Travel Tips for Bottles

I’m at JournalFest, and that required getting up before I went to bed so I could leave for the airport at 3:45 a.m. Luckily, a good friend was driving. I’m brain-stem functional till later in the day.

We can send a man to the moon, but we cannot make a good travel bottle.

What’s a good travel bottle?

  • It is small, barely 3 oz.,and is clearly marked as such, to get through airports
  • It is clear so you can see what is in it
  • It is slender, so you can pack a lot of them in those little plastic bags the TSA insists on
  • It stands well upside down, so you can get your stuff out of them when it’s almost empty
  • It doesn’t leak
hard plastic bottles travel well, but still leak

Not leaking is the problem I’m trying to manage. Airplanes don’t pressurize the cabins nearly as much as they did five years ago, it saves the airlines fuel. (If you seem to get sleepy on flights, but are always awake as the plane makes that “final descent to your destination,” that’s why.)

Without good pressurization, there is a lot of contraction and expansion of contents. Most bottles have those tip-to-open lids, and the expansion of contents tips those lids open, just enough for hand cream, shampoo and conditioner to leak. After I check into a hotel, I have to rinse all the bottles and the bag as well. Welcome to Chicago, you have to wash your bottles, and everything else in that little bag.

Sure, I can tape the bottles shut with duct tape, and then pry it off when I arrive, and re-tape when I fly back, but there must be an easier way.

I can’t find small bottles with screw tops, at least not inexpensive ones. There are flip-tops, tilt-tops, and pop-offs, all of which simply don’t stay shut on airplanes.

So here is what I do to keep my sanity and the stuff in the bottles? I buy handcream in sample sizes, with screw-tops. I refill these. (More on that later) I don’t fill the shampoo and cream-rinse bottles all the way. I fill them about half way. I pack them into the bag top up. I then tuck a piece of paper towel on top–not enough to hide the contents, I fold it in a strip and top it right under the ziplock portion. It’s never been pulled by the TSA, and it absorbs the leaks.

I also tuck the bag into the carry-on standing upright, which keep the liquid from blowing out the top. When I get to the hotel, I take the shampoo and cream rinse bottles, make sure the top is shut, and put them, top down, into the shower. When I’m ready for them, the liquid has settled around the top and I can squeeze with immediate results.

A rubber band around the cream rinse bottle helps me tell the difference when I’m in the shower and don’t have my glasses on.

Refilling the sample size.

  • Take a full tube/bottle and turn it upside down until the hand cream settles in the top portion.
  • Take the smaller bottle/tube and squeeze it until most of the air is out of it, or until cream appears at the top. Maintain the pressure with one hand.
  • Push the two openings together. If you are doing small tube to big bottle, the entire opening of the bottle must be closed by the tube. Then slowly release the tube and it will successfully suck the cream from the larger bottle/tube.
  • Repeat till the small tube is full.

Use happily till both are empty. When the small tube wears out, buy a new small tube.

Small thing, big results. And you have enough trouble traveling without all the problems in your makeup, shampoo and liquids.

Other quick trip-tips:

  • Wear slip-on shoes. Trying to retie your shoes in the security line encourages people to bump into you.
  • Wear a shirt or pants with pockets. Use a pocket to store your license and boarding pass while you are shepherding your stuff through the X-ray machine.
  • Put the plastic bag with liquids in an outside pocket of your carry-on, so you can find it easily. Once you are through security, you can put it somewhere else.
  • Print out and take along a Google-Map direction from the airport to your hotel or destination. In large, spread out cities like Chicago and Houston, taxi drivers often don’t speak English and won’t understand you. This is not the time to sort through your feeling on immigration. Hand them the directions. Even if they have a GPS system, it shows them the name and address of the hotel, and you’ll get there.

Happy travels!

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and life- and creativity coach. She helps people get through transitions, change and find the opportunity in difficult situations. See her work at

3 thoughts on “Travel Tips for Bottles

  1. I’ve been using the travel bottle set by Dot&Dot which comes in 1 oz, 2 oz or 3 oz. They are TSA-approved and BPA free. They are also leak-proof, easy to refill and squeezable.

  2. We use empty 2 oz. Purell Hand Sanitizer bottles for shampoo, etc while traveling. They really resist leaking–and are clear. When they can be found on sale, the cost can be low. I’ve had some bottles in a hot car, they have expanded with internal pressure but never leaked–that is how I know they resist leaking.

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