The Beauty Addict’s Guide to Traveling Light

Suitcase overstuffed with clothes and beauty products

Image: Getty

When it’s time to pack my bags for an extended vacation, picking out which outfits to bring isn’t the hard part. Thanks to living in New York City for nearly seven years, my wardrobe consists of carefully curated pieces in neutral colors (read: mostly black), making packing for vacations a relative cinch. But ask me to pare down on my toiletries for an upcoming two-month sojourn to Europe and I get minor heart palpitations. Surely I’m not expected to survive in Sweden, Lithuania and Italy without my full-size L’Occitane Immortelle collection, Make Up For Ever Artist Palette and vast army of hair and makeup brushes? Besides, these items are often much more expensive with exchange rates, even if you get the VAT (value-added tax) back.

My last major trip was in college when I spent a summer studying abroad in London. I made some rookie mistakes back then, packing much less than I actually needed and got burned by the steep costs in England’s capital. Not to mention, I didn’t pack my liquids carefully enough and the one shampoo bottle I brought exploded in my suitcase. Not so jolly good.

Weeks before I was set to take off on this journey, I started collecting my “must-haves” in my suitcase. My Tata Harper Cloud 9: Natural Beauty Globetrotter Essentials, complete with Hydrating Floral Essence and Aromatic Irritability Treatment, mandatory in my book for international flights, was first in. Next came my full-size Oribe shampoo, conditioner and crème. But that’s when things got ridiculous.

In went all of the travel-size lotions, face washes and perfume samples from Sephora that I’ve been squirreling away, then two sets of travel brushes, wipes, cleansers, toners and masks (hey, I’ll be doing a lot of flying and need to stay hydrated!). When these sundries took up over half of my suitcase, I knew something had to give and obviously, it wasn’t my clothes.

I laid out everything in my suitcase thus far and tried to weed out the redundancies, like a fourth set of travel shampoo and conditioner, a full-size mouthwash and organic bug spray. Out, too went extra-heavy or bulky compacts (sorry, Prabal Gurung, I love your MAC collection, but not for this trip!) and repeat bottles of foundation, CC cream, lotions and makeup. Did I need purple and gray eyeshadow for sightseeing or false lashes for nights out in Stockholm? Probably not. Pushing my vanity aside, I got rid of the superfluous. 

Think I'm bringing enough?

Think I’m bringing enough?

Finally, I whittled down what I absolutely would need and what I could probably buy once I landed across the pond (the full list is below). Just to make sure I was on the right path, I checked in with well-seasoned traveler Rachel Rudwall, TV host, Emmy-nominated producer and co-creator of the YouTube series How 2 Travelers. She’s been to more than 50 countries and knows a thing or three about packing just the essentials.

“I’m not too terribly picky when it comes to shampoo, conditioner or body wash,” she says, “but I definitely want to make sure that I have my own lotion and makeup, as products like those can be vastly different or even nonexistent in other regions (think: lotion with bleaching cream as the only available option in India or makeup for a different skin tone on the other side of the world).”

Rudwall also recommends having a pre-made bag of travel-size toiletries (3.4 ounces or less) at the ready for shorter trips and weekend jaunts, so there’s minimal stress in packing. Another pro tip? Pack full-size sunscreen and aloe, as they can be exorbitantly expensive in sunny, tourist-filled countries. Since I’ll be spending two weeks on the sun-drenched coast of Italy, including the Cinque Terre, I’ll make space for my Supergoop!.

Other hacks Rudwall likes don’t take up much space, but make all the difference on the road. She recommends Colgate Wisp disposable toothbrushes, helping her stand out from “stinky and disheveled” travelers who didn’t plan for a 16-hour flight. She’s also a fan of Colorescience’s line of makeup-meets-sun-protection, which includes powders, lip balm and even eye primer. And for her, the rest of the look is simple: Clear nail polish that won’t show chipping, a light bronzer and waterproof mascara, “both of which make me feel ladylike on the road,” and the ultimate necessity, hand sanitizer.

True, this isn’t exactly a deluxe list that’ll have you ready for the Oscars, but it does mean you’ll have much more room in your suitcase for souvenirs, as by the end of my trip, most of the products will have been used up.

Below, I’ve compiled the full list of makeup and toiletries I decided to take with me to Stockholm and beyond. Did I pack too much? Too little? Let me know in the comments!

  • Shampoo and conditioner, full size (x1)
  • Travel shampoo and conditioner for weekend trips (x1)
  • Deodorant (x1)
  • Primer with SPF 30 (x1)
  • CC cream with SPF 35 (x1)
  • Bronzer with highlighter (x1)
  • Eyeshadow (one compact plus one loose powder in neutral colors)
  • Night cream (x1)
  • Body lotion (x1)
  • Clarisonic Mia 2 (hey, it’s travel-friendly and good skin is of the essence!)
  • Eye cream (x1)
  • Travel kit w/face refresher, moisturizer, etc.
  • Travel-size perfume (x1)
  • Tweezers
  • Nail kit (clippers, file, cuticle trimmers)
  • Lipstick (x3; one red, two multi-use. I like Bite Beauty’s Luminous Crème Lipstick Duo)
  • ChapStick or lip balm (x1)
  • Waterproof mascara (one travel size, one full size)
  • Eyeliner (x2 — in case one dries out)
  • Travel-size makeup remover (x1)
  • Travel eyeshadow brush
  • Blending brush
  • Sunscreen (two for body, one for face)