You’ve packed that expensive bottle of conditioner in your carry on or bought a nice jar of chutney for a loved one back home only to have it confiscated by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent at security. You might find this unfair, but the rules surrounding what can and can’t be packed in a carry on bag must be obeyed.

So, this begs the question: what should you pack in your carry on luggage and what should you leave at home?

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Why are there restrictions?

Why, exactly, do airlines have restrictions about what you can pack in your carry on luggage? Unfortunately, not everybody in this world has righteous intentions at heart, so airlines have strict rules about what you can’t bring on a plane to keep you and your fellow passengers safe.

Anything that could be used as a weapon or cause harm is prohibited. You’ll also find that some items that could cause unintentional harm, such as certain types of lighters, are banned from plane cabins. Liquids are restricted to very small amounts because there have been terrorist plots in the past in which people disguised liquid explosives as innocuous substances like shampoo or soft drinks.

What items are prohibited in carry ons?

Before you pack your bags, you should find out what items you can’t pack in your carry on. You can either pack them in your checked baggage or leave them at home. It’s worth noting that exact restrictions vary slightly depending on the country and airport you’re flying from, so double-check with your airline if in doubt. Here’s what you can’t pack in your carry on:

  • Liquids, gels, or pastes in bottles larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml).

  • Guns and ammunition (including BB guns and cap guns).

  • Stun guns and tasers.

  • Sharp objects (knives, axes, razor blades).

  • Self-defense items (such as pepper spray, brass knuckle, billy clubs).

  • Any type of explosive (including fireworks).

  • Butane, propane, and other similar fuels.

  • Arc lighters, plasma lighters, electronic lighters, e-lighters.

  • Baseball bats, bowling pins, skis (any sporting goods that could be used as a bludgeon).

  • Tools exceeding seven inches long.

  • Some high-percentage alcohol (but you have to stick to the 3.4-ounce rule anyway).

  • Bleach, chlorine, spray paint, or other potentially dangerous chemicals.

What unexpected items can you pack in a carry on?

There are some items you might be surprised to know you can bring in your carry on, such as the following:

  • Scissors (blades must be shorter than 4 inches).

  • One disposable razor.

  • Electric razor.

  • Vapes or e-cigarettes (but you can’t use them on the plane).

  • One standard lighter or book of matches.

  • Knitting needles and crochet hooks.

What items are recommended for taking in a carry on?

You now know more about what you can and can’t pack in a carry on, but what about items you definitely should pack in your carry on? First, we’d recommend packing a change of clothes, any medication you need to take with you, and any valuable items, just in case your checked luggage is lost by the airline.

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You should also pack some items for keeping comfy on the plane (especially on long-haul flights), such as a travel pillow, blanket, and soft, warm sweater.

Since airline food can be hit or miss (mostly miss), you might want to pack some snacks to sustain you. While you might be tempted by salty and sugary snacks, you’ll thank yourself for bringing something that’s not completely devoid of nutrition if your meal turns out to be a dud.

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Hydration is important, but you can’t get any drinks until after you go through security, due to the 3.4-ounce limit for liquids in your carry on. You can, however, pack a refillable water bottle (a collapsible one saves space) and fill it with tap water once you’re through security.

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If you’ll be relying on your phone for entertainment, bring a phone charger in your carry on bag. Most planes have USB ports for charging built into the seat-back screen. Speaking of entertainment, a book or e-reader is excellent to have once you get bored of the in-flight movies and the games on your phone. If the air in the cabin tends to make your skin feel dry, include some wet wipes and a travel-size bottle of moisturizer, too.

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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