The toiletries list of an obsessive travel junkie

Travel Toiletries List

Cleanliness is next to…

No. You know what? Cleanliness doesn’t need to be next to anything, because cleanliness is pretty darn good as it is. Do you have any idea how magnificent it feels to step into a hot shower after four days of non-stop sightseeing and transit in sweltering summer heat without having had time for a bath along the way? Because I sure do!

Keeping clean on the road is a continual challenge, one fraught with unsanitary peril at every turn. It’s kind of incredible how much corporeal maintenance a human requires, and when you don’t have your own bathroom, these problems can multiply with frightening speed, not unlike the bacteria incubating into a proto-civilization amidst the darkest corners about your person.

And thus, after several years of trial and error, I’ve come up with the following round-the-world travel toiletries list, which should be able to handle just about anything, from boring business trips to wilderness adventures. I’ve traveled with a setup more or less just like this for several trips, and I actually keep this kit packed and ready to go at all times.

Toilet humor
Ukrainians have a great sense of humor.

Though I hope this is useful for newbies (as well as forgetful backpackers who just want to look over a checklist as a refresher), keep in mind that plenty of minor variations can work just as well, and I’ll try to point out those alternatives where they might be of use, or why I might prefer one method over another.

Let’s begin!

A comprehensive travel toiletries list for RTW adventures

Two starter tips:

  • Always use mini bottles. Always! Buying an extra bottle of shampoo after you land is going to be a lot less of a hassle than spending 2 hours checking your bag through security and then not having it show up on the other end anyway (and if you don’t think carry-on only travel is remotely possible, start here). If you can’t find travel size bottles, you can buy empty ones and fill them up. GoToobs are great, but somewhat expensive. If you’re on a budget, get these instead.
  • Break up the list into zones. I’ve found that it’s much easier to remember each and every individual item by remembering major categories, so that’s how this list will be presented.

Starting with:

1) Bodily maintenance

We’ll start with just the basics, which, hopefully, you’ve seen before.

Basic bodily maintenance toiletries
Basic bodily maintenance toiletries: Shampoo, liquid soap, deodorant, dental floss, nail clippers, tweezers, toothpaste, toothbrush, razor.

Cleaning:

  • Soap (all-purpose, concentrated soaps like Dr. Bronner’s are great)
  • Shampoo
  • Toothbrush (folding toothbrushes are fine, but most toiletry kits are big enough for a full-size toothbrush anyway, so don’t worry too much about it)
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss (kind of optional, but it comes in handy as string)

Notes: Bar soap and bar shampoo work quite nicely, and it’s much easier to replace a bar of soap than a mini travel bottle, though I still think it’s a good idea to pack some liquid soap too. They can be a little more convenient for quick washes.

Grooming:

2) First aid and medication

Safety first!

Basic first aid supplies
Basic first aid supplies: Hand sanitizer, anti-diarrheal medication, pain medication, liquid bandages, standard adhesive bandages, antiseptic.

First aid:

  • Bandages (make sure to bring several different sizes)
  • Liquid bandages (I use New Skin, which is incredibly handy for tiny cuts on your fingertips, knuckles, and so on)
  • Antiseptic (I could probably ditch the Neosporin pictured above, since I have hand sanitizer anyway)

Notes: Medical tape is somewhat useful, though I can’t recall ever using it.

Pills:

  • Headache/pain medication
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Other medication as needed (cold & flu medication is quite useful)

Notes: A lot of travelers will tell you that you don’t need to bring medication with you, since you can buy it all there anyway, which is true. But there are really only a few medications that you would use frequently, and it doesn’t hurt to have a few small bottles ready to go, so you don’t have to wander around looking for a pharmacy at 11pm after eating something that destroyed your digestive system. 

More notes: It can be handy to store medication in a tiny pillbox, which can include several different medications more efficiently than dedicated containers, but I get a little paranoid about border control agents looking at a bunch of hand-labeled pills and assuming they’re illegal. Try to avoid this when crossing into more severe countries.

3) Summer accessories

These items are not strictly necessary for every trip, but if you’re heading someplace warm, you’ll probably need them:

Additional summer toiletries
When traveling somewhere sunny and mosquito-filled: Aloe vera, sunscreen, anti-itch cream, insect repellant.

Sunshine:

  • Sunscreen (you’ll probably need a full-size bottle eventually, but it’s good to bring a tiny bottle along with you, so you have some sunscreen immediately upon arrival, which is often quite useful for that very first sightseeing excursion)
  • Aloe vera

Notes: Keep in mind this is not just for beach trips. If you’re sightseeing for three hours out on the streets, you’d better be wearing sunscreen.

