pack light with liquids

How to Pack Light With Liquids

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Traveling carry-on only might seem restrictive and difficult to do, but I believe NOT checking luggage provides me with more freedom. Whether you’re trying to avoid checked bag fees, you’re worried about the airlines losing your luggage, or you just want to travel lighter, packing carry-on only is something you can easily do too. I’ll show you how!

Aside from the amount of stuff you put in your bag, packing liquids might be the biggest hurdle to traveling carry-on only. But it’s a problem with solutions if you really don’t want to check your luggage. Here’s how to pack light with liquids next time you fly.

Stocking up on travel sized supplies

Go to your local Target, pharmacy, or any other store that sells toiletries. They should have a travel or trial size aisle where you can find all sorts of things in travel sizes, which is perfect for carry-on only. Occasionally they have things that are small but still over the allowed amount (100ml or 3.4 ounces) so be aware of that. Buy yourself some toothpaste, shampoo, and anything else you use regularly. Usually you can find refillable containers too, but again, check the sizes.

You can also purchase travel-friendly and refillable bottles for your toiletries. That way there’s less wasteful packaging to throw away, and it’s easier to take the same products you use every day at home. GoToob makes some really great bottles in a variety of sizes, and they’re made of high quality material that will last. Check them out on Amazon here.

pack light with liquids

How much do you really need?

Don’t worry about having enough to get through your trip. I wear contacts, and a 60ml (size found at Target) bottle of contact solution lasts me around 5-6 days. Even if I brought two bottles, that wouldn’t last for a two week trip. But I know I can buy some on the road, which saves me space and allows me to fly carry-on only.

In the US you can find contact solution almost everywhere, from pharmacies to grocery stores. Outside of the US it’s a little different, but you just have to know what to look for. In most other countries, you might need to look for an optical boutique.

You might not need as much as you think you do. Test out your travel sized items ahead of time. How much shampoo or toothpaste do you use in one week? My travel shampoo bottle is one ounce (about 30ml) and even after a two week trip, I still had a little left in the bottle. Recently I tracked how much shampoo I used, and that one ounce bottle lasted me 17 shampoos!

pack light with liquids

Non-liquid alternatives

Consider packing non-liquid alternatives. I usually don’t travel with shower gel because it’s just one more liquid taking up space in that small bag. Instead I use the hotel’s soap or shower gel, and I bring a bar of soap as a back-up in case I stay somewhere that doesn’t provide toiletries.

Dry shampoos and shampoo bars are available too, but you might want to try them out ahead of time to see how they work with your hair. Instead of packing liquid perfume, a great non-liquid option are these wonderful solid perfume sticks.

I also tried solid sunscreen and solid bug repellent recently, and they worked great. The sunscreen was sort of like rolling deodorant all over yourself. You have to be a little more careful to make sure you don’t miss spots since you won’t be rubbing on a white lotion, but it worked just as well as normal sunscreen to keep me from burning. The bug repellent kept those pesky mosquitoes away from me just like bug spray. I’m one of those people mosquitoes find from miles away, and I was happy with this.

pack light with liquids

Medical exceptions

Look for any exceptions to the TSA (or the agency for whatever country you’re traveling in) regulations about packing liquids. In the US, and many other countries, liquid medications are exempt from the limited amount, allowing you to bring more in your carry-on luggage. But the rules vary by country, so do some research. For example, I have found that in the US contact solution is considered medically necessary, so technically you can bring your full-sized bottle. However, Germany does not consider contact solution a medical necessity.

If you want to pack light with liquids, cut back on the amount you bring and reevaluate the amount you actually use per day. Buy toiletries as you travel and consider non-liquid alternatives. Don’t let packing liquids hold you back from traveling carry-on only!

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How to pack light with liquids

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  1. Matthew Cheyne

    I really like the concept of dry shampoo. I did some research via google search and found that dry shampoo is readily available here in Australia. One question I do have about dry shampoo is this: wouldn’t it make your hair all clunky after a while of using it?

