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How to Pack Liquid Toiletries – Day 16 of 30 Days to Packing a Better Bag

how to pack liquid toiletries


Learn some crafty and creative tips for downsizing your kits.

Welcome to Day 16 of 30 Days to Packing a Better Bag.

If there is ever a thing that causes more stress on a female traveler these days (well… besides picking the right shoes), it would probably be liquid toiletries.

That includes everything: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, facial moisturizer, facial cleanser, foundation, sunscreen, hair oil, hair spray, toothpaste, mouthwash, laundry wash, serums, and anything else that might come in a liquid, gel or paste form.

That’s a long list of items to worry about, right?

If you’re packing it all into your suitcase, the more liquids you have, the more chance of things going very, very wrong. (Spills are a luggage nightmare!)

If you pack it into a carry-on, the more items you have to consider when filling your 1-quart clear liquids bag.

With a list that long, that carry-on option isn’t going to fly… literally.

In previous posts, we already discussed investing in some travel sized products, for your hair care especially, but today we’re going to take this into full detail.

using travel-sized toiletries to minimize toiletry kit
See the difference just moving to travel size products make? Less size means less chance for a huge disaster should anything explode. But, this could get better. Read on.

Step 1: Cut Items Out

That list at the beginning of this section is extremely long, so to become the packing master you are, you’re going to need to pare it down.

What can you do without on this trip?

  • Mouthwash is an easy one to cut out. A trip is temporary, so you can always get back on the mouthwash train when you return home.
  • If you learn to embrace your natural hair on this trip, hair spray could be the next cut you make.
  • For those that are willing to deal with the free hotel shampoo, conditioner and body soap, that’s another 3 off your long list!

Also consider whether or not you can pick an item up once you arrive at your destination.

Even if you have to spend a buck or two more for it, or have to leave half of it behind when you leave, that cost far outweighs the danger of it spilling or leaking in your bag.

You should also consider the cost of having to check a bag instead of going carry-on only, in addition to the worry of your checked luggage getting lost altogether.

Step 2: Look for Two-in-One items

how to pack liquid toiletries - the many uses of Dr. Bronner's and Diva Wash.
The many uses of Dr. Bronner’s Soap and DivaWash.

Another one of our favorite things when packing is to find items that serve multiple purposes.

  • Can you handle a shampoo and conditioner in one?
  • Instead of a facial moisturizer, foundation and sunscreen, can you pack a BB cream instead?
  • Some liquid washing products (like Dr. Bronner’s) claim to serve as body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry wash and dishwashing liquid all in one.

These could also cut back on a number of liquid items you have to pack.

Step 3: Repackage Everything

Repackaging your liquids, gels and creams has two main benefits:

  1. It puts them into leak-proof containers.
  2. It cuts back on unnecessary space and weight usage.

Transfer Your Liquids to Leak-proof Containers

how to pack liquid toiletries - leak proof travel bottles
Nalgene travel bottles and GoToobs are excellent for repackaging your liquid toiletries. Take only what you need.

Most items these days are also sold in travel sized bottles, but those bottles aren’t always designed to avoid leakage to the best of their ability. For that reason, it is wise to invest in small leak-proof bottles, like those of Nalgene, and transfer the amount of product you need to them.

When flying, the pressure has a tendency to pop bottles and caps open, or cause just enough pressure so they leak. Quality travel bottles will help avoid this issue.

nalgene travel bottles

Nalgene Travel Bottles: I’m a big proponent of Nalgene travel bottles as I have been using them for over a decade without a single leak… ever. The only downside is that they do not squeeze. If you have large fingers, you can also find it difficult to get some of the product out. I don’t have that issue, though.

If your priority is leak protection, these can’t be beat.

Remove Wasted Space and Weight from Unnecessary Packaging

Besides preventing leakage in luggage, the space and weight that can be saved when repackaging is invaluable. 

Think about it. A small jar of facial cream will often contain something in the lines of 25% or more of just the container.

When traveling, recognizing this extra space packaging takes up and figuring out a way around it is one of our top ways to become a packing master.

In your carry-on bag:

Pack only as much product as you need by transferring your liquids to small containers (or even contact lens cases).

Remember: If going in your carry-on, these travel-sized bottles must be no larger than 100ml or 3.4 ounces.

However… a standard travel-sized bottle might actually be TOO MUCH product for your trip length. If you pack a 3.4 oz bottle of moisturizer for a 1-week trip, you might still be overpacking. Cut back on wasted space and weight by going smaller and taking only what you need.

In your checked bag:

Do not, whatever you do, pack full-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner. A couple of giant bottles can weigh up to a pound, and that’s not including any other full-sized bottles of product you might bring.

When airlines put so much restriction on the weight and size of your luggage, the smallest subtractions can make a huge difference in the amount of money you might pay at check-in. Forty extra dollars for a last-minute checked bag is not fun to have to pay.