Bugs:

  • Insect repellant (look for picaridin-based insect repellant if you don’t like the harshness of DEET)
  • Anti-itch cream (I use After Bite, and it works quite nicely)

4) Odds and ends

These may or may not count as “toiletries,” but I store them into the same bag and I figured I’d mention them here anyway:

Toiletry extras
A few extra items: A mirror, some…romantic accessories, and a tiny sewing kit.

Extras:

  • Mirror (better to find a toiletry kit with a built-in mirror, if you can)
  • Romantic accessories (mine are stored in a Trader Joe’s Green Tea Mints container, which makes for a delightfully convenient storage box)
  • Sewing kit (pictured is a tiny pre-made kit, but you can make your own with an index card, and just use nail clippers instead of scissors)

The following items aren’t exactly “toiletries,” and aren’t included in the photos, but I thought I’d mention them here too, as they’re semi-related, and quite useful:

  • Earplugs (hostels get noisy!)
  • Tiny LED flashlight
  • Tissues
  • Clothesline
  • Cologne (or something similar)

Universal (male) travel toiletries list photo!

Here’s what it all looks like, in all its shimmering mini-bottle glory:

RTW Toiletries List
Everything you need to have an adventure. Of cleanliness!

Every time I look at mini bottles I just want to go travel somewhere.

Toiletry kit storage

Everything in the photo above fits in here:

Hanging toiletry kit
Always packed, always ready to go.

You don’t necessarily have to store them all in one bag, of course. You might prefer having a separate shower kit and first aid kit, for example. Up to you.

But I would definitely recommend a hanging toiletry kit. Sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in a bathroom with a tiny sink and zero counter space. These tend to be pretty large, which is useful if you’re storing lots of things, or if you’re planning on getting larger bottles after running through all the minis.

By the way, try to find one that includes something like this:

Hanging shower accessory
Incredibly handy for bringing into the shower.

It’s an insert that fits into the main toiletry kit, but detaches for use in the shower, so you don’t soak the whole bag.

But you might need a second bag anyway…

Transparent liquids bag for airport security checks

I think we all know that the tiny airplane bottle liquids rule is just totally stupid, but until the entire planet collectively decides to put reason before idiocy, we just have to make do with stupid nonsense and pack all our tiny little liquids into a transparent bag when we go through the cartoonishly inefficient security checkpoint.

100 mL bottles, all in a 1 L bag:

Liquid toiletries in transparent bag
Apparently we have to be transparent, but government doesn’t.

You might be thinking “well, if all my liquids have to be in a transparent plastic bag, why don’t I just get a transparent toiletry kit to begin with?”

And you’d be correct for thinking as such.

Sadly, very few people seem to have figured this out, which means there aren’t a lot of options out there for transparent toiletry bags, other than incredibly simple (and hard to organize) options such as the one pictured above. But if you manage to find something you like, go for it.

On the upside, at least you can use these as a mostly-waterproof storage bag for cables or notepads when you’re not flying, and just swap back and forth as needed. They’re cheap, too.

By the way, DEET-based insect repellant will melt right through this type of plastic. Just something to remember.

And one more thing…

Don’t forget a travel towel!

I cannot recommend a travel towel highly enough. This is by far one of the quickest, cheapest, and easiest ways to travel smaller, lighter, and faster.

Travel towel
Towelie!

Travel towels soak up an enormous amount of water, wring out nearly dry, will dry completely within a few hours, are about the size of a t-shirt, and cost maybe $15. There’s not much reason not to get one.

That said, I have mixed feelings on whether or not I prefer the super-thin version that’s most common, or the slightly more textured kind. The standard travel towel that everyone uses (like the one pictured above) is actually so slick and smooth that it doesn’t actually do a good job of pulling water off your skin, whereas lofty fabrics that more closely resemble a typical bath towel are easier to use, though they’ll take up a bit more room, and dry a bit slower.

I’d say if you’re going to get a full-size towel, definitely get a thin one, but if you’re getting a smaller one, the texture is helpful.

Update! I have found the perfect travel towel. It’s made of linen, and you should totally get one. Find out why here.

Final Thoughts!

Well, I sure hope this was useful in some way. I would hope you’ve got a pretty good grasp of how to keep clean to begin with, but I wanted to point out minor details here and there, as well as draw up the entire checklist, which can hopefully be of some value. When you’re packing all sorts of tiny items like toiletries, it’s easy to forget all sorts of things.

