Dramatically Downsizing My Toiletries and FINALLY Packing Light

downsizing toiletries to pack light

The following guest post about downsizing toiletries was submitted by Simone.

When I was in my late teens I got a Samsonite beauty case for Christmas. It made me feel so grown-up to carry it with me and I filled it with far too many beauty products and half a nail salon’s worth of manicure equipment when we went on vacation. Needless to say, it was the age before liquid restrictions at airports.

Over the years I found out that I not only didn’t need 12 pairs of shoes for a two weeks trip in Greece (true story!), I could also manage with far less clothes than I used to pack. But no matter how much I reduced my garments and footwear, somehow I still had a full suitcase.

Then I realized that the problem was the other stuff, most of it being toiletries and accessories.

Downsizing My Toiletries

By this time I was traveling with a very practical bag with several compartments and I had already started to use travel size bottles and tubes. I still had an extra bag or two though for my hairbrush, clips, sunscreen and various other beauty accessories.

Now I’m your standard European tourist who usually goes on vacations of one to two weeks, three weeks on rare occasions. So one day I asked myself the big question: How many toiletries do I REALLY need for my trips?

The answer was: Less than I thought.

downsizing toiletries: before and after
The before and after of Simone’s toiletries. In picture 2, the toiletries hanging on the mirror fit into the small red toiletry bag. Cutting back on toiletries was the key for her to pack light.

Investing in Small Tubes

Most of what I use for my daily beauty routine like cleanser, creams and lotions only requires a small amount per day.

All the usual travel sized tubes and bottles were never empty when I got back home. So I went ahead and ordered smaller tubes from eBay (or here on Amazon) where you can buy them by the dozen for very little money. I prefer tubes to bottles – they are much more efficient for small quantities, especially when you want to squeeze out the leftovers. Even just one little tube holds enough moisturizer for at least 4 weeks!

>>See how long toiletries really last.

downsizing toiletries
Simone realized she didn’t need as much product as she thought for her trips.

As another example I have this rather expensive but very efficient deodorant that lasts a long time and I only need a small quantity, even on longer trips. This amount would most probably last for 10 weeks on the road…

downsizing toiletries
She even downsized her deodorant!

Sunscreen is the one thing I’d rather bring too much than too little. However, if I am going to a destination by the sea where I will need a lot to cover my entire body and preferably reapply sunscreen during the day, I only bring enough for a few days and then simply buy a new bottle when I am there – after all, sunscreen is sold at every corner in beach resorts!

Keeping the Bag Packed

To make packing easy, I make sure that my toiletries bag is always ready to go. I don’t take out anything, even if it means that I have to buy an extra toothbrush, hair accessories and other things. This way I can be sure that I don’t forget to bring anything. Most importantly I bought a hair brush that fits exactly into my bag.

downsizing toiletries
She leaves her toiletries in the bag between trips so she doesn’t ever forget anything.

Keeping It All Organized

After being quite happy with this solution for a while I noticed some things that I wasn’t satisfied with, especially the fact that all my little tubes where tumbling around and it always took me a while to find the right one since they all look about the same. Fortunately I like sewing and I came up with this tube holder that either holds everything together or can present my tubes for easy access:

downsizing toiletries
How awesome is this toiletry tube holder Simone made?

For other products I have a basic rule: If I go to a destination where I can get somebody else to wash my hair, do my nails etc. I don’t bring my own stuff. Sitting down in a salon and letting somebody else pamper me is a great way to relax from all that walking around!

Otherwise I pack nail polish remover pads instead of remover in a bottle. I always put nail polish in a little plastic bag. I once had a bottle that broke and leaked…

Since I’m not a hostel type of girl, it’s hotels or apartments for me and they usually have shampoo and other toiletries. No need to even pack my own. In Japan for example every hotel will provide you with industrial-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel (plus sometimes even toothbrushes, razors and other toiletries as well).

downsizing toiletries
Using hotel toiletries is a huge help.

By now I have been able to downsize my toiletries to what I consider the absolute minimum. I also made a cover that holds my foot file on one side and my toothbrush on the other. Add a little Turkish bag for hair accessories and I am ready to go!

downsizing toiletries
Simone’s toiletry bag, all ready for the next trip.

