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 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.

pack light with liquids - your liquids shouldn't stop you from traveling carry-on only

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 liquids allowance is 3.4 ounces (100ml) per bottle, and all bottles must fit into a 1 quart (1 liter) clear zip top bag. 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, 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.

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.

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, and 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 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 sizes, and they’re made of high quality material that will last. Check them out on Amazon here.

packing and flying with liquids

Flying 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 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!

pack light with liquids and fly carry-on only

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 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.

liquids on planes - carry-on packing with liquids

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 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.

Looking for more packing tips? Check out this book about how to travel carry-on only. It’s written by another travel blogger, and I highly recommend the book.

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 the carry on liquids allowance hold you back from traveling carry on only!


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How to pack light with liquids