The Ultimate Travel Beauty Packing List and Kit for Backpackers
After months as a true blue backpacker, I'm finally ready to write the very post I dreamt up alongside the creation of The Beauty Backpacker. As a lifetime travel and beauty obsessive, if there's one thing I've mastered over the years it's how to pack the right travel beauty and makeup essentials for any trip, be it a rugged backpacking adventure or a luxe sun-soaked holiday.
This post (the one that marries my two passions) was always going to be my very first. But as I transitioned from my London life to minimalism, I quickly realised I needed to put time into 'legit' backpacking before regaling the interwebs with all my travel beauty and makeup tips and tricks. I wanted to endure all the backpacking highs and lows so I could advise on which beauty products really work, which ones are the best multitaskers and which ones simply add unnecessary weight to your backpack.
Many months in, I can confidently say that I've suffered enough crispy beach hair days, moisture-sucking long-haul flights and toenail-breaking hikes to truly provide you with the ultimate packing checklist for all your travel beauty needs. I've done my best to strike a balance between keeping things practical (and easily packable) but also sufficiently luxe to nurture your body and get your glam on when the mood (or night) strikes.
Get ready! This is another mammouth post. One to sift through alongside my what to pack when you backpack to assemble all your backpacking gear. I've broken this up by beauty category and included links** to every product. I've also scattered some pro travel beauty tips throughout in bold. This is a comprehensive guide but hopefully you'll use it to 'pick and mix' the pieces that work best for you and your beauty needs.
So without further ado, here are all the travel beauty essentials for backpacking your way around the world:
Beauty Travel Bags and containers
1. Muji travel hanging pouch: This bag is brilliantly designed. It's got all the right compartments, zips and hooks you need to house and organise everything from travel bottles to tweezers to lipstick. It also has a hanger that hides into the bag itself that comes in handy when you need to hang your stuff in a dingy hostel.
Now, Pro travel beauty tip no. 1: decant everything you can. This doesn't apply to makeup but things like shampoos, body lotions and hair oils can all be decanted into small, lightweight bottles. Most high-end beauty brands have beautiful packaging but it's usually heavy or impractically designed. Shift to lighter travel containers and save yourself from extra weight.
2. A set of silicone travel bottles: I bring a colourful four-piece set which I fill with liquid-based beauty essentials: shampoo, curl styling cream, body wash and facial cleanser. Different colours help to distinguish what's what. Plus they're squishy and easy to use.
3. Travel bottles and pots: Mine are Muji and come in all shapes and sizes. I love them to bits. But any brand will do. I use bottles to store face oils, makeup removers and more. I use small pots for decanting cream-based products like facial moisturisers and face masks. The screwtops are great for products you want to dip your fingers into to grab the perfect amount of product.
4. Transparent first-aid kit bag: This bag is really for my medical kit (which I'll write about in a separate post) but it multitasks for my travel beauty supplies too. It's helpful to have multiple bags, especially if your travel beauty kit is as extensive as mine!
I'm a skincare evangelist. Because caring for your skin with a good routine will pay absolute dividends over the years. I mastered my routine in my early 20s and I've evolved it gradually as my skin's changed with age. I make sure to pack every necessary beauty essential to keep my skin healthy during any and every travel situation.
1. Daily moisturiser: I pack a lightweight moisturiser to use on a daily basis. Light is so important for travel to tropical, humid destinations. Even more so if your skin is naturally oily. I have combination skin, but in tropical climes it gets incredibly oily. This Fresh Rose Hydration Gel Cream is a perfect lightweight option to keep skin moisturised without amplifying oiliness. I pump out two dollops and gently spread this all over my face after my cleanse. Lancôme's Tonique Confort Comforting Rehydrating Silky-soft Moisturizing Toner, which is technically a toner but also functions as a lightweight moisturiser, is also absolutely brilliant.
2. Dry skin facial moisturiser: Though I don't use this daily, I like to have it for dry-skin emergencies. I use the wondurous Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream, especially after long-haul flights and cold hikes. Or anytime my skin is incredibly parched. Don't apply this all over your face (as it's very thick and rich). Instead, use it like a spot treatment on your dry zones. I apply it before bed and I swear I can hear my skin thanking me in the morning.
3. Daytime face oil: Since this is richer than my daily moisturiser, I only use the Kiehl's Daily Reviving Concentrate once a week (or when my skin's really suffering) for renourishment. You take a few drops, heat them up by rubbing your hands together and gently pat this all over your face. It smells divine and will give both you and your skin an energy boost.
