Making Liquids TSA-Friendly

If you’ve flown at all in the past ten years, you’re probably familiar with the rule for liquid carry-ons: you can fill a one-quart or one-liter plastic zip bag with containers no larger than 3.4 fluid ounces (100 mL). With this kind of restriction, is it really possible to take all your toiletries without checking your luggage? I am, and I’ll be gone for three months! Here’s how I’m making it happen:

Toothpaste

3oz toothpaste

A lot of toothpaste tubes are actually perfectly fine to take in your carry-on. Remember that the TSA limit for liquid carry-ons is 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters)- that’s a lot bigger than most things labeled as “travel-sized”! If you’re going on a week-long trip, one of the free sample-sized tubes that they give out at the dentist office will work fine. (If you run out of toothpaste early, cut open the tube for about an extra day’s worth of toothpaste.) If you need more toothpaste for longer trips or because you’ll share with others, look among the normal-sized toothpaste instead of the travel section. I found a three-ounce tube, so I’m set!

Soap

dr bronners soap

Many travelers swear by Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap. I do take a small bottle on most of my trips because it the condensed formula lasts a long time, but it’s not exactly my favorite. I don’t use Dr. Bronner’s at home because it’s not as effective as other soaps and tends to leave a residue, especially when being used as a shampoo substitute. Instead, I use my Dr. Bronner’s once every few days and supplement with a solid bar of soap. The kind I use, both at-home and on-the-road, is a natural oil-based soap made by a company that gave me extras since I was the last customer just before it went out of business. So while I unfortunately can’t recommend a specific kind of bar soap (and I’ll sadly have to find another supplier when I run out of my last few bars), there are plenty of bar soaps out there for you to find one that perfectly suits your needs. I bring a family-size bar and cut it into chunks as I go so that only one small piece is wet. As a bonus, soap bars are like an air freshener for your suitcase!

Insect Repellent

009 012

If you like to use the aerosol cans of bug repellent, it could be confiscated, even from checked luggage. I prefer to use DEET-free spray, comes in a spray bottle instead. I wanted to use up my almost-full bottle of spray that I currently had, but when I checked the label, it was marked as four ounces. Yes, I think companies purposefully make four-ounce bottles a better deal so they can charge you extra when you have to go back and buy a 3.4-ounce bottle! Instead of paying for an extra bottle of repellent, I instead decided to pour it into a travel-sized bottle. I do this with other liquids all the time, but this was the first time doing so with a spray bottle. Sure, I could just pour it into an ordinary bottle and rub the repellent on like a lotion, but I’m pretty sure it’s sold as a spray because that’s the way it’s most effective. Fortunately, I had a travel bottle that had the same exact size of opening as the original bottle, so I could just pop the original spray mechanism on the new bottle. Since this bottle was smaller, I had to trim down the hose so that the lid would fit on. Because I was afraid this might leak, I cut a small circle of plastic, poked a hole in the center, and slid it onto the hose before twisting the bottle shut. (You can put a piece of plastic underneath any liquid lid to prevent leaks, but unless it has a hose like it did in this case, you’ll have to remove it before you use it.) I also put a piece of cotton next to the nozzle to absorb any leaks, but so far not a single drop has leaked, and I packed this over a week ago!

Sunscreen

sunscreen

For my eighteenth birthday, a friend gave me a Mary Kay travel kit for my birthday, which included two small empty bottles that I could fill with my own liquids. However, my bottles have outlasted their production, because Mary Kay no longer sells these. (But I recently found another brand of bottle, and I may like it even better. Just keep reading for a few more sentences and you’ll find out what it is!) For the past several years, these bottles have been filled with things like shampoo, conditioner, soap, and even liquid deodorant at one point in time. I think this is my first time packing sunscreen in them, though.

Since I burn easily and will be outside quite a bit, perhaps one small bottle of sunscreen won’t be enough. I recently bought a sunscreen stick to supplement this liquid. I found it at an outdoor supply store in the fisherman’s section. Of course, hats and sleeved shirts help keep the harmful rays away, too!

Shampoo

gotoob shampoo

Many travelers don’t take shampoo at all since it’s provided in just about every single hotel room on the face of the planet. But some people have a specific brand that works best for them. And hostels are usually a toss-up in whether or not they provide shampoo. Plus there are other forms of accommodation, like camping and rentals where you definitely shouldn’t count on this. So while I’ll always jump at the opportunity to use free shampoo and conditioner, I am bringing something for those times when it’s not around.

Now I can share my latest discovery in the world of traveling with liquids! I recently got a GoToob, and it’s filled with a shampoo and conditioner combo to start out my trip. These are travel bottles made out of silicone, which means more flexibility and less possibility of damage. (But if they are damaged, they’re covered by a lifetime warranty!) While I still love my plastic bottles and will continue to use them for liquids that aren’t silicone-compatible, GoToobs are my new go-to travel bottle, and I don’t see myself pouring shampoo into any other container! Although the bottle size ranges up to 3 fluid ounces, I downsized to just two ounces because that bottle includes a suction cup, perfect for sticking on the wall of a shower that lacks soap dishes! And since GoToobs are food-safe, towards the end of my trip I may wash out the remaining shampoo and fill it with a delicious Greek or Turkish condiment to take home with me! As I travel, I will compare the silicone GoToob to its plastic counterparts and keep you updated on which works better!

Laundry Detergent

homemade laundry powder

When I read about other long-term carry-on-only travelers discussing how they pack sample-sized detergent, I have to laugh. They do know laundry soap comes in powder form too, right?

Even if you’re hand-washing, as long as you use warm water, powder soap will dissolve enough to be just as effective as liquid. The only problem with laundry powder is that it tends to look… well, suspicious! I don’t pack any kind of powder in a plastic baggie, since people automatically think “drugs” when it’s packaged like that. I put it into Snapware containers and make sure it’s clearly labeled. Technically, anything that you repackage needs to be labeled, but at least with most things you can tell what it is by sight and smell. Since powders look suspiciously like something else, it would be suspicious for a TSA agent to get close enough to smell what it is!

By the way, I bring a homemade laundry soap that’s so condensed, only one tablespoon is needed for a full load. You can find recipes like this online, but I’ve made a few tweaks for maximum effectiveness and traveler-friendliness. Would anyone be interested in getting the recipe for this or any of my other homemade travel toiletries?

Other Liquids to Take

tsa quart liquid bag

I got a free sample-sized bottle of mouthwash that I’m taking with me, but if you don’t have room or don’t want to buy a miniature bottle, this certainly isn’t a necessity. I am also bringing along tea tree oil. These typically come in small bottles anyway, so there’s no need to transfer packaging or look for something specifically travel-sized. The most important liquid might be hand sanitizer! I’ve been carrying the same little bottle around for over a year and can easily refill it from larger bottles of hand sanitizer. Hey, with as popular as hand sanitizer is, it can even be refilled for free along the road by using sanitizer stations at schools, hotels, and other public places. All together, all the liquids easily fit into the TSA carry-on-approved one-quart bag!

This post was made possible by HumanGear, the newest sponsor of the Mediterranean European Trek! They provided products to use on my trip, but all opinions are my own. Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on different HumanGear products!

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4 thoughts on “Making Liquids TSA-Friendly”

    1. Ah yes, exploding liquids is never fun! Last year I took a bus trip across the U.S. and that was my first time putting a piece of plastic under bottle lids. I was surprised how well it actually works! So now whenever I have something I think might ooze or explode, I’ll either do that or wrap in its own individual zip bag. One advantage of the TSA zip bag requirement for carry-on liquids is that at least all liquids are contained in that bag!

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