The Essential Toiletries for Travel and Extended Trips

Staying clean while traveling without emptying your entire bathroom into your backpack is essential.

Packing light for your trip (whether for a weekend or a lifetime) will make everything go smoother. Toiletries are a common area where people over-pack, so let's breakdown what's essential, what's optional, and what you can leave behind by developing a few key habits.

The essential toiletries to bring on your trip

These are the only toiletries essential for travel.

Dr. Bronner's: The universal hygiene solution for travel.

This is the versatile soap that claims to be "18 in 1." The most common use is as a body wash. It foams up from just a drop or two, so a carry-on sized amount will last you a very, very long time.

Besides being a body soap, Dr. Bronner's can also be used as a shampoo, for washing your clothes in a sink, washing dishes, and even as a toothpaste. It's also available in many varieties. Peppermint (the blue label) is the most common, but there's a half dozen or more, including my personal favorite: almond.

This alone will eliminate the need for so much unnecessary bulk and toiletries items for your trip. I'll explain some trade-offs below.

Toothbrush for travel

You could get one of those fancy folding toothbrushes. Or, just keep it light and simple, and get whatever toothbrush you like and snap the handle in half. Classic.

Is that it? It could be. But here's what's optional.

You could easily get by with just Dr. Bronner's and a toothbrush.

But your mind might be racing. Perhaps you're wondering about towels, cutting your nails, trimming your beard and so on. I got you. I carry more than just a toothbrush and Dr. Bronner's myself. Before I get into things you don't need (like that towel, of any kind), I'll get into which toiletries are optional and why.


I only say this is optional since some people claim not to stink. OK.

A travel-sized deodorant is one way to go, but the containers are unnecessarily bulkier than they need to be. A little trick is to melt the deodorant in a microwave and pour it into a more efficient container. I use what was once an over-sized lip balm container. If you're going on a really short trip, you can even get away with using a standard chapstick tube. 

You just break off some of the deodorant from the bulky container into a tiny microwave-safe bowl (try about 5-10 seconds at a time until it's melty), then quickly pour it into your emptied and more efficient lip balm or chapstick tube for it to dry. Refill or top off as needed while you're on the road.

Nail clippers/scissors

The reason I don't travel with these (anymore) is that by the time I need to cut my nails, I have a solution. I often couch surf and the like, so it's common to be able to borrow a pair of nail clippers for a few minutes by the time I need to. I've also learned that just about any pair of scissors (even easier to come by) will do the trick.

If you feel you need your own, try this Swiss Army Jetsetter, which is a mini swiss army "knife," except it has just scissors and no actual blade, so you can take it on the plane with you.

Beard Trimmer for travel

I've already delved into the best beard trimmer for travel in a previous post if you want to learn more. Of the two I recommend, I now travel with the one that's extremely light and not actually designed for tackling a full beard: Wahl Micro Groomsman.

The idea here is similar to the nail clippers: by the time I really need to trim my beard (every month or three), I'll have stayed with someone with a full-on, proper beard trimmer. In the meantime, the bitty Wahl Micro is enough to trim up my mustache to prevent it from sopping up my beer and ice cream cone sessions.

Shampoo and Toothpaste

This is completely dependent on your experience with Dr. Bronner's. Some people don't like it as a shampoo and can't get on board with using it as a toothpaste. I get it. If you must, get a travel-sized container of each.

Also, once again, many of the times you'll have access to a shower (like staying with a friend or a host or at a hotel) you'll also have access to a squirt of shampoo or toothpaste anyhow. So even if you do choose to carry your own, choose a tiny container, as it should last you a while in most cases.

Odds, ends, and specific toiletries for travel

There's a handful of junk you probably shouldn't bring, and some you have to for medical reasons. This would be anything related to glasses, contacts, menstruation, or any medical creams and pills you personally require.

Lip balm, sunscreen, and the like... also up to you. I'm a skin cancer man, myself... well, I just hate putting on sunscreen or bug spray, particularly when I don't know when my next shower is coming.

What not to bring

These are things you simply do not need.

Don't pack a towel while traveling

"Don't forget to bring a towel!" Get out of here Towlie.

Some true psychopaths will pack a full-on bathroom towel on their trip. Definitely don't be that person. Others will allow you to marvel over whatever version of packable microfiber towel they "discovered." Also useless.

Between 80% to 100% of the places you shower or otherwise need a towel, one will be there already. Whether it's someone you're staying with, a hotel, or a hostel. In the very few instances where there's not one (stingy hostels, lakes/rivers, etc) you can simply use your cleanest, fastest drying shirt. It's that easy. You've had your "towel" all along.

Oh, and here's a "hack" for those stingy hostels that don't offer a towel: use your pillowcase.

Cologne, perfume, mirrors...

Eau de road should be good enough for anyone. And mirrors are everywhere; use that selfie mode on your phone if you must.

Those are the travel toiletries you need!

Just to wrap this up, literally, the final item you'll need is a quart-sized ziplock bag (which is also TSA's requirement). If your stuff can't fit in there, you have way too much stuff.

Happy travels!

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