I’ve never been what you would call low maintenance. Sure, I tone things down while I travel: I can pack everything I need into a single carry-on, and I even left my electric hair tools at home for our year-long trip (RIP my bangs). But I draw the line at completely abandoning my makeup and beauty routine while travelling. Even a long-term backpacker wants to look her best sometimes! So instead of totally abandoning my skincare, beauty routine, and makeup for travel on my year-long backpacking trip, I just downsized things… Significantly. Whether you’re travelling for a weekend, a week, or 6 months, this ultimate guide to beauty & makeup for backpacking is chock full of backpacking beauty essentials and makeup tips to make sure you still look cute while backpacking like a badass!
Here’s what you’ll find in this post.
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Psst: Looking for more tips to look and feel amazing on your next trip? Check out some of our other posts!
- What to Pack for a Beach Vacation: the Curvy Girl’s Beach Vacation Packing List
- 12 Long Haul Flight Essentials & Travel Tips for Economy Fliers
- The 4 Best Travel Pants for Women: Functional, Cute, & Field-Tested
Confession: I’m a makeup and beauty nerd
I know what you’re asking yourself: why should I follow the advice of someone who’s currently living out of a backpack? That’s like, THE least glamorous thing ever. Well, that’s fair. I’ve certainly had more glamorous periods in my life than this one. But through years of regular weekend traveling, I’ve been able to make my makeup and beauty routine work for me even while cramming all of my supplies into a single 50L backpack!
In college, I did freelance work as a makeup artist. I even had cute little business cards (*cough*NERD*cough*)! I’ve since gotten rid of my luggage-sized makeup stash. But from my brief stint as a beauty professional, I’ve developed a deep knowledge of makeup and beauty skills: everything from what each ingredient used in the beauty industry actually does (I have a textbook, of course… because nerd), to the chemical and physical properties of hair and skin (oh my god, I’m such a nerd).
What this means, other than that I’ve managed to turn something glamorous into a full on dweebfest, is that I spent an awful lot of time researching and testing each travel makeup and beauty product I brought with me on my 8-month long backpacking trip. After months of field research backpacking through South America and Europe, I feel confident in my selections and recommendations. And so, I have created the ultimate guide to makeup and beauty while travelling!
Travel Beauty Tips
Makeup for travel is the trickiest thing to get right when you’re backpacking. You need products that are multi- functional; that won’t break, melt, or fall apart while you travel; that are packaged small enough to carry with you; and won’t slide off your face while you have amazing adventures. It’s a lot to ask. Luckily, I’ve found a few makeup products that I swear by for travel and backpacking!
Oh, by the way! Throughout this post you’ll see some affiliate links to my favorite travel makeup and beauty products, like the ones below. If you make a purchase through these links, I get a small % commission at no cost to you, which helps cover the cost of running the site. I’d really appreciate it! Please note that NONE of the products I recommend are paid or sponsored – I purchased and tested them all myself!
General Makeup Tips for Travel
Avoid bringing makeup for travel that is powdery. It’s very likely to break. I speak from experience. In my first week of backpacking, my bronzer AND my eyeshadow broke all over my bag. My cream blush, however, is perfectly fine! Always bring non-powdery products whenever possible. I’ve since picked up a cream eyeshadow palette and it’s been fantastic.
If you do bring powdery makeup, package them together in one palette. You can buy empty magnetic palettes from Amazon and easily re-pot your eyeshadows, blushes and bronzers into one handy dandy little travel palette. I had one at home I used every day for doing my makeup on the train on my way to work! But be careful – too much movement can send your carefully re-packaged powders flying and give you a mess to clean up (again, speaking from traumatizing experience here).
Don’t bring anything that could be ruined by heat or altitude changes. If something is likely to explode during a flight, leave it at home. If rapidly cooling and heating up might affect the product or its packaging, leave it at home. Or better yet, repackage it into something more resilient!
Don’t be afraid to repackage your favorite beauty products. I use lightweight, small travel containers for most of my travel products. Don’t be afraid to repot an eyeshadow, put some face cream in a tiny tub, or squeeze your moisturizer or conditioner into a fresh tube.
