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Isn’t it funny how the items that you use almost every day can often be the ones most often forgotten? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve rocked up somewhere only to realise that my deodorant is still at home on my shelf, right next to the hairbrush that I’ve also neglected. So to finally get this aspect of my packing organised, and to help you guys out too, I’ve put together a checklist of 20 essential toiletries for backpacking, no matter where in the world you’re travelling to.
I consider myself to be a pretty low maintenance kinda gal when it comes to toiletries. I don’t really do anything with my hair (like, ever) and I’m pretty rubbish with makeup so tend to use the same few products each time. My idea of dressing up is whacking some tinted lip balm, so my cosmetics pile is pretty small as well.
Taking a minimalist approach to your toiletry bag definitely has its advantages. These items can soon add heaps of weight to your backpack and trust me, as soon as you’ve got to trek 20 minutes from your hostel to the bus station in South East Asia somewhere, you’re gonna hate yourself. I’ve done this many times and my toiletry bag is always the first thing I cut down on. So here’s my packing list that will help you stick to the essentials only.
1. Hanging toiletry bag
Before I backpacked for the first time, I didn’t see the point of a toiletry bag that could be hung up, but after staying in tonnes of hotels and guesthouses with wet rooms, I’m so grateful for that little loop! Keeping all your stuff dry is really important when everything you own is in one backpack and hanging it up is the best way. I personally use the bright blue one below which you can find on Amazon and has 3 compartments – one for refillable bottles, one for makeup, moisturiser and anything else that goes on my face, and one for other bits like my toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant. There are loads on Amazon to choose from and all the ones below are water resistant and have multiple compartments.
2. Refillable toiletry bottles
It’s pretty much impossible to carry full-size products when backpacking so these refillable bottles are a must. I find the squishy silicon ones to be better than the more solid plastic ones as you can get squeeze the stuff out easier and they collapse down as you use more. One tip for refilling these whilst travelling is to speak to other backpackers and see if they’ve run out of anything for their bottles, then buy a full sized bottle and share it around.
3. Microfibre travel towel
This is my number one favourite toiletry for backpacking – just make sure you always buy one in a large size! There is nothing more awkward than trying to subtly get changed in a dorm room in a towel that’s too small! If you’re not sure what a microfibre towel is and why you need one, it’s essentially a towel made from thin, light and quick drying fabric, that also folds up really small. A normal towel would take up half a backpack but this baby can be stuffed into any small space in your bag. The quick drying aspect also helps stop the rest of your clothes from smelling damp and gross.
4. Makeup remover face cloth
I have to confess that I am yet to get my hands on one of these but the reviews are awesome and it sounds like a fantastic alternative to face wipes. This makeup remover cloth only needs water to work and it can get rid of all the makeup and grime off your skin. I can’t wait to try one out and hopefully cut out using disposable face wipes and travelling more environmentally friendly.
5. All-in-one nail clippers
Before my backpacking days, I used to love getting my nails done. Nowadays, this is the last thing on my list, but I do like to keep them looking half decent. Get a pair of clippers that has a file in like this one to save you getting the separately.
6. Compact hairbrush
I got given a Tangle Teazer for Christmas before I left to backpack Australia and I really love it. My hair breaks easily but I find this doesn’t snag at my hair at all. This one also has a cover over the bristles so they don’t get damaged as you travel.
7. Hand sanitiser
Hand sanitiser is essential not only in countries like Thailand and Bali to avoid getting sick but wherever you’re travelling to. I used it a lot when Tom and I were travelling around Australia in our Honda CR-V car camper and staying at campsites with minimal facilities too. Of course you can always fill up a reusable toiletry bottle if you have hand sanitiser already, if not, be sure to get hold of some miniature ones like below.
8. Disposable razor
I really would love there to be a more sustainable method to body hair removal whilst travelling, but disposable razors are the most convenient. These ones by Venus are great as they are super small, really moisturising and the pack also comes with a spare set of blades and a case.
