Toiletries can put your “packing light” skills to the test and can easily end up being the heaviest and bulkiest items in your backpack. Keep in mind that unless you’re traveling for extended periods to very remote locations, you can count on being able to purchase basic items like soap, shampoo and toothpaste locally.
Take stock of what you think you need by laying out all the toiletry items you would like to pack. Attempt to eliminate a few things. If you have to question the necessity of something, it likely isn’t necessary. Packing the basics like soap, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste are a given. The points below cover ways to minimize the weight of your toiletries while still including a few, frivolous, feel-good items.
I’ve never been a fan of using sample size or mini travel-size products unless going away for a very short period of time. The only exception is if it’s something used only occasionally. Then it begs the question: why bother packing it if you only use it once per month?
Normal size bottles work fine for long-term traveling, and to lighten the load, make sure that some items are dual purpose. Most shampoo can be used as a body wash and laundry soap. Bar soap can also be used to wash clothes. Jojoba or sweet almond oil can be used as a hair conditioner/frizzy hair tamer, makeup remover and skin and nail moisturizer and a small 50ml bottle will last months.
Share and enjoy! If you’re traveling with a partner, you can easily share items like shampoo, soap, first aid kit and medication, significantly reducing the weight of your pack.
Plug-in hair tools like hairdryers can be more trouble than not while traveling. No one wants to spend time fiddling with adapters, and possibly blowing fuses in every hostel along the way. If you think you can’t live without, try weaning yourself off these things a few weeks before your trip. You won’t feel so un-coiffed once you’re on the road.
As for makeup and perfume, obviously, neither is absolutely necessary. Between you and me, I only pack 3 items: mascara, concealer, lip gloss. Packing a bottle of perfume can be tricky and you risk leaks. L’Occitane sells solid perfume tins that are perfect for travel. They’re very small and don’t leak. An added bonus, the perfume is very concentrated, so a small tin will last a long time.
Contact lenses and eyeglasses? If you wear your glasses all the time, a spare pair can come in very handy. Do get an up-to-date written prescription for both your contact lenses and glasses from your optometrist before leaving. It’ll make buying lenses or replacing glasses much easier. Daily disposable contact lenses are convenient, though packing several months worth of lenses is not very practical for long-term travel. One option would be to switch to bi-weekly or monthly disposable lenses if traveling for more than a few months. The downside to this is having to pack lenses case and cleaning solution. You can also research purchasing lenses along the way. If you’re not comfortable choosing an optician in a foreign country, call your embassy when you get there. They should be able to provide you with the names and phone numbers of reputable practitioners they deal with.
Razor packing tip: do get a protective cover for the blade! I once nearly lost a finger tip to a razor that had fallen out of my travel companion’s toiletry bag. Reached into the backpack and…OUCH!
Sunscreen is another must pack along with a tube of SPF lip balm. No sense risking skin cancer and wasting precious travel days recovering from painful burns and blisters. High SPF (sun protection factor) lotions, can be difficult to find locally so it doesn’t hurt to pack extra. I prefer to bring 2 smaller bottles rather than 1 big one. You can leave one in the bottom of your pack and carry one in your day bag. The lotion stays “fresher” this way and you have a spare in case one goes missing
Feminine hygiene products: in a nutshell, pads and pantyliners are usually easier to buy locally than tampons, especially in developing countries. Many female travelers, including myself…boys, you might want to skip to the next paragraph… swear by reusable menstrual cups. Popular brands are Mooncup, Diva Cup, and The Keeper. A menstrual cup can be left in for several hours at a time, including overnight which makes it very convenient for overnight travel or long days out exploring. They’re small, reusable and easy to clean, just make sure you use potable water or bottled water. Plan on using the menstrual cup at home for a few cycles before your trip, it can take a few months to get the hang of using it.
For those times when washing is impractical or impossible, baby wipes can keep you feeling fresh until your next shower. Baby powder, sprinkled and combed through your hair, can be used to freshen up and “degrease” your locks in between shampoos.
Phew! Are we there yet? Not quite, next up, Part 4: staying healthy!