Hands up who has a bathroom cabinet crammed full of unopened complimentary mini bottles of hotel shampoos, box sets of body scrub/shaving lotions from the past eight Christmasses and long-dead loofah sponges you can’t quite bring yourself to wash with?
We all stockpile more toiletries than we need, and the same is true for when we travel. So, how should we choose toiletries for long-term travel that don’t take up most of the space in our backpacks?
There’s a fear we won’t be able to pick up certain items in a foreign country so it’s easier to just pack the lot. What we should all do is stop for a moment and question that logic.
If we’re heading anywhere that’s inhabited by other human beings, chances are they also use products to maintain their hygiene so we could buy them there. And if that civilisation really is so remote that they don’t, there’s no reason we should feel the need to keep up such a strict beauty routine ourselves.
Having said that, it’s ok to allow ourselves one or two personal luxuries. After all, we’re leaving so many behind. Sometimes just the smell of our favourite moisturiser can stave off even the meanest bouts of homesickness.
So, my advice is to pick one luxury item and to tell yourself there will be no more compromises. For everything else, first think long and hard about whether or not you really need it, and secondly, whether you could replace it with a more travel-friendly item.
Whether or not you need it comes down to common sense and personal circumstances. Nobody needs to take hair straightners backpacking. I’d go so far as to say you’d look downright silly with poker straight hair surrounded by your fellow travellers who embraced the ‘hippy’ vibe long ago. ‘Traveller chic’ is a style in its own right, where scarves with hidden pockets and bandanas you can wear any one of 20 different ways are the objects of envy. Wear too much make up or, god forbid, high heeled shoes and you might find yourself having to do damage control.
When it comes to considering more travel-friendly products, a handy tip is to try them out well in advance to make sure they work for you. The only thing worse than taking heavy toiletries you like but don’t really need is taking ones you find don’t work at all that you eventually discard after lugging them around for weeks in a humid foreign climate.
Riemann all-day sun cream
You only apply Riemann all-day suncream once a day, but it continues to protect you. Frolic in the sea, roll about in the sand, get the sweats jogging up a mountain – whatever floats your boat – and you’re guaranteed protection. It also comes in handy 100 ml bottles, making it ideal for short trips with hand luggage too.
My only bugbear of this product is that I have only been able to find it in SPF 10 and 20. For someone like me whose skin tone can only be the result of a recent Irish ancestor’s love affair with a Nord, a long-lasting and high-factor option would be ideal.
Repel 100 Extreme Insect Repellent
Repel 100 is intense, as you might expect for a product that’s 97% deet. It’s been known to disintegrate watch straps and synthetic clothing, and comes with big black and yellow warning logos telling you it’s harmful if swallowed and to keep it away from your eyes. But, if you manage to avoid drinking it or mistaking it for your contact lens solution, it will serve as the best deterrent to malarial mosquitos since Marmite (well, Marmite usually works for me anyway).
Octopus hairbrush mirror
I doubt many would question the indispensability of a hairbrush, but is a hand-held mirror really necessary? It could certainly be handy, especially if you like to wear a smattering of make up and haven’t the patience to queue for the bathroom mirror every morning. I have the added issue that I wear contact lenses and haven’t mastered the technique of putting them in without watching what I’m doing so I find a small mirror invaluable. This nifty invention by Octopus is a tiny brush encased in a compact mirror. It’s light, and also comes in lots of cute designs.
Somerset shaving oil
I’ve been known to use all kinds of slippery products to shave my pins, from body scrubs to hair conditioner. It’s hardly economical though – financially or in terms of the weight:use ratio. With Somerset shaving oil, you can apply just a few small drops and shave away. You don’t even need to occupy the one and only hostel shower/sink in the process. The oil also helps lock in moisture, keeping your skin silky smooth. And, on top of all that, it smells pretty darn good.
The moon cup is an alternative feminine hygiene product that you really can’t beat when you’re travelling. It’s small, discreet and reusable and you don’t have to worry about emptying it for many hours. It’s also much more environmentally friendly than all other options. If you’re under 30 and have not given birth, go for model B. Otherwise, it’s model A for you. It may cost £18 but you’ll soon save that money from not having to buy alternative products.
Solid shampoo bars
I did a trial run of solid shampoo and conditioner from Lush. It’s very lightweight and lasts a long time. It also smells fantastic but, for me, the conditioner didn’t help untangle my long hair like standard ones do. I also felt like my hair began to get greasy after continuous use – though admittedly not as quickly as it would had I not washed it. The jury’s out. You will have to make up your own minds on this one.
Spray it in then comb it out. It really is that easy to get rid of that greasy shine. I’m a washaholic when it comes to my hair so the thought of it still technically being dirty bothers me, but if you’re hiking a trail for 5 days with no shower access, this is a good rescue option. I tried it on one half of my head and that side felt significantly cleaner, softer and less greasy. I would choose between this and the solid shampoo bar depending on the type of holiday and activities I’d be doing.
Monthly contact lenses
If you’re used to dailies, you can’t really contemplate taking them on a 6-month trip. Prescription lenses or glasses are hard to come by overseas so the best option, save for laser eye surgery, is monthlies you can sleep in. Test them out a long time before leaving so you know whether or not they irritate your eyes. You can also pick up mini bottles of solution for emergencies.
Microfibre travel towel
This wicks up moisture but dries out about four times more quickly than a regular towel. It packs away to an eighth of the size and is six times lighter than a standard towel too. It feels a little weird at first, but all things considered, it’s an absolute must have. As long as it’s dry, it will also work well as a blanket, so you can use it on those long bus journeys or fold it up and use it as a pillow.
Extra bits and bobs you mustn’t forget
Small tube of toothpaste
Make up remover (if you’re taking make up)
You might also want to stock up on any pills you don’t think you’ll be able to pick up where you’re headed. Mine include:
Travel sickness tablets
Water purifying tablets
Definitely add some condoms to that toiletry bag. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, boys and girls – especially in a foreign country where there may be HIV/AIDS and where it’s not as easy to get hold of the morning after pill or sexual health advice.
And finally, don’t forget your toothbrush!