9. Hair ties and clips
If you’re going to hot places or somewhere where you’re going to be swimming a lot, it’s a great idea to have some hair ties and clips to keep your hair out the way. I really like those springy hair ties you can get, as well as a couple of clips and a bunch of bobby pins. That way I can do the 3 things I only ever do with my hair (a ponytail, half up, French plait).
10. Sanitary Items
Finding your prefered sanitary items is not always that easy in some countries and might end up costing you a lot more than normal as well. I’m yet to be brave enough to try it, but some many girls out there swear by menstrual cups. They are not only far more environmentally friendly compared to pads and tampons, but they’re also better for your lady bits and can be left in all day, making it far more practical for countries like Asia where the toilets can be questionable, to say the least! There are a few brands out there so ask your friends and see if they have any recommendations.
11. Mosquito repellant
I literally get bitten as soon as there is anything bitey with wings around – they just love me! So insect repellent is something that’s an absolute must. Depending on where you’re travelling to, it can also be essential as some mosquitos carry some pretty nasty diseases. The most accessible deterrent is a mosquito spray but you can also get wristbands that have great reviews as well.
No matter if you’re as pale as me or beautifully bronzed, always be safe in the sun! Even on cloudy days the UV rays can hit you hard so when you’re out and about exploring places, it’s always best to slap some on and take it with you to top up. I’ve used Banana Boat sunscreens loads in Australia and find them to give good protection and to not be too greasy. If you’re going snorkelling or diving then be sure to use reef safe sunscreen like Tropical Sands as they don’t contain the harsh chemicals that damage corals and sealife.
13. Lip balm with SPF
There have been a number of days where I’ve found my lips getting really dry from the sun and also airconditioning, so I always have a lip balm in my day bag. As I mentioned at the beginning, I love a tinted lip balm as it doubles up as a piece of makeup. Sun Bum has loads of colours to choose from, and for an untinted one, you can’t go wrong with Banana Boat again.
Backpacking can take a toll on your skin and I often find mine getting quite dry from air conditioning. I use a few products that I’ve found to really help tackle this and keep my skin looking decent. In the day time I always use a face sunscreen that is non-greasy, light and has SPF 50. I wear this under my make up so I want to make sure I don’t turn into a big grease ball. At night I have recently started using Organic Rosehip Oil and I wish I had done sooner because it’s amazing! For the rest of my body, I just go for whatever is on offer but something like Sorbolene is a great all-rounder to have.
I tend to just buy my usual roll on as the bottles are small enough to fit in my toiletry bag and they don’t tend to leak. If the solid deodorant is something you’re interested in though, Amazon do have quite a few alternative deodorants that come in solid bars which are a great way to reduce your plastic usage as well.
Makeup comes down to personal preference but I would definitely try to keep everything minimal. Aside from my tinted lip balms that I love, I just have the basics. Personally, I use NYX green primer as I have a red complexion and it helps to balance that out and the L’Oreal Infallible 24 hour Matte foundation. Both help keep my makeup in place and the foundation really does last all day without looking like a shiny mess. On top of that I use Rimmel translucent compressed powder, MAC Bronzer, Rimmel Professional Eyebrow Pencil and what ever mascara is on offer. 6 simple items and that’s it!
17. Travel toothbrush
I love an electric toothbrush and if there’s one thing I’m not willing to leave at home, it’s that. I actually just take my normal one from home with me along with the charger, but it’s pretty bulky and can be hard to find somewhere to charge it. I would highly recommend getting an electric toothbrush that can be charged via USB as it’s just so much easier. The one below also comes in a case that the toothbrush gets charged in so you can keep it clean as well. So handy!
One way to travel more sustainably is to stop using miniature toiletry items so I always just pack a full size toothpaste when I go backpacking, unless I’m travelling carry on only.
I actually pack a couple of floss with me as I like to have one in my day bag as well as in my toiletry bag. When you’re travelling and eating lots of different foods, the last thing you want is to put up with food stuck in your teeth all day! These Oral B ones come in a pack of 2 so that’s pretty perfect.
20. Cotton buds
These are pretty handy to have not just for your ears but for also cleaning up cuts or treating bites so make sure you bring some one with you. These ones here come in a solid travel case so they won’t get grubby in your wash bag.