4. Night-time face oil: I use this once a week or when my skin needs that extra bit of TLC. I like to experiment with different brands and types, especially if there's an oil unique to the destination I'm in. I'm currently using a Macadamia oil I picked up in Colombia. But these are some fantastic oils I know and love: Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate, Pai Rosehip BioRegenerate and Antipodes Divine Face Oil.
5. Micellar water: This is the only thing I use to remove my makeup. I rarely wear makeup backpacking, but when I do I always double cleanse. Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water is my first step. I soak a cotton pad with product and gently dab it all over my face to soak the makeup off. This honestly cleans every last drop.
6. Facial cleanser: I wash my face both morning and night. In the morning, I clean but go light. At night, this is the second step of my cleanse if I've worn makeup. I swear by the Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cleanser (Can you tell I'm a bit Kiehls-obsessed?) which wipes me clean without drying my skin. It's simple, scentless and lasts for ages because you only need a drop each use. I filled one silicone bottle with this stuff and it's still going strong four months in!
7. Moisturising face mask (optional): I carry two face masks, both of which I buy in travel sizes or decant. These are a bit indulgent for the road, so I've listed them as optional. Your skin will obvs survive without a weekly face mask! But I can't live without them. I love the Fresh Rose Face Mask for hydration. I use this after a long day in the sun. Or simply once a week. My skin soaks it up. And when it's rinsed off, my face looks brighter and plumper and literally smells of roses. It's heaven in a (decanted) bottle!
8. Detoxifying face mask (optional): I use this mask to purify my skin but only once a week (or even once a fortnight) as it's more intense. I open my pores beforehand with hot, steamy water. Then I apply and let this sink in. It pulls out all the impurities so when you wash it off you can truly admire your baby-soft skin.
9. Facial sunscreen: Pro travel beauty tip no. 2: This is the most essential step of your travel skincare routine. Don't leave home without it. It will protect your skin from damage and disease. I never ever fail to put this on. Especially because after years of living in London, my skin is (sadly) no longer accustomed to sunshine. I apply Kiehl's Ultra Light Daily UV Defence Suncreen after cleansing and moisturising and before any makeup. It's SPF 50+ and you don't need much. Just be sure to cover every inch of your face. It's also light and creamy and works perfectly under makeup.
10. Cleansing wipes: I use the Garnier Extra Gentle Cleansing Wipes on an ad hoc basis. They're most helpful on flights when you can't do a proper evening cleanse. They can also be a lifesaver on overnight treks where you don't have access to clean water, let alone a bathroom. I'll give my face a quick wipe down with these instead. And if you overheat, they can cool you off! I know wipes are considered a skincare no-no but sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. And these are more gentle than most on the skin.
11. Lip balm: I'm throwing this into skincare because I think lip health (did I just coin a term there?) is just as essential as skin health. It's so easy for your lips to chap or burn when you backpack. I rely on a few firm favourites ( Nuxe, Rosebud Salve and Kiehl's ) to keep mine hydrated and I always apply a coat before bed so my lips wake up hydrated and happy.
12. Blotting paper: I don't know about you but my face gets greasy in the heat. And every now and again it just needs a good wipe. So I like to have blotting papers, like these wonderful Shiseido ones, handy to gently clean my face and keep me (relatively) oil-free.
So makeup. Here's where you can cutback. Because ultimately you're not going to care for even one hot minute if your makeup's in place when you're on the lookout for anacondas in the rainforest or soaking up that sun on a beautiful Thai beach. Plus, you're already going to glow anyway - what with all that sunshine and R&R. So go minimalist where you can. I left a lot behind: highlighters, bronzers, eyebrow pencils, primers and more. And dare I say it, life is fine without them. But here's what I do bring:
1. Foundation: I don't use this daily but it's nice to pull out all the stops now and again. The Deciem Serum foundation deserves all its hype and it's perfect for travel for so many reasons: it's in a light plastic container, it's liquid and can be blended with your hands and it gives you a natural glowy look. Pro travel beauty tip no. 3: Don't bring your makeup brush collection on the road, just get creative with your application! I have the colour 2.1Y which is perfect for olive skin. Pro travel beauty tip no. 4: Go a little darker that usual on your foundation shade so it matches your growing tan as you travel.