Do not assume you’ll always have a mirror when you travel. Looking at you, hostel bathrooms. Bring a compact mirror of your own just in case, like this one.
Multi-tasking makeup is your friend. Sometimes makeup for travel has to do a little more than usual. Whether it’s a tinted moisturizer (this is my fave) or BB cream to act as moisturizer/sunscreen/foundation, or something a little bit less conventional, go ahead and get creative with your makeup for travel!
Get creative with your multi-tasking backpacking beauty essentials. Sometimes getting creative with your makeup and beauty products means … well, using products for things other than what they were designed for specifically! In a pinch, I’ve done all of the below.
- Use an eyebrow pencil as eyeliner
- Use bronzer as eye-shadow (perfect for a natural look!)
- Use lipstick as blush
- Use moisturizing lip balm for cuticle cream or to mend split-ends
- Use face finishing powder as an oil-absorbing dry shampoo
Makeup for Travel and Backpacking: Product Recommendations
Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve found beauty travel essentials that are up to the difficult task of staying put even in sweat, rain, and – only occasionally, I swear – sleep. Below are my recommendations for the best makeup for travel and backpacking.
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20: This is the gold standard of tinted moisturizers, and for good reason. It’s saturated enough to act as a foundation, but lightweight enough to let your skin breathe. It protects your skin from the sun while moisturizing it. It doesn’t slide off when you sweat or during a long day out. And there’s a travel-sized version too! I have a full-sized bottle of this with me right now and I love it – I didn’t even need to bring a foundation!
- Travel Makeup Tip: This is a 3-in-one product: moisturizer, sunscreen, and foundation. That makes the high price worth it to me because I save space in my bag – plus, I’m lazy, so the less stuff I have to put on my face the better.
Cream Blush: The perfect long-lasting creamy blush in a travel-sized container that will not break in your bag! I am pale and deathly white, so blush is one of my must-haves to avoid looking like the crypt keeper. This blush does the trick. You don’t even need to bring a brush: just smudge it a little with your fingers, and voila: a natural flush. This blush stays put all day long and doesn’t break my acne-prone skin out at all.
Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick: Oh my god, this lip stain. It does. Not. Budge. I tested this for months before my wedding: I went to the gym, I went swimming, I ate so much food (for RESEARCH) – and this lip color literally lasted 24 hours a day. I would wake up still wearing it, looking Beyonce levels of flawless. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe she fell asleep wearing it and woke up still wearing it. This is the holy grail of lip products. I recommend bringing one natural daytime shade and one holy-shit-I’m-a-goddess nighttime shade – like a deep burgundy or a dark red. You’ll never need anything else. My favorite color is Double Dare: it’s the perfect in-between shade that’s still natural but low-key dramatic.
- Travel Makeup Tip: Lip stains are PERFECT for travel! They’re much more long-lasting than lipstick or gloss. A bold lip-color can give the illusion that you’re wearing more makeup than you actually are, which is a plus for lazy girls like me.
- Bonus Tip: NYX has a great liquid lipstick – check it out here. It doesn’t last quite as long as Kat Von D, but it has just as a vibrant of matte color. You’ll need to reapply after eating, but it’s a decent dupe at a fraction of the price.
Wander Beauty On the Go Bronzer and Illuminator: I made the mistake of bringing a powder bronzer. My poor stained makeup bag paid the price for that. Don’t do what I did. Keep your contour cream-based! This contour stick is easy to apply brush-free, and gives you that effortlessly natural and sun-kissed look, even if you’re pale AF like me.
- Travel Makeup Tip: Easy contour 101: the dark color goes under your cheekbones – just suck em in and make a short horizontal line in the hollow. Blush goes on the apples of your cheeks – smile and smudge it in a circle. Highlight goes right above your blush in a short horizontal line. Voila, now you have cheekbones. For that extra holy-shit factor, put a line of highlight down the bridge of your nose and smudge some bronzer on your temples. Easy peasy. By the way, when I say smudge, I literally mean with your fingers, you don’t need a brush or sponge unless you’re fancy like that.
