As the travel landscape continues to evolve, there is one thing that remains constant. If you are flying using carry-on bags, your liquids must fit in one quart sized TSA-Approved bag. This may sound impossible, but it is easier than it seems. We are here to tell you how to pack the perfect 3-1-1 liquids bag, plus fill you in on all the products you need to include in yours.

We tend to get a lot of questions around packing with carry-on only bags. Not only is it totally possible for even longer trips, but it is our preferred way to travel.

Why We Prefer To Travel With Carry-on Bags Only

  1. Checking bags gets expensive over time. Those fees add up and could eat into the cost of your travel budget.
  2. Should you find yourself in a situation where you are stuck, the airlines might give you an option of retrieving checked bags, only to re-check them when you return to the airport. What a hassle!
  3. Carrying our bags is a major time saver. Not only do we not have to arrive at the airport as early to check bags, but we can zip through security screening and we don’t have to stand around at baggage claim wasting precious vacation time once we arrive.
  4. Limiting the amount of stuff you’re hauling by using a smaller bag makes the entire travel experience easier and more sustainable!
  5. We also like to keep items in our control. We’ve had more than our fair share of lengthy connections and missed flights. When this happens, we want everything we need to be easily accessible. By checking bags, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the airlines will provide a little amenity kit if you’re stuck overnight and the airline is at fault. But, this is rarely the case. Again, I want to have my stuff at hand.

Now that you can see all the perks of traveling with a carry-on bag, I’m sure you’re wondering what to do about your liquids. This can be a sticking point for many. Let’s face it friends, we ladies love our products! And we know that male travelers out there have similar packing needs. Even so, there are still plenty of things you can do to help with packing the perfect 3-1-1 liquids bag. So, let’s show you how to do it!

The Bag

First off, you need to find the right bag. For years, I used a regular quart-sized Ziplock bag. It was handy and stretchy enough that I could squeeze a little extra in there. I probably shoved more in there than I should have. Then, one heated exchange during trip through security in a European airport led me down the path of needing to find something different… Something official… Since that time, we both purchase bags on Amazon that meet the specific requirements.

There are several different types of bags to choose from. Our most recent upgrades are our favorites yet. The full zip top allows the bag to fully open. This is the best way to organize your products to maximum capacity. Or, as I like to call it, “Toiletry Tetris”.

Whatever bag you choose, just make sure that it is in fact TSA 3-1-1 complaint. Many are openly marketed this way, so the labeling should be easy to spot when shopping. Any bag that is not clear does not meet this requirement.

The Products You Need

When it comes to packing the perfect 3-1-1 liquids bag, there is a lot to consider. Some people are very attached to specific brands or products that provide a certain purpose to meet unique individual needs. If you fall in this group, you will want to stock up on refillable bottles so you top off as needed. Bonus – this is the more sustainable choice too!

Other people simply rely on utilizing whatever is provided at the hotel. This approach allows a little more flexibility in terms of packing, but there are careful considerations here.

  • First off, you should always consider the possibility that you may experience delays in getting to your destination. If that happens, you don’t want to be stranded without anything to clean yourself up with.
  • Second, you really need to consider the destination here. If you’re traveling outside North America, many hotels do not provide a vast array toiletries. On that same note, plenty of US hotels have cut back on how often they replenish these amenities during a guests’ stay.
  • Third, it is always important to remember the environmental impacts of the tiny plastic bottles. If you choose to use them, please reuse or recycle them.

Whichever category you fall into, these are the products you need:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body Wash
  • Face Wash
  • Body Lotion
  • Face Lotion
  • Night Cream
  • Sunscreen
  • Hairspray
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Toothpaste
  • Perfume/cologne (lightly scented)
  • Eye Drops
  • Tide Sink Pack
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Liquid makeup products
  • Miscellaneous

If you need to buy product, you can get a variety of items from Dollar Tree on the cheap! Again, I need to stress that buying mini plastics isn’t the most environmentally friendly choice. So, do so sparingly and reuse these bottles as much as possible! Believe it or not, there are plenty of alternatives that will not only help lessen your impact (even if just a little bit), plus these swaps will help you save space!

What To Exclude

This is a great place to talk about a few ways you can limit what you’re taking in your 3-1-1- liquids bag. First off, current TSA rules allow you to take more than the allotted 3.4 ounces of hand sanitizer. This needs to be in a separate bag and pulled out for screening purposes.

Food also doesn’t generally fall under the 3-1-1 liquids rule unless you happen to be packing some sort of “liquid”. Think peanut butter, cream cheese, yogurt, etc. Those items would need to be factored into your bag. Otherwise, food goes through a separate screening process and can be packed accordingly.

In addition to that, you’ll want to make sure to pack a solid deodorant. Not cream or gel or spray. By grabbing a solid, it is not subject to the same rules. Any other solid products you can swap out are an added bonus. Read on for a list of ideas!