2. Concealer: I hesitated here because it's really a non-essential. Ultimately, I'm glad I stuck my Nars Creamy Concealer (I'm the shade Custard) in my beauty backpack because I can't even count the number of days it's hidden massive dark circles from a sleepness night in a hammock or a 3am trek wake-up.
3. Blusher: Blusher is my makeup favourite. I left this at home so I could find something new on the road. I picked one up in Medellin which gives my Latina skin the perfect glow. (A South American beauty haul soon, I swear!) But if you want something before you go, Nars will never fail you. If you have olive skin, you'll love Dolce Vita. And Taj Mahal is my favourite when I'm ultra-tan. If you're on the fairer side, you can never go wrong with Orgasm but pop into a shop to try a few different colours before you buy. I've also heard very good things about Daniel Sandler's liquid blushes. And when I'm in NYC I'll be popping into Glossier to try a Cloud Paint or ten. See, I really DO love blusher.
4. Waterproof Mascara: This is a holy grail item. I simply won't travel without it. I'm loyal to Japanese brands with FairyDrops and Heroine Make at the top of the list. But whilst I backpack, I trial different brands. Next up is Lancome's Monsier Big.
5. Waterproof Eyeliner: I travel with waterproof Mac Smoulder. This soot-black eyeliner gives me sultry eyes and can double as an smokey eyeshadow when I smudge it out. Pro travel beauty tip no. 5: If I haven't made it obvious already, go waterproof whenever you can! You will get caught in rainstorms, go for impromptu swims and probably ball your eyes out when you miss a bus or are blown away by earth's sheer beauty.
6. Eyeshadow: I can live without this. And you can too. I only caved a few weeks ago, when I discovered this compact little number by Huda Beauty, a brand I've been dying to try. If you do want to backpack with eyeshadow, I suggest you find a mini-compact like the Nars duos (I particularly like this one) or pick up a Mac two-shadow palette. Go one dark shade and one light shade to cover all of your bases.
Pro travel beauty tip no. 6: If you pick the right brown shadow, this can double as an eyebrow powder too.
7. Lipstick: I go weak at the knees for lippies. So one was never ever going to be enough. I packed three: one classic red, one your-lips-but-better and one fuscia pink that can double as a blusher. But I somehow ended up with six shades a few months later. [Insert shrug girl emoji here.] I guess this explains why I've called this blog The Beauty Backpacker. But honestly, two is more than plenty. Pick one bright and one natural and you're good to go.
Pro travel beauty tip no. 7: If you don't mind holding out, make a list and buy some of your makeup at the airport before you fly and save yourself some pounds or dollars at duty free. Just make sure they stock the brands you're after.
Warning: longterm travel is going to wreak absolute havoc on your hair. Especially if you have wavy or curly hair which already tends to be on the dryish side. The hard water in hostels, the salt water and the many days without washing take their toll on your locks. I try to nurture my hair as much as possible during travel down time.
Most of the products mentioned below I've described in detail in my ride-or-die curl products post. And, yes, every single one is with me on the road. I've simply decanted them into my silicone travel bottles. I use as little as possible per wash to make them last.
2. Davines Conditioner: This is simply the best conditioner for curly hair. Read why here. I use this every single day to prevent my hair from drying out. I don't wash daily but I rinse my curls daily to create ringlets so I always condition too.
3. Hair oil: I use hair oils on a daily basis. I'm a diehard Davines fan so Oi is my absolute favourite but at the moment I'm using Natura's Pataua hair oil, which is great too. Read about this fab brand here. I fingercomb hair oil into still-damp hair after I wash or rinse and leave my curls to air dry. I find this daily ritual prevents split ends and deters the need for frequent haircuts when I travel longterm.
4. Curl styling cream: As much as I'd like to think I'm a free-spirited gypsy who doesn't need to constantly style her, that just ain't me. My curls are my THING and a little Boucleme Curl Cream goes a long way. I use it religiously.
5. Travel hair brush: I bought this mini-Wet brush before I left and I'm in love. It's small and great for detangling thick, unruly hair. This really comes in handy after a few days of swimming in the sea when your hair's taken a beating from all that salt and sand.
6. Hair ties: I'm very fussy about these so only the Scunci no-slip grips will do. These are made of rubber so I find they don't get tangled with my curls as much as others. Plus they's black and small so hide well into my hair. And I can wear them on my wrists if I decide to take my hair down at some point in the day. I'm also currently trying out the Invisibobble (after hearing all about it on the Breaking Beauty podcast) so I'll report back on these babies soon.