In some places you only get a very small bathroom and hardly any space to put down your things. This is why I bring two hooks so I can stick my creams to a wall or simply the mirror.

downsizing toiletries
Suction cup hooks to hang up toiletries in small bathrooms – genius!

Downsizing My Makeup

I sometimes travel to dance festivals where I need stage make-up for my performances. But that doesn’t mean I need an extra big bag because make-up can be downsized as well.

There are a ton of tutorials on YouTube on how to melt lipstick into smaller containers. I transferred several of my lipsticks into smaller, lighter chapstick containers. This works better for matte lipsticks because they have a firmer texture than shiny ones.

If your lipstick is already pretty used up, you can even take a container that is only half the size. It not only reduces the weight of your luggage but also that of your handbag.

>>Read our tips for packing smaller when weight isn’t an issue.

downsizing toiletries
Putting half-used lipstick into smaller containers saves space AND weight.

Most make-up bottles are much too big and too heavy. You can fill a bit of foundation in one of the little plastic tubes as well.

I removed this pressed powder (about 2/3 full) and transferred it into a small metal pot. Look for online tutorials on “how to fix broken eye shadow / powder” for this one.

downsizing toiletries
Putting powder and eye shadow into smaller pots reduces space and weight, too.

I shortened my brushes with a normal pencil sharpener to make them fit nicely into my bag in which I also keep my eyeliner and mascara. As you might have noticed, I like to color-coordinate, so I might bring eye shadows in more than just the most neutral shades. Magnetic containers are great for only bringing what you really need.

For most trips, this will be all I need and I can stuff it into a small bag.

downsizing toiletries
The final pouch of makeup, should she need to travel with it. Otherwise, she only packs the toiletry bag and leaves the makeup behind.

>> See Simone’s other post on solo travel in Instanbul.

About the author: Simone lives in Zurich, Switzerland where she works both an office job and as a teacher and performer for belly dance and Indian dances under the stage name of MEISSOUN. As a child she travelled with her family in the neighboring European countries, mostly Italy. But when she grew up she started to go further, especially to the east. India and the Middle East have been major destinations for years, as studying those countries’ dances also got her interested into their cultures. In the meantime she has added many other places, from Hawai’i to Japan. You can follow her on her travel blog, her dance website, and on Instagram.

how to downsize toiletries and pack light

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Gear We Use

Organization

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Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

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Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Cereja says

    Love the tube holder. Would you mind explaining or sharing the pattern?
    are the tube holder stretchy or adjustable to hold varying sizes of tubes or did you measure the holders around the travel tubes you always carry?

    thanks for the informative article. great ideas!

    Cereja
    Windhoek, Namibia

  2. Andria says

    This was tremendously helpful. When the 3-1-1 rule was introduced, I bought a whole bunch of 3 ounce bottles, but I’ve never even used 1/4 of one of them while traveling. I just invested in some 1.25 ounce ones and those super small ones you linked to, and I suspect they will be perfect! I’ll relegate the 3 ouncers to my gym bag.

  3. Elle Gee says

    Wonderful article! Very helpful for me as an older, new traveler. It is heartening to see that some of you youngsters still know how to sew! I thought it was a lost art. I don’t have much time before I leave for India, but will see if I can make one of your tube holders. I absolutely love the idea of hanging holders on the hotel mirror: handy and hygenic! Thanks again.

  4. Cassandra says

    This is elegant and I am so envious. Over the past two years of traveling full-time, I have become mildly obsessed with packing, organizing, and minimizing. I thought I had it down to an art, but this really takes the cake. I’ll have to up my toiletry packing game. Thanks for the inspiration!

    PS. if you’re ever looking for content contributors, I’m heading to Cyprus, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, and more this year 🙂

  5. Suzanna says

    Hi there! Thank you for the awesome post. Loving all your advice on packing lighter. Question for ya… do you go through security with your liquids in a separate baggie and then add them to your suitcase later? I’m clueless! Thank you!

    • Brooke says

      I keep my liquids in a separate bag, but in an accessible part of my carry-on luggage. I pull the bag out for security and then put back in after 🙂

  6. Jen says

    My favorite makeup to travel with is Trestique. Everything is in a stick form (cream to powder) and come they in 2 different sizes. Full sized come with brushes on the other end, minis are small enough to fit in your pocket. I’ve been using them for years and I highly recommend them!! Bonus: the bags have built in mirrors!

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