The Great Toiletries Debate

You know the whole ‘get your toiletries out there’ thing that people tell you, don’t buy it.

It’s true that you can buy toiletries everywhere and you don’t need to carry around your entire trip’s worth of shampoo in your backpack. But it’s never as nice as your products at home. And I don’t really understand how taking a travel sized shower gel with you only to replace it immediately with India’s finest, is going to benefit you in any way.

But as usual it’s all about balance with these kinds of things. Sure you want your lovely products with you but don’t go mental and take supersized bottles or replacement products for when they run out. Be a bit practical and remember toiletries weigh your backpack down and you do need to carry this all on your back after all.

The most important thing to remember when packing your toiletries is: 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner is the DEVIL

I really hate that advice you get from some travellers, save space with 2 in 1. Yeah it’ll save a miniscule amount of space but your hair will look like crap and it will take an extra 20 minutes untangling your hair everyday when you could be hitting the beach or wandering around a medina.

Another thing the space-savers tend to advise is to bring a bar of soap instead of shower gel. This one I get actually. It does last longer after all. But again, the amount of space it saves is pretty minimal so it’s totally your call. Actually, a good point to make here is that if you have sensitive skin, remember it’s going to be hard to find something similar in places like Asia or South America. A friend of mine had this situation so took a bar of Dove soap for sensitive skin with her. Something to consider anyway.

However, I’m a shower gel kind of girl. And in my eyes by bringing a nice scrub, you get a shower gel and an exfoliating scrub for maximum tanning all in one! But that’s just me.

To sum up, take your regular sized John Frieda Shampoo and Conditioner and your nice St Ives apricot body scrub. You’ll regret it if you don’t. 

You could always forgo a sponge/body puff altogether, as these do really take up unnecessary space in your backpack. But I took a flannel with me. Old school. Actually the best ones are those ones that come really compact and expand in water, like you have when you’re a kid. LOVE them. I think it’s mainly the nostalgia but you can’t deny they save space!

So we’ve covered the basics. Don’t hold back when it comes to the essentials. So how about all of the extras? This is where you do need to be a bit more practical.

Moisturiser? I went fully backpacker and made my aftersun my moisturiser. I know right, you can’t say I’m a flashpacker anymore. I made sacrifices! I also didn’t bring any skincare except 4-in-1 cleansing wipes. You know, the ones that cleanse, tone, moisturise and remove make-up. But if you really can’t face roughing it in the skincare department, I know a lot of girls who took those mini pots of Nivea moisturiser you can get from the travel toiletries aisle in Superdrug. They do mini everything these days so anything like this that you really think you’re going to need, limit yourself to the travel sized version and make it last. But this is really the area you need to pull back on. Sorry about that.

Oh gosh suncare! How could I forget. So seeing as aftersun is now also your moisturiser, don’t be cheap with it, get the good stuff. I took Banana Boat Aloe Aftersun. It’s lush.

Banana Boat Aloe Aftersun

Then with actual sun cream, it all depends on your skin type really. I’ve got olive skin so I don’t need a high SPF. I took a bottle of SPF 15 and a travel sized bottle of SPF 50 in case I got burnt. Which I did because it turned out taking Doxycycline malaria tablets makes your skin sun sensitive. Brilliant. But like I say, it’s all about your skin type.

Mosquito repellent is a big thing. I brought DEET 50% with me on recommendation from most travellers. Sure, it’s good. But a great tip is that within these countries that require mosquito repellent, you’ll find that they will sell the most effective repellent locally. They are the experts in this field after all. So you can bring a small bottle of DEET 50% with you and top up out there, or just risk it for a biscuit and buy it when you get there.

Now, a massive tip for anyone heading to Southeast Asia. If you need to top up your toiletries supply out there, make sure you really look at the products you’re buying. Because even though that Nivea roll-on deodorant may look just like the one at home, it has whitening ingredients! Because being pale in Asia is like being tanned in the UK. So just like you get Dove summer glow with a hint of fake tan, a LOT of toiletries in Asia have crazy whitening powers. And the last thing you want is white underarms. Not a good look. So just something to watch out for.

