator to our apartment in Paris.

Hand lotion, anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, gel deodorant, contact solution and hair products can add to your liquids bag.  I am fussy about my deodorant and I haven’t found it in a travel size, so I bring a full size container. (It’s still under 3.4 oz.).  You may have to make some choices, but it can be done.  When you travel with a friend, one of you can bring the hand sanitizer while the other brings hand lotion to share.

If you are traveling to a metropolitan area, the easiest way to get around the liquids limitation is to purchase what you need when you arrive. Although the name of your favorite shampoo may be written in a different language, the look of the bottle may be similar.  It might be fun to try French body wash, Italian shampoo, or German toothpaste.

Of course, if you are checking luggage, you can pack larger containers in the checked bags. Don’t forget that a large bottle of shampoo weighs much more than a small one.  Liquids packed in your checked luggage should be placed in a plastic bag just in case they leak.

With a little planning, liquids do not have to be a problem.  Think about what you need, pack the most important items first, and be adventuresome with the rest.

Enjoy the clean without the weight!

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