Is it normal to be jealous of a toiletries kit? I once felt pangs of dopp-kit envy when I caught a glimpse of a fellow traveler's perfectly organized toiletries bag, filled with little labeled bottles and just the right amounts of everything. As a consequence, I endeavored to unearth the secrets of a lighter, leaner toiletries kit. The following is what I found. Here are eight tips that will help you achieve a perfectly packed, trimmed-down set of products, with everything you need—and nothing you don't.
Get an Organizer
Step one to paring down your products: Invest in a good-quality toiletries bag. The more organized your toiletries kit, the more careful you'll be about what goes in there. Opt for a bag with lots of compartments (clear or mesh pockets are ideal for seeing where everything is stashed) and a loop with which you can hang the bag in your hotel bathroom or closet. Some decent ones include REI's Sea to Summit bag and this mesh, foldable hanging toiletries kit from Magellan's.
Of course, these bags won't cut it with the TSA, so make sure you put your carry-on liquids inside a clear, quart-sized baggie. Once you're through the security line, slip your zip-top bag into one of the pockets in your organizer and you'll be set.
Pre-Pack Your Bag
Do away with the harried, last-minute attempts to stuff the shampoo you just used into a travel-sized bottle the morning of departure. Instead, set aside some time to arrange a well-organized dopp kit that's ready to go when you are. This way, you'll have plenty of time to carefully edit your toiletries kit and keep out unnecessary and oversized items. Purchase doubles of some products, like a toothbrush and floss, which you'll keep in this bag and use only for travel. (Don't look at it as an extra expense—you'll need to replace your toothbrush and restock on floss eventually, right?) And when you get home from your trip, there's no need to unpack that part of your kit, unless you need to refill some products. Just put it away until your next adventure.
Stock Up on Samples
I've written about this strategy a few times. (Read more in How to Pack for a Week in a Carry-on Bag.) I can't help repeating myself because this is one of my favorite ways to cut down on product overload: Stock up on tiny product samples. My favorite sample-sized products are the ones that come in flat little packets; you can easily fit legions of these into a quart-sized zip-top bag. How do you score them? A number of beauty and skin-care companies sweeten their sales with freebies. Sephora, Aveda, and Smashbox, for example, throw in tiny travel-sized products with orders. Or you can sign up for a beauty-product sampling service, such as Birchbox or Glossybox, which ships packs of sample-sized products to members who pay a subscription fee.
Don't Use So Much Product
Maybe you don't need to pack so many products because you don't need to use so much product. According to Dentistry.com, "Americans, especially young children, put too much toothpaste on their brushes, say members of the Chicago Dental Society." Cheryl Watson-Lowry, DDS, tells Dentistry.com that brushers only need pea-sized dabs of toothpaste to get the job done—as opposed to the quarter-sized squiggles we often see in toothpaste commercials. Same goes for shampoo: Women's Health reports that a quarter-sized amount is enough for an effective wash. Use less, pack less.
Use the Hotel Shampoo
Investigate the products that your hotel, cruise line, or vacation rental has on offer. Then use them. Abandon your loyalty to your favorite brand while on the road and your dopp kit will be worlds lighter. Try not to be so anxious about the state of your hair sans that special volumizing shampoo—you may be surprised by the quality of products available at your hotel. Many major properties provide high-end products in guest rooms. This year, Hyatt upgraded its bath-product offerings and now provides KenetMD skin and hair care. Renaissance Hotels have Aveda products. And W Hotels are stocked with Bliss bath amenities.
Pack Products That Multitask
Two-in-one products have come a long way since Pert Plus. From multitasking skin creams to high-end shampoo-and-conditioner combos, many upmarket beauty brands offer awesome skin and hair care that will help you look fabulous on the road while trimming your toiletries in one fell swoop. Nearly every department-store makeup brand now offers BB creams (BB is short for "beauty balm"), which typically combine concealer, primer, moisturizer, and anti-aging cream and offer SPF protection. Additionally, look for multitasking products like shampoos that double as body wash, dual-ended makeup applicators, and tints for both lips and cheeks.
Pack Solid Products
The TSA's quart-sized bag rule causes problems for many a traveler carting carry-on luggage only—myself included. Especially on long trips, it can be quite difficult to fit all of your liquids into that little baggie. So I buy solid travel toiletries whenever possible. Lots of products come in bar or stick form: There's solid deodorant, solid sunscreen, bar shampoo, solid foundation, stick fragrance, and even bar conditioner. Amass enough of these and you might not even need that clear plastic baggie at all. Even better: You won't have to bother with messy travel-sized bottle refills. It's easy to slice off a small sliver of hair soap and save extra room in that toiletries kit.
