How to Pack Your Toiletries Without Making a Mess

See recent posts by Megan Wood

Jack Kennard/Flickr

Jack Kennard/Flickr

Packing toiletries can be the bane of an organized traveler's existence. First, there's the agony of making sure everything -- liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, pastes, and powders -- fits within the TSA's carry-on guidelines. Then, you have to worry about shampoo bottles and makeup leaking and making a gooey mess in your suitcase. We can't have that. There's a better way. Read on for our spill-proof advice on how to pack your toiletries. 

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Buy a dopp kit or toiletry bag.

The first step to keeping your toiletries organized (and clean) is to pack them in their own case. Look for a dopp kit or toiletry bag with lots of pockets for easy storage, as well as plastic components, so you can easily wipe up any spills. Take some time the night before your flight to get organized. Lay out all the toiletries you use in a typical day plus anything extra you’ll need for vacation, like stronger sunscreen or insect repellent. Clean off any residue and make sure all caps are screwed on tight. Looking for some inspiration? Check out our list on the best dopp kits and toiletry bags for travelers.

Decant your large products.

If you’re checking a bag, you can get away with bringing a full-size bottle of conditioner on vacation. However, we’re proponents of packing light at all times. Save the extra suitcase space for souvenirs and decant your favorite full-size products into travel-size bottles. You can either purchase leak-proof travel tubes (like these GoToobs) or go DIY and repurpose those small, sealable jars and containers that you’ve emptied over the years. Pro tip: Make sure you label your containers. Night serum, eye cream, moisturizer, and body lotion can all look exactly the same once they’re out of their packaging and you don’t want to put the wrong products on your face or hair. 

Hoard samples.

Stock up on sample sizes whenever you shop. Sephora, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s all offer free samples, either with online purchases or by asking politely in stores. Tiny envelopes of products are incredibly easy to pack and take up almost zero space. It’s also a great way to test out some new brands without full commitment. True beauty lovers should take a long look at the checkout aisle in Sephora, which is loaded with travel-size bottles of luxe skin and hair products. Or, let Birchbox do all the work for you. For a $10 monthly subscription fee, the company will mail you a box filled with curated travel-size goodies, including skincare, makeup, hair, and nail products. If you fall in love with something, you can order a full-size product and earn loyalty points. 

Use plastic.

It just takes a few drops of a leaked lotion bottled to make a gigantic mess of your toiletry bag. Play it safe and put all of your liquids and creams in plastic bags. That way, if they leak, the mess will be confined to the plastic and won’t spread all over your other products. Shower caps and sandwich bags work perfectly. You can also place a few inches of plastic wrap over the mouth of a bottle before screwing the cap on. Also, check out what to pack when you won’t have shower access on vacation.

Avoid liquids.

The best way to prevent liquids from leaking in your bag is to avoid them entirely. The travel industry has caught on to the difficulties of packing liquids, and responded by making liquid-free substitutes for popular toiletries. Dry shampoo, mineral sunscreen, face wipes, and clay toothpaste are just a few examples. Also, look for products that do double duty. Some beauty balms simultaneously protect the skin from the sun, provide moisture, and offer color correction. Lots of balms can be used for dry patches, lip tint, and cuticles. Also, check out these 10 TSA-approved beauty products you may not know exist.

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