travel advice

Beauty and the backpack: My travel glamour essentials

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…)

Shampoo bars

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.

Make up

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.

Travel hairdryer

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.

Solid perfume

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.

One thought on “Beauty and the backpack: My travel glamour essentials

  1. Some of your tips were quite nifty, I especially like the dry shampoo bar. I usually carry dry baking soda(sodium bicarbonate), you can use it as a face scrub, body scrub, dish soap, whitening toothpaste, or shampoo (either make a paste and rinse out, or sprinkle it dry and brush out). As a paste you can put it on skin to help draw out the oils from poison ivy and other irritant plants. I also cara small plastic jar of coconut oil. Great for healing sunburnt skin, and a good moisturizer for hair, body, face, and cuticles, plus you can use it to cook with, or as an emergency supply of nutrition(high in fat and calories). I usually backpack in rugged terrain with no civilization for miles, so I have to travel light because I need to fit shelter, bed, and stove into my pack, and all necessary food because there’s nowhere to resupply. Unfortunately, that means leaving most beauty luxuries behind.
    I have kind of figured out how to pull off a “natural” look. First you need to start with a good base, you need to have generally healthy hair and skin, so make sure to wash and exfoliate and moisturizer regularly, and eat healthy, drink water and green tea, sunscreen, blah, blah, blah, and all that. For the trail, continue to wash and moisturize, if you get too tired and ignore it, you’ll regret it(trust me). If you feel you need a foundation, go for a tinted one instead of full coverage, for my eyes, I usually a pallets of two or three natural shades for skin, for me it’s coppery browns, but you might be more golden or rosy or peach. Put shadow just from crease to lashes, with the darkest shade near the outside corners fading to lightest shade at the inside corners. Blend well, pulling the color slightly upward and outward to give the eyes a more almond shape, straight up for a more bright eyed look, or straight out for a sultrier look. Finish with a few swipes bRown or brown/black mascara (black is usually too harsh for full sun). Keep lips well moisturized, and lightly apply and rub in some natural looking lipstick. If you cheeks need a pit of color, you can use the lipstick as a rouge, use lightly and blend well. You might also be able to use your eye shadows for a bit of gentle contouring if you want to go the extra step for something special.

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