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 travel 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 to advise on which beauty products really work, which ones are the best at multi-tasking and which ones simply add unnecessary weight to your backpack.
Nearly one year 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 helpful to nurture your body and get your glam on when the mood (or night) strikes.
Get ready! This is one mammouth post. One to sift through alongside my what to pack when you backpack to assemble all of your backpacking kit.
I've broken this up into beauty categories and included links to every product. I've also scattered some pro travel beauty tips throughout in bold. This is meant to be a comprehensive guide but hopefully you'll use it to 'pick and mix' the pieces that work best for you and your travel beauty needs. So without further ado, here are all the travel beauty essentials for backpacking your way around the world:
Travel Beauty Bags and Containers
1. Muji travel hanging pouch: This bag is brilliantly designed. It's got all the right compartments, zips and hooks you'll need to house and organise everything from travel bottles to tweezers to lipsticks. It also has a hanger (that slots neatly into the bag itself) that comes in handy when you need to hang your stuff in the hostel.
Pro travel beauty tip #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 quite 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. Caring for your skin will pay the most 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 skincare essential to keep my skin healthy during any travel situation.
1. Daily moisturiser: I pack a lightweight moisturiser to use on a daily basis. Light is important is you're travelling to lots of hot and humid destinations. Even more so if your skin is naturally oily. I have combination skin, but in tropical climes it goes incredibly oily. This Fresh Rose Hydration Gel Cream is the perfect lightweight option to keep my skin moisturised without amplifying its oiliness. I pump out two dollops and gently spread it all over my face after a cleanse. Lancôme's Tonique Confort Comforting Rehydrating Silky-soft Moisturizing Toner, which is technically a toner but also functions as a lightweight moisturiser (and it similar to a facial essence), 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 wondrous Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream, especially after long-haul flights and bitterly cold hikes. Or anytime my skin is feeling parched. Don't apply this all over your face (as it's very rich). Instead, use it like a spot treatment on your dry zones. I apply this before bed and I swear my skin thanks 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 nourishment. You take a few drops, heat them by rubbing your hands together and gently pat it 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 when I'm backpacking, but when I do, I always double cleanse before bed. Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water is always part of my first step. I soak a cotton pad with product and gently dab it all over my face to soak my makeup off. This honestly cleans every last drop.
6. Facial cleanser: I wash my face both morning and night. In the morning, I clean very gently. 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 per use. I filled one silicone bottle with this stuff months ago and it's still going strong!
7. Moisturising face mask (optional): I carry two face masks, both of which I buy in travel sizes or decant. These are admittedly a bit indulgent for the road, so I've listed them as optional. Your skin will clearly survive without a weekly face mask! But I can't live without them. I swear by 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 once a week (or even once a fortnight) as it's more intense. I open my pores beforehand with steamy water and then apply. It pulls out all the impurities so when you wash it off you can enjoy your baby-soft skin.
9. Facial sunscreen: Pro travel beauty tip #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 Sunscreen after cleansing and moisturising and before any makeup. It's SPF 50+ and you don't need much. One bottle lasts me nearly a year on the road. Just be sure to cover every inch of your face. It's also light and creamy and almost primes your skin for makeup.
10. Cleansing wipes: I use Garnier Extra Gentle Cleansing Wipes or Yes to Carrots Grapefruit Brightening Facial Towelettes on an ad hoc basis. They're most helpful on flights when you can't do a proper evening cleanse. They are also 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're a lovely way to cool off too! I know wipes are considered a skincare no-no but sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. And both of these brands are gentle on the skin.
11. Lip balm: I'm throwing this into skincare because I think lip health (did I just coin a term?) is just as essential as skin health. It's so easy for your lips to chap or burn when you travel. 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. It's handy to carry a lip balm that contains SPF too, to save your lips from getting burnt. I swear by Hawaiian Tropic Tropical Sunscreen.
12. Blotting paper (optional): 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 paper, like these wonderful Shiseido ones, handy to gently clean my face and keep me (relatively) oil-free.
So makeup. Here's where you can really 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 the sun on a beautiful Mexican beach. Plus, you're going to be glowing anyway - what with all that sunshine and R&R. So go minimalist here. I leave loads 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. 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 it can be blended with your hands to give you a natural glowy look. Pro travel beauty tip #3: Don't bring your makeup brush collection on the road, just get creative with your application! I have this in 2.1Y which is a perfect colour for olive skin. Pro travel beauty tip #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 this is really a non-essential. But I'm still glad I stuck my Nars Creamy Concealer (I'm the shade Custard) in my beauty kit because I can't even count the number of days it's hidden my massive dark circles from a sleepness night in a hammock or a 3am wake-up call.
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. But if you want to pick up 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 commit. 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.
4. Waterproof Mascara: This has holy grail status. I simply won't travel without it. I'm loyal to Japanese brands. FairyDrops and Heroine Make top my list. But whilst I travel, I like to trial different brands. I'm currently loving 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 #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 the planet's sheer beauty.