Step 4: Look for Solid Versions

Non-liquid toiletries options:  solid shampoo, Aroamas solid perfume stick, laundry wash strips
Move to non-liquid toiletries, such as a solid shampoo bar, Aroamas solid perfume stick and pocket laundry wash strips.

Many toiletries can be found in a solid, non-liquid form. This means you won’t have to worry about spills and leaks in your luggage, or about having other liquids to stuff into your tiny 1-quart bag in your carry-on.

While solid shampoos aren’t for everyone, they are an option that should be embraced by those who can. You can even dabble in solid conditioner bars for a double win. Go with a bar body soap, as well.

In addition to these options, it is possible to invest in other solid toiletries like toothpaste tablets, solid perfumes, solid lotions and laundry soap sheets.

Remember, every little bit counts!

Step 5: Look for Different Carrying Options

These options give you less chance of messy leaks in your luggage.

how to pack liquid toiletries - different carrying options
Eye make-up remover wipes don’t count towards your liquid restrictions in a carry-on, AND they won’t spill in luggage.

Do wet wipes count as liquids on a plane?

Wet wipes actually act as a solid and therefore do NOT count towards your liquid restrictions when flying.

how to pack liquid toiletries - toothpaste sachets
For shorter trips, try toothpaste sachets. You can get a day or two out of every sachet.

How to Pack Liquid Toiletries

When placing your liquid products in your luggage, even if they are in travel sized and leak-proof bottles, we recommend having them in a special place of their own. A good toiletries bag is great because it helps you compartmentalize your belongings while also providing an extra barrier between any potential leaks and the rest of your gear. 

If you have only invested in buying travel size products, we’d recommend also putting them in a reusable ziplock bag (alternative) for extra security.

how to pack liquid toiletries - tape tip

When packing your liquids for carry-on, it is wise to take the smallest size bottles and containers as possible. Every little bit of space and weight matters!

Again, Nalgene has a great selection of 1 and 2-ounce bottles (and even .5oz or .25oz) that are great for face creams, hair gels, laundry wash and so on. Mix and match in order to maximize the space in your small 1-quart plastic bag.

Take Action: Minimize and Pack Your Toiletries

Re-read this post going through all the points with your packing list in mind. What can you take off your list, what can you substitute for something else, and is there a solid version that might serve you better?

After that, invest in some travel sized bottles and repackage your liquids into a smaller and much more manageable size. Then, enjoy the sight of how much less space your toiletries will take up.

Let us know how you go in the comments below.

Written by Brooke

I run the show at Her Packing List and love packing ultralight. In fact, I once traveled for 3 entire weeks with just the contents of a well-packed 12L handbag. When I'm not obsessing over luggage weight, I'm planning adventures or just snuggling with my pet rabbit, Sherlock Bunz.

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Handbag Packing Masterclass – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing class run by HPL founder, Brooke.

Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)

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Reader Interactions


    • Tara says

      I purchased these bottles years ago after a toiletry explosion in my luggage one business trip:
      Unfortunately, the soap in these don’t work well for me but the bottles are awesome and refillable. They have a small spout inside that controls how much comes out of the bottle and when you drop them on the floor, like I inevitably do, the entire contents of the open bottle won’t come flying out. I am an extremely light packer. I just carry the very basics. I have the 1.3 and the 3 oz versions of these bottles and pack according to the length of the trip (the 1.3 oz of shampoo lasts for at least 1 week and depending on how much I have to wash my hair (if more than once per day) then maybe almost 2 weeks. Yes, this bottle costs about $5 but I have been using mine for over 10 years now. If you calculate out how much it costs to rebuy small sized products every year for 10 years the cost of this bottle will pay for itself in about 2 trips. Travel sized items per mL are many times the cost of the larger sized bottles and you can’t always find what you like.

      One thing I did before I set off for my long trip was to cut down on the amount of products I was using. Most original containers of shampoo/conditioner/lotion/etc dispense far more than you need. Start cutting down now. At least a month before your trip arrange all of the toiletries you think you will need for your trip. Put away the big bottles away and work with just the little ones. See how far each one will last using just the bare minimum and adjust. I found that a 1 oz tube of toothpaste will last about a month, a small bar of soap (if kept in mesh) will last about 2 weeks, small container of deo is about 1 months worth.

      Take a break from all of the products you “just have to have” on a daily basis and just pack what you need to stay clean. Your new found travel friends won’t know that you usually straighten your hair or that you wear a ton of make up regularly. Give your body a rest from all of the toxins you subject it to daily.

      There are so many ways to make your pack lighter but the big one is just not bringing things in the first place. I’ve seen many a traveler with bags too big to manage struggling up flights of stairs. Don’t be that person! If you are not sure if you will need something you probably won’t. If you do someone else will have it or you can just buy it.