Environmentally Friendly Swaps

As mentioned previously, those little plastic bottles aren’t the most environmentally friendly option. We recommend investing in some refillable bottles to bring product from home when possible. Don’t want to spend the money on refillable bottles? Many travel sized bottles and jars from be easily refilled! Think outside the box and you’ll notice plenty of containers that can be repurposed after their initial use. Some of my favorite jars are former Vaseline Lip Therapy jars! These are the perfect size for a variety of skincare products and fit nicely into your 3-1-1 liquids bag.

In addition to that, there are many easy changes you can make to help lessen the single-use plastic you consume. We believe that if everyone swapped out even just a few products, they would free up space in their luggage and in the landfill. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Solid Shampoo
  • Solid Conditioner
  • Soap Bar
  • Face Wash Bar
  • Solid Lotion Bar
  • Solid Perfume

Not only do these items generally come in reduced or plastic-free packaging, but they do not count towards your 3-1-1 liquids bag allowance! We know there are a variety of other options out there, but these are the solid products we tend to rotate through most often on our travels.

How To Do It

First, you’re going to want to determine the length of your trip. You’ll also want to determine if you’re going to incorporate any of the hotel’s products or pack everything on your own. If you do, remember to place used mini bottles in the hotels recycling when available or try to repurpose the container for later use!

Once you’ve done that, determine if there are any solid swaps you can make. Set these items aside.

After that is done, you’ll want to grab the remaining items listed above in the quantity and size you need. I always plan for the smallest size that I need to get me through the trip. This comes from noting my general consumption habits over time.

One of my favorite things to do at this point is figure out how I can make my product selection more efficient. Want a hack that’s a game changer? If you’re packing liquid lotion, mix your favorite scented lotion into it! And/or, before you pack your clothes, spritz everything with your favorite fragrance. This eliminates the need to take along separate perfume/cologne.

When you have finalized your selection of items to pack, it might look impossible to fit everything. Here is where I start playing “Toiletry Tetris”.


Along the bottom edge of the bag, place the biggest items. Next, add in the tapered triangle shaped tube products. To maximize space, alternate each one in the bag. From there, start stacking your smaller items into the empty spaces and fill the voids. You’ll be amazed how much you can finagle items around to make it fit. Finally, if you have any foil/sample size packets, slide them between the product and the interior of the bag. They don’t take up too much space. Once you get everything in your bag, the final step is to make sure it will zip! If you can do that, you’re golden!

It may take a bit of playing around with shapes and sizes, but trust us, you can get everything in there! And, by packing the proper quantities, you should be returning with empty jars. No more worrying about cramming everything in on the return trip! When you arrive at home, restock and refill these items so you’re ready to go for the next adventure! Now what are you waiting for? Pack your perfect 3-1-1 liquids bag and head to the airport!

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  1. I probably could have used the perfect liquids bag on this trip. Despite packing carefully, many of the bottles leaked. We rarely manage to travel with just carry on. But I often refill my own bottles and take product with me. We really do need to find a solid shampoo and conditioner that works as good as my crystal deodorant!

  2. I’ve only checked a bag a handful of times in my whole life, and one of those times was when I was moving across the country! Totally agree that it’s so much more convenient to carry on and pack light. Great tips for which liquids to bring! Xx Sara

  3. Yeeees! I totally agree. I much prefer travel with carry-ons. It’s so much easier.
    I’m glad you included the information about the environmental friendly alternatives to some of the liquid.

  4. Agree on the carry on bags, you are out of the airport fast and there are less chances of the airline losing your suitcase! I have started using solid shampoo, perfume and soap bars but I have yet to find the perfect solid conditioner for my curly hair!

  5. It can be hard to fit all you need ito the 3-1-1 TSA-approved liquids bag when you’re travelling carry-on only, so I really appreciate your tips and the lists on what to consider taking and leaving behind. We’ve all been there trying to win at that “toiletry tetris” game! We have not had best of luck with solid shampoo and conditioners but we do now buy refills into repurposed bottles, including small travel-sized ones. We also tend to find multi-purpose items, so a face-wash that doubles as a body wash, and one moisturier that works for face, hands and body.

  6. “Toiletry Tetris” — that made me laugh out loud, but it’s the perfect way to describe it! As a chronic over-packer with liquid issues, these are fantastic tips!

  7. I really hate this rule on flights, but I get it. Thanks for providing such great tips, and you’re right, “toiletry Tetris” is a necessity. LOL!

  8. I try to pack as few things as possible for each trip. Often I only have hand luggage. And I love products 3-1-1 while traveling! They are amazing, they take up little space, and you can quickly go through security.

  9. I prefer carry on while traveling as well! It’s so much more convenient to have everything on me and not have to check a bag. These are great tips!

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