Although we’ve all met travellers who don’t see the point in having a good wash, it is important to keep yourself clean while travelling. Unfortunately, toiletries are heavy, and you’ll have to make some sacrifices in order to cut down your luggage weight and save your back.

Keep it simple: soap and shampoo

I used to carry body wash and a shower puff, because that was what I used at home. The body wash was heavy and got used up quickly, leaving a large almost-empty container cluttering up my bag and demanding replacement. And the shower puff was always wet; even when I wrapped it in two plastic bags, the water still managed to leak out and get into my clothes.

I also carried largish bottles of both shampoo and conditioner, reasoning that you got more value out of bigger containers. And my toiletries kit was full of bits and pieces that I hardly ever used at home but “thought I might need.”

You’d be surprised at how little you need to keep yourself clean. Soap still works well, and a two-in-one shampoo will not only keep your hair clean, it’ll double as body wash when you run out of soap. If you want to cut down to just one item, Lush makes a shampoo soap, which comes in a handy reusable tin — although we ran out of the shampoo soap after a week or so, we still use the tin to store regular soap in. Although the shampoo soap was fantastic, replacing it was a bit of a problem — it seems they don’t have Lush stores in small town Chile.

Lush soaps
There's a lot of soap to choose from

Now, if I’m staying somewhere for awhile, I’ll buy a full-size soap and put it into the tin when we leave (sometimes force or a knife is required). I also usually have at least one individually-wrapped hotel-sized soap lurking at the bottom of the toiletries kit for emergencies or to use as a hand-washing soap.

Even if you’re exclusively staying in hotels and expect soap to be provided, it’s a good idea to have a small one to hand just in case — I’m surprised at how often I’ve had to pull out my reserve soap in a niceish hotel.


Deodorant is another essential. Choose a roll-on anti-perspiration in a plastic container: it’s less likely to break, leak or explode than other options and is usually under the 100ml carry-on allowance. Choose something with a light fragrance rather than something overpowering.

Roll-on deodorant is a better option for travel

Cologne or perfume?

Speaking of fragrance, sometimes you do just want to smell good — and fair enough too. But don’t pack an enormous bottle of your favourite scent — the glass is heavy and you’ll never get through it all. Instead, find a trial or tester-sized container and use that while you’re travelling. I found a tiny bottle of perfume with a handy roll-on applicator, which takes up almost no space in my bag but can be pulled out when I want to smell good.

However, bear in mind that some insects are attracted to strong fragrances, so use your secret stash sparingly.

Hand washing

It’s not just your body that needs to be clean — you need to think about your hands as well. Obviously, washing your hands before eating and after going to the toilet is basic hygiene, but sometimes this is easier said than done.

Your solution will vary depending on your destination. If you expect to get very dirty, a pack of antibacterial wet wipes might be a good option. However, they can be heavy and aren’t easily replaced, so a small bottle of hand-sanitising gel will probably be more useful. Keep it in an easily-accessible part of your bag, in a small ziplock bag to prevent leakages.

Of course, it’s not just you that gets dirty, your stuff needs to be cleaned too. Check out our article on washing your clothes while travelling.

Your thoughts on "Keep yourself clean while travelling"

  • Wonderful and important tips. Nothing worse than a smelly traveler!

    on May 3, 2012 at 11:50 am Reply
  • I'm a big fan of Lush shampoo bars and they normally last me ages... but I suppose if it was both of you using the bar it would disappear more quickly. Good reminder to keep the hand sanitiser accessible--there were plenty of times I could have used it only to remember it was back at the hostel in my toiletry bag!

    on May 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm Reply
  • Couldn't agree more. If it's one thing I've learned from my travels, it's to keep your hands clean. We carry hand sanitizer gel with us everywhere we go to use before eating and throughout the day, since you're often touching money and other "dirty" things ;)

    on May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm Reply

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