How to Pack Toiletries in One Carry-On Bag

Women's Toiletry Travel Bag in Packed Suitcase
Amy Whitt / Getty Images

While the TSA requires that all liquids, aerosols, and gels carried onto an airplane fit into 3.4-ounce bottles in a 1-quart bag, there’s one positive thing about that rule: It forces you to pack lighter

If allowed to bring your entire shelf of hair and makeup products with you, you might be carrying five or more pounds of stuff you don't need. But the space and weight requirements do pose a challenge if you’re not checking a bag and must carry your toiletries onto the plane with you.

The important thing to keep in mind is to have the essentials on hand.

1. Pare Down Your Routine

Packing light starts with deciding what you can live without. When you're traveling, you probably don't need your entire 10-step skincare regimen. Instead, bring the essentials: a cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and anything else you need to use daily. If you are one of those very lucky people whose skin and hair won’t revolt if you use the beauty products provided by your hotel, even better––use those instead of bringing your own shampoo, conditioner, and lotion.

2. Buy Travel Size When Possible

The easiest way to travel with everyday products is to purchase them in the travel sizes sold at drugstores and supermarkets. Of course, not every beauty product comes in a miniature version, but if you use a popular brand of shampoo or sunscreen, this can be a convenient option. Outside of the drugstore, many upscale brands offer samples that can be used for travel as well. When you get a handful of lotion, primer, and other samples next time you're at Sephora, stash them for your next trip.

3. Create Your Own When You Can't Buy Travel Size

If you use a special shampoo or face wash that has no mini-me version, simply pour some product into an appropriately-sized plastic container. These are inexpensive, reusable, and often sold in packs of three or four. Look for a flip-spout bottle or a pump travel bottle. A DIY alternative to buying a pump bottle is to use a small ziplock bag to carry body lotion, shampoo, and conditioner.

4. Remember You Can Go Even Smaller

The maximum amount of liquid allowed in a bottle is 3.4 ounces, but for most short trips you won’t need that much of everything. Body lotion perhaps requires a bottle that large, but if you’re bringing hair gel, a little dollop is enough. Put it in a tiny plastic jar, sold in the makeup section of stores like Target, or use a container not intended for cosmetics, like the sections of a stackable pill holder.

5. Downsize Stuff That Doesn't Need to Go In the Plastic Bag

Obviously, your toothbrush, dental floss, hairdryer and such do not need to be squeezed in with your liquids. But if you travel frequently with just a carry-on, it’s worth seeking out small or folding versions of these sorts of items too. It can only leave more room for other things and help to lighten your load.

6. Fit Everything In

If you arrange all your bottles optimally, you’ll find that a 1-quart bag can accommodate more than you might think. Put in the larger carry-on toiletries first and then see how they can be moved about to make the best use of space. Then use the smaller containers to fill in the gaps. Try a packing cube or sack for this task.

7. Keep a Little Space in Reserve

Always leave a little room for one or two extra things. You never know if you’ll need to buy some emergency hair gel on the way to the airport or put in some perfume you’ve forgotten about in your purse. If you don’t want to have to abandon anything at check-in, it’s always good to be prepared.

8. Make Your Toiletry Bag Accessible

Once you’ve packed your toiletry bag, make sure you place it in the most accessible section of your carry-on bag. If your suitcase has an outer pocket, that’s a good choice. If not, just place your plastic bag of liquids at the very top. You don’t want to hold up the line by digging through your belongings to get to your carry-on toiletries.