Air travel with herbs. Security. Drugs. Suspicion. Ack! Do you need to worry? First, let’s assume the herbs with which you are traveling are legal in the United States, and you are traveling to or within the US. The TSA recently announced and then retracted a statement saying they are not the DEA, that they try to keep people safe, not find drugs. However, in light of the current administration’s policies (2017), I cannot recommend these methods for air travel with illegal herbs, even if they are medicinal. Until all plants are legal, you assume risk if you attempt air travel with the “wrong” ones. If you find it worth the risk, check out these tips from The Cannabist.
Even if you’re traveling with some home-blended raspberry leaf tea and a small container of powder mineral supplement, you’re well aware it could look like marijuana and cocaine. Your ultrasonic essential oil diffuser could be mistaken for a marijuana vaporizer by someone not “in the know”, and you have tiny bottles of “alcohol” because you use tinctures. How is this going to look to security? How can you best get through and make your flight, preferably without a strip search and full examination of your luggage?
Rule One – Don’t Conceal
When your luggage is put through the various scanners used, one of the things they’re looking for is an anomaly. Something that doesn’t look like it seemingly should. Hollowing out a book, stuffing it full of herbs, and putting it in the bottom of your suitcase may cause them to take a look – books aren’t supposed to look like that. The same goes for other “tricks”, like shoving a baggie into a can of coffee or the hollow part of an ink pen. You’re not carrying anything illegal, there’s no need to behave as if you are. It’s far more likely to attract attention.
On the other hand, tea looks like tea. Plant matter in loose form or in tiny bags. Whether you make up bags ahead of time, or choose to carry bulk tea with a tea ball or strainer, simply put them in your luggage. Pack things safely, using sealed or zipper-close bags, bottles with tight lids and some form of padding, and other normal protections so your things are still intact and dry when you arrive.
Carry Bulk Air Travel Herbs in Checked Luggage
If you’re heading to a conference or a really long trip, you may be carrying large amount of dried plant matter. It’s better off in your checked luggage. If they wish to have a dog sniff at it, or even open it to see that most of that doesn’t even look like an illegal substance, it’s easier for them to do “back there”. I know it is a greater invasion of your privacy in some ways if that happens. It’s the current price we pay for air travel.
Pulling you out of line and disrupting the flow of human traffic is more likely to delay your trip than when they take a closer look at checked luggage. That does depend on the outcome of their check. If you actually are traveling with something suspicious, they can still call you back and delay your flight. But for those of us traveling with mallow root and chamomile, we won’t know it ever happened until we arrive at our hotels to find little notes from the airline mentioning they’d seen our panties. I mean, the notes don’t say that, but what else are you thinking when you get one?
Label Everything for Air Travel
If you can take original containers, do. Pack essential oil bottles, flower remedies, commercial teas, and supplements in original containers when possible. If you buy in bulk, check to see if the company produces single-serve or travel-sized packaging. I buy my magnesium powder supplement in bulk, and it would be cumbersome to take in my luggage. But NaturalCalm also comes in single-serve pouches. Pricier than buying in bulk, but worth it for a few days of travel.
Keep things close to what would be expected if it has to be homemade, or there is no travel-sized option. If you can cut the original label from your herb or supplement, do that and affix it to your new container. Make a photocopy if possible, or use a handwritten label containing every ingredient in a blend.
This goes for liquid items as well. Whatever you’re taking should look like, smell like, and behave like what the label leads you to expect. It’ll be easier on everyone in the event someone does decide to take a look.
Liquids: Essential Oils, Tinctures, Flower Essences, and Teas
Follow the TSA’s liquid rules for anything you wish to take on the plane. What is that rule? “You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item… Any liquid, aerosol, gel, cream or paste that alarms during screening will require additional screening.”
OK, you could have looked that up for yourself. What does it really mean? It means you should be cautious when taking liquids, gels, and creams through airport security. Take only what you will need while in flight. You aren’t likely to need ALL of your essential oils before you land. Same goes for your selection of herbal teas or flower essences. It also means that your standard 10ml roller bottle is permitted (that’s less than an ounce), as are standard 15ml EO bottles and standard Bach’s bottles. You just have to put it inside that zip-top baggie.
Pack a couple of pre-made tea bags in your personal bag (purse or whatever), rather than a small bottle of your tea concentrate. Ensure that the size of your bottle is within TSA regulation – even if there’s only a small amount of liquid or cream inside, it’s the bottle size that matters. And don’t take more than what will reasonably fit inside a quart-sized freezer bag – if it doesn’t really stay zipped, or won’t lie flat, you’re asking to attract attention.
When in Doubt, Mail Ahead!
When we were traveling to Texas for Christmas, everything had to go exactly as planned. There was just too much on the line at the time. I was pregnant, and needed my regular supplements to keep things going like they should. Rather than risking a delayed flight, or having to throw away something I needed, I called the hotel. They kindly agreed to accept a shipment, and I packed up a box of gifts and herbal necessities. It was at the front desk when we arrived.
Some packages are sniffed by dogs in warehouses at various points in shipping. But your package is rarely treated in the same way as it would be during an airport security check. Animals (and machines) are trained to pick up certain scents, like marijuana or cocaine or explosives. You’re not sending those things, so there’s no worry that what you’re sending looks funny – no one’s looking. So if you won’t need that next supplement or essential oil boost until you’ve arrived, ask about shipping it ahead!
Bonus Tip – Be a Polite Herbal Traveler
Your travel companions and others on the plane may not appreciate your herbs and oils the same way you do. For example, your calming lavender essential oil blend will cause a migraine for me, and several members of my family. Your herbal tea may be great for your immune system, but if you’ve spilled it on your neighbor while trying to let it steep, you’re just annoying. On the other hand, maybe take an extra to share in the event a fellow rider is interested!
Use essential oils on the bottoms of your feet to allow them to circulate through your body, rather than spraying them or wearing them as perfume. If you must re-apply during a long flight, do so in the restroom. Pay attention to your teas or tinctures. Don’t get too fussy with tea – it might taste better to you with your usual milk and honey, but maybe this one time just drink it rather than risking the mess. If possible, take a cup with a lid for your personal use. Don’t use hydrosol facial sprays while seated – head for the restroom in that case as well. You really never know what might set off an allergic reaction or be irritating to another passenger.
Show Your Genuis
Have you discovered great tips for air travel with herbs and supplements? Did you find a great way to get essential oils through security? Comment below!
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