How to Pack Toiletries & Makeup Better

Jessie Beck

 Over the summer, my co-worker/friend Anna and I spent five days in Boston attending a conference. Boarding our flight from San Francisco early Monday morning, I was impressed by how lightly she had packed for the conference. That is… until we got to the hotel room, unpacked, and I realized how much makeup and toiletries she had brought. A full bag for each, in fact.

“I could totally reduce that,” I thought. And so, last week, I did.


Anna and I grabbed a couple of beers, a camera, and figured out how she could pack toiletries and makeup better. Read on to see how we made over her toiletry and makeup bags, and learn a few tips for packing your toiletry bag better, and making it lighter.


Anna’s Travel Style


When it comes to packing, I find that toiletries are the most personal aspect of the packing list. Although some people may get away with just a toothbrush and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s, others wouldn’t dare to leave home without toner, face cream, and a whole onslaught of products.


Anna falls somewhere in the middle. She describes herself as being “a total mom” in her packing since she wants to be prepared for every situation (around the office, she’s our go-to person for a post-coffee-spill Tide stick), but she also tries to only bring the basics in terms of toiletries and makeup.


Furthermore, she keeps a ready to go toiletry bag in her house at all times. “I always bring the same toiletries when I travel. I keep the bag packed and just throw it in my bag. The makeup I’ll change up per trip,” Anna said.  “I always try to keep it organized and make a note of things that I run out of on my phone, so I can pick up a new one next time I’m at the store.”


What’s Inside Anna’s Bag: Before


Before we dumped everything out on the table, Anna had one bag for her makeup and another bag for her other toiletries. Our goal was to get everything down to one bag. Here’s what she had:


Makeup Bag


  • 3 different types of eyeshadow
  • Foundation
  • Compact mirror (mostly used for checking hair)
  • Lip gloss
  • 3 lipsticks
  • 2 chapsticks (tinted and not tinted)
  • 2 bronzers
  • 4 different types of eyeliner
  • 2 mascaras (clear and black)
  • Tweezers
  • Primer
  • Pencil sharpener
  • 3 big brushes


Toiletry Bag


  • Brush
  • Comb
  • Contacts
  • Makeup remover
  • Baby wipes
  • Face moisturizer (with SPF 15)
  • Body lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Toothpaste
  • Toner
  • Toothbrush
  • Cleanser
  • Hair spray
  • Bobby pins
  • Band-aids
  • Emergen-C
  • Razor
  • Q-tips
  • Cotton balls
  • Nail clippers
  • Shower gel
  • Dr Bronner’s
  • Extra hair tie
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner


What’s Inside Anna’s Bag: After


How to pack a toiletry bag


Overall, Anna’s toiletry and makeup bags are well packed. True to her nature, they’re organized and have her prepared for every situation. She made good use of travel-sized items and one of her best space-saving tips was to “pack daily contacts instead of monthlies — that way, you don’t have to bring contact solution.”


However, her habit of keeping her toiletry kit always packed and using the same kit for every trip caused a few problems:


She was ready for a two week trip at any time. Some of the products could be smaller or taken out if she adjusted the kit to the trip she was taking.


There was some redundancy. “I’m not sure why I have body wash and Dr. Bronners!” Anna admitted once we had everything on the table. She also admitted that she had one eyeshadow kit for one color, and another for a brush.


She kept things in there that she never really used. Though she made notes of when she ran out of toothpaste and deodorant, she didn’t make notes of when she simply didn’t use an item at all. “Those cotton balls are unnecessary,” she said, “I don’t use liquid makeup remover anymore.”


To really refine her toiletry and makeup bags, I asked Anna to go through her morning and evening routines. Each time she “used” an item, we moved it into our keep pile. After that activity, I asked her if there were any other items (specifically makeup) that she doesn’t use every day, but might want for fancy post-conference events. As a result, we were able to take out:


  • Shampoo
  • Shower gel
  • Toner
  • Extra emergen-C
  • Extra bobby pins
  • Brush
  • Cotton balls
  • Q-tips
  • Bandaids
  • Big comb (swapped out for mini comb)
  • Foundation
  • Extra lipstick
  • Extra eyeliner
  • Eyelash curler
  • 2 eyeshadow boxes
  • The bigger eyeshadow brush
  • Bronzer
  • Tinted chapstick


Lastly, we took out the nail clippers and tweezers since Anna tends to take care of that before a short trip (me on the other hand, I use my tweezers every other day and wouldn’t be able to do that — again, toiletries are personal!). The mirror also didn’t make the cut since I pointed out Anna could use her iPhone in selfie mode to check the back of her hair instead.


Tips for Packing Less & Better


We were able to get Anna’s toiletry list down by making use of some great travel toiletry hacks:


  • Go through your daily routine in your head and make note of each thing you use. Pack only that, and nothing else.
  • Look for items that have dual or triple purposes. We were able to take out the shampoo and body wash since she had a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s — we even played with the idea of using Dr. Bonner’s as toothpaste!
  • Get rid of the “just in case” items that never get used.
  • Opt for higher quality makeup that reduced the need for “assisting” makeup (i.e. primer)
  • Use your iPhone in selfie mode as a mirror instead of bringing a compact.
  • Pack daily instead of monthly contacts.


We also could have reduced her bag even further by:


  • Packing makeup/toiletry samples rather than the full product. Personally, I subscribe to Ipsy and love using the makeup samples they send me for travel.
  • Put the liquids in even smaller containers; especially since we were only packing for a five-day trip.
  • Use paper makeup instead of the normal stuff.




Want to pack toiletries for travel better? Not sure how to whittle it down to only the essentials? As demonstrated through Anna’s toiletry and makeup bag makeover, you can also pack toiletries better by:


  • Packing travel sized whenever possible
  • Looking for multi-purpose items
  • Using high-quality makeup that reduces the need for primers and such
  • Packing daily instead of monthly contacts
  • Refusing to pack “just in case” items
  • Figuring out what you really need by simulating your daily routine
  • Packing makeup samples or paper makeup
  • Packing according to the trip instead of having a one-size-fits-all bag


If you have a toiletry bag you keep maintained between trips, make sure you’re not just refilling items you’re low on. Be sure to check that you’re not doubling up on stuff or keeping things you never use.


At the end of the day, there will be no magic one-size-fits-all toiletry list that’ll work for each and every one of our readers. Share what works for you.

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