How to Pack Toiletries in One Carry-on Bag

Tips to Pack Toiletries, Make Up and Other Grooming Products for Travel

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

Yes, it is annoying that the TSA requires that all liquids, aerosols and gels carried onto an airplane fit into 3.4-ounce bottles in a 1-quart bag. But 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 5-10 extra 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 place with you.

The important things to keep in mind are to keep the essentials on hand, 

1. Pare Down Your Routine

All organizing, and all packing light, starts with deciding what you can live without. Think about products that do several duties. There are soaps and lotions for you can use for your body and face, shampoos and conditioners in one, lip gloss that dabbles as blush, and so on. And 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.

2. Buy Travel Size When Possible

The easiest way to travel with some 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, they can be a convenient option. Outside of the drugstore, many more upscale brands offer samples which can be used for travel as well.

You know how you can get samples from Sephora, Ulta and department stores? Save some of those to use when you're traveling. 

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

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

3.4 oz. is the maximum amount of liquid allowed, 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 pomade, 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, hair dryer, 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

I might have paid more attention in geometry class if the problems had been about how to take my moisturizer on my flight with me. If you arrange all your bottles optimally, you’ll find that a 1-quart bag can accommodate more than you might think. Put the larger items in first, then see how they can be moved about to make the best use of space. Then see how your smaller containers can fill in the gaps. Try a packing cube or sacs 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 find some perfume you’ve forgotten about in your bag. Is this over-thinking and paranoid? Probably. But if you don’t want to have to abandon anything at check-in, it’s always good to be prepared.

8. ...And One Last Thing

Once you’ve packed your toiletry bag, make sure that 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, or yourself, by digging through your belongings to get at your toiletries.