Inside My Bag: Toiletries

Guys. I have a confession.

I’m a horrible packer. I wince whenever a packing related question lands in my inbox. I end up in tears whenever I end up in my childhood bedroom — also known as my free storage unit! — reloading for another journey. Despite more than two years of perpetual travel, I always seem to have the heaviest backpack on the luggage conveyor belt. Today, I’m going to lay it all out… literally.

Yeah, yeah, travel light — but what if you never stop traveling? What if you had to take your entire  life on the go, every single day? Toiletries are a sore spot for me. Some things are easy to give up — I never was one for blowdrying my hair and eyelash curlers kind of remind me of torture devices. But my trips abroad tend stretch between ten weeks and ten months — what you’ll see here isn’t really my “travel” makeup, it’s my only makeup.

I look for a good balance of products that are reasonably priced, and travel and Earth friendly. Currently I’m struggling with trying to switch to animal-testing free products — Cover Girl and Neutrogena are offenders that I need to find replacements for, while Schick, John Frieda, Jergens, Urban Decay,  Almay, Sun Bum and Paul Mitchell are in the clear — those links will bring you to the companies’ official statements stating so. Suggestions for cruelty free products and brands are warmly welcomed!

My Travel Makeup Bag

Travel Makeup Packing List

I mostly use drugstore makeup with a few splurges. My makeup tends to last a long time, so I just pick up replacements whenever I’m stateside.

1. Skin: I’ve been using CoverGirl Compact Foundation for years. Recently my favorite loose-powder-in-a-brush thingy by Neutrogena was discontinued (like this but less than half the price) so I kind of made my own using a Sephora brand brush and Neutrogena loose powder. It’s travel friendly — you don’t have to worry about dumping powder everywhere while applying in an airport bathroom — but my DIY version is bulky. Can’t have it all. I also carry Neutrogena Natural Radiance Bronzer, which is kind of pricey for drugstore makeup but lasts forever.

2. Lips:  I doubt if I’ll replace these (very old!) lipglosses at all when they run out — I just prefer the feel of chapstick these days. Also pictured are two old perfume samples I have in my makeup bag for big nights — nice to have but I won’t replace them when they’re empty.

3. Eyes: My day makeup is a CoverGirl Brow Pencil and Urban Decay Cannonball Ultra Waterproof Mascara– I used a Sephora gift card to splurge on this mascara and I don’t know if I can ever go back now! For night I add Almay Liquid Eyeliner (once this one runs out I must switch to waterproof), and for big blowout nights I add in a glitter eye pencil (which is so rare that my current one has lasted for years.) A pencil sharpener, a pair of tweezers and an eyelash comb round things out.

4. Etc: My makeup bag is an old LeSportsac one. I love that brand — a little pricey, but they last for years and can be thrown into the laundry to clean. I also keep Jergens Facial Glow Moisturizer with SPF 20 and Simple Cleansing Facial Wipes (a new find that is sadly not pictured as I’m obsessed with the compact size!) in there.

My Travel Shower Stuff

Travel Shower Kit

I don’t believe in travel sizes. My hair is two feet long. Three ounces of conditioner can get me through, like, one shower, and it isn’t cost effective. But I don’t travel with body wash — for simplicity and space’s sake I just use a bit of shampoo or conditioner. I need to find something convenient to stash this stuff in. Currently I use a plastic shopping bag, which does get points for glamor.

1. Loofah Glove: Cheap ones from Target. Good for travel as they dry quickly. Obviously they come as I pair but I just take one with me.

2. Razor: I just can’t quit my Schick Intuition Razor! It’s huge and bulky and the refills are stupidly expensive and also huge and bulky, but I just love this thing. It makes shaving so quick and painless. I should probably finally give in and carry a smaller version. Sigh.

3. Face Wash: I’m not loyal to any brand — can’t be picky when traveling in remote areas. Whatever is cheap, on sale or available.

4. Shampoo and Conditioner: Again I’m not loyal to any brand and tend to buy whatever is cheapest or available — and again, there is often little choice in the places I travel to. However when I’m home I occasionally splurge on a nice purple shampoo like Rusk Sensories Brightening Shampoo to try to keep brassy tones out of my hair.

My Travel Toiletries

Travel Toiletries Packing List

Someday, I swear I’m getting Lasik and veneers.

1. Nails: Yeah, okay. This is a little frivolous. I always have a little nail kit with me. Nail clippers, cuticle nippers, a nail file, toe separators, store brand nail polish remover pads (actually, excellent for travel) and two bottles of Sally Hansen nail polish. Okay, okay — from now on I’ll make it one.