Kat Von D Tattoo Liner: Like the name implies, this liquid liner stays put like a tattoo. I mean, it’s harder to get it to come off your eyes than stay on, it’s that good (PS, my solution to this problem is mineral oil, olive oil, or baby wipes). I love this stuff and have used it for years. It’s totally smudge-proof and water-resistant.
- Travel Makeup Tip: To apply liquid liner, make a series of tiny dots across your lashline with the tip of the liner pen. Then, just connect the dots. Easy!
Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz: My face looks oddly naked without brows, and Anastasia is the holy grail of brow products. It’s also great for travel: it’s a super long-lasting formula that does not slip off, like a lot of other brow products I’ve tried. It seriously stays on even when you’re swimming in the ocean! I actually use a Dipbrow cream pot and a brush, but I think the pencils are more travel-friendly and easier to use.
- Travel Makeup Tip: When drawing in your brows freehand (IE not using a stencil), make one straight line below your brow, and one on top. Then draw your arch. Finally, lightly shade your actual brow between your top and bottom drawn lines. The keyword is lightly: drawing in too much between the lines will look fake!
- Bonus Tip: Yet again, NYX comes to the rescue with a fantastic dupe!
MAC Zoom Fast Lash: This is my OG mascara. I wear it to the gym. I wear it swimming. I wore it on my wedding day. It lasts, and it gives me doe-eyes, and I love it. Plus, they have a cute little travel-sized version!
Revlon Creme Eyeshadow: As you can probably tell, I’m not really a drugstore makeup kind of gal. I don’t use Revlon at home, but for travel? This stuff is perfect. It’s a cream shadow, which means it will never break and spill all over the inside of your bag, which is what happens to me every time I take a precious, expensive eyeshadow palette anywhere. You could literally throw this thing across the room or microwave it and it’s going to continue serving up high-quality creamy eyeshadow that will last all day!
- The one downside: This stuff doesn’t work too well with brushes. It’s actually best to use those cheap foam applicators that come with most drugstore eyeshadow palettes (except this one, of course). I’ve also gotten in the habit of applying it with my pinky. I’m using the Nude palette, so it’s pretty forgiving even if you screw it up – and you can always wipe it right off if you need to start over!
Haircare For Long Term Travel
I have terrible hair. No, it’s true, and I’m not just fishing for compliments here (ahem: the comment box is below. I’ll wait.) Sure, with the right products, some hair tools, and a lot of clip-on extensions, it looks OK. But naturally? It’s a mess. It’s both curly and wavy at the same time, frizzy, fly-away, prone to split ends and breakage, and thin. It tangles and breaks off if I so much as look at it the wrong way. And it has a never-ending thirst for
blood moisture. Needless to say, it is difficult to travel with! If you’re blessed with genetically shiny, thick, bouncy hair that never has any issues while traveling, I hate you good for you! You can skip this section. For the rest of us follicle-challenged folks, read on.
- 2019 Update: I DO NOT HAVE TERRIBLE HAIR ANYMORE. I’ve recently embraced my hair’s natural texture and gone all-in on the Curly Girl Method, and my usual flyaway hair has transformed into bouncy, shiny curls. Like, who am I, seriously Here’s what I bring with me when I travel now: all this product, a travel blowdryer, a travel diffuser, and a microfiber hair towel. YES I know it’s super extra. But my curls look flawless and this is the first time in my life I’ve ever had good hair, so don’t @ me!
OK, onto the recommendations for everyone who hasn’t suddenly embraced their hair’s natural curlyness (but seriously y’all, the Curly Girl Method is life changing).
Bring the shampoo and conditioner that you need. Don’t count on the hotel’s free bottles, or finding suitable hair products wherever you’re traveling. You won’t. Once you find a shampoo and conditioner combo that works, bring as much of it with you as you can!
A shampoo bar is a great alternative to a big bottle of shampoo, and even more moisturizing. Plus, a shampoo bar in a tin should last for months, and will never bust open and spill all over your suitcase (we’ve all been there).
