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Airport Packing Travel Etiquette

7 Things You Should Never Pack in a Carry-on Bag

Your carry-on bag is typically where you pack the most valuable and important items—or everything, if you hate checking a bag. But there are some things that should never go in a carry-on.

Your carry-on bag is typically where you pack the most valuable and important items—or everything, if you hate checking a bag. But there are some things that should never go in a carry-on. Read on to find out what they are.

Smelly Snacks

Hey, we’re all about packing healthy and cheap snacks. But spare some consideration for the rest of us packed into a confined space with you and leave behind any stinky or strong-smelling foods. (We’re looking at you, guy eating the tuna sandwich in the middle seat.) Anything garlicky, vinegary, hot, or pungent can bother other passengers—even if it remains in your backpack or purse for the whole flight.

Battery-Operated Items

Packing your electric toothbrush or razor in your carry-on? Make sure you either take the batteries out or tape the item’s switch in the “off” position. Battery-powered devices can easily turn on after being jostled around in a carry-on, which can in turn draw the attention of security (not to mention drain your battery before you even make it where you’re going). Play it safe and pack your batteries separately from your battery-powered items.

Weapons

You’d think it would be obvious not to pack weapons in a carry-on, but judging by the number of guns, knives, and explosives the TSA confiscates, it seems we all need a reminder. In 2019, the TSA confiscated 4,432 firearms at U.S. airports, as well as knives, box cutters, and grenades. Don’t forget about self-defense items like stun guns, small knives, and mace. These aren’t allowed in the cabin, so be sure to double-check your purse or that rarely used backpack to make sure you haven’t forgotten about anything in there before you fly.

Liquids Over 3.4 Ounces by Volume

You might think everyone knows the 3-1-1 rule by now, but the trash cans full of water bottles and oversized shampoos at every checkpoint tell a different story. Anything in liquid, aerosol, or gel form must be 3.4 ounces or less. Invest in some reusable travel-size bottles and decant your favorite toiletries into TSA-approved containers before packing your carry-on.

Meats, Cheeses, and Chocolate

Packing a hunk of cheese, block of chocolate, or rope of meat? Leave it out of your carry-on. Some X-ray machines cannot tell the difference between a wheel of cheese and a plastic explosive. (They have similar densities.) If you do bring one of these items, be prepared to unpack your carry-on for a bag search.

Sports Equipment

When in doubt—check it. If you’re unsure about whether you can bring something in your carry-on, you’re probably better off putting it in checked baggage instead of getting delayed at security. Most sports equipment, for example, is not allowed in carry-on baggage as it could potentially be used as a weapon. Examples of prohibited items include baseball bats, golf clubs, pool cues, ski poles, and hockey sticks. You can, however, bring aboard smaller items like baseballs and basketballs.

Inert Weapons

Just because your weapons don’t work doesn’t mean you can bring them onboard. It seems that many of us like to bring fun items like replica Claymore mines, inert grenades, simulated explosives, and other non-working items back from vacation. Unfortunately, the TSA doesn’t know if these items are the real deal or not until they call in the bomb squad—which pretty much guarantees you’ll be missing your flight (and possibly heading to jail).

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Caroline Morse Teel

Unfortunately for her bank account, Principal Editor Caroline Morse Teel is powerless to resist a good flight deal. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

Caroline joined Boston-based SmarterTravel in 2011 after living in Ireland, London, and Manhattan. She's traveled to all seven continents, jumped out of planes, and bungeed off bridges in the pursuit of a good story. She loves exploring off-the-beaten path destinations, anything outdoorsy, and all things adventure.

Her stories have also appeared online at USA Today, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Yahoo, Boston.com, TripAdvisor, Buzzfeed, Jetsetter, Oyster, Airfarewatchdog, and others.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Earplugs. A good pair has saved my sleep and sanity many times!"

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.

Travel Motto: "Don't be boring."

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle (when the first class private suite isn't available)."

E-mail her at cmorse@smartertravel.com.

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