Before you head out the door, know what TSA will allow you to bring on your flight as carry-on or checked luggage. And holiday road-trippers should be well-versed in the country’s patchwork of fireworks laws, too, which differ by state.
It may seem obvious that items like fireworks aren’t allowed in fliers’ carry-on or checked luggage by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA)—they are explosive after all—but would you think that seemingly harmless celebratory paraphernalia like party poppers or English Christmas crackers wouldn’t be allowed either? Well, they’re not, according to the very long list of items that you can and can’t bring on flights, as provided by TSA. (Curious why? The poppers and Christmas crackers both have a very small amount of explosives in them, which gives them their pop.)
Delta’s advice for flying with fireworks? “Don’t even think about it,” the company states on its “restricted items” page.
Although you can’t fly with fireworks, you are allowed to have and use them in some states, but not in others—the rules and laws vary by state, and the American Pyrotechnics Association maintains a pretty well-updated list of the laws governing fireworks in each state.
For beach-going airline passengers wondering if they should pack their beach umbrellas and folding chairs or leave them at home, they’ll be at the mercy of the airlines. According to TSA, umbrellas are allowed in carry-on luggage, but travelers should check with their carrier for size or weight restrictions. There’s no mention of beach chairs on TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” page, but given their dimensions even when folded, these and beach umbrellas would likely best be checked.
And of course, sunscreen falls into the “liquid, aerosol, gel, cream, or paste” category, so if your sunscreen containers are larger than 3.4 ounces, they will need to travel in your checked luggage. Pro tip: Secure it in a Ziploc or zippered pouch to avoid any altitude-induced explosions that mean your entire vacation wardrobe ends up smelling like piña colada.
Campers will be happy to know that tents are A-OK with TSA in either carry-on or checked bags, though dimensions have to meet with airline requirements for carry-on. But be warned that even if you’re bringing an allowable compact tent, tent spikes and poles are not permitted as carry-on, so remove those from the tent bag and place them in your checked bag ahead of time.
Assuming they meet size and weight requirements, air mattresses with built-in pumps are also allowed as carry-on, as are camping stoves as long as all fuel and fuel residue has been removed. Coolers, fishing poles, and small fishing lures are all also allowed if they can fit in the overhead bin or under the seat. Hikers take note: Hiking poles and walking sticks have to be checked, as does bear spray.
Looking to play games while on vacation? You can bring tennis rackets, bocce balls, basketballs, baseballs, soccer balls, footballs, bowling balls, and boxing gloves as carry-on, but bows and arrows, bowling pins, baseball bats, golf clubs, and pool cues will all have to be checked.
If you’re heading back from Universal Studios, you can carry on the Harry Potter wand you got as a souvenir at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but any foam toy swords picked up during your theme park travels will have to be stowed in your checked luggage.
Those traveling with babies and smaller children this summer should note that formula, breast milk, and juice do not need to meet the 3.4-ounce limit. Let a TSA officer know in advance of your screening that you have such liquids with you so that these items can be screened separately (and allow for extra time in security because you will need to wait for a TSA officer to perform the additional screening). If you have questions about other baby and kids’ gear, TSA has a helpful section of its website devoted specifically to traveling with children.
Lastly, always cross-check TSA rules with individual airlines’ policies. Each airline maintains a web page that lists prohibited items, as well as all the extensive conditions and restrictions for items (like sports equipment and gear) that you are allowed to bring as carry-on or checked baggage.
The ground rules for fireworks on road trips
Those heading out by car instead of flying this Fourth of July should be aware of the country’s complicated matrix of fireworks laws, which vary from state to state. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, only one state has an outright ban an all consumer fireworks: Massachusetts. In Illinois, Ohio, and Vermont, only sparklers are legal. In the other 46 states, plus Washington, D.C., consumer fireworks are permitted, although the specific types that are allowed vary by state.
For instance, in California, fireworks that remain close to the ground such as cone fountains, wheel and ground spinners, and illuminating torches, as well as party poppers and snappers, are all legal, but a long list of fireworks, including firecrackers, rockets, roman candles, and wire and wooden-stick sparklers, are not permitted. In New York, ground-based or handheld sparklers are allowed, but metal-wire sparklers are not. There, cone fountains, party poppers, and snappers are a go, but aerial fireworks, firecrackers and skyrockets, and roman candles are a no-go.
Penalties for being in possession of illegal fireworks typically involve a citation, which can range from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the state. Consequences can get far more serious if you’re caught with a large quantity of fireworks, cause any kind of property damage, ignite a fire, or injure or kill someone with the fireworks.
Make sure to visit the American Pyrotechnics Association’s state-by-state breakdown of fireworks laws, especially if you plan on crossing state lines with any fireworks. Even if your final destination is a state that allows the types of fireworks you have in your car, it is illegal to drive with them through a state where they are not permitted.