TSA allows through security only one quart-sized bag. So pack it wisely. This article will show you how to breeze through airport security with a properly packed travel toiletry bag. This means following TSA rules on liquids and strategizing to maximize space. In this article, I will explain how to:
I. Choose Your Carry On Toiletry Bag Wisely
Not all plastic quart size bags are created equal. You may know them as Ziploc bags or ziplock bags, but there are many brands available. There are two characteristics of a plastic bag for toiletries that could make or break your trip.
1) Bag Strength
Some quart bags are thin and easy to puncture. Others are thicker plastic and withstand stretching. Unless you plan to change bags during your trip, find one that is strong and can stretch out without tearing. Stretch strength becomes especially important later in your trip when you find yourself stuffing it to the max, and then it rips. Hefty One Zip Travel Bags Quart Size and Ziploc Double Zipper All-Purpose Storage Quart Value Pack Bags – 50 CT(2Pack) (or ziplock, depending on how you spell). Both companies make strong quart size plastic bags that meet TSA rules for liquids.
Another great option has emerged: the heavy duty polyvinyl chloride ziptop bag. These bags are TSA-approved and will take hundreds of flights before wearing out (assuming you don’t over stuff the bag and break the zipper):
Summary: Always carry backup quart bags in your luggage.
2) Type of Bag Closure
Most “zip top” plastic bags seal when you press two plastic seams together. Some even change color when the bag is sealed properly. This is fine for tonight’s leftovers, but for air travel it’s less than ideal. When you’re rushing to the airport at 4 AM it’s so easy to miss the seal, and colors don’t help in a dark hotel room. You end up later with a goopy mixture of lotion and toothpaste smeared into your luggage. Don’t get me wrong, this type of bag will work, especially if you’re careful to tighten all the lids inside and carefully seal the bag well. It’s just not my favorite.
I prefer the quart size bag with an actual zipper seal. These seal every time, and it’s obvious when they’re not closed. They’re also strong and stretch beautifully to accomodate that last-minute hand cream you just can’t travel without. As a bonus, TSA makes these bags available for free at many airports.
For instance, I found a giant box of Hefty One Zip Quart Storage Bags, 22 Count Boxes (Pack of 4) Total 88 Bags bags just before the security ticket/ID check at Portland International (PDX). I grabbed a dozen to get me through the next year of flying. I always leave one or two empty bags in my carry-on luggage for the inevitable moment when the plastic bag rips and all my toiletries spill out.
You might even try Hefty OneZip Glow in the Dark Halloween Quart Size Storage Bags (10ct) so you can easily find your toiletries in the dark.
II. Effectively Pack Your Toiletry Bag
Now that you’ve selected a plastic quart size bag that meets TSA rules for carry on liquids, it’s time to pack it. Let’s face it, you’re probably going to have more to pack than space allows so you’ll need to eliminate some items. But defining what’s an essential toiletry is entirely a personal decision. Further, women tend to need more than men, and parents of young children need the most. So I’ll offer some strategies on how to make decisions about what stays and what goes. I’ll also tell you what’s in my bag.
1) Strategy — Does it meet TSA rules for liquids?
TSA rules determine what must go in this plastic bag, rather than in your carry on or checked luggage. TSA specifies “liquids, creams and gels” in a quantity no larger than 3 ounces or 100 mL. They must all fit into a quart size plastic bag, and the bag must close.
For example, you could pack your zip top bag with four 3 ounce bottles of your favorite shampoo, if that’s all you need. You just can’t bring the 12 ounce bottle, even if it fits into the quart bag. I can’t tell you how many despondent faces I’ve seen when TSA takes away a beloved full-size bottle of perfume or lotion because it’s larger than 3 ounces.
TSA allows solids of any size (as long as they meet the other security rules). So it’s important to make a distinction between toiletries that are NOT solid, such as gel deodorants; and toiletries that ARE solid, such as solid deodorant sticks like Tom’s Deodorant Stick Sensitive Care Fragrance Free 2.25 Ounces and Dove Sensitive Invisible Solid, Anti-Perspirant/Deodorant, Unscented, Sensitive Skin, 2.6 Ounce (Pack of 3). Toiletries that are not solids must go in the quart bag, including mascara and powdered cosmetics. Consider traveling with a deodorant that says “solid” on the package to save space in your plastic bag.
