What NOT to Pack in Your Carry-On Bag

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I’m a big advocate of traveling with only carry-on luggage. 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.

What NOT to pack in your carry-on bag: from the obvious to things you might not think about

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.

what not to pack in your carry-on bag

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.

What toiletries can you take on a plane?

You can take toiletries or other liquids that are in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces (100ml), and they must all fit in a one quart (one liter) clear zip top bag. This includes liquids, gels, and aerosols. If you must pack more toiletries than these allowances, you will have to pack them in checked luggage.

Check out non-liquid options like solid perfume sticks and solid sunscreen to minimize your liquids.

Sharp objects

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.

Sporting equipment

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.

Guns

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.

Tools

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.

Still not sure if an item is allowed in your carry-on? For US travel, check the TSA website to find out what you can bring.

what not to pack in your carry-on bag

And now for some items that are allowed but not recommended for packing in your carry-on:

Stinky food

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.

Nail polish

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.

Perfume

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

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.

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.

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:

What NOT to pack in your carry-on bag is a guide to items that are restricted and prohibited from your carry-on, as well as items I recommend you don't pack
What NOT to pack in your carry-on bag is a guide to items that are restricted and prohibited from your carry-on, as well as items I recommend you don't pack