What Not To Bring In Your Carry On
By Franki Hanke
I’m going to guess you’ve already Googled the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) restrictions, but for the smoothest flight possible, follow these travel tips for what to leave behind.
Every square inch counts when you’re flying with carry-on luggage only, but even if you are bringing checked baggage too, these tips still apply!
Review Restricted Items
So, aerosol insecticides weren’t on my packing list, how about you? There’s a lot in the TSA prohibited items list that you’re not bringing, so here are the items you’re most likely to accidentally bring through the security checkpoint.
For these items, plan to put them into checked luggage or leave them behind.
Prohibited Items – Don’t Bring These!
We rarely try to travel with most of the flammable or sharp objects in the TSA rules but some innocuous items are disallowed in carry-on bags and personal items.
→ Oversized Liquids
It’s the most repeated rule and the most broken come airport security. Liquids must be under 3.4 oz (or 100mL) and fit inside a quart-sized bag (reusable versions and plastic bags are both allowed). The liquid rule includes aerosols like your hairspray and gels like toothpaste and deodorants.
I recommend swapping to as many solid alternatives for travel. All of your core products from lotions to even toothpaste have a solid option.
For your liquids, re-pot them into these reusable bottles for travel. For thicker gels and creams, like skincare, use these airless pump canisters which are easier and cleaner to dispense than twist-off jars. These re-fillable containers are much cheaper over time than miniature, travel-size versions of your favorite toiletries.
Many essential liquids like baby food, breast milk, or medications can be brought in larger quantities. Read the full guidelines for context on special items.
→ Pocket Knives and Multi-Tools
→ Corkscrews and Bottle Openers
→ Safety Razors (with Blade)
→ Electronic Smoking Devices (Vape Pens and E-Cigarettes)
→ Pepper Spray (and other Self-Defense Weapons)
Sorry, leave the bedside baseball bat at home. Instead, buy a portable door lock to secure any hotel room.
→ Liquid Bleach
Most stain remover pens are bleach-free, but be sure yours is before bringing it.
→ Creamy Foods
We all know we’re not allowed to bring our liquids through TSA security, but it’s less common to realize that TSA considers your creamy foods to be too liquid-adjacent. That includes cream cheese, peanut butter, honey, jam, or other spreads. If they’re under 3.4 oz, you can bring them through in your liquids bag.
There are several items we often misremember as not allowed when they’re totally fine. Feel free to bring these in your carry-on item.
→ Disposable Razors
For travel, I recommend the Venus Mini Travel Razor because it uses full-sized heads and comes in a handy case with drainage holes.
→ Nail Clippers
Avoid leaving nail clippings behind in your friend’s guest room with the Ongle Precision Clippers which have a built-in catcher.
→ Knitting Needles
Your knitting needles aren’t quite on the same level as gunpowder, they’re allowed!
→ Frozen Liquids
Feel really clever by bringing your water bottle through security frozen solid. When your liquid is frozen solid, it’s allowed though your TSA agent may need to check it.
I recommend only filling your chosen bottle halfway or less, freezing it overnight before your flight, and then filling it at a fountain past security for cold water.
For all the restrictions, review the FAA and TSA websites.
Check for Foreign Restrictions
Many items allowed in the United States are not allowed worldwide. Before you fly with something, check that it’s not restricted in your destination country or you’ll land to have an uncomfortable conversation at best and jail time at worse.
These restrictions apply to your carry-on baggage and checked bags.
Commonly Restricted Items
→ Medications, especially opiates, stimulants, and psychotropic medications
Even if you don’t have a prescription, be mindful of anything in your traveling medicine bag. Some ingredients in common meds are banned too.
For example, Japan bans pseudoephedrine found in Sudafed and Vicks, Zambia bans Diphenhydramine found in Benadryl, and Saudi Arabia bans Zolpidem found in Ambien.
In some cases, you can bring medication in with a permit or doctor’s note, so plan ahead to allow for time to find all potential solutions. For more information, read the CDC’s guide for Traveling Abroad with Medicine.
→ Sex Toys
Even your cutest, most discreet vibrator could be an issue in certain countries including Maldives, Thailand, and others.
→ Fresh Foods
Fresh foods are limited to restrict the spread of infectious diseases or pests that could harm the native food sources. This is especially applicable to fresh fruits and vegetables.
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From one over-packer to another, I get it. How will you know what you want to wear once you’re there? But, if you’re flying in a carry-on only, don’t overpack clothes.
Be realistic with what you pack, and don’t pack differently from how you normally dress. This might include:
→ Heels that hurt your feet.
→ Workout clothes if you’re not actually making time to work out.
→ Risky style choices you haven’t worn at home.
→ Multiple pairs of jeans. If you can get by with one version of something, do it.
→ That one rancher hat we all bought and only wear for one picture.
To transform your overpacking ways, read How to Pack Only a Carry-On Anywhere. For the clothes you are bringing, organize them in packing cubes. They will sort and compress your items to save space in your bag (and keep your bra from falling out of your bag when looking for your book).
Just like clothes, keep your accessories at a minimum. Opt for a few items you can re-wear. For the jewelry you do want to bring, read our article on the five pieces to include in your carry-on.
Sometimes a simple swap can be the smartest way.
→ Swap overpriced travel packets or oversized medicine bottles for a traveling medicine cabinet. Bring an emergency supply of common, over-the-counter meds in a Petite Pill Box. Be sure it’s clear what each pill is and label the section if you’re unsure you’ll know which is which.
Personally, I always travel with Advil (ibuprofen) for body pain or headaches and Pepto Bismol tablets (bismuth) for upset stomachs. Consider what you often need at home and bring a small version of your medicine cabinet!
Medical advice is usually to keep all medications in their retail packaging for the easiest identification. Only re-package medication for familiar medications where you know the safe dosage and distinguish pills apart easily. If you have any children who may go through your bag and open a container that isn’t safety-sealed, don’t do this.
→ Swap fragile, glass packaging for soft-side alternatives. If something can break, assume it will.
→ Swap liquids for solid alternatives. Read the full list of swaps in our previous article.
→ Swap your cutesy makeup bag for something more functional like the L.L. Bean Toiletry Bag. It’s water-resistant so any spills stay contained, and it hangs up for easy and organized access once you’ve arrived.
→ Swap paper books for an e-reader. I agree that the feel of real pages is the best, but for travel, an e-reader is lighter and holds a whole library.
→ Swap your roller bag for a backpack or duffel depending on the destination. Roller bags are a breeze at the airport, but if you’re planning to walk with your luggage at all on cobblestone or rough roads on arrival, go for something easier to carry.
Ditch Overhyped “Travel Necessities”
Don’t bring something if you won’t actually use it, even if it’s the hot item to pack. This might be a neck pillow, sheet mask, battery pack, or guidebook. If it never left the bag on your last trip, ditch it this time.
Sometimes, you’ll use something constantly that I’d find untouched inside my luggage when I get home. You know yourself best, what will you really use or not?
Be Choosy with Electronic Devices
At home, we all have our assortment of gadgets, but be specific with what you bring while traveling to save space, limit the potential for damaging them, and stay present while traveling.
If you don’t need to work during your trip, leave the laptop at home. Maximize your off-tech time.
Leave Extra Credit Cards at Home
If your everyday wallet has every credit card you own, travel with a smaller one with only the cards you’ll use. Then, in the case of theft or loss, you have less to go through and cancel.
Now, without all that baggage (pun intended) you can really focus on the trip ahead.
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