A Cautionary Tale About Shower Gel

I consider myself an international travel expert. My journeys have taken me from Beijing to Morocco. So when I make appearances, people often ask me for advice. I am quick to share my travel expertise, and when it comes to packing, I consider myself an expert. But on a recent trip to Namibia, I failed to heed my own advice.
08/13/2014 12:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I consider myself an international travel expert. As the co-host of the travel television series Grannies on Safari, my journeys have taken me from Beijing to Morocco. So when I make appearances, people often ask me for advice. I am quick to share my travel expertise, and when it comes to packing, I consider myself an expert.

But on a recent trip to Namibia, I failed to heed my own advice. "Make sure you only have items in your carry-on luggage that comply with international carry-on regulations." Unfortunately, I paid the price for failing to remember this simple tip, which is not only common sense but also a very basic rule of airline security. Surprisingly, I committed this faux pas in two countries during the same trip.

Back home in Chicago, while packing for my 20-day trip to Namibia, I decided at the last minute to take my pricey Ahava shower gel recently purchased during my visit to Israel. I knew I had a long layover in London's Heathrow Airport before boarding my 10-hour flight to Johannesburg. With plans to freshen up during my layover, I also packed a change of clothes and looked forward to being clean for the next leg of this very long trip.

I made it safely from Chicago to London. During my eight-hour layover, I stayed at a hotel where I was able to rest, shower, and change clothes. Everything went well, except for one small detail -- I forgot to repack my shower gel into my large suitcase. Mistakenly, I put the bottle into my carry-on instead. This was the beginning of a frustrating chain of events.

While waiting to have my carry-on checked through security, there was a problem with the scanning machines in all the lines. Security personnel were sending all carry-ons to be hand-checked. Nearly two hours later, although I was cleared to go, there was one small problem. My shower gel container, which I thought was three ounces, was deemed to be oversized and was confiscated! I explained to the security agent that the bottle was within the required regulation size for a carry-on container, and the shower gel itself was very expensive. But when we both read the fine print, I saw that the bottle contained 3.5 ounces. The maximum amount for a carry-on liquid is three ounces. I was shocked, but a rule is a rule. Disappointed, I told the security agent it was such nice shower gel that he should keep it and give it to his wife.

I was a little unhappy as I entered the duty free area, but then I remembered Heathrow had one of the biggest and nicest duty-free shops in the world. I hotfooted it to the nearest Boots store (a European company that produces some of the finest body products in the world). Heck, no need to worry; I could just replace my shower gel while waiting for my flight to Johannesburg! Soooo clever. After making my purchase, I quickly put the bottle in my carry-on luggage and went on my happy way. Problem solved.

After we arrived in Johannesburg, I transitioned from the secure arrivals area to the secure departing area for my next flight to Windhoek, Namibia. We were directed through security again. And to my surprise, the security agent confiscated my new bottle of Boots shower gel! I informed the agent that the bottle was regulation size, and I had been previously cleared through security. Explaining with lots of energy that I had just purchased the gel in the duty-free area of Heathrow, I was told it didn't matter where it was purchased. The item contained a liquid of more than three ounces. In disbelief, I finally noticed that the measurement on the bottle was in liters! I forgot to convert the measurement to ounces, which is used by airline officials to measure liquids. Not happy at all, I gave it up.

By the time we landed into Namibia, I was sweaty and smelly. I really needed a bath. One hour later, I finally arrived at our game lodge where I immediately went to the bathroom to take a shower. But to my surprise, there was no shower gel -- only bars of soap. I hate soap bars. They make my skin feel itchy and dry. After a very uncomfortable night, I was able to purchase a nice botanical shower gel in Windhoek the next day. Hooray!

As a travel expert, I confess that I am a little embarrassed to even write this blog about something that I always preach and encourage travelers to do -- THINK! Consider the important questions. Where am I going? What do I need? Know the permitted carry-on items and baggage restrictions when traveling by air and plan accordingly. I know the regulations. However, in my haste and by packing at the last minute without a list, I suffered preventable consequences. My high-quality products were confiscated. I spent more money than necessary. And for a portion of my travels, I smelled like one of the animals you see on safari.

I realize it can be confusing when you pass through airport security lines in other countries. Many places have different customs and regulations. These rules are not always the same. While I was in India, they used gender specific lines, separating the women from the men. Many countries do not ask you to remove your shoes. Others require that you do so. And these regulations change -- for example, in the U.K., you may soon be able to board a plane with certain liquids, due to the use of a new screening device.

Be informed before you travel, so you won't be surprised or disappointed and lose your shower gel like I did -- or some other treasured item. To avoid any delays or problems with security, read content labels carefully, and make the conversion with measurements when necessary.

Being a savvy traveler makes the travel experience so much better.

Regina Fraser
Grannies on Safari
Home and feeling fresh with my own shower gel!