How to Build a Bulletproof Travel Toiletry Kit

Posted by   Annette on    May 30, 2013

Packing for long-term travel poses a number of interesting challenges—from dialing in a capsule wardrobe that fits into your carry-on to finding the right luggage*. One of the classic conundrums is deceptively simple: the lowly toiletry kit. Without it, you're gonna look a mess...but with the wrong one, you're going to be a soggy, sticky, hopelessly overpacked shambles. Need some tips? Here's what I've dialed in over my near-decade on the road.

1. Keep two separate kits.

The first one should be a waterproof, clear, TSA-approved 311 bag. (Time to graduate from quart-sized Ziplocs, n’est ce pas?)

Your second toiletry kit—the one that you’ll be using every day—must hang up. If you’re from the US and are used to having enormous real estate to distribute your stuff all over, you might be dismayed to find that most countries in the world don’t share the American obsession with flat surfaces in the bathroom.

Another word to the wise: Most cheap hanging kits will eventually snap at the hook, especially if overloaded. Go for a version that’s metal-reinforced at the hanging bit and you’ll get a lot more mileage out of it. 

2. Go solid wherever possible.

Pro tip: Liquid versions of things are just solid stuff with water pre-mixed in. (Whoa.) Solid products are much lighter and smaller for the same number of uses, as well as being more economical and ecologically sound. Oh! Go solid and you’ll never open a shampoo-soaked suitcase again.

For example: Solid shampoo is a revelation. Once you’ve gotten over the novelty of scrubbing a soap bar on your head, you won’t be able to figure out how you lived without it. Solid shampoo cleans just as well (if not better) as the liquid stuff, smells just as fantastic, lathers brilliantly, works flawlessly as a body soap and comes in treatment types of every flavor. I prefer the Lush brand, because my feather-light fair hair can’t cope with lingering product. (There are lots of flavors, but the cinnamon one is my favorite for its tingly, wake-me-up qualities and cheery color.)

From there, keep going: Solid perfume; solid cologne. Mineral makeup. Charcoal soap for face. Solid toothpasteSolid shaving soap—not just for gentlesirs anymore. Stick sunscreen. (Hell, you can even just pack powdered zinc oxide and mix up a batch of homemade sunscreen once you’ve landed.) I haven’t yet found a solid conditioner that works. If you have, hit me up.

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3. Carry pure aloe vera.

Here’s where I diverge from my solid-toiletries obsession: pure aloe vera.

Just to be clear, we’re not talkin’ ’bout the chemically-thickened goop that may immediately spring to mind. I mean the good stuff—pure aloe vera liquid, without any gelling additives. Pure aloe vera belongs in the hardcore traveler’s kit because it’s as awesome for everyday moisturizing as it is for healing bites, scratches, zits, burns and dryness. Like the salt deodorant, it doesn’t have a smell (so it’s suited to both men and women). Oh, yeah…and it’s the only perfect, proven cure for airplane-face, so it goes in your 3-1-1 kit.

If you’re headed someplace warm, stick it in the fridge when you land. Nothing feels better on a hot day than a spritz of it.

Postscript: Someone just turned me on to freeze-dried aloe vera powder that you can take along and reconstitute as you go. It apparently makes the same stuff. I’m going to pick some up when I next get back to the States, and I’ll let you know how it goes. 

4. Use little dabs of oil for everything else.

Lotions and creams take up loads of space and tend to trick you into thinking you need a whole “routine” of them to look presentable. Hogfuckingwash.

I swear by Josie Maran Argan Oil. I use just five drops of the stuff on my face every night before I go to bed, and nothing else. Sorted. The little dropper bottle lasts forever—and it’s the perfect onboard moisturizer for long-haul flights. 

Along with the Argan, I carry just a little tea tree oil. Tea tree oil cures so many of a constant traveler’s ills—airplane-air zits, scratches, random infections, bug bites—that it qualifies as a full first-aid kit in a teensy little bottle. Bug bites especially are a constant reality for LIPs. I’ve never used any pharmaceutical ointment that worked as fast (and nixed scarring as effectively) as tea tree does. Since a little goes a very long way, you can get away with bringing a tiny little bottle of high-quality oil and expect it to last around six months.

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5. Change your deodorant game.

Salt deodorant is another space-saving dop kit hack. It’s totally effective, and the travel-size version lasts for years. (I’ve been traveling full-time since 2009, and I’m still using the second one I ever bought!)

It’s easy to use, too: you just sprinkle a couple of drops of water on the baby-smooth crystal and run it over your skin. As well as being incredibly well-suited to the needs of long-term travelers, salt-crystal deodorant is bereft of any of the noxious, cancer-causing chemicals that populate standard antiperspirants.

7. Scrub up with a Japanese skin cloth.

If I told you there was a cheap doodad that does everything a shower puff, loofah, facecloth and back scrubber do, but dries in ten seconds and packs down to the size of a cigar, would you believe me? Well, yay! It exists.

Japanese skin cloths are long strips of textured nylon mesh that take on the jobs of all of the above shower implements. They’re cheap, feather-light and dry so incredibly fast that they never have the chance to get gross.

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8. Miniaturize your makeup.

Makeup is not forever. When you’re on the road constantly, you enjoy extra motivation to pare down your usage and, when you buy makeup, only buy small amounts of the best stuff. Case in point: Mascara. This stuff breeds bacteria, fungus and nanobeasties and you’re supposed to throw it out after just three months of opening it. If you buy full-sized versions and don’t cake it on, you’re almost certainly throwing away half the tube if you do that religiously. Solution: Buy a sample sized version of your favorite stuff. Same goes for everything else in your makeup bag.

If there's an overarching theme here, it's this: As you replace items in your toiletry kit, keep buying less things but better things, and make sure everything new you take on is as up for the journey as you are.


*which, for me, is a piggyback and a burly gear bag for check-in 

Oil photo credit: yourbestdigs Essential oils topical use on hand via photopin (license) / Solid shampoo photo credit: courtesy Lush/ soap lather photo credit: micala via photopin (license)