- Haircare Travel Tip: These bars smell delicious, are made with all-natural ingredients, and are sold pacakaging free! You can also find your favorite scent on Etsy (Coffee? Rosemary Mint? Rosemary Lavender? Vanilla Honey?) Omg, I want one of each!
Water can have a very different effect on your hair while traveling than you’re used to. “Hard water” as it’s called, is not actually ice (confusing, I know) but water that contains trace elements of chemicals and minerals. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can have a negative effect on your hair called buildup – just the same as what causes staining on your tub or tiled bathroom floor.
- Haircare Travel Tip: To wash away that buildup and keep it from damaging your hair, either bring a small amount of clarifying rinse or shampoo, or – my preference – bring a small bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar with you! Distill the Apple Cider Vinegar with water and rinse your hair with it.
Bring a small travel-sized boar bristle brush. A plastic brush can be damaging to your hair – it tends to rip out tangles and can break fragile hair. An all-natural boar bristle brush helps distribute product and natural oils throughout your hair, untangle it without breaking it, smooth it without flattening it, and help your hair stay shiny. It’s a crucial haircare tool and that I made sure to bring with me! I brought this one and it’s just the right size for travel. (Note: my husband also uses this on his beard – it’s a great beard brush!)
Pack a teeny, tiny hair straightener. I know, it’s silly to bring a hair straightener on a backpacking trip. But like … the alternative is having bangs that curl out and up like I’m a sk8r boi from the mid 2000’s. I air-dry my hair, so no need for a travel blowdryer, but you can pry my tiny straightener from my cold, dead hands.
Bring a pair of tiny, foldable scissors to trim split ends, cut bangs, trim beards, tidy up down there, and – if you’re up for it – give haircuts. This is the pair we brought with us.
- Haircare Travel Tip: ONLY use these scissors on hair – never on paper or anything else! You could potentially damage the blade which could in turn damage your hair.
Take special care with the ends of your hair. (Rhyme intentional.) The ends of your hair are the most prone to breakage and splitting, which leads to tangles and frizz – two things I am regretfully well versed in. I take a tiny tub of split end balm. I put it on my ends after showers, whenever they’re feeling dry, or just when I need to tame things down and smooth things out. I brush through with my boar bristle brush to spread the oils through my hair evenly.
Coconut Oil and Olive Oil are fantastic for hair. A little tub of coconut oil or argan oil goes a long way. While it’s not great for facial skin, coconut oil is perfect for hair, hands and feet, and dry lips. And both argan oil and olive oil are all-around beauty powerhouses! I bring Argan Oil on trips to use for both my face and hair … but I’ve also been known to take advantage of shared olive oil bottles in hostel kitchens, too.
- Haircare Travel Tip: A little bit of oil goes a long way: put a dime-sized drop in your hands and smooth through your hair starting with your ends.
Travel Skincare Tips
When it comes to skincare, you have two goals to keep in mind while you’re traveling: to nourish and protect your skin. Nourishing your skin means keeping it fed and watered with yummy skin-quenching goodness to keep it healthy and vibrant. Protecting it means guarding your skin from things that can damage it. A good skincare routine for travel does both. Here are my favorite travel skincare tips to help you develop a good skincare routine for traveling.
Don’t Skimp on Moisturizer
Moisturizer is one of the most important things to keep handy while you travel, so don’t forget this travel skincare tip. Well moisturized skin is healthier, more supple, can respond better to repair damage, and is more resistant to the effects of aging. But not all moisturizer is created equally.
Look for a moisturizer with easily absorbed natural ingredients. I prefer moisturizers that use easily absorbed natural oils, such as olive oil, aloe vera, jojoba oil, almond oil, or shea butter.
- Travel Moisturizer Tip: Although it’s great for hair, avoid coconut oil for your face if you’re acne-prone!
Replace any moisturizer that contains Mineral Oil or Dimethicone as one of its first ingredients. These are cheap fillers made from the same stuff as petroleum and aren’t doing anything good for your skin. In fact, mineral oil can cause acne. Try to steer clear! Note: On the flip side, mineral oil makes a FANTASTIC makeup remover, especially for eye makeup! In a pinch, you can use a cheap mineral-oil based lotion, like the freebies at any hotel, on a tissue to remove makeup.
