I’m a big advocate of traveling carry-on only. It means you have less stuff to lug around, you avoid having to pay baggage fees, and the airline can’t lose your luggage if it’s not checked. But you should know what not to pack in your carry-on bag. If you were thinking of bringing any of these, you’ll either need to leave it at home, find an alternative, or deal with checking luggage.
Liquids over 3.4 ounces or 100ml
The liquids restriction is pretty universal nowadays, though enforcement may vary. To be on the safe side, stick to the rule: all liquids must be in containers of no more than 3.4 ounces or 100ml, and all containers must fit in a clear, one quart sized zip top plastic bag. You can still travel carry-on only with liquids. A 100ml bottle of shampoo just lasted me approximately 40 showers. Buy travel sized containers and fill them with shampoo, shower gel, and any other products you want to bring on your trip. Buy things like toothpaste in travel sizes.
There are special rules for medications, but these vary by country. Check with the country you will be flying out of for their rules, but in most cases you will need to let the screening agents know that you have liquid medication in addition to one quart bag you are allowed. Items passengers often forget about which are considered liquids: peanut butter, mascara, snow globes, aerosols.
This one should be self-explanatory, but sharp objects are prohibited in carry-on luggage because they could be used as a weapon. If you simply must bring a knife, box cutter or sword on your trip, it must be packed in your checked luggage. Scissors that are less than 4 inches long, like nail scissors, are generally allowed by TSA, but since the final decision rests with the agent, just be aware that they could confiscate it. Rules in other countries can be different from those in the US, so check it out before you fly from somewhere else.
Baseball bats, ski poles, pool cues, bows and arrows, hockey sticks, golf clubs, and pretty much any other sporting equipment containing the words stick, pole, bat or club cannot be brought on the plane as carry-on. If playing sports will be part of your travels, consider renting equipment at your destination. If you’re quite attached to using your own sports equipment, you’ll probably need to check it. Oddly enough, the TSA website states that it’s ok to bring ice skates in your carry-on. I’m not sure I want to test this one though.
Obviously a gun is a weapon, and they don’t want you bringing it on an airplane in your carry-on bag. Most guns are permitted in checked luggage as long as they are empty, and they must be in a locked, hard-sided container. Check with your airline about other restrictions and/or fees they might have. Some items, such as flares and gun powder, are not even permitted in checked luggage.
Before you travel, research the gun laws in the state or country you’re going to. Different states throughout the US have different laws, and many other countries heavily restrict or prohibit personal gun use and ownership.
Most, but not all, tools are prohibited in carry-on luggage. If you’re planning on bringing your tools with you, you will most likely need to put them in checked luggage. You might not think of a hammer or drill bits as weapons, but TSA’s opinion differs.
Lighters, matches and other flammable items
I think we can all agree that starting a fire on the airplane is not a good idea. Please leave all flammable chemicals and items at home. If you feel you must have fireworks, bleach or paint thinner on your vacation, buy them when you arrive. These and other flammable and explosive items are prohibited in both carry-on and checked luggage. Lots of camping gear, like camping stoves, is considered flammable as well.
Check with TSA and the airline for rules and restrictions. If possible, get the equipment you need once you arrive to avoid the hassle. TSA does allow one book of safety matches in your carry-on, but matches are not allowed in your checked luggage. Normal lighters are allowed in your carry-on, and can only be checked if they have no fuel in them.
Meat, fruit, vegetables, and other agricultural products
When traveling internationally, most countries prohibit you from bringing in meats, fruit, vegetables, plants, and other agricultural products. If you want to bring an apple as a snack, just make sure you eat it on the plane. Otherwise it will be confiscated on arrival, and you could find yourself facing an angry border agent.
Certain countries, like Australia and New Zealand, are even more strict and won’t allow things like wooden souvenirs you may have picked up somewhere else.
And now for some items that are allowed but not recommended for packing in your carry-on:
I know airline food is notoriously bad, or often not even offered, so it makes sense to bring your own occasionally. But please be respectful of your neighbors and leave the fish and other stinky food at home.
Ok, bring the nail polish (in your liquids bag) if you want, but please don’t paint your nails in flight. This falls under the disrespectful smell category.
Adult viewing and reading materials
Your neighbor does not want to look over and see you reading an adult magazine or watching adult movies on your laptop. Save it for the privacy of your own home.
We’re all glad you care about how you smell, but perfume can be unpleasant and bothersome to many people. Some are even allergic. Wait until you reach your destination to spray on the perfume, that way your seatmates can breathe easy during the flight.
Guidebooks can be really helpful, but chances are you don’t need to bring that heavy book with you on the trip. Either rip out the pages you think you’ll need, photocopy them, or take pictures with your phone of the pages you need. Better yet, buy digital copies for your Kindle or other e-reader.
Note: Recently the US and UK have put into place restrictions on electronics in carry-on luggage for flights from certain countries and on certain airlines. Check with your airline ahead of time about whether you can pack tablets, cameras, or laptops in your carry-on luggage.
This list of what not to pack in your carry-on bag is not all inclusive. Regulations change often, so please check the TSA (or other countries) and the airline websites before you fly. Despite the long list above, it’s still pretty easy to travel carry-on only. Be realistic about what you need to take on your vacation, buy restricted items you need once you arrive, and enjoy your trip!
Popular carry-on luggage with Travel Made Simple readers
Read more about packing:
- Carry-On Luggage Size Chart
- What to Pack in Your Carry-On Bag
- How to Pick Carry-On Only Luggage
- What to Pack for a Day Trip
- Packing Light With Liquids