Packing How-to's: Beauty Products, Part I

    A few days ago I officially started making preparations for my annual Big Vacation, which is coming up in less than a month. This year I'm spending 2 weeks and a few days in Argentina with my good friend Jess; in honor of our upcoming trip, I've decided to do a few posts about packing, since it kinda sorta relates to fashion in a roundabout way. I've included some of my favorite photos from past Big Vacations to accompany this post. All are clickable for a larger view; there's a key to the photos at the bottom of the post.

    Today I'll discuss some strategies for packing beauty products and toiletries, with a little of my travel philosophy thrown in there for good measure. This series won't be all in a row; I'll do a couple of posts on beauty products this week, and then cover clothes and shoes once I have a better idea of what I'm bringing.

    With all the TSA restrictions on liquids and gels, packing toiletries has become quite a chess game. Not only that, but toiletries account for a fair amount of weight in your luggage, and since I like to travel carry-on, I pay a lot of attention to the weight of the items I pack. Today I'll share my general philosophy and strategies for reducing the amount of toiletries that you pack, and later in the week I'll take you on a photo tour of the stuff I'm bringing to Argentina. Here are a few things you should ask yourself as you're packing up your lotions, creams, soaps, and other sundries for a trip:

    1. Do I need to bring it at all? I don't know about you, but I've tried about a hillion jillion beauty products at one time or another: wrinkle creams, dark circle lighteners, eye puffiness reducers, pore minimizers, you name it. Some stay on as regular players in my beauty regimen and some come out only when I have extra-puffy eyes or extra-dark circles. But when I travel, I strip it down to just the staples, because for one thing I don't want to haul all that crap around, and for another I don't want to have to deal with a complicated beauty regimen when what I'm really trying to do is to relax and enjoy myself. Is my skin going to age by 20 years if I don't use that night cream for a couple of weeks? No. Then why bother with it at all? My rule of thumb is that if I don't use it at least 3 times a week, I can live without it while I travel. I also find that letting go of a lot of the daily routine is a sure way to slip effortlessly into vacation mode.

    2. Can it be replaced? One of the mainstays of my beauty regimen is good old Dr. Bronner's Castille soap, which I cleanse with morning and night. But as we all know, carrying 2 or 3 weeks' worth of liquid soap onto an airplane is about as pleasant as a dinner date with Vlad the Impaler. So when I travel, I bring my Dr. Bronner's in bar form; sure, it doesn't feel quite as zesty fresh as its liquid counterpart, but it gets the job done and it doesn't need any special handling to get it through security. Wherever possible, I try to replace liquids with solids when I travel.

    3. How much do I really need? I can't believe how many people I've seen traveling on a 2-week trip with a full-sized bottle of shampoo, a volume that would easily last 4 months. I buy small, durable Nalgene bottles to fit exactly the volume I need for my trip; I know I planned well when I come home with all the bottles empty. The amount you'll need is often significantly less than you think, so consider measuring it out first and then transferring to the smaller bottle. If you've got a small kitchen scale it's even easier; simply weigh out one day's worth, multiply that by the number of days you're traveling, and then dispense it by weight directly into the travel-sized container.

    4. Why not buy it when I get there? When you travel in a foreign country, even mundane tasks such as buying toothpaste become adventures. Travel is all about experiencing new things, and a sure way to do that is to try going about your regular activities in a place where all the packages are in a different language and nothing looks familiar. I've amused myself for over an hour in an Osaka drugstore, just looking in wonder at all the stuff of which I had no idea what it was for; to me half the adventure is in discovering those subtle differences in cultures through which you can learn so much. Intentionally not packing something and having to search for it when you get there can be a fun (and sometimes humbling) way to experience a new place. Make sure you do this only with things you know you'll be able to find, such as toothpaste or shampoo, and if you're not sure of the proximity or hours of drugstores, bring just enough to get you through the first day or two.

    5. Is there a clever way to pack it? Okay, I'm going to be honest -- I detest those stupid TSA regulations about liquids and gels, and I'll do just about anything to defeat them. I detest them not so much because they're a hassle, but because they're a hassle that doesn't do a damn thing to improve the safety of flying. So I find ways to beat the system. I'll tell you a secret: those x-rays at the airport don't have any sort of special sensor that detects liquids and gels; the security officers see them in your luggage because of the size and shape of the packaging. A tiny, round, flat case is used for carrying pills, right? Right, unless it's used to carry a small dollop of eye cream. Deodorant containers look exactly the same in an x-ray whether there's a solid in there or a gel (but of course, you already replaced your gel deodorant with a solid for the trip, right?). And then, the tinier the container is, the less likely it is to be noticed; for containers of about an ounce or less, I throw them directly into my luggage instead of worrying about the hassle of the quart-sized ziplock bag. Not once have I ever been stopped for having liquids in my luggage, except for the time I forgot about the flask of Fernet Branca in my backpack. But that's another story.

    Later this week I'll show you all my nifty travel-sized containers and how I keep everything organized.

    Key to photos, from the top down:
    1. Skogafoss, Iceland
    2. Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy
    3. Dancing to Afenginn, Copenhagen, Denmark
    4. Interior of St. Peter's church, Salzburg, Austria
    5. Kitty in jail, Vilnius, Lithuania
    6. Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
    7. Elderly lady with newspaper, Krakow, Poland
    8. Museum of Terror, Budapest, Hungary
    9. The Grand Place at night, Brussels, Belgium
    10. Shadow and reflection, Paris, France

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Packing How-to's: Beauty Products, Part I

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