Depending on the moisture needs of your skin and the climate you’re going to be visiting, consider bringing a lighter or heavier moisturizer. Generally, a cold or dry climate requires a heavier moisturizer than a hot or humid climate. A heavy moisturizer will sit on your skin and take longer to penetrate; a light moisturizer will absorb almost immediately into your skin. You want a heavier moisturizer anywhere that it is cold, dry or high-altitude, and a lighter moisturizer for when it’s hot and humid. For my year-long backpacking trip I brought one of each and alternate based on where I am.
In a pinch, just use olive oil. Yes, like edible olive oil that you use for cooking and salad dressing! Olive oil is a great moisturizer for all skin types, it’s fantastic for your skin and hands, excellent for dry or flyaway hair, and a healthy cooking ingredient. A small bottle of olive oil in my bag does the work of several products for me!
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Moisturizing comes from inside AND out.
Sunscreen: the Most Important Travel Skincare Tip
You can moisturize all you want, but nothing can erase the effects of sun damage on your skin. Sun damage strips your skin of moisture, burns your skin cells, prematurely ages your face, and causes wrinkles. Wearing sunscreen daily is the difference between looking like you’re 40 and looking like you’re 20 when you’re actually in your 30s. And while I have nothing against wrinkles and am not afraid of aging, I also like my face the way it is. When you travel, you’re more exposed to the sun, often more frequently and sometimes – if you’re closer to the equator- in stronger doses than you’re used to. Wearing sunscreen every day is the most important travel skincare tip!
Always wear at least SPF 50 sunscreen on your exposed skin, including your hands and feet.
Wear a sunscreen specifically made for your face, if your skin is sensitive or acne-prone. This is my favorite.
Some makeup has SPF. I use a tinted moisturizer with SPF to multi-task and protect my face while it moisturizes my skin.
Wear clothes that protect your skin from the sun. A gauzy white button-down shirt is both fashionable and one of my favorite ways to protect myself from a day in the sun. I wear it everywhere from hiking to swimming – saves my skin and saves me money on sunscreen! White or light colors are better at reflecting heat and light than dark colors.
A cute hat and some big sunglasses are more than just travel fashion: they’re also great sun protection for your face, ears, and neck!
Take Care of your Hands and Feet
Travel can take a toll on your hands and feet, whether it’s dry cracked heels from walking for miles and miles, or cuticles gone rogue!
Bring a little tub of moisturizing cream or salve. I like Burt’s Bee’s salve. Use it on hands, fingers, feet, and even elbows. My husband sometimes uses it in place of beard oil. You can also rub it on the ends of your hair to prevent split ends. It’s fantastic!
Don’t forget to pack some small, lightweight nail care necessities: cuticle clippers and a nail file. I’m a nervous picker, and these two tools save me so much pain and anguish! I have a small glass nail file that doesn’t wear down, and some cheap cuticle clippers from the drug store.
Honestly, we get mani-pedis about once a month. Yes, both of us. Yes, while we’re traveling. It’s not just a good way to take care of our hands and feet, it’s also a fun way to practice our Spanish speaking skills on a poor innocent beautician who’s forced to talk to us for a whole hour. Plus, it’s a nice cheap way to pamper ourselves and relax!
My Favorite Multitasking Beauty Must-Haves for Travel
Phew! This is a long post! If you made it this far in,
it’s too late to leave now here is your reward. These are my ultimate must-have beauty items for travel – the ones I’d never leave home without. Some of them may seem a little … odd, and most of them can be found in your kitchen. But their usefulness on a long trip is unparalleled! Read on for my roundup of multitasking beauty must-haves for travel.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar is my favorite multi-tasking beauty product. Yes, I know, it smells really terrible. But it’s so wonderful! It makes a great facial toner and astringent, heals sunburns, kills both bacteria and yeast overgrowth (aka wet bikini rash, you know what I’m talking about ladies), instantly stops heartburn, removes buildup from hair and adds shine, heals acne, provides quick first-aid disinfecting for minor cuts and scrapes, and is an essential ingredient in any Asian-inspired sauce (OK, that’s not a beauty tip, but it is delicious). Oh, and it’s super good for you. Yep, apple cider vinegar is a powerhouse! I always keep some in a tiny spray bottle for beauty purposes when I travel.