  1. Sofia says

    wet wipes all the way!!! no chance of leaqs.
    i’ve bought travel size tooth paste, just for the journey, will buy the real one on arrival. Appart from the travel hygene (and bringing my shampoo and conditioner on big bottles on my checked lugage) everything else is perfectly worth buying on my destination

  2. Katelyn says

    I haven’t yet used this tip, but I plan to use it in Europe next year. Instead of packing body wash, use a vegetable peeler to create single-shower-use sheets from a bar of soap. Just pack enough sheets for each shower you plan to take. No wet bar to pack back into your bag, the weight is reduced after each shower, and, best of all, it doesn’t have to be stuffed in your 3-1-1!

  3. Amanda says

    I’ve had great success using cheap screw-top contact cases for things you only use in teensy amounts, like eye cream, pimple cream, serums, or whatever other specialty goop I’d rather not go without. Just make sure you remember which is which!

  4. Nancy says

    I am planning on buying some of the 2 and 3 oz Go Tubes, but really don’t have a good idea which to buy, or rather how much shampoo I should take, and therefore which size to purchase and pack for shampoo. Like, for a medium length hair, how many shampoos would you likely get out of a 2 oz or 3 oz. GoTube?

    • Brooke says

      Everyone’s hair is different so it’s hard to say! How long is your trip, and is it possible for you to measure out several “normal” doses into another container to get a better idea of what size you will need? If your trip is long then go for the 3 oz.

    • Celeste says

      You have to take a couple, and see how many shampoos you get out of that trip. You might only need 1 tube fir a week long trip. Write down what you went through in a week, and pack accordingly next time.

  5. Lindalicious says

    The best thing I ever bought was a Japonesque Gotta Go kit which was designed by a model who traveled often. I’ve had mine for over 10 years now. You can see a picture of it if you google it. I don’t think they are made anymore since on Amazon they always say it’s out of stock. You can make one really easily. You need a square toiletry bag with a zipper, a plastic fishing tackle box with compartments and several plastic bottles with flip top and screw tops in various sizes. I got mine from The Container Store in both 2 and 3 ounce sizes and a good label maker with waterproof labels. You just refill the bottles with your own product before you leave home and refill as needed. The top of the kit has a zippered compartment where I keep a toothbrush & toothpaste, and stackable pill boxes – one with vitamins & medications and one with powdered makeup (eye shadows & blushes). I’ve traveled around the world twice with this kit and it’s amazing. When I am home, I keep it in my gym bag.

  6. Selena says

    Such a great article, thanks Brooke! My little secret is taking dry shampoo with me and use on the second day after I was my hair, just to be sure that the little bottle of shampoo I’ve taken will be enough. Also when I travel for 2 weeks or more I buy things as toothpaste or shampoo when I get to my destination, but that also depends on where are traveling to.

  7. Quinne says

    I always seal my Ziplock. When I arrive at my destination, invariably I find that the inside of the bag is wet. The wetness doesn’t smell like any of my toiletries; it seems to be water. I thought it was my antiperspirant (it’s hygroscopic), but packing it separately did not solve the problem. Anyone know how to keep my toiletries dry?? Thanks!

    • Brooke says

      Hi Quinne- What sort of bottles are you using for your toiletries? You might want to invest in some Nalgene travel bottles since they seal super tight… as I’m guessing that’s where the liquid is coming from.

  8. Leanna says

    Hi, I will be traveling to Nantes, France in June 2016. This will be my first international flight. I will be staying for 1 month with a host family. My question is can bring more than 1 quart bag since the duration is longer. The next problem is i have to use sensitive, dye free, and hypo-allergenic products such as johnsons or dove because if i don’t my skin will get really irritated and i will break out in hives. How can i get around this problem? I know i will have to pack it myself but will it it be enough for the trip?

    • Brooke says

      Hi Leanna,

      You can bring more than 1 quart bag’s worth of toiletries, BUT they will have to be in your checked luggage, not carry-on. Youc an bring as much as you want in your checked luggage. Also, a month isn’t that long, so you might be fine with small travel size bottles of product for the entire month. What I would do is fill up a few travel bottles with your preferred product and use just that small bottle at home. Keep track of how long it lasts and then you will know how much you need to pack for your trip. Everyone uses different amounts of everything so needs vary. Best of luck in your preparations 🙂

    • A M says

      You can buy Dove products in France. Actually, you’ll find pretty much any kind of toiletry you can imagine in a French supermarket.

  9. Susan says

    For me, it’s not the toiletries, it’s the meds that take up space. As I age, I have to take more prescriptions plus iron and calcium. Add in items to balance the side effects of the prescriptions (like B6 for nausea), and that’s a lot of bottles. I save weight by re-using old prescription bottles for the meds and putting just a few more than I need for my trip (customs and immigration staff want meds in their original bottles, but aren’t really going to check the date!) Any suggestions?