A few more toiletries tips.

  • Bring your Venus razor but bring an extra razor head or two as they’ll be hard to find. And they hardly take up space.
  • Bring one pack of tampons only. I stressed out a bit at first about the lack of Tampax Compak around the globe, but it wasn’t an issue. Don’t listen to the urban myth of no applicator tampons in Australia. Total crap.
  • If you have frizzy hair, a bottle of John Frieda frizz-ease isn’t going to send your backpack weight through the roof so go for it. But only if it’s really essential.
  • For all of you blonde ladies, I realise you may need toner. A friend of mine with golden locks took hers and didn’t regret it. But if you’re taking it, remember you have to pull back on other areas. So you can bring toner but you definitely can’t bring any skincare products. Your call.
  • Any other haircare products aren’t necessary. We’ve decided you’re taking straighteners after all.
  • Don’t forget the tweezers. Sure you need them for proper brow maintenance, but they also seem to become some kind of swiss army knife when you’re backpacking.
  • And finally, if you’re passing through Bangkok on your travels, don’t forget about the existence of Boots on Khao San Road. I used Bangkok as a kind of retreat between cities or islands to recharge, and always got a little face mask from Boots!

I hope this helps with that crucial big Superdrug visit before your trip. You know, the one where you go mental and buy a year’s worth of products, then end up only taking half of it when you realise you can’t take 3 different kinds of moisturiser or those tea tree nose strips. Happens to all of us.



0 thoughts on “The Great Toiletries Debate

  • 1st July 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Another fantastic blog post, thanks. You’re really helping me put together a super backpack! V x

  • Pingback:The Perfection that is Travel Sized Cleansing Wipes | Heels In My Backpack

  • 6th August 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Hi Kara

    I stumbled across your blog today and I’m so glad I did! I’m heading off to SE Asia next week (from Belfast) for a 5 month solo trip adventure…your blog is just what I needed to read. I don’t think I’d go as far as bringing heels, and I’m even sacrificing my hairdryer BUT this is to make up some extra space for toiletries and other luxuries. Just finished reading this entry about toiletries so I wanted to ask your advice. You’ve mentioned about cutting back on moisturisers and also that a lot of their skincare products over there contain whitening ingredients. Unfortunately for me, I have eczema (it’s not as severe as some, but a bloody pain when my legs go mahogany in the sun minus my dry patches which stay VERY white 🙁 ) I usually take on holidays a big tub of moisturiser from the doctor, which would last 3 weeks. Knowing that I won’t be able to bring enough tubs to last me, as carrying them will probably break my back….would you say it’s easy enough to get a really good moisturiser out there, even in the likes of Boots? Sorry for the total randomness of this question, but hopefully you can help! Thank you, Emma. X

    • Kara // Heels In My Backpack
      6th August 2015 at 10:13 pm

      Hey Emma, glad you like the blog! That’s OK, if you’re just travelling in Asia, you’ll be fine without the hairdryer! The Boots in Bangkok is pretty good but you may struggle in other parts of Southeast Asia. Saying that, a friend of mine has sensitive skin and can’t use perfumed soaps/shower gels, and she managed to find Dove soap everywhere we went! Also, the pharmacies are pretty good out there so you could probably get something medicated if need be. If it was me, I would take a couple of tubs and scout out the situation when you get there. Worst case scenario is you can’t find any and get your mum to send some out to you. But to be honest I think you should be OK. The locals will likely use moisturiser too! Have fun on your trip!! Kara x

      • 7th August 2015 at 10:14 am

        Hi Kara – thank you so much for coming back to me on this, mega appreciate it! I’m hoping that the pharmacies will have something similar to what I use, but I definitely will just throw in an extra tub to give myself time to suss out the situation! I’m still reading through your blog and I love it – it’s so good to read a blog from a girl that doesn’t just bring the bare necessities 🙂 thanks again for all of your help xx


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