Toiletries are one of the heaviest items you’ll pack, and most of it is dead weight — you’re carrying it, but you’re not using it. Don’t make the mistake of emptying your bathroom cupboard into your toiletry kit!

To listen, hit play below or find episode 89 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

There are quite a few ways to cut down on your toiletries, but the most important is to be ruthless; don’t carry anything you don’t use regularly. Buy a smaller toiletry bag to help you cut down and if you have a travel companion, don’t double up — have your own toothbrush and disposable razor, but share everything else.

Whatever you do, steer clear of electric items — they’re bulky and you might have trouble finding an outlet. That means no hair straighteners, girls! Another bulky item is your towel — pick up a mini one at a camping store and you’ll suddenly have a lot more space.

In terms of actual items, don’t bother with mini-sized items, but don’t carry more than you’ll use. A mini shampoo is great for a weekend away, but if you’re planning long-term travel, a 200ml 2-in-1 shampoo is a great investment — it’s got enough in it to last a few weeks, but won’t take up too much space. Plus, you can use it for everything — hair, body and clothes. And don’t forget the deodorant — a roll-on one will probably be smaller and last longer than a spray-on. And you won’t smell out the hostel dorm room!

Or just carry a toothbrush and toothpaste and shampoo/soap! You’re backpacking, you don’t need the rest!

Try ‘Camp Suds’ for soap as it works as shampoo, body soap, laundry soap, dish washing soap, etc. Essentially, anything you need to clean can be cleaned with Camp Suds and it’s biodegradeable and it doesn’t dry out the skin or hair.



Toiletry list

So what do you actually pack in that toiletries kit of yours?

  1. Toothbrush
  2. Toothpaste
  3. Dental floss (this is really handy for other uses as well — think minty-fresh string)
  4. Camp Suds (or 2-in-1 shampoo)
  5. Razor
  6. Shaving gel
  7. Comb
  8. Roll-on deodorant
  9. Hair ties (for girls — don’t underestimate the value of a hairtie. Even for guys, a few rubber bands might come in handy)
  10. Girls — enough sanitary equipment for your whole next period (but no more)
  11. Any other essentials (contact lens solution, moisturiser)
  12. One light item of your choosing — luxuries in the bathroom really can make a trip more pleasurable. I have a shower puff that doesn’t weigh much but makes my showers feel much more luxurious.

Lush stores carry solid shampoo which is great for traveling!

Forget those lame travel sized hair dryers – they never work and almost all hotels have them anyway

First Aid

And what about your medical kit? It’s important to have a first-aid kit with you on any sort of travel, but adapt it for the circumstances. A mountain biking expedition in the Andes is going to need different gear than a city-hopping bus trip.

A general list then:

  • Any medicine you personally need — enough for the whole trip if possible. If not, research availability in the places you’re going and take enough for the first month
  • Any medicine necessary for the destination e.g. malaria tablets
  • A few band-aids
  • Antiseptic cream
  • A sewing kit
  • Thick tape (for larger wounds or wrapping Christmas pressies)
  • Hand sanitizing gel
  • A small pack of tissues (to double as toilet paper if necessary)
  • A few cotton pads for wounds These have been (logically) no-no’d in the comments, although we’ve previously carried them.
  • One blister pack of ibuprofen (painkiller with anti-inflammatory properties) — don’t take the extra-strong one with codeine as codeine is illegal in some countries (eg Greece)
  • Four anti-diarrhea tablets
  • One other item — we always have a few strepsils and eyedrops — maybe pack three or four of each of these items if they’re something you use regularly but not often.
  • Condoms

Keep everything under 100 ml where possible so you can take it with you on the plane easily!

Only pack enough to last you part of the trip. Look forward to having to refill at your destination–Except for those things that you simply cannot live without and will get cranky if you don’t have.


Remember, don’t pack anything you can think of, just the essentials — and a small amount of even those items We packed far too much to begin with (including the largest roll of tape known to man) and three years later we’ve still got a lot of it. Your first-aid kit should be the size of a small pencil case. You can buy things on your travels — in fact, having to hunt out an essential item can be an interesting experience.

Listener link

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Your thoughts on "Travel toiletries podcast: slim it down!"

  • Cotton pads are a definite no-no in the first aid kit. Doctors and first aid people will universally tell you horrible stories about picking cotton wool out of wounds. Grab some non-stick wound dressings from the chemist. They're sterile and pack flat. Also latex gloves: assume that all blood is infectious.

    on December 12, 2009 at 3:47 pm Reply
  • […] checks, first aid kits and […]

    on August 26, 2015 at 5:30 am Reply
  • […] etc.). Consider leaving items behind that you can get once you reach your destination (especially toiletries that can’t be put in your carry-on luggage). Or consider shipping items, such as books (media […]

    on August 27, 2015 at 9:15 am Reply
  • to be honest, I barely pack anything in my toiletry bag except the tooth brush and tooth paste. the rest I buy it wherever I go and its really easy for me.

    on January 1, 2016 at 8:44 pm Reply
    • That's a good technique, have the essentials and buy the rest on arrival. I prefer to have all the things I use regularly with me so I don't have to go shopping!

      on January 4, 2016 at 11:04 am Reply
  • […] insurance and read your policy so you know what to do if you need to use it. Also, stock up your first-aid kit with necessities like painkillers, antiseptic cream, bandages, and […]

    on April 19, 2016 at 6:13 pm Reply
  • […] is quite light and tiny and should fit in an average toiletry bag. Of course you will notice there is not one ounce of make-up in there. Seriously, you’re […]

    on March 27, 2017 at 5:10 pm Reply
  • […] heading off on long-term travel, packing your toiletries can be a bit difficult. You’ll be gone for a long time, so you want to have everything with […]

    on December 6, 2017 at 4:55 pm Reply

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