2. Teeth: A toothbrush, biodegradable floss picks (not pictures as I just ran out) and a tongue cleaner are essential (seriously, try the tongue thing — you’ll never go back!) I try to stock up on free toothpastes whenever I hit the dentist, and I use a dollar store plastic tube squeezer to get out every last bit. And my retainer that I don’t wear enough comes along to guilt me.

3. Eyes: I travel with an arsenal of spare contacts (Southeast Asia travelers take note, Bangkok is one of the cheapest places to stock up!), preservative free drops (recommended after past cornea issues), a contact case, and a travel size bottle of contact solution. I rarely wear my glasses but bring them along for when I’m having eye problems.

4. Tools: I always travel with a pair of scissors, and believe it or not I use them all the time. My mini sewing kit also gets a ton of play, and I have a micro eyeglass repair thing in there too.

5. Etc: I always travel with as many Q-tips and hair ties as possible. Also, o.b. Applicator-Free Tampons. These are one of my favorite products, ever, and I’m shocked how many Americans don’t use them (I’ve found they are much more common among my British friends.) They are teeny tiny and have zero plastic waste. Why travel with anything else?

My Other Travel Toiletries

Toiletries Packing List

I’ve gone off the deep end. Help.

1. Skin Stuff: Believe it or not, deodorant can be hard to buy in Southeast Asia if you don’t want a liquid version or bleached armpits (everything in Southeast Asia has whitening cream in it.) Bug spray is essential, and baby powder can be nice to have in the humidity, though I think I’ll ditch it for the next trip as I haven’t used it much recently. One thing I am a nut about is lotion. I usually travel with a full-sized one to keep at “home” and a small one to carry on me at all times. Dry skin is my kryponite.

2. Hair: Um, so I kind of have gone off the deep end with hair products. In addition to a small hairbrush, I carry John Frieda Sheer Blonde Lightening Spray, Paul Mitchell Forever Blonde Dramatic Repair, and Oscar Blandi Volumizing Dry Shampoo. In my defense, the lightening spray has allowed me to go over a year without touching up my roots and leave-in conditioner is essential for anyone who spends as much time in the ocean as I do. I should probably forgo the dry shampoo next time though; it’s pretty frivolous to travel with.

3. Sunscreen: I’m a complete Sun Bum loyalist — these are amazing products and totally cruelty free. I will forever travel with Sun Bum Continuous Spray Sunscreens (for longer trips I take two different SPFs!) a Sun Bum Face Stick, and Sun Bum SPF Lip Balm. Sunscreen is bulky to pack but it is expensive and difficult to buy abroad — and I don’t want to look like leather!

. . . .

So that’s it. Every last little toiletry-related item I carry. Laying it all out helped me evaluate what I can do without in the future — I’d love your input as well! — and also helped me create a visual packing list to make the routine less painful in the future. Actually, I feel lighter already.

Are you a light or heavy packer? Do you have a travel toiletry you can’t live without? Is there anything you think I need to ditch? Let me know in the comments!

Note: All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission from anything you buy through them. Thank you for supporting Alex in Wanderland!

49 Responses to “Inside My Bag: Toiletries”

  1. Erika says:

    Ah, I really enjoyed getting this glimpse into your toiletries… and I totally am in the same boat — I’m a horrible packer! When I worked as a tour guide going back and forth between London and Paris for one summer, border control often stopped me because they thought I was lying and trying to move into London illegally. “Why else would you have that much luggage?” they asked me. “BECAUSE I AM AN OVERPACKER AND CAN’T MAKE DECISIONS AND NEED TO ALWAYS BE PREPARED!!” Hahaha. It happens, I guess.
    Erika recently posted..The 90 Day Transformation Project

    • Alex says:

      Oh my God, that is hysterical! Love that story. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the same thing happens to me. Also I had a friend say to me once that you can’t claim to be a backpacker if you have upwards of three hair products on your person. I guess I’m guilty as charged!

  2. Beauty products are the only reason I can’t fly with just carry on luggage!!! Damn the liquid rule! I’m like you, the only thing I pass on is body wash. I use shampoo, conditioner, or soap OR I steal Lucas’ hahaha.
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Miami, Florida: Day 3

    • Alex says:

      It’s definitely nice when I stay in the occasional hotel and can use all of their soaps and things :) Guys have it so easy, just soap and shampoo (if you’re lucky.)

