Warning: This is one for the girls, sorry boys.
‘Dirty backpacker’ anyone? Innumerable hours spent on grimy public transport, attempting to shower under nothing more than an ice cold trickle (sometimes with a banana spider or three for company) and sleeping in rather questionable hostels (what exactly is that stain?) won’t exactly leave you a serious contender for Britain’s Next Top Model. So how do you stop yourself from looking like a dirty backpacker, even if you are one?
Looking a bit grim is an inescapable part of backpacking, and honestly, who wants to spend hours preening in front of a hostel mirror instead of exploring? But there are occasions when you might want to look on the better side of presentable, or when you might nurse a simple desire to stop running for the hills every time someone attempts to snap your frizzy hair and blotchy skin. Some people (envious glare) manage to pull off the natural look with zero effort, and if you’re one of those people, please comment below disclosing your secrets, but for those of us who look more cavewoman than chic as soon as we hit the road, here’s a few essentials to help you scrub up well. (Even if you spend most of your time in a pink plastic mac…)
We’ve all been there, you arrive at your next destination, hurriedly raid through the deep abyss that is your backpack to find something non-gross to wear, only to discover that everything is covered in sticky, gloopy shampoo. Yuck.
You could put the bottle in a plastic zip lock bag (which will probably split) or you could buy a solid shampoo bar. My personal favourite is Jumping Juniper by Lush. I bought one before I headed out to South East Asia, and it easily lasted me the whole two months.
You can even buy a nifty little tin to store it in (made from 65% recycled aluminum for the eco-warriors out there.) Shampoo bars are great – they need no packaging, use mainly natural ingredients and smell gorgeous. They’re light and take up no room, unlike clunky bottles, and are simple to use, just rub the bar between your hands, lather up and rinse. They’re a great price too, just £5.25 for a bar – they look fairly small but they last for ages. (80-100 washes) – what’s not to love?
Lush do lots of variations, for oily hair, for shine, for extra conditioning and one that’s especially useful for backpackers, Seanik, which helps to keep hair that’s seen too much of the sea manageable and soft.
So you spend at least half an hour applying make up at home, what makes you think you’ll be happy going barefaced abroad? By all means, tone it down, you do not need 4 different blushers and 7 shades of eyeshadow if you’re going to be trekking up a mountain. But there will be nights when you want some company, and a special occasion or two, and it definitely feels nice to be able to head out looking somewhat like the person you were back home.
For those off to beach destinations, pack a couple of small bottles of nail varnish. I definitely felt less grotty when I had freshly painted nails. Bright corals and neon pinks spruce up a pair of battered flip flops no end.
Warning – for those packing foundations/concealers. Unlike me, several months in the tropics will probably result in you looking like a bronzed goddess (I just go lobster red, then revert back to albino) so beware ghostface – the effect of your face being 4 times paler than the rest of your body once you’ve tanned it up.
A lipstick, a concealer, a waterproof mascara and a little eyeliner goes a long way.
This one made me a good few friends when I stayed in dorms. If your hair is like mine – a lion’s mane that flicks out in every conceivable angle if it’s not properly dried, then this is non-negotiable. You can buy mini versions in Boots or Superdrug for around £10. They weigh next to nothing and also double up as a great alternative to a clothes line/tumble dryer if your clothes are left unexpectedly soaked.
The scent of perfumes can alter pretty drastically in the heat. That expensive zingy floral scent can quickly transform to a smell akin to wet donkey. How do you get around this? Once again Lush has the answer with its solid perfumes range. Solid perfumes are a great compromise. You can still smell amazing, without the possibility of your perfume going rouge, or breaking (those luggage handlers aren’t famed for their gentleness). They also last forever. I carried my vanillery stick around for 2 months, and found out that it was damn near indestructible.
Other good things to pack
- Shower cap, because life’s too short to wash your tresses every day. (Dry shampoo also works a treat.)
- Good quality moisturizer, to sort out sunburnt skin.
- A good lip balm.
- Tweezers – because unruly brows are never a good look.
- Deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, shower gel, nail clippers, razors and a hairbrush. These shouldn’t need explaining.
- Wet wipes – great if you need to freshen up.
- Handheld mirror. Useful when there’s no mirror.
- Hand sanitiser and tissues – hardly glamorous, but some toilets leave a lot to be desired.
- Sanitary towels/tampons. In smaller towns and remote areas these might be hard to come by.
- A shower fluff – or what normal people call loofahs. Doubles up as an exfoliator.
- Hair straighteners – contentious. For me a must, they’re light, make you a bunch of friends in dorms and help fight the frizz. For others, an unnecessary luxury.
- If all else fails – a pair of sunglasses. Instant glamour, no effort.