Buy Products in Paper Form
What's easier to pack than thin little sheets of paper? Nothing! Packing beauty and bath products formulated as paper is the absolute best way to achieve an ultralight toiletries kit. This paper hand soap is amazing. Additionally, I swear by Olay four-in-one daily facial cloths, which pack flat and take up virtually no room in a toiletries kit. I cut them in half to double my money. Other cool paper products include laundry-soap sheets from Magellan's, paper makeup sheets from Mai Couture, Purell hand-sanitizing wipes, and Listerine breath strips.
An airplane bathroom is a crude and scary place. There is a sink that dispenses water of questionable potability. And the powerful vacuum toilet has the potential to crush human bones. (So it appears.) Therefore, its usage calls for some civility. To make the experience better for everyone, let's heed a set of simple, easy-to-follow behavioral guidelines. Here are seven rules for using the airplane bathroom with grace and courtesy.
Don't Make a Mess
"Leave the world better than you found it," said someone who spent time in a 3 x 3-foot aircraft lavatory sullied with puddles of questionable liquid and crumpled paper-towel balls. (Actually, it was Robert Baden-Powell.) Follow this motto in the plane loo: Wipe down the sink. Deposit used paper towels in the trash can. Courtesy flush (for more information, look it up on Urban Dictionary). And—if you only perform one act of consideration for fellow flyers, let it be this—please flush when you are finished with your business; though this seems like an obvious action, evidence suggests that a large number of travelers can't bother with closing the lid and pushing the flush button. Humans flush toilets. This is what we do.
I've known travelers to clean the bathroom before using it: They bring a Lysol wipe and get to work. When finished using the bathroom, do a quick wipe-down before you leave to earn bonus karma points.
Don't Ask Fellow Flyers to Watch Your Kid
You'll just be in the bathroom for a minute or two. So is it OK to leave your little one quietly watching Dora the Explorer on the iPad? The answer is no. Parents have two options—none of which feature complimentary childcare services provided by your seatmate: Bring your recently born companion to the bathroom with you or ask a flight attendant to watch the tyke.
Don't Object to Aisle-Seat Traffic
Once, on a long-haul international flight during which I was stuck in the middle seat, the woman who occupied the adjacent aisle seat freely expressed her irritation by way of eye rolls and audible sighs when I needed to access the lavatory. I was not abusing my bathroom privileges. I politely said, "Excuse me," and tried to become pancake-flat when shuffling by. I got out of my seat twice during the entire six-hour trip—but the soulless aisle fascist decided this was two times too many.
With great power comes great responsibility. If you sit near the aisle, be prepared for your seatmates to walk all over you. It's the trade-off you accept for the perk of sitting next to a heavenly pocket of empty space. One never knows if a seatmate suffers from a medical condition that necessitates frequent bathroom visits, or if he or she ate some contaminated street food. (We are talking about travel here.) Let's hold the judgment.
Don't Take Forever
Speaking of medical conditions, flyers suffering with physical ailments certainly get a pass here. But the rest of us need to treat the airplane lavatory like a drive-through: Make your transaction and then move on quickly. There might not be a line for the bathroom when you shut that door, but long airplane-lavatory queues can form in a matter of seconds. Save makeup application, hair styling, book reading, texting, phone conversations, and needlepoint for the plane seat.
Don't Go at the Wrong Time
First, use the facilities before boarding. There will be a period of time—during taxi and after takeoff—when the seatbelt sign is lit and passengers must stay put. Flyers who use the bathroom prior to taxi could delay takeoff, as passengers are instructed to be in their seats with seatbelts fastened before the plane gets off the ground.
Additionally, avoid trips to the lavatory during beverage and meal service whenever possible. When the big, boxy meal cart comes down the aisle, anyone lingering out of his or her seat must squeeze into the personal space of an unfortunate aisle-seat passenger; this configuration becomes particularly uncomfortable when the butt of standing Passenger A is positioned inches from the face of seated Passenger B. It's not fun.
Don't Be Rude in Line
In an ideal world, those of us not in the throes of a toilet emergency could let people or families with children move to the front of the line. What's the hurry anyway? The longer a flyer stays standing, the better his or her body can recover after hours folded into a seat built to the scale of a dollhouse.
And remember, it's best to avoid small talk while waiting for the lavatory. A stranger might not want to discuss his vacation plans while struggling to contain the aftereffects of copious cups of water and coffee.