Repeat after me: you don’t need face wash. Face wash is like detergent for your face, stripping it totally dry and leaving it dehydrated and starving for moisture. Bad! But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cleanse your face every night. All you need are baby wipes! Baby wipes gently remove dirt and grime while leaving behind your face’s natural defensive and moisturizing oils. I travel with a pack of baby wipes at all times: they’re great for removing makeup, takes care of that oh-my-god-I-need-a-shower feeling on a long flight or bus ride, helps with cleanliness down-there, functions as hand wipes when you need to snack on the go, and can even sub in for toilet paper in a pinch! (That last one has come in handy more times than I care to admit in South America…)
If you just said “huh?” I don’t blame you. I never heard of arrowroot powder until I changed my diet to avoid processed corn derivatives (like cornstarch) and started using it as a thickening agent in cooking. Turns out that arrowroot powder, which is made from starchy tapioca, is a fantastic beauty product for soaking up oil and soothing skin! You can dust a little arrowroot powder on your hair to instantly freshen oily roots, like a DIY dry shampoo (plus: no bottle taking up space in your pack). You can also use arrowroot powder as a finishing face powder: it sets your makeup and soaks up oil all day long. I used to use an expensive Makeup Forever HD Finishing powder every day – and then I tried arrowroot powder. It’s literally indistinguishable! As if that wasn’t enough, you can also use arrowroot powder the same way you would use baby powder or Gold Bond’s powder: put some on your feet to help with sweat or dust a little between your legs to reduce chafing.
I’ve mentioned olive oil a few times already in this post, and that’s because it’s a beauty product superstar. For your face, it removes makeup and moisturizes. For dry hands and feet, just rub on some olive oil. Frizzy, dry hair? Apply a tiny bit of olive oil. Chapped lips? Olive oil + a little sugar or salt = the only exfoliating and moisturizing scrub you will ever need. Oh, and don’t forget to eat some. Olive oil is healthy and nutritious for beauty inside and out!
Yeah, tweezers. Boring, you say? Obvious, maybe? Well, in addition to preventing your badass travel girl eyebrows from turning into scary travel girl caterpillars, tweezers are a super useful tool to have along for any traveler. Fact: We’ve used tweezers to remove like 10 splinters in the past 4 months. Another one (thank you DJ Khalid for ruining that phrase for everyone): Sometimes you just randomly need a tiny pair of pliers. Bam, tweezers to the rescue. At the very least, keep a pair in your first aid kit. You may find yourself using them on everything from ingrown hairs to emergency bikini hair removal (uhh, TMI?).
I’m gonna get real with you here: I do not do laundry as often while I travel as I do at home. And nothing is grosser than that nasty BO smell on a polyester shirt. Turn out that the chemicals used in most deodorant and antiperspirant react with your skin and the fabric of your shirt to create that nasty smell.
When I started using an all-natural deodorant, my shirts stopped smelling! Now they just smell like delicious honey and shea butter deodorant. This stuff really lasts for 24 hours and makes you smell wonderful. It’s not an antiperspirant, but I’m OK with that – I’m not much of a sweater anyway, and I prefer the idea of not preventing my body from doing something it was built to do. I tested about 5 natural deodorants before falling in love with this one, and I don’t think I’ll ever switch again!
Wow. If you read all of that, A+: your skin is already glowing a little bit from the knowledge you just absorbed! (Unless you’re like Gretchen Weiners, in which case it’s probably all gone straight to your hair. Mean Girls references, anyone? Anyone??) For more fantastic travel makeup recommendations, check out the best beauty products for travel from Pages of Travel.
Hey, what’s your biggest travel beauty woe? Leave me a comment and let me know!
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