Beauty Travel Essentials + Tips to Beat the Suitcase Clutter

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I can't remember the last time I took a summer vacation. It was probably some time back in college when I actually had the summer off. Adult life, am I right? These days vacations come when I can get them, and this year, it's Bermuda in October (woohoo!).

In preparation for the trip I find my brain circling around how to pack minimally & effectively — especially where toiletries are concerned. That can get to code red status pretty quickly if I'm not careful about what I pack: it's a delicate balance between being picky, so as not to overdo it, and making sure I remember to pack everything I need. I thought I'd share with you what I think are beauty travel essentials, plus a few tips to fight the suitcase clutter and a free, downloadable packing list to keep you organized and prepared!

Travel Essentials

A permanent packing list of toiletries

How many times have you forgotten to pack something? If you're like me, you forget something every time you go somewhere — contacts, toothbrush, comb — and it's always something different. I finally made a checklist of toiletries to pack and keep it handily on my phone using Wunderlist, my fave list-making app. I swear by this list, because there's just too much to remember!

Do yourself a favor and keep a list handy with everything you need (keyword need*) when you travel. You'll never forget your toothbrush again. Bonus: I've included a full, free, downloadable packing list of toiletries & makeup to make the job easier for you! 

A cute & useful toiletry bag

Let's be honest, the cuteness isn't necessarily an essential, but it sure does feel good. Usefulness... that's a necessity. To reduce suitcase clutter & the likelihood of a leak (not what you want to find when you open your suitcase!), you need an easy-access bag that will hold everything. I say easy-access because you'll never know when you won't have the space to line everything up on the bathroom counter; it would be nice to be able to get to something without having to pull everything else out. A toiletry roll or hanging bag works well for this purpose, and in some cases can hold your makeup, too (though I usually prefer a smaller bag I can set on the counter in front of me for makeup). I love this one from PB teen!


I know we're all tired of hearing it (even though we know it's true) — you should apply sunscreen all over, every day, no matter where you are or what you're doing. But let's be honest: most of us don't. Most days, I'm outside for the 30 seconds it takes to walk to and from my car when I go to work, so a total of 2 minutes a day. Doesn't seem like sunscreen is worth it, right? But on vacation, it is — even if you aren't vacationing on a beach.

Obviously if you're on a tropical island, you need to grab the sunscreen, but even if you aren't — even if you're visiting San Francisco, or London, or anywhere that suntanning isn't on the menu — you're still likely to be outside most of the day seeing the sights. I honestly cannot imagine a vacation that involves being inside all day. So be sure to pack the sunscreen and slather it on!

Dry Shampoo

Believe it or not, I have forgotten dry shampoo more than once and had a slight panic attack because of it. I fully rely on the ease of not having to wash my hair every day, but I absolutely require dry shampoo for it. Who wants to spend time in the morning on vacation doing her hair? I certainly don't.

My favorite is Suave's dry shampoo, and I always have three or four cans of it on hand. Downside: they don't make a travel-sized option! So occasionally, depending on how much space I have, I opt for a travel-sized dry shampoo. Truthfully, though, those things will only get me through a weekend or so, so I opt for the full size for week-long vacations.

Related: On not washing your hair

Bobby pins

I'm a bobby pin hoarder, and I use them every single day: to pin my bangs back, to hold my top knot in place, to hide my rubber band, to secure a style. Rarely will you find me without a bobby pin, but they are easy to forget when I'm packing for vacation. I always make sure to keep bobby pins in my travel bag and leave them there so that I don't have to remember them.

These are my favorite bobby pins, but definitely don't take that whole clunky package with you: to keep your bobby pins accessible and in one place (not all over the bottom of your purse or makeup bag), keep them in an empty Tic Tac box. You're welcome for the tip, but even more for the excuse to eat a box of Tic Tacs (orange is the best).

A flat iron

I'm all for versatility with my hair, and that's why a flat iron is my hot tool of choice on vacation (if I take one at all). Why clutter up your suitcase with multiple hot tools when you can do it all with one? With my flat iron I can go pin-straight, bent under or out, beach-wavy, or full-on curled. Done.

Related: Professional beauty products worth snagging

*Pssst... don't forget to make your way all the way to the bottom so you can get my free beauty essentials packing list! Never forget your essentials again!

Makeup essentials

I'd like to emphasize the word essentials, here, because it's so easy to get out of hand with makeup options. Granted, on many vacations, makeup is not a necessity at all — you certainly don't need it lying on the beach all day — but I'm always going to have some makeup with me for day trips, dinners out, etc. And while I definitely fly by the seat of my pants when I'm doing my makeup in the morning, I can't bring my entire makeup collection with me on vacation.

So what makes the cut? Of course my basics: foundation, concealer, bronzer, brows, liner, mascara. I may like to vary my foundation from day to day, but I pick one to use on vacation and just deal with it. If you're tanning where you are, you may want two foundations — one your current shade and one darker — since by the end of the week you're likely to be a different color.

Then we have the colors that may vary day-to-day, like lips, cheeks, and eyes. For lips, I pick two or three colors: one nude/neutral, one bold, and one in between — like a pink or mauve — if I want a third. For cheeks, I pick one long-lasting color to bring with me (like Instain by theBalm, a long-wearing powder stain). As for my eyes, I adore the simplicity (and space efficiency!) of shadow pencils over powders. They're easy to apply, don't require brushes, last all day, and take up much less space than individual eyeshadows or shadow palettes.

Tip: don't underestimate the power of bronzer to make you look put-together without much effort! If I'm on a warm-weather vacation, sometimes I'll skip foundation altogether and load on the bronzer instead. Fresh-faced is good.

Tips to beat the suitcase clutter

So you've got your essentials, but that's probably not all you need (toothbrush, anyone?). So how do you pack the toiletries and makeup you need but still leave room for your clothes & shoes?

Skip the hairdryer — most hotels have themPlus, when can you embrace your natural, un-styled hair if it's not on vacation in a place with a bunch of strangers you'll never see again? A hairdryer is just a clunky, awkward space-suck. Leave it out.

Get as much as you can in travel sizes, or put your products in travel-sized containersMake your way to the travel-sized section of the drugstore: you'll be amazed at what you can find there (like my favorite Almay eye makeup wipes)! And if they don't have what you need, these days, there's very little for which they don't make a travel-sized container. They even make tiny little ones for your eye cream.

Can't part with your salon shampoo & conditioner? Chances are it comes in a travel-sized option. Call the salon a few weeks ahead in case it's something they don't keep in stock but can order for you. Worst-case scenario: put some into an empty container from the drugstore.

Limit your toiletries to two bags — one for makeup and one for toiletries — and stick to them. Once you start letting yourself pack things that you can't fit into those two bags, you'll start packing anything and everything.

Embrace multitasking makeup products like cheek & lip tints, blush/bronzer palettes, and double-ended brushes & pencils. The more punch you can pack into one product, the less clutter you'll have on your hands (and the more tools you'll have at your fingertips).

Z Palettes work wonders to cut down on clutter + space! This is true for travel and at home. Depot your eyeshadows, bronzer, blushes, etc. and put them all in one place. You can get a Z Palette in any size! Because I know how much it helps me every time I pack, I've made you a free, downloadable packing list! Save this to your computer or, even better, your phone for easy, stress-free packing.

Is there something you always forget to pack? What is it?

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I can pack every toiletry in my house and I'm still going to forget something. Make space in your suitcase with these beauty essentials and tips to beat the suitcase clutter, plus get a downloadable toiletry packing list!

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