Like your dignity. Heh heh.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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68 Comments on “The toiletries list of an obsessive travel junkie”

  1. Great post,

    I could have used that shower caddy on my last trip to Isla Mujeres. And leave the razor at home, don’t you know that women dig the scruffy look. That way you will have more room to pack those romantic accessories and with your new look, you may even get to use them.

    Peace

    1. I often let myself go a little bit when I’m traveling. I almost feel bad that we as men have the unfair advantage of becoming more handsome simply by doing nothing over time. Within limits, of course.

  2. Great post, I seriously have issued with packing lightly enough, whenever am traveling!! The towel is a completely new idea for me, thank you. I’ll surely need it. Last time I had to buy cheap towels and then abandon them after a week, when flying to another place. Not a good thing!

  3. It’s unclear when going to the towel link which towel you recommend. The link just goes to the general site.

    1. Argh, something is breaking those links…I’ve added the product title to the post, and I’ll email them to see what’s causing the technical difficulties…

  4. Thanks for the list! About to head off down to South America for an undetermined amount of time and… Toiletries, fine. But the towel situation, I was stumped. Thanks for some good options!

  5. The hanging case! That’s what I need. I also should get a proper clear case like yours – I use ziplocks with the little zipper thingy. Now, I’m a girl, so I have more crap, but I usually travel with 4 ziplocks, 2 of them pre-packed (which I dont touch between travel): toiletries & makeup, chargers & batteries, medicine, and jewelry. For your higher-maintenance female readers, I highly recommend ‘convertible’ makeup like Tarte cheek stain (doubles as a lip stain), and Dior 5 Couleur, which works as eye shadow & brow pencil in one.

    1. All the cases should be hanging cases. I think mine could be organized a little better, though it’s hard to come up with a good solution when all the bottles are all different sizes…

    1. Hmm…I’ve only seen them packaged, but never unfurled. The material (viscose) is super absorbent and makes for great kitchen towels, but I haven’t used them for beaches or showers. I think it would depend on how lofty the fabric is. Since it’s a pretty big towel, I’d prefer it to be super thin, whereas a smaller washcloth (which they also make) can be a little thicker, since its smaller size won’t make it overly bulky.

      But if it doesn’t work the way you want, you can probably cut it into smaller sections, and you’ll get a great new set of kitchen towels.

      1. Maybe next time I’m at REI I’ll try buying one just to check it out. I’d be curious to see how it folds down after it’s been opened from its original packaging?! Thanks.

        1. I took a look at some Youtube videos, and it still packs down fairly small, especially when compared to a regular towel, but since it’s a full size bath towel, it’s still going to be bulkier than some of their smaller sizes.

          1. Cool, I’ll go check out the videos. Being a female I’m incline to sacrifice a bit of space for full coverage towel :o) Thanks for all the research you find and share!

      2. Those work okay but you’re right, the material is loose. So…very absorbent and dries quickly, but leaves little fibers everywhere, can smell sometimes, good grief, DO NOT PUT THEM IN WASHER. Or dryer. They fall apart and shrink and get every where. IMHO, good for emergencies or one-or-two-off type things (like helping to dry out boots/shoes) but otherwise, not a single long term solution. I ended up using mine as a pre-filter for my water filter when backpacking.

  6. With Dr Bronners, I don’t see why additional shampoo would be necessary. It’s a perfect all purpose soap, I’ve found. Even at home, it’s the only one I use. There are even some recipes for tooth soap (combined with coconut oil and a drop or two of peppermint oil) that a lot of people swear by over normal toothpaste, which can sometimes be expensive in other countries. Great list – I’m going over it item by item for my two month 20L pack trip I’m taking soon to SE Asia.. I’ve already gone over your other list! It’s been a great help!

    1. Yeah, I think you could do it. I think it takes a little more rinsing to get it out, but it’s not a big deal. And it’s good to know the list was helpful. Some people are already so familiar with these things that I wonder if it’s worth going over them, but then I remember that some people aren’t lifelong travel junkies and enjoy the discussion.

  7. Believe me or not, but this post has been written for me! I can absolutely relate to that and yes I am an obsessive travel junkie and I pack all of these things with me when travelling.

  8. Great list!
    Some useful ideas for women too.
    I was highly amused by your use of the Trader Joe’s Green Tea Mint box. I bought one also because I liked the look of the tin, and am considering throwing away mints because I can’t stand them. I was going to replace them with Altoids, though.

    1. I have this bizarre idea of using each and every one of their mint boxes for some reason or another, but I end up not figuring out what to do with half a dozen empty tin containers. Oh well though.

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