    Regarding the contact lenses. I use Purevision day and night contact lenses that stay in the eyes continuously for up to a month without the need for solution. I find it’s much much easier and more convenient than using typical contacts where you need to take them out, rinse them, even wash them before putting them back in. I’ve been buying mine from a place called for nearly ten years now . They deliver worldwide and are 70 percent cheaper than what I would get charged if I bought my lenses locally here in Australia. Provided you know your prescription details, you can buy your contacts directly online from the US where are located and get them shipped to you. The only time I would go into an optometrist now is to get my prescription reviewed, nothing else.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      There are 2 different kinds of dry shampoo that I’m aware of. One is some kind of powder stuff that you put in your hair to sort of dry up the oil. Probably not something you want to do day after day as it’s not really cleaning your hair, it’s just allowing you to go a little longer in between shampoos. The other kind is like bar soap except it’s for your hair. That should be ok to use on a more long term basis. I’d probably still want to use a normal shampoo now and then, but the bar stuff is actually cleaning your hair just like shampoo.

      If you can wear the day and night contacts, that’s an even better solution. My eyes get dry pretty easily so I’ve never tried those, but that would certainly make it easier to deal with liquids when traveling. Thanks Matthew!

  2. Jennifer

    I spent years buying travel sized toiletries and I would go on a trip having to use a different shampoo and conditioner than my normal ones because only certain brands are available in travel size. Then I got a set of Go Gear travel tubes. They’re TSA approved, leak proof, and I can fill them over and over with my normal shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, and facial cleanser. They come in a variety of sizes from 3oz to 1 oz and they’re environmentally friendly.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      That’s awesome Jennifer! I just have some bottles I reuse that are small enough. I don’t like to just use whatever shampoo brands happen to come in travel sizes, though I have done it before simply because I wanted the bottles. I love that you found a great product that comes in different sizes, because sometimes even though you’re allowed 3oz (technically 3.4oz = 100ml) you don’t always need to carry that much with you. Thanks!

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Thanks Cole, definitely a good point! I have been using the same shampoo and conditioner bottles for 2 years now!

  3. Kyle Goes Global

    Great advice! I’ve been wondering how I’m going to handle my contacts while in Central/South America for the next year. “Optical boutiques” – good call! Either way, I’d love to have the flexibility of smaller/less weight options. Thanks for the advice!

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Thanks Kyle! I’ve never been to Central America and I’ve only been to a handful of places in South America, but optical boutiques where glasses are sold seem to be the place to go for contact solution everywhere outside of the US. Traveling light definitely makes things easier. Have a great trip!

  4. Mary @ Green Global Travel

    I use the spray dry shampoo to give my fine hair more volume and avoid drying it out by washing it everyday. I’d love to find the bar shampoo. We’re strictly carry-on only so and liquid that can be replaced by a solid is definitely wroth the investment.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      I’ve never actually tried them but I’ve heard good things. I think Burt’s Bees makes a bar shampoo, might be a good one to try. Carry-on only is a great way to go!

  5. Ali

    I wear contacts too and usually just decide to bring daily contacts with me so I don’t have to worry about finding solution. I bring a little travel size bottle just in case, but otherwise it works! And as I travel it frees up a bit of space since I’m discarding a pair of contacts each day… This is practical for about 2 weeks, but longer than that and I think it would be more worthwhile to just bring the solution 🙂

    The one tricky thing (as I like to pack carry-on only as well) is going to hot destinations and bringing enough sunscreen, particularly to places where it’s not that readily available at a reasonable price.

    I would also add that if you’re traveling with someone, you can divide up liquids for packing: You don’t both need to bring a tube of toothpaste, laundry soap, etc.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Daily contacts would definitely be helpful from that perspective. I’ve never actually worn those, mine are monthly. I know what you mean about the sunscreen! I always buy a travel sized bottle and just accept the fact that I’ll probably have to buy a more expensive bottle on the road. I’ll never understand why sunscreen seems to be so much more expensive overseas. Great tip about dividing up liquids with your travel partner! My husband and I always bring just one tube of toothpaste. It’s also helpful traveling with a guy because he barely has any liquids, so I can use the rest of his liquids bag! Thanks Ali!

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