Packing is a big task for any type or length of trip. One thing you definitely don’t want to forget is your toiletries! At the end of the day, there is no magic one-size-fits-all toiletry list that’ll work for everybody, but making sure you have the essentials is a good start. That’s we’re we come in!
If you’re traveling by plane, bringing your necessary toiletries with you on board is a good idea, in case of lost luggage or if you need to freshen up mid-fight. From deodorant to floss, make sure you check this like twice before leaving home.
To save time, money, and hassle, a golden rule at KAYAK is never to check a bag. KAYAK (travel Web site)
A Packing List
The traditional "Dopp kit" was created in 1919 by Jerome Harris, employee (and nephew) of Charles Doppelt, a leather goods designer who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the early 1900s; the folding leather toiletries case was given an abbreviated form of the company name. Its popularity grew considerably during World War II, when the U.S. Army issued millions of them to recruits. Dopp kits continued to be manufactured by the Charles Doppelt Company until the firm was purchased by Samsonite in the 1970s (they are currently made by Buxton). I consider them overly large, overly heavy, and overly inappropriate for the traveller who wishes to venture lightly.
I use a simple, small, lightweight (0.6 ounce, 16g) packing cube for this purpose.
Considerable space & weight can be saved by not packing large, "economy-sized" containers of toiletries: small, travel-sized versions are often available at the "trial sizes" section of your pharmacy (they can also be found online at Minimus, a great source for tiny/travel sizes of all sorts of things, not just toiletries). Be aware that most travel-sized containers can be refilled; even a small toothpaste tube can generally be reused (hold it tightly mouth-to-mouth with a larger tube, and squeeze the latter). Even better — more efficient, easier (especially when creams or gels are involved), more environmentally responsible, and much cheaper in the long run — is buying in bulk and repackaging in travel containers designed for refilling.
A list of "essential" toiletries could be considerably longer than the one presented on this page; it's the area most subject to personal inclination. A good moisturizer would be on many lists, which could extend to include foundations, exfoliants, scents, conditioners, mascaras, and much more. Skin chemistries vary as widely as personal tastes, though (what is perfect for one person can be a disaster for another), thus I can offer little in the way of reliable recommendations, except as they pertain to volume & weight. Both of these can be all too rapidly inflated by cosmetics, so always strive to seek out non-liquid solutions.
Again, strive for multifunctionality whenever possible. An appropriate zippered cosmetics pouch (such as that pictured at right) can serve double duty as a dressy clutch for evening wear.
Here's one additional suggestion before I get back to the packing list. Coconut oil (pictured at left), another great example of a multi-use product, makes an excellent (and natural) moisturizer, hand cream, body lotion, hair conditioner (it restores protein), pre/post-shave lubricant, and make-up remover. It's inexpensive (buy it in the cooking oil section), and comes in both virgin and refined/bleached/deodorized (RBD) forms. It does have one drawback for some travellers: the non-hydrogenated oil melts at 24°C (76°F), making it subject to the rules for liquids should you find yourself transiting a hot airport. Below that temperature, however, it's a solid (though liquefies easily when you rub it between your hands).
toothbrush, cap, tooth cleaner, floss
A cap for your toothbrush will keep it clean, make it more packable, allow it to dry easily, and — if you get the type with an attached suction cup — let you hang it on the nearest mirror or similar surface, and not have to look for a sanitary storage spot.
Traditional tooth powder works just fine, and will save you more space, weight, and security hassles than pastes and gels. Shaking tooth powder directly onto your toothbrush is likely to end up wasting a fair bit; instead, dispense some into the cup of your palm, and pick it up with a damp toothbrush.
If you just can't give up your favourite toothpaste, Toothpaste 2 Go makes a handy kit that lets you transfer it (much like the more broadly applicable Easy Traveler tubes) to a travel-friendly container.
In addition to its intended use, dental floss serves a myriad of other functions, rivalling the sarong and bandanna for multi-use potential. It makes excellent heavy-duty thread for all kinds of darning and other repair work (make sure you carry an appropriate needle), from mending a tear to suturing a wound to trussing poultry; the cutter on the box is handy for thread & yarn as well (airplane knitters take note). Tightly-knotted floss (especially the waxed kind) being generally quite difficult to untie, it can also be used as a temporary luggage "lock", to discourage pilferage. In fact, it handles a variety of tying chores, securing pants legs (when riding rented bicycles, caught in bad weather, or defending yourself from ticks), replacing a broken shoelace, tying back your hair, fixing broken eyeglasses (by threading floss through the lost screw holes), and securing a plastic bag over a wine bottle as an impromptu cork. Floss also makes a superb slicing tool, and can be used to cut items such as cheese, cake, pastry, cold butter, and hard-boiled eggs (even an umbilical cord, should you happen to give birth in your hotel room one day); for this reason, don't be tempted to use it to replace a broken necklace string, this being something you want to break under conditions of stress, not act as a cutting instrument! Other emergency uses include: clothesline, ukulele string, broken toilet tank chain substitute, and removing a stuck finger ring. Want to hang one of those "hookless hotel hangers" in the shower stall? Tie it up with floss. Waxed floss makes a good fire-starter. Bakers can use it to separate cookies stuck to the baking pan. In a survival situation, floss makes a fishing line, a snare, and binds a knife to a stick to make a spear. Should the need ever arise, I'll bet you can figure out how dental floss enables you to close a sliding-bolt lock from the outside. Finally, if a dripping faucet is keeping you awake, tie one end of a length of floss around the spout, put the other end in the drain, and arrange things so that the water flows quietly along the floss, rather than forming drops!
Many people, misunderstanding the intended function of dental floss (which is to remove the film between your teeth, not dislodge food particles), use it incorrectly. Teeth should be flossed following brushing, not before. And when using a tooth cleaner that incorporates fluoride, it's better to let it remain in your mouth while flossing, then rinse afterward.
razor, blades, shaving lubricant
Some hardy souls use soap, but my fair, sensitive skin demands something with more lubricative value. A remarkably effective alternative to a (bulky, often aerosol) container of shaving cream/gel/foam is shaving oil, a tiny (smaller than your thumb) 1/4-ounce plastic bottle of which will — at about three drops per shave — last for up to 90 shaves. Sounds unlikely, but it works surprising well (oil being the best lubricant, after all), and also eliminates the need for after-shave lotions.
I first discovered shaving oil in the 1990s, and haven't bought any other shaving lubricant since. So it's not just a perfect travel solution, but a superior overall approach to shaving. I've tried several brands; most work well, though my personal favourite (pictured at right) comes from England, and its supplier (David Somerset) makes it convenient to purchase via credit card and the Internet. Give yourself a week to get used to it; you'll want to rinse the blade a bit more frequently than you're used to (oil "clings" more than creams/gels/foams, one of the characteristics that makes it work so well). I'll be surprised if you ever go back to those giant cans of environment-damaging chemicals.
Don't hesitate to shave in cold water: a surprisingly large number of people (myself included) do so by choice, and there are good arguments for the practice (for one, see Shaving Made Easy, page 51). It's certainly better for your skin, and actually quite refreshing, though some may find that it takes getting used to.
Although I normally use a proper safety razor with double-edged blades (an approach both more effective and vastly less expensive than disposables), this makes less sense for travelling, as the razor weighs a fairly hefty 2.8 oz (78g); disposable razors offer a lighter alternative. And don't be in too great a hurry to toss them out: you can hone (as opposed to "sharpen") one — in much the same way as is done by old-fashioned razor strops — on your own arm. Whenever you find the blade(s) getting a bit dull, simply run them (in the non-cutting direction!) along the outside of your forearm, from wrist to elbow, about a dozen times. This can significantly extend the life of a razor, and is a trick well worth knowing.
Incidentally, a binder clip makes a sturdy safety cap for use when packing a disposable razor, as pictured at right.
comb and/or hairbrush
I list these items primarily for nostalgic reasons in my own case, but many will find them useful.
shampoo, bar soap & container
Consider my advice concerning travelling with liquids. J.R Liggett's Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo (pictured at left) is a travel favourite, and comes in several formulations. A 3.5 ounce (100g) bar is roughly equivalent to a 24 ounce (680g) bottle of shampoo.
Soap is pretty much universally available, so only rarely an item that you'll consider packing. When you do, though, you'll want a watertight container of some sort in which to store it. A Ziploc® bag will suffice, but can get pretty messy; special soap containers are a more prudent choice.
Again, factor in the many liabilities of travelling with liquids, and consider a solid variety.
Try to find stainless steel ones (at good cutlery stores) if you're bound for humid climates. Also, when buying a toenail clipper, be sure to get the proper type (such as pictured at right): they are not supposed to look like large fingernail clippers, but rather have cutting edges that are either straight or curved the opposite way (convex, rather than concave) to discourage ingrown toenails. Some manufacturers seem not to understand this, to the detriment of your toenail health.
Here's another reason to carry decent toenail clippers: in the absence of a knife, or appropriate pair of scissors, they provide an excellent way to conquer sealed plastic packaging (like the bank vault in which they've encased the camera memory card you just bought), and the nylon cable tie used to re-fasten your checked bag after they've ensured that you no longer carry a knife with which to open it!
Avoid glass, which is heavy and prone to breakage; look for one made of thin acrylic (or metal, though this will be heavier).
viscose towel (washcloth?)
Viscose rayon, which is derived from cellulosic sources (wood pulp, cotton), has a highly amorphous polymer system (as well as polar polymers), making it the most absorbent fibre in common use, thus an ideal basis for a high-efficiency towel. Originally developed in 1983 by Pacific Dry Goods, but now produced by MSR (Cascade Designs), the classic PackTowl® Original (92% viscose/8% polypropylene, and pictured here) comes in a variety of sizes. It's lightweight and packs small, yet — astoundingly — soaks up more than nine times its weight in water (the large size will hold a full litre of fluid), even when damp (unlike, say, terrycloth, which becomes effectively useless when wet, and — being cotton — takes a long time to dry). Further, you can release 90% of that water merely by wringing the towel out. It dries quickly as well (if still damp when you need to depart for your next destination, simply pack it in a Ziploc® bag and hang it out to dry when you arrive).
Viscose towels may not look like much, or feel particularly soft (they initially resemble a piece of rather stiff felt, and for this reason sometimes garner negative reviews from people who don't understand how they work), but they do become softer and more "towel-like" — and more absorbent — after each washing, and are much more effective than any other type of "travel towel". They can be machine washed (no bleaching or ironing), and air or machine dried. And they can be cut to preferred sizes, without worrying about the edges unravelling. Viscose is also biodegradable, and the brand I recommend is produced in an eco-friendly fashion.
Be aware that most products sold as "travel towels" are not viscose, but rather some sort of synthetic microfibre. Even MSR's PackTowl brand includes several non-viscose products: their Personal and UltraLite versions are made of polyester/nylon blends (85/15 & 70/30, respectively). These are great seducers: they feel much softer to the touch, making them more appealing (thus easily sold), but are only about 40% as effective when it comes to absorbing water; they are also more expensive, and slower to dry. Yet another version is MSR's Nano offering, which is only 20% as effective as the original! So I strongly recommend that you avoid them all, and get one (or more) of the viscose versions the PackTowl Original). And remember that — for any type of towel — darker colours dry faster than lighter ones.
A small viscose towel (or even a piece cut from a larger one) also makes a good washcloth, an item surprisingly uncommon outside of North America. If you prefer an exfoliating washcloth (some find them too abrasive, but they are quickly rinsed and dried), the Japanese "Salux" brand is a good travel choice; related choices are ergonomic "exfoliating gloves" (as pictured at right, aka "bath mitts") and Buf-Puf facial sponges, which come in regular and gentle versions.
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Packing toiletries is like an art form. You want to pack the essentials, but you don’t want to overpack and weigh down your suitcase. Follow our ultimate guide to creating the perfect travel toiletries list and master the art of packing!
Table Of Contents
Toiletries are a serious struggle for many travelers. How do you take everything you need especially if you’re traveling carry on only?
Store-bought travel size toiletries are convenient but they’re not always the best option.
This article will help you plan what toiletries you should bring on your trip by giving you a step-by-step walk through of a suggested planning process.
It will also provide you with travel size toiletries examples, a printable checklist, answers to the most common questions, and will also show you how to downsize your favorite beauty products.
Photo Credit: E-bags
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What is a toiletry item?
When I started traveling, someone took me by surprise when they asked me, “What are toiletries?” Before we get started, I want to quickly clarify what they are.
The toiletries definition from Cambridge Dictionary is: “articles used in washing and taking care of one’s body, such as soap, shampoo, and toothpaste”.
To be as helpful and efficient as possible, we’re including a variety of items in our toiletries list including grooming items, beauty products, and other essentials.
The secret to traveling light is to create a functional but minimalist capsule wardrobe. Learn more in my guide!
What toiletries can I take on a plane?
One of the most important things to know before you start planning for your trip is what you are allowed to bring in your suitcase. The toiletries you can take on a plane depend on whether or not you are checking your luggage.
Image Source: US Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
For cabin or carryon toiletries: airlines require that liquid products be no more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) and all bottles must fit in a clear quart size ziplock bag when traveling with a carry on. Products that need to be inside the quart size ziplock bag are: liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes. This is called the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule.
Clear Travel Toiletry Bag
For checked toiletries: items that are in containers larger than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters (regardless of amount) should be in checked baggage. Visit this TSA page to find out exactly what items are allowed in a checked bag. It’s actually an interesting read!
These guidelines are for US-based airlines. However, these tend to be the general guidelines across all airlines. For specific items, always check the website of the airline or contact them and ask them directly.
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What’s the best toiletry bag?
The two toiletry bags our readers love the most are the eBags Pack it Flat Toiletry Kit and the Sea to Summit Hanging Toiletry Bag.
For more suggestions, read our article rounding up the ten best toiletry bags and the best hanging toiletry bags.
Tip: make sure that you keep the quart size ziplock bag (storing your carryon toiletries) accessible when you get to the airport. Once you get through security, place them back into your toiletry bag.
How do you keep your liquids from leaking?
Here’s a tip I shared on Oprah to help you prevent liquids from leaking in luggage: remove the cap from the bottle, place a small square of plastic wrap over the opening, and replace the cap. The reason your bottles leak or explode on a flight is due to changes in air pressure. As the plane goes up, the pressure causes the bottle to compress (as if you were squeezing it with your hand). The plastic wrap acts as a seal to prevent leaks.
Airsspu Leakproof Travel Bottles
This is the reason why store bought travel size toiletries are never completely full. You need to allow a little bit of extra space so the liquids don’t get pushed out by the changes in pressure. (This is also the reason why your ears get plugged while flying.) The solution: don’t fill your bottles all the way to the top. Instead, only fill them by 2/3 or 75%.
How to Pack Toiletries for Travel
Follow the below step-by-step guide on how to pack toiletries to determine what you will and will not need to bring along with how to downsize items.
Step 1: Planning and Preparation
Start by laying out all the grooming and beauty products you use on a day to day basis. Which of these can you take on your trip and which will you need to leave behind? Choose anything and everything you think you may need.
Then, place each item into one of these categories:
Safehaven Products – 8 Piece Hygiene and Toiletry Set
There are certain things you might find non-negotiable such as your favorite brand shampoo or premium face moisturizer. You can save alot of space and weight in your luggage by minimizing toiletries and eliminating certain items altogether.
Round Clear Jars
Would you be willing to use the shampoo and body moisturizer provided by your hotel for a few days? A few weeks? If not, don’t worry. There are tips in the next steps in the article that will provide a solution to this problem. (Hint: reusable travel containers!)
If you’re unsure whether your accommodation provides complimentary travel size toiletries, check their website or better yet, send them an email. Want a faster response? Call them.
To help you determine the products you may or may not need, you’ll find a list of toiletries examples below:
Sample Travel Size Toiletries List:
(click any item for product suggestions)
Are there any additional beauty products you use such as other shower essentials? If so, add them to your initial list.
Printable Toiletries Checklist
To ensure that you don’t forget to bring anything on your trip, we’ve created a helpful and very thorough printable toiletries checklist. You can click here or click the image below in order to open the editable file.
The list features unique categories to help you pack for your trip efficiently. It includes all the items listed in various categories above and has spaces where you can fill in your own information:
you can write in an item’s weight (lighter items means less overall baggage weight)
you can note if you need to purchase something or if you already own it
and most importantly, you can organize where you’ll pack each item including suggested packing organizers like these
Read this post for a printable packing list that includes clothes, shoes, and more!
Step 2: Eliminate
Now that you’ve gone through the entire list of every possible beauty product you own, create two piles: one for items you don’t need to take and one for items you absolutely do.
6th Sense 2 in 1 Mini Flat Iron Curling Iron
Do you need five hair styling products or can you choose just one? Use something like this 2-in-1 curling/flat iron duo
Instead of razors and hair removal creams, how about a wax before your trip? I like no-heat strips like these
Can you leave behind your nail polish and get a gel manicure instead? Read this post on making your vacation nails last
Do you need several items to comb or brush your hair or can you use just one like this foldable wet brush with a mirror?
Is it possible to temporarily hold off on using any products? If so, do it!
TRAVEL BEAUTY TIP: Find out if your accommodation offers products such as shampoo, shower gel, hair dryer, etc. Some hotels even have additional complimentary items at reception such as razors, toothpaste, and other small essentials. Just ask!
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps
One of the best ways to minimize toiletries is to choose multi-use products or items. Determine if there are any products you already own that that can work double-duty. Choose between two products that serve the same purpose.
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Sea To Summit Wilderness Wash are two of the most popular travel all-in-one travel products.
Other items to consider:
Is it possible to pack 4-in-1 facial cloths like these instead of taking face wash, scrub, and makeup wipes?
Can you use a 2-in-1 shampoo plus conditioner like these?
Would you consider a tinted moisturizer or BB cream? This one’s my fave.
Can you use your straightener as a curling iron? Better yet, choose a 2-in-1 curling/flat iron duo like this
Have you ever seen double ended makeup brushes? Save space with these
There are various multi-use products on the market, or you can use a few long-term travel hacks like I do, such as:
Baby powder as dry shampoo
Shampoo as shower gel (only for short periods of time)
Conditioner as shaving cream
Face scrub as body scrub
Body moisturizer to smooth hair flyaways
Nars Multiple | Eco Tools Brush Set
You’d be surprised at how many products can be used for multiple needs. Things like coconut oil or other natural oils can be used as a body moisturizer, shave gel, and split end treatment! Tip: the best coconut oil is cold-pressed, unrefined, and good enough to eat.
There are also various multi-use makeup products such as my all-time fave: Nars The Multiple!
Read these tips on how to minimize toiletry products for even more tips!
Step 3: Downsize
Have you ever paid attention to how much shampoo you use? I only wash my hair every other day, so a 3 oz. travel size can last me a week!
How long is your trip? Make note of how much product you use for the duration of that time. Now that you know what items you absolutely have to pack, it’s time to determine how much of them you actually need.
Essentials such as shampoo, toothpaste, and moisturizers are particularly important. Don’t forget to test out bath, skincare, and makeup products. Make note so you can refer back when you’re ready to make the final plan.
Tip: avoid taking liquids in your carryon by replacing them with solid toiletries and travel wipes!
Editor’s Favorite Reusable Makeup Remover: Kiki & Josie
Once you have a better idea of what you actually need then consider other ways to downsize such as:
Instead of taking nail polish remover, can you take a few individual wipes like these instead?
Do you need an entire bottle of foundation or can you use a small container like this to take only what you will use?
Mini-nail polish bottles like these are a good choice, if you can’t stand chipped nails.
Read these travel makeup hacks for more ideas!
Skincare tends to be more personalized, but try not to bring more than three skincare items: a cleanser, treatment (for acne or wrinkles), and moisturizer. If you use a skincare system different to this one, try to cut it down to three products.
Empty Lip Gloss Balm Container
Step 4: Travel Containers
Choose appropriate travel containers. Many times, 3 oz bottles are too big for a one or two-week trip, so buy various sizes and take only the amount you will use.
Instead of immediately buying “travel-size” containers in 3oz or 100ml bottles, get a range of sizes including 1oz, 2oz, and smaller jars like these, too.
Tip: replace glass containers with plastic to minimize weight and avoid breakage.
Read this post on the best travel containers for more info!
Do a test run to see if everything fits in your toiletry bag. If your belongings don’t fit, consider using multi-use products such as a shampoo/conditioner combo, using conditioner as shaving cream, or baby shampoo for your hair and body.
Watch this video for more tips on how to fit all your toiletries into a carryon:
TRAVEL BEAUTY TIP: For long-term trips, don’t pack full-size toiletries. Purchase travel-size products as you go. Some local drug store brands are common around the world. Here are more toiletry tips for long trips!
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