If you’re like me, you spend the night before a trip Googling what kind of things can actually go in your carry-on bags. Reading this list before you travel might help you get through security a lot easier.
So you’re about to pack up for your semester abroad or quick international trip and you are not quite sure what you can actually pack in your carry-on. What sorta snacks are okay? What about things to do? What about my musical instrument? Relax, we can help.
Get more tips on packing for an international trip here
Hopefully these tips can help you save some time going through security and save you some stress.
Looking At TSA Rules
The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is responsible for the rules on things you can and can't bring on your flight. You'll want to see the TSA rules for a more comprehensive list but here are some more common options that you're probably wondering about.
And as you might imagine, these rules are subject to change so it's always best to double check. The tips here are consistent with TSA rules at the time this post was written.
Rules On Water Bottles
You know you are going to be thirsty while traveling but you can’t bring liquids that are more than 3.4 ounces … so no water bottle? Think again. Bring your favorite water bottle, just make sure it's empty when you're making your way through security. The same rule works for a thermos if you want to fill that up with hot water for tea later on during your flight. It can come through security with you in your personal item or carry on, as long as it is empty.
This is one of my favorite money saving tips because I'm not about buying a $4 bottle of water near my gate. You'll want to bring a good water bottle for your trip anyways, so it's one we always put in our carry on and use throughout the flight. And we hear so many volunteers saying they were glad they brought an insulated water bottle that kept their water cold (lots of volunteers love their rad ILP water bottles, Hydroflasks, or even discounted bottle brands at places like Costco as well).
Rules On Snacks
Most things are a go — you can pack more things than you might think, even fresh fruits like an apple (as long as you eat them before you land).
It does get tricky when you deal with creamy spreads like hummus, jams, honey, vinegar, salad dressing, yogurt, soups and peanut butter: you’re good to go as long as they are under 3.4 ounces. Just make sure you've got them in a really tight, spill-proof container because no one wants that kind of explosion in their carry-on bag. If you want it prepackaged, they even make convenient, travel-sized spreads like Nutella, guacamole, and almond butter now to easily pack up and eat with your dry snacks.
Here are our favorite go-to travel snacks.
Rules On Medications
Whenever I travel (especially for as long as an entire semester!), I pack basic medication. Traveling means trying new foods, adjusting to a new time zone, possibly dealing with allergies, or even motion sickness. I can't imagine anything worse than having an upset stomach, headache, or motion sickness on a flight or on vacation and not having anything with me to make me feel better.
So I'm always sure to pack the basics in my carry-on during a flight: Pepto Bismol tablets for an upset stomach, Dramamine for motion sickness, Advil for headaches, melatonin for help sleeping, or an antihistamine for allergies. Call me over-prepared, but I'd rather have it all with me just in case, rather than under the plane in my checked luggage if I really need it.
And of course, what you bring is very personal to you, so my list is just an example to get your ideas flowing.
Medications in pill form are the easiest to get through security and are allowed in your carry-on bag. If it's in liquid form, TSA does allow for larger amounts (bigger than 3.4 ounces) of medically necessary liquids in carry-ons, but they have to be declared to the TSA officers at the inspection checkpoint. I personally only stick to pill form medicines to avoid any extra hassle like that at the airport.
And as with most things, the final decision of whether or not you can actually bring something on the flight always rests with the TSA officer at the airport you're at.
Rules on Toiletries
If you're flying from Salt Lake City to Bangkok, Thailand, you're in for a lot of travel time. Chances are, you're going to want to freshen up here and there throughout the journey. Whether it's toothpaste, face wash, deodorant, lotion, or any other toiletries in liquid (or cream) form, remember that they have to be under 3.4 ounces if you want to carry them on the plane. And it all needs to fit in a clear, quart-sized resealable bag.
Recently, I have started using the "solid" form of some toiletries to get around this liquid rule. For example, rather than packing a travel-sized bottle of face wash, I will pack a facial soap bar. Instead of packing a small tube of toothpaste, I'll pack a little jar of toothpaste tablets. And if I'm vacationing somewhere and only traveling with a carry-on, I'll choose to bring shampoo and conditioner bars rather than the liquid form of the product.
Rules On Musical Instruments
Wondering if you can pack your guitar on your way to Mexico or if you need to leave it at home? Not to fear, we have a whole blog post about traveling with your musical instrument.
For that post, we talked to ILP alumni and gave some pointers about how to travel with your violin, saxophone, or other instrument. You'll want to read that post to make sure you're adhering to current custom regulations for the country you're visiting. For more guidelines, here's the official stance on all musical instruments: "Please check with your airline for their policy. Musical instruments must undergo screening when transported as carry-on or in checked bags. Musical instruments transported as carry-on require a physical inspection at the security checkpoint. Inform the TSA officer if your instrument requires special care and handling."
Rules On Knitting Needles
It turns out some of these flights can be long … like really long! For these long flights, you are going to want something to do. Bring whatever you want to help keep you entertained, like these podcasts. I'm a huge fan of listening to podcasts while flying.
And for our knitters out there, pack your needles and yarn! You can’t pack circular thread cutters or any sort of concealed blade, but your basic knitting needles are A-OK (so are your cross stitching needles). You can also pack scissors as long as the blade is less than 4 inches.
What About INSTAX Film?
Here’s the deal with traveling with film: You can put your film through security. Problems can happen when your film goes through the scanner though, so beware of that.
If you are nervous about it, you can talk to the TSA workers about checking the film by hand instead of running it through a machine. If you let them know you have film, they'll often just ask you to hand it to them rather than sending it through the scanner with the rest of your items to avoid any damage to your film. For a few more Polaroid packing tips we also have you covered.
Feel a little more prepared for your next flight?
Or maybe you’re looking for another excuse to actually hop on a plane and go on a new adventure? Come volunteer with International Language Programs! You can live in lots of different countries while teaching English, always with weekends off and vacation time to do some traveling. Interested in our program? Come start your application!