Monday, August 17, 2009

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


Stephanie N. said...

Oh my gosh, you are going to Argentina... I hope you get to take a side trip to Iguazu! The waterfalls there are BREATHTAKING. That's originally what I thought that waterfall photo up top was from. I visited in 2004. Though I was there in April - I wonder what it will be like in August? I guess this is the tail end of winter there.

We were in Argentina for a week, mostly in Buenos Aires, but we took a brief, cheap afternoon flight to Iguazu, had a nice dinner in the little town, spent the night in a nice hostel (a private room with four bunk beds and a private restroom for me and my two companions), toured the falls the next day, and then took one of those overnight sleeper buses back to Buenos Aires. Even the bus trip was amazing, like nothing I have experienced in the US: dinner served to us with wine, a decent night's sleep in comfy chairs that fully reclined, breakfast served to us in the morning, and then we arrived in time for another day of exploring B.A. If this isn't already on your itinerary, I can't recommend it enough. I hope you have a joyful vacation!

P.S. Great post!

Sheila said...

Awesome post! I haven't traveled as much as I would like to (years of working in retail with no vacation time will have that effect), but your advice is great! Looking forward to more!

Susan B said...

Great tips. The last couple of times I've flown, I forgot to remove my baggie of liquieds from luggage AND forgot to put my small hand cream in the rest of them and no one said anything. From what I've observed, they're looking for anything over 3 oz. and anything smaller than that they don't bother with.

LPC said...

I just wanted to know I have given you an award today on my blog. You may find all kinds of new people popping over:). At least I hope so.

Anonymous said...

I don't imagine I'll be doing a big trip anytime soon, but when I do, I'll refer back to this post. You're the most seasoned traveler I know, so I'll take this as gospel!

Audi said...

Stephanie N.: Iguazu is on the list of things to do, though we're not making any specific plans until we get there. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the overnight coach -- we were figuring we'd do one leg of the trip that way. Thanks for the advice!

ebinbaby said...

I was in Argentina in 2005. The food was fantastic, Pategonia was amazing, Perito Moreno glacier was breathtaking and Buenos Aires quickly became one of my favourite places on earth!! I was living in South America at the time so I brought almost nothing and I was glad I did as the shopping in BA is worth the trip.
Just a word of warning I also decided one evening to touch up my roots at the hotel (after indulging in some wine maybe??) and bought a box of hairdye which turned out to be nothing like the colour on the box. I had a nice stripe of orange down the centre of my head until I could dye it again. Lucky it was cold so I could wear a hat!
BA was cool to spring-like in August, Pategonia was cold even in November (ie: wool hat and puffy vest cold)

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great trip!!!! Just today I bought a new vincent longo pot concealer that can be subbed in for my foundation. I also bought his pressed powder. The rest of my makeup is just sticks! Easy peasy. I don't bring shampoo or anything special for my hair except an ounce of frizz serum. It's fun to see how little you can do with!

Audi said...

ebinbaby: LOL, awesome story, and good to know!

Abigail Smith said...

If you have a Lush shop nearby, or even access to the online store, check them out, because much of their stuff is fabulous for travel. They have bars of solid shampoo, conditioner and body moisturisers, and lovely sturdy tins to carry them in. They have face cleansers, scrubs and washes that are sort of solid gunk rather than liquid - better than they sound! I also love the tiny tins that the testers of moisturiser come in - I use them for carrying small amounts of the solid cleansers. And everything is 100% natural, mostly vegan, environmentally friendly, not tested on animals, very low on packaging and super effective!

Audi said...

Abigail Smith: Awesome tip -- thanks! I think I might have to brave the Union Square area to get to a Lush store, but it sounds like it would be worth it!

Anonymous said...

I totally second the Lush recomendation. I travel with the Godiva bar (solid shampoo) and it works well for my long hair, also lasts quite a long time, but try to dry it out before putting it back into it's container, if you put it back wet it has a tendency to stick into the tin and be hard to get out.
You can also put a circle of wax paper in the bottom of the tin that helps. (or cut a circle from the yellow bag it comes in!)