This is where I'm the least high maintenance. I just want to keep my skin hydrated. And protect myself from the sun and mosquitos.
1. A mega-hydrating body butter: Body butters or thick body creams are better than body lotions for backpacking. Something like this Lush butter works a treat so long as you have a good place to store it in hot weather. I try to avoid large bottles and containers on the whole so a small tub or block of a thick body butter that's extra-hydrating is best. The Body Shop also do brilliant thick and creamy butters that smell like the beaches you'll be living on. And I'm currently obsessed with this Bath and Body Works Happiness cream. It's thick and smells divine. It's joy in a bottle.
2. Sunscreen: An absolute must. For obvious 'avoid skin damage and skin cancer' reasons. I like spray-ons because they're easy to apply when you're rushing out the door. You just need to be careful to spread the product and not miss any spots. The bottles are too big for my liking but I reserve a special side compartment of my backpack for these babies. They're just so essential. There a lot of great brands: Coola, Coopertone and Garnier.
3. Insect repellent: Don't leave home without it! You will literally devour this on your travels, especially if you're spending time in tropical climes and trekking through jungles. I drowned myself in repellent in the Amazon jungle and I was still eaten alive. Through my leggings. This 3M cream is magic.
4. Perfume (optional): I left home without it. And I can still hardly believe it. But perfume bottles are just not worth their weight on the road. Especially given how often you'll actually use it. But if you really can't bear to leave this behind, then see Pro travel beauty tip no. 8: Grab a supply of samples from your favourite perfumer and stash those in your travel beauty bag. This keeps things light and keeps you feeling luxe.
Nailcare and Hands
Nails. Sigh. I've really stripped back on these as a backpacker. Perfectly manicured nails simply don't go with mud puddles. Also, who wants to carry nailpolish remover? I just maintain their shape and steer clear of polish. And every so often I splurge on a manicure.
1. Nail clippers: I have a pair I bought in a 100 yen (i.e. pound) shop in Japan that I swear by to this day. Honestly, the Japanese have mastered the design of everything! I use these for my hands and feet.
2. Nail file: I bought one on the road. No need to be fussy, anything will do as you'll just be cramming this in with more important things.
3. Manicures / Pedicures: Every now and again I treat myself to one of these. They're relatively inexpensive in a lot of countries you'll travel to. And it's nice to treat yo self now and again, especially after a killer trek.
1. Tweezers: I normally get my eyebrows threaded but this isn't priority when I backpack. So I pull out the ole tweezers now and again. I always turn to my trusty Tweezermans, which I've had for years.
2. Toothbrush and toothbrush cover: I know. You really don't need reminding that you need to bring a toothbrush. But I do have some thoughts. I normally use an electronic one at home but it's much easier to travel with a traditional version. And DO invest in a cover. You'll be surprised where you end up brushing your teeth. Sometimes it can get pretty grim. Keep a cover on hand to keep your brush germ-free.
3. Toothpaste: Bring you brand of choice. But save space and stick to travel-sized. And just restock when you need to.
4. Deodorant: Another essential. Especially in hot and sticky destinations. I tend to buy this as I go since I'm not brand loyal. I go natural if I can, but normally I just grab what's available at the local supermarket (and in the smallest packaging).
5. Razor: I swear by the travel version of the Gillette Venus Snap with Embrace. It's small and cute. And fits perfectly into the side of my backpack. The blades come lined with a film that functions as a shave cream for a smoother shave. Because I'm certainly not carrying that in my backpack.
6. Cotton pads: These are lightweight so I don't mind carrying them around. And they're great for removing makeup. I'm careful about everything I put on my skin and these are no exception.
7. Mirror: Bring a small mirror because these are not guaranteed in hostels. This has come in handy often, especially for putting my contacts in!
So, there you have it, all my travel beauty essentials. And if you can believe it, I fit all of this into just two compact bags and the side of my backpack. So if you're still with me, let me what you think in the comments down below. Which of these are your favourites? Or your most essential?
Have fun building the perfect travel beauty kit for you!
**Product links contain affiliates. If you're ready to buy, I'd greatly appreciate any purchases you make directly through The Beauty Backpacker. These come at no additional cost to you but I get a small commission that helps keep me up and running. Don't worry, opinions are all my own. I only include products I've tried and tested and love and I've bought everything with my own money.
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