The Getaway
Top Tips for Traveling With Gifts

Flying with gifts is a great idea. You can shop at your own pace, and take your time carefully choosing the perfect presents for people at your destination. However, the TSA has rules that you should be aware of before you bring anything on board, especially if you’re keeping it simple with just a carry-on.

Wondering if your gifts will get the green light from airport security? Hoping your special souvenirs won’t get swiped? Some of the things that aren’t allowed — and some of the things that are — might surprise you!


01 Limit those liquids

Perfume bottles

It doesn’t matter if it’s clearly a gift — if that full-size bottle of fragrance you bought for your mom is over 3.4 ounces, it will be scooped by security. The TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for carry-ons requires that all liquids must be in a 3.4-ounce container or smaller, and all liquids must be able to fit into a single quart-size bag. When in doubt, pack liquids in your checked luggage instead.

The only exception? Duty-free liquids, such as alcohol or perfume, are allowed in excess of 3.4 ounces, just as long as they were purchased at a duty-free store and are also in tamper-evident bags. If your duty-free purchases aren’t in these special bags, you’ll have to check them. Make sure you keep that receipt!


02 Be careful with the booze


While mini bottles of alcohol in your carry-on are fine if they fit into your quart-sized bag, that absinthe you got in Amsterdam won’t be allowed anywhere on the aircraft — and that includes your checked luggage!

The Federal Aviation Administration bans strong alcohol over 140 proof, or 70% alcohol by volume (ABV), from both checked and carry-on bags.

Alcohol with over 24% but no more than 70% ABV has its own limitations, too. You’re prohibited from carrying over 5 liters, or 1.3 gallons per passenger in your checked bag — and it must be unopened and in its original retail container.

There are no limitations placed on alcohol under 24% ABV in checked luggage, just as long as you don't count hefty overweight baggage fees when your suitcase gets weighed in!


03 Yes, you can fly with a pie

Baked a homemade pie? Go ahead and bring it on board! In fact, you can pack any variety of pies, cakes, and pastries in your carry-on luggage. Just make sure you place your goodies in the bin at the security checkpoint so they can be scanned through the X-ray. And while freshness is key, don’t wrap your treats up too tightly, or security personnel might not be able to inspect them without damaging your handiwork.


04 You can fly with flowers, too

Bouquet of small red roses in vintage paper on the table.

Fresh flowers are allowed both in your checked luggage and your carry-on, as long as they’re not in water — 3-1-1 liquids rule, remember? If you want your blooms to survive the journey, wrap them in a wet paper towel and plastic wrap. You should also check in with the airline to make sure that the flowers will fit underneath the seat or in the overhead bin on board.


05 Don't pack those firecrackers

Red and gold Christmas crackers

No, we’re not talking about snacks here. You might think Christmas crackers and party poppers will make a cracking souvenir from your trip to the British Isles, but they’re a no-go on almost every aircraft It doesn’t matter if you pack them in your carry-on or checked suitcase — they’ll likely get tossed out by security at best, or delay your flight at worst. The reason? They’re considered explosives.


06 Snow globes are a “go”

Magical snow globe with Christmas tree on wooden table against color background. Space for text

Sure, you can carry a snow globe in your carry-on, but it counts as a liquid! Make sure you follow the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule, or it will be snagged. That means your snow globe must contain less than 3.4 ounces of liquid, which would make it around the size of a tennis ball or smaller. And the entire snow globe, including the base, must also fit in your quart-sized bag along with all of your other liquids.

If your snow globe is on the larger side, it's probably best to play it safe and pack it in your checked suitcase.


07 No toying with “weapons”

Yellow toy gun

Toy or replica guns, swords or explosives in both carry-on and checked luggage can easily be mistaken for the real deal when they’re run through the airport's baggage scanners. Sporting equipment that can double up as weapons, like baseball bats or lacrosse sticks, might also be confiscated.

Your best bet? Leave anything that might possibly be mistaken for a weapon at home — or ship it to your destination ahead of time.


08 Don’t keep anything under wraps

Christmas tree made from Christmas gifts

Not only is gift wrap prone to tearing in transit, wrapped gifts run the risk of being flagged — and then opened for inspection — by security if your suitcase sets off any alarms. You’re much better off bringing your favorite wrapping paper and wrapping everything at your destination.

If you must wrap your gifts, use open-top gift bags instead of gift wrap.


09 More tips for packing gifts in your carry-on

Santa holding a suitcase

  • Remember, you’re allowed to bring one regulation-size carry-on bag and one personal item, such as your handbag, on board, so plan accordingly, Make sure the size of your gifts don’t put you over your airline’s baggage allowance.
  • Wrap gifts in bubble wrap, making sure they are still visible through the wrap. Then, fasten the wrap with rubber bands rather than tape so it can be easily opened by security if needed.


10 More tips for packing gifts in checked luggage

Santa Claus with his suitcase. New Year's travel concept.

  • If possible, use a hard-shell suitcase. Bags are tossed around pretty roughly in transit, and soft-shell suitcases might not offer enough protection to your more fragile gifts.
  • Make your clothing and socks do double duty, and use them to surround each gift in your suitcase. They'll offer the perfect padding for your presents.


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