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My quest for zero-liquid travel started with the hair serum from Hell that leaked all over my 3-1-1 Ziploc bag on a flight to Mexico. I had been so consumed with packing a carry-on and not checking a bag, I didn’t pay attention to my toiletries, other than to downsize them (yay me!).
I was too lazy to read the instructions and limitations of the well-known silicone travel bottles I bought; if I had, I would have learned that hair serums and many shampoos and conditioners are not recommended for use in those handy-dandy bottles because of leakage. Oops. I ended up with the Vesuvius of Hair Serum and vowed: never again. My goal is to not lug leaky, heavy liquids when I travel.
How to Ditch the Liquids and Make Travel Easier
Written by: Heidi Barry-Rodriguez
According to a friend who works for the TSA, “If it flows, it goes [into the 3-1-1 bag].” While mascara, lip gloss, liquid lipstick, moisturizing gel, and Retin A cream don’t flow, they are liquid enough for me. I err on the conservative side. Technically, the only thing in my 3-1-1 bag that actually flows is skin toner/astringent. But to be cautious, I include the mascara, lip stuff and Retin A in the bag. You know, just to be legal.
Here is my quart-size 3-1-1 bag. I have had TSA agents do a double take:
I travel only 3-4 times per year, and never longer than 2 weeks at a time, so my toiletries can be very small. A contact lens case holds enough facial moisturizer and Retin A for two weeks. The toner bottle contains .5 ounce of liquid and will last for weeks, too.
I love makeup, although I don’t wear much. Mascara and lip color make me feel polished when I travel. A little cheek color perks me up. And when I go out at night, a bit of sparkly eye color make me feel urbane.
I like an eye pencil for definition, as well as a concealer pencil for imperfections. How do I indulge this? My travel makeup is all tiny in size. I use sample sizes. And I make my own shadow and cheek color palettes.
My travel makeup fits in my hand.
You’ll want to look your best when you travel! Makeup adds the perfect finishing touch to your carefully planned outfit from your capsule wardrobe!
I love to combine several colors into one small container. I never seem to be able to get the right colors I want in any pre-made palette, so I create my own blended shadows and powders; crush the powder finely, make a paste with rubbing alcohol and powder, and press into a palette.
In this case, I found these tiny Revlon single-color eye shadow palettes and then used several colors to make palettes with more than one shade. The cheek color one contains blusher and a bronzer. The eye shadow palette contains three shades of eye shadow.
Wrap your makeup bag in your clothing and add to your packing cube in your suitcase to better protect it!
I make my own palettes using old or cracked powdered makeup. Lots of times I include some sort of powdered foundation in the palette so I can use it as a concealer.
If I am not using a palette that has a concealer, I’ll throw a pinch of face powder in a small pill envelope. These envelopes are great for small amounts of anything, like earrings.
Wasted Space and Deodorant Hacks
I am a nut about downsizing cosmetics, and even already travel-sized toiletries are sometimes huge. It drives me crazy that there is so much wasteful packaging. Travel size deodorant is a perfect example, as it has a lot of wasted space in the cap.
What to do? I use a smaller container (from an anti-chafing skin product) for my travel deodorant, using a solid deodorant. Solid deodorant melts in the microwave in about 30 seconds.
Melt some, and pour it into the smaller container and let it cool. It cools very quickly. Other possible hack deodorant containers are solid sunscreen containers, or even a used blister defense gel holder (far right in the photo).
Notice the size differences from the full size deodorant (far left), travel size deodorant (second from left) to the smaller hacks.
Instead of gels and pastes that need to be in the 3-1-1 bag and have the potential to leak, I use hair powder.
Where has this stuff been all my life? Sexy Hair and Got2Be both make volumizing/texturing powders that are fabulous for every day and travel. A little goes a long way with these powders, so even the travel size Powder Play (below) can be repacked into a smaller container for travel.
For shampoo and conditioner, I use what is available in the hotel, because many times it is more luxurious than what I have at home. Or, I bring a remnant of the Lush solid shampoo and conditioner I normally use at home. Because they are solid, they don’t need to go in the 3-1-1 bag.
Tooth powder is one of those things I tried for travel and found I loved. It does take some getting used to, but now I use it on a daily basis even when I am not traveling.
When I travel, the powder is a heck of a lot lighter in weight and doesn’t need to go in the ‘ole 3-1-1. A little goes a long way, so it can be repacked into an even smaller container than the 2 oz. bottle it normally comes in.
Those 1.5” tall dental floss samples your dentist gives you? While they may not contain much actual floss, here is a ton of room IN the container. I take my regular-size dental floss and when it is half used, put it in the sample-size shell. It will last for weeks on the road and take up half the space of the regular-size floss.