    • Giselle D says

      I have also read about the original bottles for prescriptions. For shorter trips, you may be able to get away with what I have done – put the medications in contact lens cases. I have traveled a lot domestically and never had it questioned. I also have not had it questioned on a few international trips. If it’s something you truly can’t go without, keep it in its original container.

    • Tara says

      You should keep the medications in their original containers. You can ask at the pharmacy if they can order smaller vials (4 or 8 oz depending on the size of your tablets or capsules and how much you need for your trip–you will probably have to pay for the new vials separately as they are not common sizes any longer) and have them label these with your prescription labels. That way you don’t have to carry around the bigger vials. You should also always carry paper prescriptions from your MD with the full generic name of the medication spelled out in case of an emergency. The pharmacy may also be able to make you labels which say things like multivitamins, calcium +D, etc but not all pharmacies have the capability to do this. Worst case scenario you can buy several of the small advil or tylenol travel tubes, empty out the contents wash them, and peel off the old label and ask the pharmacy for a duplicate label of your current medications. Put your med in the tube and label it accordingly. Be careful to label them correctly! Make sure to take at least an extra week of medications with you, more if the medication is life saving. I’ve been stranded before due to a natural phenomena and had I run out of meds it would have potentially become a life or death situation.

      Do not wait until the last minute to prepare your medications for your trip! Start preparing your medications at least 2 weeks in advance–the pharmacy may not have what you need in stock, there might be a back order, etc. Happy travels!

    • Denise says

      I use these small round containers (they come in various sizes) from the container store. They have a very tight lid that stays on and doesn’t come off in my purse. I use a label maker to identify what’s in each bottle.

  10. Karen says

    I am now being prescribed bio identical hormones (2 different ones- estrogen and testosterone) by my doctor and they come in cream form. Syringe is used for exact dosage. How do i beat travel with this so my rx don’t explode and create big mess plus wasted product. I am checking my luggage. Thanks in advance for responding.

    • Brooke says

      Hi Karen, I would make sure to carry my prescriptions onto the plane with me. I would also make sure that I have a prescription/note from my doctor in case there are any issues with TSA. I don’t know how these products are stored, so I can’t help with the rest. But the most important thing would be to have them in your carry-on. Check with your doctor/pharmacist as well to see if there is any way to make plane travel with your prescriptions easier.

  11. Diane Elder says

    My favorite tip is to pack a washcloth. Rick Steves sells a nice set, or you can just buy a tiny travel towel for this use. USA hotels supply a washcloth, but this is not the case in most of the world. Using a wash cloth to suds up the body will save on body wash or soap, and makes a nice lather for shaving, too. I also like to pack Dawn dishwashing liquid for a multi-use wash liquid. It’s very mild, and can be used as a cleansing shampoo, laundry soap,, body wash and more. If you need to boost the effectiveness of your laundry, pick up some vinegar, which is widely available and very cheap. It will boost the cleaning power and freshen laundry dramatically. Just add a bit to,the initial soak water. You can buy laundry detergent in small quantities at laundromats all over Europe,. You can even buy it there if you plan to wash in the sink. Don’t forget the trick of making a mini-tube out of a drinking straw and melting the ends closed with a lighter.

  12. Christine L Wilkes says

    I get my presctiptions from an online pharmacy (CareZone) packaged in pill packs with my name, date, drug, dosage etc printed on them. They come in a roll and are dispensed like a roll of tape. Just tear at the perforation and I’m ready to go.

  13. Laura says

    Prescription bottles seal perfectly well and hold enough product for a week or more. Our homeless shelter uses them to dispense products in hygiene kits. I have even carried water for a pet in a prescription bottle with no leakage.

    • Brooke says

      Yes, you can keep large containers of your product in their original containers in your checked suitcase. If you are taking them into the cabin of the plane with you, then you must make sure they are no bigger than 3.4 oz and all fit in your quart-size bag.

  14. Shirley Hill says

    Years ago I got id of all my travel cosmetic cases. They are way to big and hard to fit into your bag. Instead I use 1 quart ziplock bags. One for liquids, one for makeup, one for first aid, etc. I don’t overfill them . I can then tuck them into the little spaces that are left between packing cubes. I use the space between the handles for extra medications and bladder leak pads (I am 74…)

  15. Stacy says

    Looking for sunscreen packing tips? I use the larger SPF 30, 50 or 70 spray cans when traveling for a week to a warmer climate which I assume you can’t carry on? I wouldn’t even know how many Nalgene bottles to use and what sunscreen lotions would be comparable? Thanks!

  16. aj says

    ….have been adding a small square of cling film or light plastic before screwing on the lids of travel bottles. Never had a leak in luggage ever since.


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