How to Pack a TSA-Approved Liquids Bag for a Long Trip

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I prefer to travel light, with a carry-on bag instead of checked luggage, and one of the biggest hurdles faced by those who travel as light as I do is the restriction on liquids. Under Transportation Security Administration regulations (and similar restrictions around the world), liquids carried on board an airplane must be under 3 ounces — and all your liquids must be able to fit into a single quart-sized plastic zipper bag.

But what if you’re going on a longer trip — say, two weeks? This is the length of most of my trips, and I’ve been traveling with a carry-on only since 2011. Unfortunately, these TSA restrictions probably keep many people — especially women — from even attempting to travel with just a carry-on. However, it is possible to fit all or at least most of the liquids you need for a trip of that length into a single Ziploc. It takes some creativity, but traveling that light is worth it.

Here’s how I manage to make it work:

Obviously, downsize everything.
From trial size toothpaste tubes to 3-ounce bottles of contact solution, you’ll be bringing small quantities of everything you need on a daily basis. Head to the trial size toiletry section of your nearest Target or Wal-Mart to stock up on essentials. While you’re there, pick up several empty travel size bottles to pour your own products from home into (the Container Store also has some good options). The official regulation is 3.4 ounces or less, so carefully check each bottle to be sure it meets or is less than that amount. I have inadvertently purchased so-called “travel bottles” that were 4 ounces, so you really do need to check.

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Rethink your morning routine.
Jump forward in your mind to waking up in your hotel or hostel bed with the day’s activities in front of you. Will you really care (or have time) to get your at-home look just right? Or will your routine be a bit simpler and pared down? Remember, unless you’re a supermodel or on a business trip, it’s not critical that you look flawless all the time. You’ll either be relaxing or on a great adventure, no camera-ready complexion necessary (and if you’re on vacation, you’ll probably have a bit of a glow anyway!). If your morning routine takes more than 20 or 30 minutes, you’re wasting your precious vacation time.

hair products

Combine products whenever possible.
Though I typically blow-dry my naturally wavy hair into something sleek and manageable at home, I tend to let my waves out when I travel because I don’t always have access to a blow dryer (and I’m certainly not wasting space in my luggage for one). My attempt to boost the curl and body in my hair while still keeping frizz at bay is a lifelong struggle, and I’m always trying out different products. Before my recent trip to Brazil, I’d been using three different hair products separately on wavy-hair days at home. I knew I wouldn’t have room for all three, even at travel sizes, so I experimented and combined all three into one 3-ounce bottle. Weirdly, it actually worked.

Wavy hair

Combining products doesn’t have to be as literal as my little experiment, though. Think about products that can do double duty. Do you really need both sunscreen and a moisturizer? Find one product that accomplishes both.

Consider solid alternatives to liquids.
This is such an easy fix, but not one many people think about outside of bar soap. Obviously, you should bring bar soap instead of body wash. But have you thought about any of the following?

  • Facial bar soap instead of liquid face wash (I like Neutrogena bar soap)
  • Bar shampoo (Lush is a popular one)
  • Solid perfumes (your favorite perfume may already have one — check ULTA or Sephora)
  • Bar laundry soap (for hand-washing clothes, useful for longer trips; it can be found in the laundry aisle of most major grocery stores)
  • Mineral powder foundation instead of liquid makeup (I use BareMinerals both at home and abroad, but there are many options out there)
  • Makeup-removing towelettes instead of liquid makeup remover (even though they’re wet, wipes don’t count as liquids!)
  • Sanitizing wipes or towelettes instead of liquid hand sanitizer

The only one here that I haven’t yet tried is bar shampoo, and Lush also makes a solid conditioner. Indeed, the one product I usually end up needing to replenish halfway through my trip is conditioner (I go through it like a madwoman!). I’ll definitely be trying these out at home before my next trip, but I’m fairly confident that at least the bar shampoo will make it into my next travel bag.

Remember: Your destination probably has it, too.
If you’re finding yourself growing antsy about paring down your products, remember that most destinations around the world will have some kind of pharmacy or general store with the products you need, even brands you recognize. L’Oreal is very popular internationally. For basic things like shampoo, toothpaste and contact solution, you can always buy what you need when you get there.

Practice your TSA Tetris skills.
If you’ll be on the move a lot on your trip, you’ll need to remove these bottles and put them back into the Ziploc bag several times, so make sure they’ll fit in there in a way that you can repeat frequently. Be sure also to bring extra zipper storage bags in case yours breaks or tears open from use. If I have room in my carry-on luggage, I also sometimes bring extra empty 3-ounce bottles, just in case.

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Despite what my significant other may believe, I’m actually not that high-maintenance when it comes to beauty products, but I’m certainly not on the lowest end of the spectrum, either. If I can squeeze 90 to 100 percent of the liquid products I need for two-plus weeks into one TSA-approved bag, you probably can, too. It just takes a little planning and creativity, but being able to travel with a simpler routine and less to lug around is so worth it!

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