How to Pack Light With Liquids
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 with only carry-on luggage. But it’s a problem with solutions if you really don’t want to check your luggage.
Here’s how to make flying with liquids easier next time you travel.
How much liquid can you bring on a plane?
The first thing you have to know is how much liquid you can take on a plane.
The TSA carry on liquid allowance is 3.4 ounces (100ml) per bottle, and all bottles must fit into a 1 quart (1 liter) clear zip top bag. And you’re only allowed to have one liquids bag per passenger.
This means your 6 ounce tube of toothpaste will be confiscated, even if it’s almost empty. And keep in mind that virtually every country in the world now follows this rule for bringing liquids on planes.
It’s also important to know what qualifies as a liquid. Anything that could be considered a liquid, gel, cream, or paste counts.
That means make-up like mascara needs to go in your liquids bag. Peanut butter is considered a liquid. Gift items like snow globes have liquid in them.
All of these things must be counted when you’re trying to determine how many ounces you can carry on a plane.
The good news is you are allowed to bring a full size empty bottle through security. This means you can fill up on water once you get through security instead of having to buy overpriced water at the airport.
The liquid allowance on flights shouldn’t stop you from staying hydrated.
>>Read: Can you bring deodorant on a plane?
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Stocking up on travel size liquids
Go to your local Target, pharmacy, or any other store that sells toiletries.
They should have travel size liquid options or trial sizes of certain products. You can find all sorts of things in travel sizes, which is perfect for flying carry-on only.
Occasionally they have things that are small but still over the liquid allowance (100ml or 3.4 ounces per container) so make sure you check the labels.
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 travel sizes, and they’re made of high quality material that will last. Check them out on Amazon here.
Flying with liquids: How much do you really need?
Don’t worry about having enough liquids 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 stay within the carry on liquid limit and 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, or something similar to a US drug store that just doesn’t have the pharmacy/prescription section.
You might not need as much as you think you do. Test out your travel sized liquids 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!
>>Learn about whether you can take make up on a plane.
Consider packing non-liquid alternatives. Solid toiletries won’t count against your liquids limit.
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.
I personally use Ethique Eco-Friendly Solid Shampoo Bar and Solid Conditioner Bar and I love them.
In fact, I now use them at home too because I think they’re so great. They have different varieties for different hair types, so look for the one that’s right for you.
Instead of worrying about your favorite perfume getting confiscated, pack one that won’t count against the amount of liquid allowed on plane. Try one of these great solid perfume sticks.
You can even get solid toothpaste tabs as an alternative to normal toothpaste.
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.
Medical exceptions to the carry on liquids allowance
Look for any exceptions to the TSA (or the agency for whatever country you’re traveling in) regulations about packing carry on liquids.
In the US, and many other countries, liquid medications are exempt from the airplane liquid allowance, which lets you to bring more in your carry-on luggage.
But the rules vary by country, so do some research. What one country considers medically necessary, might not be the same in another country. When in doubt, have a note from your doctor.
If you want to pack light with liquids, cut back on the amount you bring on a plane and reevaluate the amount you actually use per day. Buy toiletries as you travel and consider non-liquid alternatives. Don’t let the carry on liquids allowance hold you back from traveling carry on only!
September 25, 2019 @ 7:09 am
I have e to take pills while I am traveling, am I permited, to take a bottle of water?
September 25, 2019 @ 10:57 am
Hi Cindy! You can’t bring a bottle of water through security because it is bigger than 3.4 ounces (100ml) BUT you can bring an EMPTY bottle and refill it after you pass through security.
August 19, 2019 @ 11:11 pm
I can take a carry on and a large bag on the plane with me. Can I have a quart zip lock bag with liquids (2) in both pieces? Or am i allowed only one in suitcase?
August 20, 2019 @ 11:29 am
Hi Theresa! You’re only allowed one liquids bag per person, no matter how many carry on bags you have.
August 1, 2019 @ 7:37 pm
Are you only allowed 1 quart bag for toiletries?
August 2, 2019 @ 1:08 pm
Hi Christine! Yes, you are only allowed one quart-sized bag of liquids, so any toiletries you have that are NOT liquid should be packed in another bag so you don’t lose precious space. If you’re interested in trying some non-liquid alternatives, check out this post about solid toiletries for travel.
November 17, 2018 @ 1:02 pm
What about baby formula?
What about slim fast?
What about liquid medications for children?
November 20, 2018 @ 5:14 pm
Hi Joy! Most countries, like the US, don’t count liquid medications towards your carry-on liquids allowance. So put those in a separate clear zip-top bag, and pull them out at security just like your other liquids. TSA has a section about traveling with children that addresses baby formula, you can read more about that here. For both of these, let the TSA agent know ahead of time that you have liquid medications and baby formula in addition to your normal liquids. As for Slim Fast, that won’t be considered medically necessary, so if it’s over 3.4 ounces (100ml) they won’t let you through with it.
February 16, 2013 @ 4:24 pm
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.
February 16, 2013 @ 9:21 pm
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!
Mary @ Green Global Travel
September 28, 2012 @ 6:07 pm
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.
September 28, 2012 @ 9:41 pm
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!
September 14, 2012 @ 9:32 pm
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!
September 15, 2012 @ 11:37 am
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!
Cole @ FourJandals.com
August 29, 2012 @ 10:18 am
Also make sure that you don’t just throw out the little containers after using them. Having a few to refill saves money AND the environment!
August 29, 2012 @ 12:29 pm
Thanks Cole, definitely a good point! I have been using the same shampoo and conditioner bottles for 2 years now!
August 26, 2012 @ 8:09 pm
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.
August 27, 2012 @ 9:49 pm
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!
August 24, 2012 @ 10:13 am
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 http://www.lens.com 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 lens.com 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.
August 24, 2012 @ 1:27 pm
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!