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I Flew 46 Times Last Year, and These Are the Toiletries I Packed in My Carry-On

Courtesy of the retailer Photo: Courtesy retailer

As a travel editor and general holiday enthusiast, I visited over 23 different places last year, catching over 40 flights. After the umpteenth time, when waiting for my bag to appear from the hold meant that work meetings had to be pushed back, I decided it was time to commit to carry-on only. The main issue I came up against was the airport liquids regulations. There’s a number of rules to navigate. First of all, the clear plastic ‘liquids’ bag all your liquids go in must have a regulation size of 20 x 20 cm. It must also be able to be closed (no overstuffing; believe me, I’ve tried this tactic and failed), and contrary to what many believe, you are only allowed one bag. See also: nothing in the bag over 100ml. You can push this — I’ve definitely squeaked through with 120ml face creams in there, but anything over 150ml is going to be pulled. Plus, a ‘liquid’ in airportspeak is anything that ‘conforms’ to the container it’s held in, so looser creams and pastes are going to need to go in, too.

This isn’t a forever problem. Heathrow will be relaxing its liquids rules in 2020 when it introduces new 3-D scanners, and it’s been ruled that all other UK airports will have to do the same. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee on how long it will take international airports to get onboard (pun intended) with the pricey new scanners, so it’ll still be worth planning for restrictions on your return leg even if it’s liquids-a-gogo in the UK.

Measuring the plastic bag — I hung on to one of the free ones they hand out at airports and reuse it — helped work out the optimal combo of travel-size items I can fit in there, but even with every inch filled, I found it extremely difficult to travel for an extended time with an entirely liquid-reliant grooming routine. When all your toiletries are liquid or creams, you end up either compromising on what you bring, i.e., using terrible hotel shampoo so you can bring your regular moisturiser in its bulky packaging, or resigning yorself to itty-bitty amounts of everything that run out within a week.
Plus, with the rise of airlines no longer including a checked bag as standard on long-haul flights, the instances where I can pack full-size liquid toiletries in hold luggage without paying for the privilege are getting fewer and fewer. The solution is switching to solids, like a well-travelled toddler. I’ve listed the solid beauty alternatives I’ve now started travelling with below. All are as good as their liquid counterparts.

Instead of toothpaste

I was highly suspicious of toothpaste tabs until I tried these ones from Denttabs. They taste minty, have fluoride and are surprisingly easy to use — just crunch one in your mouth to make a paste. Don’t get the one- or two-month supply as they come in metal containers, which security scanners don’t like. Instead, I get a big refill pouch and fill up a small jar to take on my travels.

Instead of roll-on deodarant

Solid deodorant is the trickiest thing to get through airport security, as it frequently reads on the scanners as a liquid. When I travelled with Mitchum’s sticks, my suitcase got pulled about 65 per cent of the time, while a square of Lush’s Aromaco (which I love) in a jar has a 100 per cent fail rate. Flagging it with security staff pre-scanner can help with this, but only if the staff actively show it to the person operating the scanner to say it’s a solid (which doesn’t happen often). Most of the time — and especially when security is heaving — pointing out the stick will just get it tossed into a separate tray, which still gets pulled into the queue for inspection.

The only solid deodorant I’ve tried that gets through seamlessly every single time is the deodorant stick from Agent Nateur. It’s natural, but actually pretty effective — I wouldn’t work out in it, but it’s gotten me through full days schlepping round cities in full summer heat. FYI, the Holi Rose scent is £3 more expensive than the original version but worth it.

Instead of travel wash

You can get dedicated laundry-soap bars (and even laundry-soap sheets) to wash your clothes on holidays no problem, but Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap works just as well and you can wash yourself with it too. If you want something specifically targeted towards stains, these stain-wipes are great, but the Dr Bronner bar is pretty good too. I spilt a Pret breakfast pot — the bean and egg one, of course — all down my white T-shirt running to catch a flight a little while ago, and a targeted scrub in the airplane bathroom with the bar got everything out.

Instead of perfume

There are so many beautiful solid perfume options (Diptyque! Le Labo! Tony Moly’s Pocket Bunnies!), but on holiday, like in my day-to-day life, I want to have access to more than one. That means (1) shelling out for more than one solid fragrance and (2) having more things rattling around your suitcase. The new perfume palette from Jo Malone that lets you fill it with more than one fragrance is not only the perfect reasonably priced solution to this but also a pretty cheap way of trying out a new Jo Malone scent, as they’re only £14 each. I love Mimosa & Cardamom as my daytime scent and then Pomegranate Noir as a *sexy nighttime* scent.

Instead of a face mask

There’s no greater pleasure than bathing in a fancy bath in a fancy hotel bathroom. So much nicer than gazing at the dirty grout framing my bath back home. And what’s a bath without a face mask? Sheet masks are fine going through security sans baggie (my carry-on is practically lined with them), and Tony Moly’s are my absolute favourite. Get them in a pack rather than separately; it’s much cheaper (£23 for ten vs. £5 for one).

Instead of shampoo

I am ridiculously fussy about my hair, but the Lush shampoo bars are a revelation. I can’t see any difference in results between them and my usual Pureology shampoo. The Jason and the Argan Oil bar is my go-to as it also makes my whole suitcase smell amazing. I’d recommend pairing it with a soap pouch, as the bar breaks into bits as it gets smaller.

Instead of conditioner

I like this conditioner bar as it makes my hair feel conditioned without being heavy or sticky and doubles up as shaving cream (just rub it over your legs). Store it in something other than the tin it comes in — security scanners often can’t see through metal containers, so if you pack one, there’s a chance the staff will want to root through your carry-on to find it and take a look inside

Instead of face wash

I am obsessed with Milk Makeup, who do just about everything you could want in solid stick form. As well as not needing to go in your plastic bag, they have really good leak-free packaging. If you’re only picking one, go for the Matcha Cleanser, which is great for soothing travel-induced redness and breakouts, but honestly everything from the puffiness-busting cooling water stick to the hydrating oil serum are fab on-the-go skin care.

Instead of your regular skin-care routine

Milk Makeup’s sticks are excellent, but if you don’t like the idea of travelling with lots of different bits, the Frances Prescott Tri-Balm is a good pick for streamlining your liquid-free routine. It seems expensive at nearly £50, but it’s actually a cleanser, exfoliator, and moisturiser in one — as a dry-skin girl, I can confirm I miraculously don’t need moisturiser after using this.

Instead of sun cream

I don’t really trust any of those ‘travel-friendly’ powder sunscreens, and if you’re going away for longer than a weekend in the sun, you should definitely be using more than a mini-size bottle. Just buy some Nivea in duty-free! The only thing I do pack is this factor 50 stick suncream from Elizabeth Arden as it’s really convenient for quick top-ups when you’re out and about and as a face sunscreen if you’re staying covered up. Though it’s a sun ‘cream,’ don’t worry, it doesn’t count as a liquid, as the stick doesn’t ‘conform’ to any container it’s put in, i.e., it holds its shape when the stick is rolled up.

Instead of moisturiser

My dry skin always flares up when I’m travelling, whether it’s from dry air on the planes, not drinking enough water on the move, or just being in unfamiliar surroundings. The Lipkar stick balm from La Roche Posay is amazing for killing dry patches and also soothes any itchiness if you encounter scratchy sheets or have a reaction to anything.

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 Every Frequent Flyer Needs These Liquid-Free Toiletries