  3. Krista says:

    Have you ever heard of the Diva Cup? It’s a silicone alternative to tampons. So many pros to using it and its zero waste! It’s been very helpful where tampons are hard to come by.

    • Alex says:

      I have heard of it but actually, I’ve had an Implanon implant for the past two years (best travel birth control in the world!) and so I rarely get my period anymore. I rarely if ever buy tampons anymore, these are really just for emergencies. But if I ever go off the Implanon I will consider it!

  4. Caty says:

    Haha love this post.Can’t believe how much I can relate to this. First of all my hair is also 2 feet long =) and I also use the John Frieda Lightening Spray and second dry skin is my kryptonite as well. I always bring a full sized bottle of body lotion with me.For shaving I just use the cheap ones that you can throw away but instead of shaving cream there is this awesome body wash from Nivea that doubles as shaving cream and smells like heaven. But for longer trips I only bring travel sized shampoo and conditioner and then buy full sized bottles there. Since I found out in Sri Lanka that my German brand shampoo and the water there made my hair all dry and frizzy but when I switched to the local brand it was all shiny again.This was a question I always wanted to ask you: What do you do with your hair when you go diving? My hair was always a mess, even with the leave-in conditioner. I always had to deep condition it with coconut oil after.P.S.: I admire that you try your best to only use products that are not tested on animals.I should look into that myself

    • Alex says:

      Ah, diving and long hair. What a mess! I basically just use a lot of leave in conditioner and try to always put it in a braid. But there is no great answer. My hair is always a wreck after a long period of diving. Here in Gili Trawangan we don’t have fresh water showers either so that gunk really builds up.

      As for switching to non-animal tested products, you’ll see I’ve updated the post to include email responses I got from the brands I wrote to. The great news is that I’ve only found ONE brand I use that tests on animals (Cover Girl)! I’m pretty excited about that, not too much of a change to make!

  5. Ahhh I’m so glad there’s someone else out there who doesn’t do “travel toiletries” – When you said “this isn’t my travel make-up, this is my everyday make-up) I thought ‘Oh my god, that’s me!’

    When I travel I literally take my normal make-up. If it’s just a short trip I’d take mini versions of the normal hair and face products I’d normally use. I’ve just come back from 3 years away in Australia and New Zealand and I’d obviously just buy beauty products over there, I’d never really get anything sent over from the UK because the products are similar anyway.
    Beverley | Pack Your Passport recently posted..Things to Do in Queenstown for Non-Extreme Sports Enthusiasts

    • Alex says:

      Yeah, I would imagine you can find most things you need there. Southeast Asia has been a bit more difficult due to all the whitening agents in everything and lack of blonde hair related products (try finding a blonde eyebrow pencil in Bangkok!) So I do try to buy makeup at home. But it helps to be non picky when it comes to the stuff I go through quickly like conditioner and lotion.

  6. Hogga says:

    love the panda scissors
    Hogga recently posted..Honging the Kong

  7. Margy says:

    I’m dying to hear about the clothing too. You always look like you must carry steamer trunks and have need for 3 closets wherever you go. I’m sure this can’t be the case. So please fill us overpackers in.

    • Alex says:

      Actually I usually laugh when I look at my huge backpack all ready to go. Clothes take up a teeny tiny compartment, while the rest is filled with…. who knows what?! Stuff like the things pictured here, I guess!

  8. Devyn says:

    Great post Alex! It’s so comforting to know I’m not the only overpacked backpacker! I brought way too much makeup and toiletries. Yours seem very on point and essential though. Deodorant is a MUST. And extra. I ran out and it was torture using the ones from 7-Eleven. I had to have my sister restock me with American deo when she visited. Never thought about the blonde lightening spray- ill definitely look into that next trip!!!

    • Alex says:

      Yeah, I mean I definitely wouldn’t arrive in Asia expecting to find blonde-specific hair products or anything, but I never quite imagined getting a solid deodorant stick free of bleaching agents would be such a challenge! I used to stock up in Bangkok, but was just screwed if I was stuck on the islands.

  9. Megan says:

    I decided to get Lasik done after a trip to Australia. I guess I never realized what a drag dealing with contacts was until I traveled 20 hours across the world. It was the best money that I have ever spent on myself. I am a huge wuss when it comes to doctors and eyes make me especially queasy, so, the fact that I was able to go thru with the procedure still kind of shocks me!

    • Alex says:

      Ugh, it’s the worst! Contacts, contact case, contact solution, and eye drops! Definitely looking forward to the day when I can ditch all of that :)

  10. Kat says:

    Hi Alex, I hope this isn’t too much information for you or that it comes across as a rant. I’m passionate about cruelty-free makeup and I admire your decision to make an effort to switch. It’s a bit of an information minefield out there and some companies are purposefully misleading about it, for obvious reasons.