Another way to save space is to remove toiletry accessories–like floss, nail scissors and toothbrush– from your quart bag, even though you may use these items with the liquids. TSA does not require that these go in the plastic bag, and they take up a lot of space.
Summary: Don’t waste precious space with solids, including solid deodorants, and accessories. Instead, pack these into your carry on bag.
2) Strategy — Is that toiletry hard to find later?
Look at all the liquids, creams and gels that you want to bring. Now ask yourself which of those items are the most difficult to replace on the road. Pack only the items that are impossible or difficult to find later, or that you’re going to need immediately in flight.
For instance, if you’re staying a hotel, it will offer shampoo, conditioner and lotion. If you’re staying with friends, they will have toothpaste and contact solution. If you’re bouncing between hotels and friends, you might be able to score extra travel shampoo and conditioner first, but not toothpaste. Neither is likely to have that special eye cream that you can’t live without.
In my bag, I pack: face cleanser to wash off road grime; hand and eye cream for in-flight dry skin relief; a tiny toothpaste for in-flight brushing; and a tube of eye gel for those red eye flights. These are my must-haves that I don’t leave home without. Everything else is optional, depending on where I’m going and for how long.
Some people use special products to treat specific conditions, such as special shampoo for colored or receding hair. Specialty or prescription products are not easy to find on the road, and for those types of toiletries, you’ll want to bring them along in 3 ounce containers.
The bottom line at that instead of carrying your entire bathroom cabinet with you, I encourage you to think strategically about what will be available where you are going: What items are a must-have and which items are easily replaced.
Summary: Eliminate all the items that you don’t need in flight and will find easily later.
3) Strategy — Remember Tetris?
If you’ve ever played the game Tetris, you’re in luck. The skills you acquired to pack all those shapes together neatly into a box will serve you well in packing your toiletry bag. The most important part of maximizing what’s in your toiletry bag is to choose 3 ounce containers that pack tightly together. From the photo above, you can see that I use round, thin containers. The benefit of these is that they pack flat, and I can stack them two deep when needed.
Many containers that you can buy for travel are cylinder shapes. Walmart, CVS and Long’s typically sell these in the travel size toiletry section of the store. These generally work fine. However, I have moved away from using them because they’re slightly bulky and don’t pack tightly.
Instead, I opt for containers that are either long, skinny cylinders or rectangular shapes. These pack tighter, and it’s easier to get the zipper around them on the fly.
My personal favorite shape is the flat cylinder, such as the Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo – 1 oz Small Travel Size Bottle [30 mL]. These pack flat and tight. I recently scored these at a hotel and have reused them for months. It’s easy to refill them with your own supplies and then pack tightly into one bag everything you might need: shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, face lotion, hand lotion, cleanser and toothpaste.
Another good option are BPA-free Dot & Dot containers. Each is exactly 3 ounces and can safely be filled with toiletries or food.
Dot&Dot – 2oz Travel Bottles – Refillable Cosmetics Containers and Luggage Packing Organizers – Make up Travel Cases and Holders – Skip the Hassle At Airports By Portioning Your Toiletries To Meet TSA Requirements
Summary: Choose 3 ounce containers that pack together flat, tight and don’t leak.
4) Strategy — Got Plastic Wrap?
Plastic wrap is my latest discovery for how to pack toiletries. Glad Press’n Seal Plastic Wrap, 70 sq ft seals really well, and most other brands will, too. For short trips, squirt 2 to 3 ounces of each liquid onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Fold and seal. These pack very small, and you can toss what you don’t use at the end of your trip. This strategy works especially well if you have a lot of liquids to bring, such as special shampoo, lotion and sunscreen. If you are packing for children, using plastic wrap allows you to take more variety in the same space.
Summary: Use plastic wrap instead of travel sized containers. Dispose of unused liquids at the end of your trip.