Seasonal Travel Tips: Christmas Gifts in Carry-on

Airport security funny

Last updated: December 15, 2019

Someone reminded me that Christmas is only 56 days away, which means many of us are starting to think about the gifts we will be buying and subsequently some of us will need to travel with them. Traveling during the holidays when it’s busy and the weather can affect travel plans is already stressful enough as it is and you don’t want to arrive to the airport, wait in line at airport security after you’ve checked in and checked your bags only to find out that the gifts you bought will not be able to travel in your carry-on with you. One of the most common mistakes people make is what they pack in their carry-ons vs their checked bags to maximize their allowances: there are more items on the prohibited items list for carry-on baggage than checked baggage. In this post, I’ll share some information about prohibited items lists and 3 items you’d think would be suitable for carry-on but are not in Canada.

Common Mistake: Connecting through other airports

For flights with connections, people assume that once you are screened at origin, you will not be screened again at connecting airports you transit through prior to arriving to your final destination and of often, airlines are not as forth coming as they should about this when your ticket is issued and information about your flight is shared.

Example 1 – US to Canada connections: Passengers who would fly to YVR – Vancouver from Hawaiian Islands used to need to go through customs and go through screening again prior to catching their connecting flight. If you bought an item on the prohibited list from the airport in Hawaii after you were initially screened, you would then have to voluntarily abandon that item when you were re-screened in Vancouver. As of late, passengers clear customs but are not re-screened as they are bussed to gates so in theory, this is no longer an issue.  Not all airports do this so don’t assume that’s the case.

Duty Free Store at YVR - Vancouver
Duty Free Store at YVR – Vancouver

Example 2 – International connections: When we flew from YVR – Vancouver to SGN – Ho Chi Minh City, we transited through TPE – Taipei Taoyuan airport. Upon arrival at TPE, we were immediately re-screened and the water bottle I took with me off the airplane had to be left behind due to restrictions on liquids even for transiting passengers. Before transiting through Taipei, we had a look at the airport’s website but couldn’t find a lot of information so it can be difficult to plan.

Common Mistake: Assuming prohibited items list are the same everywhere

An easy mistake to make is assuming that items allowed in one jurisdiction will be allowed in all others, right? Not in all cases.

Example 1: While a nail clipper with a blade of 6 cms or less is allowed through screening points in Canada, it is not allowed in Vietnam and so we had to break the small blade off.

Example 2: Duty-free is liquids are little more complicated especially if you are connecting. Each country has regulations about the tamper proof bag that’s used to seal the bag. In some cases, if you’re out of a sterile area at an airport for more than 24 hours, the liquid in the tamper proof bag will no longer be allowed to stay in your carry-on, so you’ll need to check it. More information about duty free is available in this post.

CATSA's "What can i bring?"
CATSA’s “What can i bring?”

Example 3: Often, regulations can change with little or no notice so that item you were allowed to take in your carry-on last week is now on the prohibited items list. One recent example that comes to mind is powder. While the TSA in the United States doesn’t place restrictions on the amount packed in your carry-on, CATSA in Canada does. Anyone going through screening in Canada has to limit the quantity of powder to 350 mls.

Example 4: Items like Christmas crackers are not permitted in carry-on since they are flammable. Stick to packing essentials and either buy them when you arrive or ask someone to buy them for you.

3 Gifts that don’t belong in carry-on:

  • Bath Salts: Bath salts are a very popular gift and due to their weight, you might think it’s a good idea to pack these in your carry-on to keep your checked bag less heavy and this is okay, as long as your bath salts are less than 350 mls (roughly the size of a pop can) or else you’ll need to check them or ship them.
  • Walking/Hiking Sticks: Walking/hiking sticks are one of those items that might be awkward to pack and since they’re light and small, they would fit well in an overhead bin. Unfortunately, walking/hiking sticks are not permitted in carry-on baggage and need to be placed in your checked baggage.
  • Bullets: There appears to be a trend of bullet studded jewelry, belts, and shoes and even if they’re fake, you cannot take these items with you in your carry-on. It is also up to your air carrier to decide if they will let you travel with these items in your checked baggage so best to check with them and disclose the items.
The YVR socks we purchased as gifts and packed in our carry-ons

4 Gifts that travel well in carry-on:

  • Books: Not only are books are a great gift overall, they travel well and even if they are wrapped in advance, it’s less likely they will need to be unwrapped for inspection.
  • Soap: Since soap is not a liquid, gel, or powder, it’s a suitable alternative to bath salts.
  • Socks: They’re easy to pack, useful for everyone, and trendy right now (I’m a fan of socks and love getting them at Christmas, especially cute ones with pineapples on them).
  • Gift cards: They are not as personal but they are compact and travel well.

Or just buy gifts past security or at your destination on arrival.

Ambassador dog at YVR
Ambassador dog at YVR


It would be way too complicated to go through every single situation and item in this blog post. I hope the examples provided help you to envision some of the situations you might face and to try to research them in advance of time. As a reminder, the limitations on liquids and gels are still in place and pretty standard around the world. Items like snow globes are also subject to liquids limitations as is the half drank bottle of wine you didn’t finish on your last flight. If possible, wait until you arrive to your destination to wrap gifts in case they need to be inspected by the air carrier or airport security. Be nice, patient, and cooperative with all staff and fellow travelers during Christmas travel and especially those enforcing the rules and regulations. Regardless about how you feel about the rules and regulations, the people enforcing them are not The Grinch and trying to ruin Christmas but in fact doing their job to keep Christmas travel safe for everyone. The best thing you can do for everyone is to have a look at the prohibited items lists posted for where you’re traveling. Happy Christmas travels!

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