You may be on the same page with me so far in this less-is-more style of travel. This is probably where we will disagree. Everyone has a different hygiene routine and needs based on hair and skin etc. But hear me out. I firmly believe you can live a quality life on the road with only as many travel toiletries as will fit in a Zip-Loc bag. I do it all the time, often for up to 2 months in a row.
I used to carry one of the typical toiletries bags. I started out in my early guiding days with a huge one, giant pockets to fit full-sized bottles of shampoo and large bars of soap. But 2001 changed all of the regulations for carrying liquids on planes. Gone are the days of bringing more than 3 oz of anything. Sure, you can pack full bottles and check your bag, but remember that the goal here is to carry your bag on the plane to avoid the sorrow of a lost bag. As I write, I’ve spent a lot of time today trying to track down a tour member’s bag so I have reason when I plead with you- carry your bag on the plane or you will live this hassle.
Current regulations for liquids require a “3-1-1” bag, meaning a 1 quart plastic bag with no more than 3 oz containers. What that means for travelers is that you will need to remove any liquids and gels from your toiletries bag and put them in a separate plastic bag, to be removed and scanned separately at security checkpoints. After that you can put your liquids back in the toiletries kit. For someone who is living out of a bag and hopping on flights with high frequency, this is a drag.
I found myself going through those plastic bags fast, even the freezer kind would tear or wear out quickly, so I found a durable one from Tom Bihn (tombihn.com). It’s got clear plastic sides and a little hook on the inside, which made me realize that this could function as my toiletries kits as well as my 3-1-1 bag. Could it actually hold all of the toothpaste, shampoo and beauty supplies I’d need for 2 months? After some trial and error, yes, yes it can.
It comes down to containers. You can efficiently pack a small travel toiletries bag as long as you find the right kind of bottles. This has been a little project of mine. I’ve combed the shelves at travel stores, but the bottles are usually cylindrical, the most inefficient shape. I wanted something flat or square or long to fit my bag. The best place I’ve found for this is the travel size section at Target. I don’t really care about the contents when I’m looking at the bins of bottles, I’m just looking for the ideal container. Once I’ve found it, I dump out the original product and fill it with my own, then write on the bottle with a Sharpie. I also like the silicon travel tubes with a suction cup on the back, for the times when the shower has no soap dish. GoToobs are nice, even if they can only hold 2oz with the suction cup.
As far as what liquids to bring, I typically bring shampoo and conditioner. I’ll stretch the shampoo by using the hotel’s if there is any. You can make your shampoo and conditioner go further by concentrating them a bit. Before you fill your bottles, pour the shampoo or conditioner into a bowl and let it set on the sink for a day or two. Some of the liquid will evaporate, what’s left will be more potent and more packable.
For make-up, I bring just a small, basic kit.
Moisturizer: For both men and women, a daily facial moisturizer is important. We tend to spend much more time outside in the sun while traveling than normal and I see lots of sunburnt tourist faces on the road. I Iike Neutrogena daily moisturizer, with a an SPF of at least 30.
Base Make-up: For a foundation, I use Bare Minerals powder. It’s light, makes my skin look pretty flawless even if it isn’t, and can hide a multitude of sins. It takes very little to cover your face so it’s really packable, although you need a brush to put it on. This also has an SPF of 15, so it can substitute for suntan lotion in a pinch.
Lipstick: I work 12-16 hour days, I don’t have any time for fussing with make-up. I only get to do it once, so I use Revlon Colorstay Lipstick. Once it’s on, it stays there for the whole day. I’m so used to it, I can’t imagine why you’d use anything else. The tubes are really compact and include a lipgloss which I use for chapped lips.
Mascara: Neutrogena Waterproof Mascara. Same as with the lipstick, I want to put this on once and not worry about smudges or racoon eyes.
For when I’m feeling Fancy: Liquid eyeliner and a small eyeshadow, both are the smallest size I could find. I save extra space by snapping off the long handle to the eyeliner.
Deodorant: A sample sized deodorant usually is enough for me, especially if it is the “clinical” kind. I ran out of deodorant last year and had to buy more at a Venetian grocery store. I found something great, spray-pump deodorant! It works well but can also be sprayed on stinky clothes or inside funky shoes! Double duty beauty products! Score!
Toothbrush: I’ve been using a fold-up Colgate toothbrush from Target for years. It’s about $1 and is the best design I’ve found. However, I have pretty fragile teeth and really need a sonic toothbrush but I will never bring my bulky Sonicare. I found a cute little battery-powered one at a travel supply store which, although it’s not a real sonic brush, does a better job than a normal one.
Toothpaste: Toothpaste goes fast on the road and the travel size doesn’t last long. I try and find the biggest size possible. Arm and Hammer Baking Soda toothpaste is a good one because it also works in a pinch as a pimple or bug bite relief paste.
Razors: Cheap ones. They are lighter and you won’t be upset if they get lost or broken.
Pills: I only take a couple of medications, so I portion out what I need and store them in a tiny Altoids tin. Technically you should also have the prescription with you and the original bottle. I’ve photographed my labels with my phone in case I should ever be asked. Which I never have.
Comb: I prefer a good quality comb for travel. I’ve made mine fit into my bag by snapping off the handle. I bought this one at a drug store in London and love the quality so much I’m now sold on handmade combs. Makes a big difference.
Laundry Soap: Another travel supply store find, tiny little soap sheets for sink washing. One sheet can’t really wash much in reality, but it will do a couple of pairs of underwear just fine.
So that is everything. This is what I actually live with and it functions fine. Remember that you can always go buy more of any product you need. A trip to the local pharmacy is often a fun cultural experience, and you may just find something better than what you use at home.
My one remaining tip was generated by a woman at a lecture. She insisted that she needed to bring the full size bottle of a some important liquid. After some discussion, we decided that she could easily bring as much as she needed, simply by filling up multiple 3 oz bottles. As long as it all fits in the 3-1-1 bag, you’re good to go.
Everything I’ve mentioned above you can find at Target, Amazon or a drug store. The Bare Minerals face powder can be found here: