Rightsize Your Travel Toiletries: Best Solutions for 2024

Toiletries

December 31, 2023

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READING TIME: ABOUT 7 MINUTES

Packing toiletries is one of the biggest headaches I hear about. So in this post, I'll share a four-step process to rightsize your travel toiletries. No more lugging heavy bottles around for you, my friend!

Anxious about deciding which travel toiletries to pack and which are the best travel sizes? I don’t blame you. It can be daunting! You don’t want to be weighed down by bringing more than you need, but at the same time, you want to look your best. What’s a traveler to do?

As a seasoned traveler who’s flown over 2 million miles and packed toiletries for a variety of situations, I can help.

Read on to learn which travel toiletries are essential to bring. You’ll also learn how to rightsize them so you have what you need while still packing lightweight.

How to Rightsize Your Travel Toiletries

Step 1: Assess Your Travel Toiletry Needs

Pay attention for the next week as you use your toiletries and makeup in the morning and evening, and note which items you’re using. Consider the length of your trip, whether you must have that item on your trip, and if so, how much you need.

The best way to determine how much product you’ll need is to purchase travel-sized toiletries or decant your own into the travel bottles you’ll be taking and see how long they’ll last. Then, you can add more or take less based on the length of your trip.

Also, consider whether you can purchase the item when you arrive instead of packing it. Unless you’ll be in a really remote location, there will be stores.

Then, think about what you’ll be doing on your trip that you aren’t currently doing at home. Will you be in the water? Then, think about waterproof eyeliner and cosmetics. Heading on a photo safari? Then maybe just some lip gloss and basic skincare.

Step 2: Review Your Toiletry Options

Now that you know which toiletries you use daily, which activities you have planned on your trip, and how long you’ll be gone, it’s time to start looking at the items you’ll bring and what form they’ll be in.

The most important thing to remember if you’re flying within or to the US is that TSA’s 3-1-1 rule will apply. This rule limits liquids, gels, and aerosols in carry-on bags to containers of 3.4 ounces (100 ml) or less, all fitting into a single see-through quart-sized bag. A lot of people just use Ziploc bags for their travel-size toiletries.

Anything larger must be in a checked bag, or you won’t be able to take it with you. Note that TSA does have some exceptions for items that are medically necessary.

Bringing along travel-sized, solid toiletries that are compact and do more than one job lets you save space while dodging the TSA liquid limits. They also make your journey easier and are more planet-friendly. You'd be surprised how much you can fit in 2-ounce bottles, and 3-ounce bottles should contain as much as you'll need for most trips.

Download this free packing list, and check off or highlight what you want to take as you go through the following steps.

Toiletries for Travel

Shampoo and conditioner

Often your accommodation will provide shampoo for you. But if not, purchase travel-sized bottles at a pharmacy, Target, or Walmart, or decant your own into small bottles at home.

Travel-friendly dry shampoos and conditioner bars from Lush are great options. They save space in your 3-1-1 TSA bag, are cost-effective, and last for up to 60 washes. Ethique is another popular brand of solid toiletries. You can cut them down to size for short trips.

Body wash or soap

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap is a liquid that can serve both purposes. As an added bonus, you can use it to wash your clothes as well. If you prefer something solid, then check out Lush Bar Soaps. You don’t even need to take a whole bar. It’s easy to cut these bars down to size or just shave off what you need if you’re only on a short trip. Same with the shampoo and conditioner bars.

Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, denture cleaner, and other oral care items.

According to a study by Minimus.biz, a toothbrush and toothpaste are among the top items that people forget to pack. (Medication is the #1 most forgotten item for people 55+!)

I love my foldable toothbrush, or you may prefer a travel-size electric toothbrush. Just be sure to check the voltage requirements if you’re taking your electric toothbrush to another country.

You can also pack toothpowder or toothpaste tabs to make more room for liquids in your 3-1-1 bag. Lush mouthwash tabs are fabulous! I love the Crème de Menthe. Pop a couple in your carry-on luggage for easy accessibility to an instant burst of freshness.

Deodorant

Another way to eliminate liquids is to use a solid stick deodorant. We swear by Crystal Mineral Deodorant Stick. Wet it before using it, and it keeps you dry and odor-free all day.

Skincare products

How can you simplify here? In addition to your favorite face wash, pack one product that combines a moisturizer and sunscreen for the day, like Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer, which comes in a travel size, and a product like CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream for the night.

If you’re used to using a Retinol product, try RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Night Cream. These small tubes don’t take up much space and last a long time. They're my fave for travel.

If you're wedded to one brand, see if you can get samples from your favorite skincare counter.

When it comes to body lotion, pack a small amount to get you through the first couple of days, then purchase a larger bottle at your destination.

Razor, shaving cream, and aftershave

Safety razors without blades are allowed through security. Although we’ve never had a problem getting razors with blades through, according to TSA, removable blades are not allowed onboard and must go in your checked luggage. So best to be safe and check them. They do allow disposable razors, though. C.O. Bigelow Travel Shaving Cream is excellent for both men and women, especially if you like the smell of eucalyptus.

Makeup and beauty items

Many cosmetic lines have makeup palettes perfectly designed for travel, like the Jane Iredale Pure Simple Makeup Kit or the Whoosh Beauty Fold Out Face. You'll love the Boomstick Trio by Cindy Joseph if you have a more minimalist approach. It’s my go-to for travel.

Watch your favorite cosmetics counters around holiday time, as they often have specials that include travel-sized items. And if you find yourself running short while on your trip, stop by a makeup counter and explain your situation. I’ve always found they’re happy to prepare samples for you.

And don’t forget makeup remover! Rather than liquids, you could use makeup wipes, but they’re not very environmentally friendly, and on longer trips, they would add too much weight.

The Body Shop Camomile Cleansing Butter is absolutely luxurious. One of the small tins has lasted me for over 12 weeks. It just depends on how much makeup you have to remove. Another option is to bring along a small tub of coconut oil. It's a great way to cleanse your face, moisturize your body, tame frizzy hair, and much more.

A hairbrush or comb and accessories like a shower cap, hair ties, headbands, or bobby pins

Depending on your hair and your style, you may be able to travel with a folding hairbrush. This one has traveled with me for years.

Don’t forget mini hairspray, styling mousse, or gel if you use those. It’s easy to pick these items up in the Trial & Travel Size department at stores, or you can decant your own. I’ll tell you, though, that I’ve never found a spray pump bottle that doesn’t leak. If you know of one, please save a fellow traveler and leave a comment below.

Nail kit

Yes, you can pack polish, cuticle remover, polish remover (try nail polish remover pads to avoid a nasty spill), and all the other things needed for a manicure (remember the 3-1-1 rule), or you can try gel nail strips and leave the liquids at home. And for long trips, why not treat yourself to a manicure on the road? Vacation = pampering!

Personal grooming items

Pack items like tweezers, cotton balls or swabs, nail clippers, a mini spatula, and a small mirror in a small bag and pop them between clothes or in shoes.

Perfume and cologne

Pacifica has lovely-smelling travel-sized perfume, and you can also find a variety of travel-sized samples near the checkout counter at Sephora.

Lush Cosmetics provides plenty of options for solid perfume (I’m a Karma girl), and Bearded has some wonderful choices for men.

Personal hygiene products

I’ll let you decide what this means for you. But if your hygiene products are bulky, see if you can find something reusable that you can wash out or check to see if you can buy what you need at your destination.

Medications

Be sure to plan enough medications and supplements for your trip, plus a few extra days in case your plans are extended.

And think about the activities you have planned for your trip. Are you in an area where there might be malaria or Hepatitis? You’ll need to be vaccinated before you go.

Will you be on the water? You may need to think about something to prevent motion sickness.

If necessary, check the TSA’s website for more information on traveling with disabilities and medical conditions. And whichever medications you take, always pack them in your purse or personal item.

A first-aid kit

REI has several first-aid kits of various sizes. The Outdoor Day Hike First Aid Kit is probably sufficient for most trips. Hopefully, you’ll never need first aid, but just so your kit is always ready, review it once a year to be sure the bandages are still usable and not stuck to the paper and make sure the pain meds haven’t reached their expiration date.

Other items to include in a kit could be Neosporin, cream for bites and stings, anti-diarrheal tabs, antacids, electrolyte powders or rehydration salts, throat lozenges, and a digital thermometer.

Hand sanitizer

COVID’s not over yet! Hand-sanitizing wipes save space in your 3-1-1 bag but aren’t very environmentally friendly. So pick up a small bottle of sanitizer for travel, then buy a larger one when you arrive if you need one. Or better yet, get a refillable hand sanitizer holder for travel.

Insect repellent

Ticks are nasty, and so are sandflies, not to mention mosquitos and other pesky insects. In addition to being annoying, they spread disease. So, research what kind of bugs there are at your destination and what kind of repellent you’ll need. Then, like with hand sanitizer, bring a small amount of repellent, then buy more when you reach your destination.

Glasses and eyeglass cleaner or contact lenses and solution

In addition to cleaner and solution, be sure to bring a copy of your prescription. If you lose your glasses or contacts, you can get a replacement set more quickly. And, in some countries, you can pick up some nice, stylish glasses at about one-third of the price you’d pay in the US.

Laundry soap

You may be happy to just use shampoo and the sink in your accommodation (works for me!). Another option is to use the multi-purpose Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, which also works for shampoo, body wash, and more. Some people like to bring a big plastic bag to swish their clothes around in…kinda like a traveling washing machine.

Widgets and gadgets

Don’t forget things like pill organizers (I pre-pack my vitamins and pills in little plastic bags that are easy to fit around other things), jewelry bags, hair dryer, curling iron and case, makeup brushes and holder, sponges, nail clippers and file, or even a small washcloth (many hotels in other parts of the world don’t provide them). If you did the exercise in Step 1, noting everything you used in a week, you’ll have this all figured out.

Step 3. Decide Which Toiletries You Can Leave Behind

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

    • Do you need **all** the skin care products, or can you give your face a break for the length of your trip and take just one product for the morning and one for the night?
    • How about makeup? Can you use a concealer wand instead of a bottle of foundation, or substitute foundation with a tinted moisturizer or BB cream that includes SFP? 
 
 How about lipstick that can be used as a blush. Can you use your fingers instead of a makeup brush? Think eyeshadow for brow powder and lip balm for brow gel.
    • Can you get by with natural nails instead of bringing polish and remover? How about just using soap or conditioner instead of shaving cream?

You get the idea!

Step 4: Practice Before You Leave Home

Nervous? You’re not alone. In a OnePoll study on DoorDash's behalf, 38% of people said they were afraid of forgetting something on their next trip, and 35% said they were nervous about something spilling.

I don’t want that to be you! So, use your list of toiletries and practice before you leave home.

    • Purchase extra travel-sized toiletries or fill your reusable bottles and use only what you intend to take for a week before you go. You can adjust the amount up or down from there based on the length of your trip. This way, you’ll feel secure that you’ll have everything you need, you’ll have enough, and you won’t be taking more than you need.
    • If you’re switching products or using samples from the cosmetic counter and your hair salon, always try them before you leave. You don’t want an adverse reaction on your trip!
    • Don’t pack liquids all the way to the top of your toiletry bottles. Leave some space for the bottle to compress (and liquid to expand) due to changes in air pressure. Pack them in a separate plastic bag or put a piece of saran wrap over the top before you screw the cap back on as a double-check against leaky bottles.
    • Check your local backpacking or mountaineering store like REI for double-duty and small-sized items, like soap and laundry flakes, first-aid kits, etc.
    • Remember, people at your destination also wash their hair, shave, and wear makeup. You can purchase things there.

If you haven't already, download your free travel toiletries checklist. Check items off as you pack them. Then, when you return, note which items you took too much of, which you ran out of, and which you didn’t use. This way, over time, you’ll create a toiletries list containing exactly what works for you.

Conclusion

Selecting your travel toiletries doesn’t have to be a headache.

Note which items you use each day. Think about your trip’s length and what you can buy on the go. (Stores are everywhere. Seriously!).

Next, make smart choices. Swap liquids for solids—shampoo bars, anyone? And watch out for TSA rules. Keep those liquids in check!

Simplify. Multi-tasking products are your BFF. Face moisturizer with sunscreen? Boom! Makeup palettes that fit like a glove? Grab ‘em. And hit up those cosmetic counters for samples.

And lastly, practice. Use your packing list for a week before lift-off. See what works, what you need, and what you can skip.

Now, check out this post to see how to pack it all up.

Happy travels! 👋

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