Instead of a liquid face wash, I cut up a bar of Neutrogena soap and wrap the pieces; one piece for each location I visit. I have learned to gauge the longevity pretty well so that there is only a sliver or nothing remaining for each location, so you don’t have to lug around a slimy piece of soap.
Contact lens containers hold small amounts of face creams.
Sometimes I bring liquid face toner, but I also love the Dickinson’s witch hazel towelettes, especially in hot weather. They are great to toss into a day bag, and I have used them to refresh my face after a flight, as well as a hand wipe when out and about sightseeing. Towelettes are not considered a liquid so they do not have to go in the 3-1-1 bag.
Solid perfume is also a nice treat; they are tiny and take up no space.
All my travel toiletries, wet and dry, fit into about half of one quart-size Ziploc bag. Not pictured: hair brush and disposable razor (I forgot!). As for shampoo and conditioner, I tend to use what is available in a hotel, or a remnant of a solid Lush shampoo (which I also use for hand laundry).
I’d love to hear your hack ideas – what do you use to save space with liquids and cosmetics when you travel?
TFG RECOMMENDS: I use and recommend this toiletry set to downsize my travel products. Don’t forget, only fill liquids 2/3 or the bottle will leak on a plane.
Please read these posts for more ideas on packing your travel beauty products:
- Top 10 Toiletry Bags for Travel
- How to Choose the Best Packing Organizers
- 5 Tips to Travel-size Toiletries for Minimalist Travelistas
I hope you found this post on Zero (or Almost Zero) Liquid Travel useful. Don’t forget to share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
Author Bio: Heidi Barry-Rodriguez is an explorer-librarian with a love of books, travel, her husband, and two cats. She loves train travel and the mobility, serendipity and freedom that are afforded by packing lightly. Check out her podcast episode on packing light!
I thought I was the only one who did this! I use chapsticks.
The best container I ever had was about the size of three matchbooks stacked flat-side-together. It came in an airline Biz-class bag and was made by Moulton Brown, and it push-up instead of twist, so even less wasted mechanism space. (found this article during my annual “does anyone sell those yet?” searches.
Hi Mason, thank you for sharing this with us! Happy travels! ?
So do you use solid sunscreens on your face? Body? I see that you have the repurposed containers and that you use Retin-A (enough to pack it on a trip) but no mention of packing sunscreen which is pretty much standard if you’re a Retin-A user. I struggle with this single product because to get anywhere close to the recommended amounts makes downsizing tricky for a trip more than 3 days long. It’s not always easy (or feasible) to purchase sunscreens at the destination either. I’d love to hear your tips.
Hi Jill, have a look at this post for the best sunscreens for your face: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/best-face-sunscreen/ Also have a look at this article which recommends the Neutrogena sheer face and body sunscreen: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/solid-toiletries-for-travel/ Neutrogena has a new twist on sunscreen with a solid ounce in stick form. Sunscreen is an essential for protecting your skin so don’t be worried about packing to much and it’s always best to pack your own as different countries have specific regulations when it comes to sunscreen. Hope this answers your question! 🙂
Peter Thomas Roth instant mineral SPF 45 powder sunscreen, built in brush. It’s perfect. Spendy but we’ll worth it for me.
This is genius! Any tips for sunscreen (other than the stick kind)? I burn easily.
Great tips! Just curious, when you melt the deodorant do you find it then decreases the effectiveness at all?
No! It is the same deodorant. It works just as well.
I LOVE the Lush solid products! And the Eco-dent tooth powder is new to me, and something I’ll implement on my next trip! Thank you for these out-of-the-box travel ideas! 🙂
Glad you like them!
It would be so helpful if you could make a tutorial video for us on how to do all this.
Hi Brianna 🙂 This sounds like a really good idea and something I will look into!
Following some of the advice on this site for an upcoming trip, I microwaved deodorant and transferred it to a case that had housed a sunscreen stick. As described, the deodorant cooled and hardened very quickly in its new case. It was almost like working with hot candle wax. It was a surprisingly e-a-s-y process and not a big production like you’d think. Interestingly, this sunscreen case is less than half the size of most travel deodorants and yet it was able to hold the contents of about one-and-a-half travel deodorants! This certainly shows how much space is wasted on travel deodorant casings!
I also transferred a full-sized dental floss reel to one of those tiny sample floss cases from the dentists office. First I tried a name-brand, but the reel center was too small; The center-hole of CVS brand floss worked perfectly, and I didn’t even have to remove any of the floss to get it to fit. I also lucked out in that I found the teeny-tiny Revlon eye-shadow (at Rite-Aid.)