    I was surprised to see Neutrogena on your list (I”d always assumed they were a no-go), so I did a bit of internet research into Neutrogena and it looks like it’s only their Naturals range that isn’t tested on animals – they also state that it’s the “products” that aren’t tested, meaning that any of the ingredients used in the manufacturing process may have been and only the finished product has not. They also sell to China, which by law requires that companies agree to their products being tested on animals. conducting it themselves, any company that sells its products in China is condoning animal testing. There was actually a big furore over Urban Decay about this recently – they made the decision to begin marketing to China but then faced such a massive online backlash that they changed their minds.

    Here’s a link to someone who emailed Neutrogena for clarification last year Anyway, sorry again if I’ve come across as an animal rights nut – good luck with going cruelty-free, it’s not easy!

    • Kat says:

      Here’s a really good blog which talks about the issue further

    • Alex says:

      Hey Kat, definitely not too much information! Actually I had the exact same confusion about Neutrogena and emailed them asking for clarification. I was doing so much research I think I got a little turned around and then wasn’t clear about that in my post — based on this reminder and info I’ve updated it. Thank you for that!

      I am bummed though. I LOVE Neutrogena’s products. I hope they change their policies soon.

      • Kat says:

        Unfortunately they’re owned by Johnson & Johnson, who are as a company pretty big on animal testing! It’s probably not going to happen for a lot of the bigger companies unless China removes the law stating that products sold there must be submitted for testing as there’s just too much money to be made there!

        I don’t know how big Lush is in the US, but they have shops everywhere in the UK – they’re cruelty-free, mostly natural and mostly vegan and have some great space-saving shampoo – I spent last summer traveling and used their solid shampoo to take up as little room as possible in my luggage. They’re a bit funny to use at first but they last forever and are totally worth it! They’re at the bottom of the page here

        • Alex says:

          It seems there are plenty of definitions of doing “cruelty free,” for example some people won’t be happy using a non-animal tested product by a brand that tests on other products, or a non-animal tested brand produced by a parents company that tests on other brands. I have decided for myself I am happy to use products and brands that are not tested on animals regardless of what the brand or parent company is doing with other products. I think in a way that can show the company that it’s a viable business route to go down.

          I might have to give that Lush Shampoo a try… I keep hearing about it!

  11. Maddy says:

    Love this post! I can totally relate. Even packing to go home for the weekend, I bring almost one of everything. I’m pretty sure this would be my traveling weak point, were I ever to travel. Oof. Saving up!

    ps – I love reading your blog, put you on my blog roll! :)
    Maddy recently posted..Blogs I’m reading lately

    • Alex says:

      Yeah, I think packing for a short trip can be almost as hard as a long one. You basically need all the same toiletries, and those are what take up a major portion of my bag! And thank you for the blog roll addition, I’m honored!

  12. I am so glad that I am not the only horrible packer. I always overpack! I have learned to live with fewer cosmetic items though and now only take mascara and eye bag concealer with me. There is no point wearing powder or foundation if you live in a hot country like Cambodia. I usually sweat it off within minutes, so ditched them.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Blog tools review: WordPress, DreamHost and ProBlogger

    • Alex says:

      See, I can’t imagine going without my powder! It’s what gets my through those sweaty nights feeling a little bit put together :) I don’t bother with it during the day either though.

  13. As someone with LASIK AND veneers, I recommend them both =)

    • Alex says:

      Ah, I can’t wait! I haven’t qualified for LASIK yet (my prescription hasn’t been stable long enough.) I was kind of kidding about the veneers though. I mean, I want them, but I’m pretty sure you still have to floss your teeth even if you have them :)

  14. Sab says:

    I always thought I carry a lot toiletries, but now I see I’m not the only one. I have to admit, this stuff makes probably 50% of my luggage and it’s really annoying. Specially the contact lense bottles, it’s so heavy.

    Have you seen all this small shampoo bags in the Philippines? i bought tons of them, they’re really convenient when you travel and surprisingly sometimes even cheaper than buying a big bottle. Just a lot of garbage unfortunately.

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse in your toiletries.

    PS: I also use a silicone cup, would never go back to tampons again.

    • Alex says:

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one! I have seen those small shampoo bags around Asia but I always assumed that they wouldn’t be as practical money wise as buying a full bottle. I never priced it out though so maybe I’m wrong!