For the Love of All Things Holy, Don't Forget to Lock the Door
Barring illness or a plane crash, an aircraft-lavatory "surprise" is arguably the scariest thing that can happen in the sky. Is it worse to be the person who mistakenly opens the door of an occupied bathroom or the passenger caught with his or her pants down? This longstanding philosophical debate may never reach a conclusion. But all can agree that a simple turn of the lock will save untold innocents from crushing indignity.
In the travel world, few topics incite more contention and indignation than seatback etiquette—as we learned last week when we published Six Shocking Stories of Travelers Gone Wild, which stirred up a wild debate among readers.
In the piece, an editor from Family Vacation Critic and I both shared stories about other passengers reacting churlishly when we inched our seats backward. "When flying out of Portugal," I wrote, "I reclined my seat and fell asleep. I woke up when the man sitting directly behind me grabbed my arm and shook me, yelling something in Portuguese (of which I know nothing). The flight attendant heard the ruckus and came over. The man was upset because my seat was reclined during mealtime, which he apparently thought was some kind of crime. I, on the other hand, felt that another person putting his hands on me was the more shocking offense."
It's rude to grab and shake a stranger on a plane, right? Depends whom you ask. Some readers argued that I was the traveler-gone-wild in this scenario. And since I couldn't hide in the kitchen eating cookies and ignoring my emails forever, I heard them out.
The following is just one of many emails and comments we received on the matter:
"After reading the article ... it is my opinion that the most Inconsiderate, selfish, and rude people who travel in economy class/coach class or any other class for that matter are those who recline their seats into the person's space behind them The first to cry foul are usually the worst offenders. Airline seats should be designed so that they can not be reclined into the passenger space behind them. I have never reclined my seat into another passenger's space, However, I have let others know when they have done so to me." —D.C.
There appear to be three schools of thought: recline, don't recline ever or I will scream at you, and recline within reason. (You can probably guess to which theory the abovementioned emailer subscribes.)
If we're going to get all egalitarian about personal space on planes, shouldn't we point the finger at first class? If airlines eliminated premium classes but kept the same number of seats on planes, we would all enjoy a more comfortable flying experience. Yes, the economics behind elite seating get flights off the ground. But we could swap spatial perks for other incentives. Give first-class flyers free massages, an exclusive bathroom, higher-quality cushions, whatever it takes. Just give us coach flyers somewhere to put our legs.
I know. It's pie in the sky. So here's a more realistic solution: The airlines should stop seat reclining altogether. Some planes are outfitted with seats that don't go back, but the industry as a whole does not appear to be going in that direction. So if you really want to beat the system, bring your very own Knee Defender. This product, which sells for $19.95 on Gadget Duck, hooks into your tray table and actually stops the seat in front of you from reclining. It's gotten the OK from the FAA, according to the product's website. (The Knee Defender's inventor? A 6' 3" guy who travels a lot.)
Just one caveat: Don't use the Knee Defender on me. Despite condemnation from, ahem, select members of the travel community, I will continue to make use of those extra inches from reclining my seat. As long as there is a button that takes me from really uncomfortable to just-as-uncomfortable-but-now-I can-pick-my-chin-up-off-my-chest, I will push it. Please direct angry emails to your local state representatives.
Readers, what's your opinion? Is there a solution to the seatback dilemma? What should the etiquette be for reclining seats? As always, we ask that you keep your comments polite and constructive.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) maintains a complex system of rules for transporting both carry-on items and checked bags on flights. Some objects are prohibited on planes at all times, while others may be checked and not carried, or vice versa. Confused? "When in doubt, leave it out," says the TSA.
If only it were that simple. Packing the wrong thing in your checked bag has the potential to ruin your trip—especially if that bag gets lost, broken, or roughed up by baggage handlers. A simple rule of thumb: Pack anything of value or importance in your carry-on bag, in case your luggage gets lost by the airline. But there's more to keep in mind. Below, in no particular order, are 10 things that you should always leave out of your checked bag.
Jewelry and Valuables
Of course, it's not probable that your checked bag will be lost by an airline. According to a report by SITA, a company that gathers statistics for airlines, .012 percent of passengers' bags were reported damaged, lost, or delayed in 2010. But if you happen to fall in that .012 percent and your checked bag contains an antique watch, a family photo album, or your wedding ring, you're in trouble.
Most carriers require passengers to submit claims forms when bags are lost. Your airline will then tally the depreciated value of the contents of your missing suitcase—if your claim is accepted, that is. Airlines will pay no more than $3,300 per passenger for bags lost on domestic flights. All in all, it's unlikely that you'll receive compensation equal to the full value of your lost possessions.