Now for a tip of my own: I use daily contact lenses which come stored individually sealed in a tiny plastic/foil casing containing saline. (This presents it’s own 3-1-1 challenge, but that’s another story!) Using these lenses means I usually don’t need a lot of saline, but might need to give a lense an occasional rinse while traveling. I bought the tiniest (1 oz) container of hand sanitizer, emptied it out rinsed and washed it like crazy to remove all traces of alcohol, even cleaning it twice with denture cleaner and transferred saline to that container. It’s perfect not just because of its size but also because the right amount of saline squirts out of that little hole (other bottles I’ve tried just flood the lense, wasting precioius saline while travelingl)
Finally, HUGE THANKS for this great site! I’ve found most sites with packing tips for traveling light are pretty much useless, but this site is STELLAR. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing these tips Sandra 🙂 I am so glad they’ve worked well for you and so pleased you like the site!
what about using an eyedrop container for saline solution?
I sent the link to this article to my boyfriend who is currently obsessed with downsizing his travel stuff.
And I already did the deodorant hack – I didn’t even have to melt it, I could just cut off a piece and then push it into the smaller container.
BTW, you can get really small tubes and bottles on ebay for very cheap.
That’s great! Glad you found the tips useful. I’ll keep an eye on eBay for some bargains. Thanks for the tip!
we are trave products suppliers,travel bottles,travel cosmetic bag,travel clothes hanger…etc
I can’t believe I haven’t done some of these things yet! Great ideas! I have sensitive skin, so when I travel I like to be able to use real shaving stuff, but instead of using shaving cream, I get a tiny container of shaving OIL that will last me for a whole year’s worth of trips!
I will definitely be trying your blush/bronzer trick along with the tooth powder hack!
-Amanda at http://teachingwanderlust.com/
This article is genius! Finally something more than just “decant your shampoo into travel size bottles.” (As if I couldn’t figure that out for myself.) Loved the idea of cutting down the bar of soap, making your own micro palette and travel sizing your “travel sized” deodorant. All great ideas I will be putting to use. Cheers.
Wow, this is great! I try to eliminate/downsize products wherever I can but hadn’t given a lot of thought to liquids. Will definitely give some of these ago before the next trip.
Thanks so much for this, it was really helpful!
The key here is planning ahead which, despite the fact that I travel more than you do, I tend not to do for my liquids. So, I’m the one defrosting the leftovers in my quart size bag, rinsing it and trying to dry it with a hair dryer the day of my trip. 😉
I love this post so much, I’m including it in my Sunday travel must-reads post coming up this Sunday… 🙂
I fly quite a lot, and am cursed with bad vision, so I have to deal with contact solution (ugh). However, aside from that, I carry barely any liquids when I travel. I haven’t used shampoo for over 5 years and have switched to using baking soda to keep my hair clean. Of course, that means that a little container of baking soda is all I need when I travel, and baking soda to wash hair means that I don’t have to condition, so no conditioner needed either. Double win.
I use a powder toothpaste as well, which eliminates that tube.
I swear by Lush’s powder deodorant, which again doesn’t need to be in the bag.
My face soap is solid, but my moisturiser is liquid, so that does have to be in the bag. I have a tiny plastic jar that I use for most trips.
All my makeup, aside from a tiny little tube of primer and my mascara, is powder. I use a solid perfume. And I often forego bringing my usual hair-styling wax when I travel, though if I do, it is the only other thing in my 3-1-1 bag aside from my contact solution, face lotion, and mascara. 🙂
Wow, I never thought to use it on my hair. I’ll have to try that!
I found out that you can use baking soda as a pretty effective deodorant, too! I just dissolve some in warm water (enough to make a slippery solution), apply, and let dry. At least as good as any other deodorant I’ve purchased in a store with the added benefit of no stains on clothing.
I use Eco Dent tooth powder too and noticed that the main ingredient is baking soda. Maybe I can get away with brushing my teeth with plain old baking soda too!
I travel at least once a month or every other month and I haven’t applied for global entry yet but I’ve stopped taking any ‘liquids’ out when I go through screening. As long as you aren’t sneaking in a giant bottle of shampoo or a water bottle it goes through the x-ray and I never have a problem with security. I think a clear plastic bag for liquids screams I never travel.
I wish I had your luck. Depending on the airport that I am going through depends on if I have to take mine out our not. The smaller airports have made me but not the larger ones. Go figure.
I use contact lens cases to carry small dollops of liquids since I tend to travel for shorter periods of time. Face moisturizer in one, hair gel in the other. Just make sure you open the right one when you wake up in the morning!
These travel ideas are beyond brilliant! I would love to see a tutorial on the palettes. One item I’ve found to be useful is an empty pallette made for blending lipsticks. Sephora used to sell them, but I can’t find them anymore. There are 8 very small compartments, and I put non-flowy products like concealer, gel eyeliner, illuminator, cream blush, cream eyeshadow, cream foundation, and a slice of lipstick. I can use it for weeks without refilling. I can’t find those containers anymore, though. It is so helpful in paring down cosmetics.