6. Eyeshadow: I can live without this. And you probably 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. Get one dark shade and one light shade to cover all of your bases.
Pro travel beauty tip #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 into my travels. [Insert shrug girl emoji here.] I guess this explains why I've called this blog The Beauty Backpacker. But honestly, two is more than enough. Pick one bright and one natural and you're good to go.
Pro travel beauty tip #7: If you can hold out, make a list and buy some of your makeup at the airport before you fly and save yourself some money 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 waves or curls which already tend to be on the dry side. The hard water in hostels, all that salt water and the days without washing take their toll on your locks. I try to nurture my hair whenever I get the chance.
Most of the products mentioned here I've described in more detail in my ride-or-die curl products post. So check that out if you want more info. I've brought every single one on the road, decanted into my silicone travel bottles. I use as little as possible per wash to make them last until my next opportunity to restock.
3. Hair oil: I use hair oils on a daily basis too. I'm a diehard Davines fan so Oi is my absolute favourite but at the moment I'm testing Natura's Pataua hair oil, which is great too. Read all about this fabulous Brazilian beauty brand here. I fingercomb hair oils into still-damp hair after washing or rinsing 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 longer-term.
4. Curl styling cream: As much as I'd like to think of myself as a free-spirited gypsy who doesn't need to constantly style her hair, that's just not true. My curls are my THING and a little Boucleme Curl Cream or Uncle Funky's Curl Stimulator goes a long way. I use both religiously.
5. Travel hair brush: I bought this mini-Wet brush just before I left and I adore it. It's small and great for detangling thick, unruly hair. This really comes in handy after a few days of swimming in the sea, after your hair's taken a beating from the salt and sand.
6. Hair ties: I'm very fussy about these so only two brands will do. Scunci no-slip grips are made of rubber so I find they don't get tangled with my curls. They're also black and small and hide easily into my hair. I also love the Invisibobble (which I discovered through the Breaking Beauty podcast).
Here's where I'm the least high maintenance. I just need to keep my skin hydrated. And protect myself from sunburn and mosquitos.
1. A mega-hydrating body butter: Body butters or thick body creams are better than body lotions for backpacking. This Lush butter works a treat so long as you can keep in from melting in hotter weather. I avoid large bottles and containers so a small tub or block of a thick body butter that's extra-hydrating is ideal. The Body Shop also do brilliant thick and creamy butters that smell like the beaches you're living on. I'm also currently obsessed with this Bath and Body Works Happiness cream. It's thick, creamy and smells divine. It's truly joy in a bottle.
2. Sunscreen: This is an absolute must. For obvious health reasons. I like spray-ons because they're easy to apply when you're rushing out the door and into the sunshine. You just need to apply these carefully to not miss any key spots. I find sunscreen bottles generally too big for travel, so I reserve a special side compartment of my backpack for these babies, or decant them into something much smaller if I can. If you're planning to do a lot of snorkelling or diving, it's also worth looking into organic options that don't damage the coral reef and marine life. I opt for Coola, which is great all-rounder: natural, good for the environment and hard-working on your skin.
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 on my Amazon jungle trek and I was still eaten alive. Through my leggings. This 3M cream is life-saving.
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 Pro travel beauty tip #8: Stock up on samples from your favourite perfumer and stash them into 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 whilst I backpack. You simply don't need manicured nails for a long trek. Also, who wants to carry nailpolish remover about? I just maintain the 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 Tokyo for 100 yen a few years back and I still swear by them to this day. The Japanese have mastered the design of literally 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 long as you can cram into your beauty kit.
3. Manicures / Pedicures: Every now and again I treat myself to one of these babies. They're relatively inexpensive in many of the countries you'll probably travel to. And it's nice to "treat yoself" now and again to remember what normal life is like.
2. Toothbrush and toothbrush cover: I know. You really don't need a reminder to bring a toothbrush along. But I actually do have some tips. I normally use an electronic brush at home but it's so much easier to travel with a traditional brush. And invest in a cover. You'll be surprised at where you end up brushing your teeth. Sometimes it gets 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 obvious essential. I tend to buy this as and when I run out on the road, though I go natural if I can. It's said that if you only go organic on one beauty product, it should be deodorant. I love Schmidt's. But sometimes I just have to grab what's available (and in the smallest packaging) at the local supermarket.
5. Razor: I swear by the travel version of the Gillette Venus Snap with Embrace. It's small and cute. The blades also comes lined with a film that functions as a shave cream for a smoother shave, which is handy on the road.
7. Mirror: Bring a small mirror since you're not guaranteed to have one in every hostel. My portable mirror has come in handy on countless occasions, but especially for putting my contacts in!
So, there you have it, my comprehensive list of travel beauty essentials. And if you can believe it, I manage to fit all of this into just two compact travel bags and the side of my backpack. So if you're still with me, let me know what you think in the comments down below. Which of these are part of your travel kit? And which are the most essential? And more importantly, have fun building your perfect travel beauty kit!
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