We recommend leaving jewelry and other valuables at home when traveling, but if you must bring these items on the road, be sure to store them safely in your carry-on bag. Identification, Passports, Boarding Passes, and Essential Documents
All necessary documents, whether they're work or insurance papers or other sensitive information, should be kept with you in your carry-on bag. But there is another solution—back it up. If you plan to put papers of importance in checked luggage, keep copies (either hard photocopies or copies on a flash drive) on your person.
Bottom line: Any important documents you've packed in your checked luggage should be photocopies, not originals. And any documents that include sensitive or private information should be kept out of your checked luggage altogether.
Cash and Credit Cards
All checked bags are screened electronically, but select checked bags are opened by TSA agents and screened by hand. When packing a checked bag, be aware that a security agent—a stranger, essentially—may be rummaging through your things at some point. There have been reports of TSA workers stealing electronics, money, and other valuables from passengers' bags; as expected, such occurrences are rare. But as a precaution, your cash, checkbook, and credit cards should be kept with you in your carry-on bag.
There's always a chance that your suitcase could get damaged en route, too. If a busted zipper befalls your bag, any packed cash will be easy pickins for thieves. Laptop and Electronics
Take it from the TSA. A representative from the agency offered this advice for flyers: "Electronics ... should be packed in carry-on luggage because they are typically fragile, expensive, and more prone to breaking if transported in checked baggage." The threat to your electronics is two-fold: you need to protect your devices from burglary (see above) as well as breakage. No matter how many beach towels you've wrapped around your laptop, it's still at the mercy of baggage handlers and bumpy flights while in transit. Lighters, Matches, and Flammable Items
The TSA has a handy checklist of prohibited items on its website. Some of the objects on the list are as obscure as they are obvious: gun powder, hand grenades, tear gas, vehicle airbags (packed to protect a checked laptop, perhaps?). But items of note include lighters, matches, and flammable objects, which anyone going on a camping trip (or travelers who smoke) might need to pack.
Lighters without fuel may be packed in checked luggage. However, lighters with fuel may only be packed in checked luggage if they're in a Department of Transportation-approved case; an example of this is the Zippo Air Case. Matches are prohibited in checked baggage, and flammable items, such as paint or liquid fuel, should be avoided as well.
All of Your Clothes
If your luggage disappears into the mysterious black hole of missing checked bags, you'll thank your former self for putting a clean pair of underwear and some socks aside in your carry-on bag. An entire outfit—enough to get you through a day or two at your destination in case your airline loses your suitcase—is even better. Other daily essentials, like a toothbrush, a comb, key toiletries (though liquids must be in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces), and whatever else you might need if your bag gets lost should be placed in your carry-on as well.
There's a theme here. If you can't live comfortably without it, don't pack it in your checked bag. That old cliche, "better safe than sorry," should be lingering in the back of your mind when you're organizing your luggage. Accordingly, prescription drugs are best kept on your person.
Passengers are permitted to bring liquid medications onto planes, even if they exceed the 3.4-ounce limit for carry-on liquids. But you'll need to officially declare your oversized liquid medications when going through the checkpoint. Tell a security officer stationed at the checkpoint that you're carrying liquid medications, and hand them over for inspection. It helps to have a doctor's note or a medical ID card, but it's not required. The TSA also suggests that travelers label medications to facilitate the screening process. Breakable Items
Don't blame it all on the baggage handlers. Sure, they've been known to bust up a prized possession or two. But baggage handlers, under pressure to load hundreds of bags onto a plane in a short amount of time, are just trying to get your flight off the runway—with your luggage onboard. Sometimes this necessitates a good throwing arm. (Read more in Confessions of an Airline Baggage Thrower.)
Fragile items should always be packed in your carry-on bag. If you must bring home that bottle of red you picked up in Bourdeaux, use a product like the VinniBag, which will protect the contents of your bag in case the bottle breaks.
If you ducked the digital trend and snap travel photos on a camera that takes film, steer clear of storing undeveloped rolls in your checked bag. The X-ray machines that the TSA uses to screen checked bags can damage film. Instead, put your film in your carry-on bag and ask the TSA agent at the security checkpoint to inspect your film by hand. The TSA suggests that travelers pack film in clear canisters or clear plastic bags to expedite the inspection process, but this isn't required.
Food and Drink
According to the TSA, flyers should avoid putting food and beverages in checked bags. Passengers aren't prohibited from storing chow in checked bags, but it's a wise suggestion nevertheless. Bottled drinks are likely to explode or crack in transit, thus ruining the cashmere sweater tucked in your bag. And if your flight is delayed or your luggage gets lost for a while, your packed food might spoil.
If you're traveling internationally, you may be prohibited from bringing food to your destination. Each country has its own rules about what kinds of foods can be brought across borders. Check the embassy website of the country you're visiting for more information.