  15. Jacquie says:

    Loved seeing your post on toiletries Alex! I actually just found you through Instagram :) I, myself, am a ridiculously awful packer :( As in I cannot give up my makeup collection, I’ve already downsized & refuse to let go of anymore! This is the one thing that will always prevent me from becoming the ultimate backpacker… Hahaha, but no really :( xxx
    Jacquie recently posted..The Waiting Game: How Not To Go Crazy

    • Alex says:

      Hey Jacquie! Glad to hear you made your way over here from Instagram! As you can see here I’m a pretty heavy packer and I’ve been been on the road for ages :) Don’t let that stop you!

  16. Erica says:

    This ENTIRE POST was just TOILETRIES?!??!?!??!??!!??!?

    Good lord lady I travel with a 40L. I’m super low maintenance on the road though. Bar soap, disposable razors, eyeliner, mascara, shampoo on the go.

    Erica recently posted..Food Truck Friday: Chi’Lantro

    • Alex says:

      You don’t bring a toothbrush or tampons or deodorant?! Just teasing, but seriously, I don’t think you realize how much you bring until you lay it all out! (I didn’t.) This post has helped me realize some things I’m going to cut out (like hair products) but others, like contact lens paraphernalia and sunscreen, are just non negotiable. Until I save up for the Lasik, that is :)

      • Erica says:

        Well if you REALLY want to know… I actually take my birth control packs back to back (okayed by my doc) so I never have to deal with a period lol. But yes, toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant. Shaun carries the sunscreen as it is his burden to bear and I grab contact lens solution in the mini bottles when I can. I don’t like to carry more than one bag of goodies. :)
        Erica recently posted..Food Truck Friday: Chi’Lantro

        • Alex says:

          Nice one with the birth control. I use the Implanon which I think is the best travel birth control ever… no pills, nothing to remember, and almost never a period! Highly recommend it (and need to write a blog post on it!) And you just reminded me of another bonus of traveling with a partner… shared toothpaste, sunscreen, and other necessities :)

  17. Travel beautifully I might say. Even on the go, it doesn’t stop you from being gorgeous while travelling and visiting places. Nice to have a peek on your personal toiletries and great product advice!

  18. Lisa says:

    Great post! I follow all your posts and am preparing for a good traveling session myself so it is always good to see what others are carrying around. I actually went straight out and bought the razor and it is amazing. By far the best one I have tried. Well worth the cost and being bulky, it will most definately be coming with me!!

    • Alex says:

      So glad to hear that, Lisa! It is an awesome product, and the heads to last a decently long time. Best of luck with all your travel prep, it can basically be a full time job!

  19. Ashley says:

    I’ve recently discovered Physicians Formula, which has excellent make-up, and they don’t test on animals!

  20. Wow, you pack a lot of stuff. I am always traveling very light, but then in a few days feel sorry for not taking more things with me…lol

    • Alex says:

      I have since switched to solid shampoo and hopefully will soon be switching to solid conditioner as well. It lightens this load a lot! Look for an updated post about those magical products soon :)

  21. What a fun post, Alex! Next time I travel, I’ll surely have a re-look at this post. I usually make a list of things I need to carry, and tick them off as and when I pack them.

    Could you please share the number and type of clothes you carry? I know it would majorly depend on the place you visit, but somethings you carry to most places!

    • Alex says:

      Hey! I have a post called “My Peru Packing List” that outlines every scrap of clothes I had in my bag for that trip! It’s the only true comprehensive packing post I’ve ever done but stay tuned… more to come!

  22. Janneke says:

    LOVE you blog! You’re doing an excellent job!. I’m going to Indonesia now, will also be carrying my dive gear with me, but as I HATE traveling with a heavy, big, bulky backpack, I will carry everything in my 50L Kelty redwing as handluggae. (except for my BCD, I think that might be pushing it a little too much ;)
    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this before, but why not use a Diva Cup instead of tampons?! Sooo much easier, no trans, no need to worry if you will be able to buy new ones, light weight and super easy and clean. Only change it twice daily.
    Also, instead of the large razor you use, why not use a travel size Venus razor. Mine last for about 6 months before I need to change blades, so super compact and long lasting.

    • Alex says:

      Thanks Janneke! Good luck with toting your dive gear, I know it always kills me. I have heard tons of Diva Cup recommendations but I’m pretty happy with the applicator-less OBs! I’m actually on Implanon birth control and very rarely get a period at all and when I do it is very light. So I really only pack a few and they are super tiny :)

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