Welcome back to Stuff We Like, a regular column where we shop and share items we think you’ll love. By reader request, I’m building a Stuff We Like series on one-bag packing and tools to help you organize and travel light.
So far, I’ve shared the Calm Traveler Packing List Template for Business Travel – many of you emailed to say how useful it was, so thank you! I have also written about the tiny bag I carry with me all the time, and the tech essentials inside it. I’ve also shared Calm Traveler Packing List Template for Family Travel, which many of you have told me was very helpful as well. Yay!
Today: toiletries! My goal here is to give enough of a sketch so that if you’re traveling this summer, either with your family or to a conference (like RWA, for example) you can downsize what you bring with you so you have one bag, perhaps even a carry-on sized bag, and travel lighter, faster, and with less stress.
In both the Calm Traveler Packing Lists for Business and Family Travel, I left the tab for toiletries blank. Now, they’re filled in, so if you click on either link above, you’ll be taken to the spreadsheets. You can copy and paste the “Toiletries” tab to your own packing list, or you can File -> Save a Copy to grab your own. Either way, let’s get started!
Toiletries operate on the same principles as the packing list templates: Identify your essentials, then streamline everything else.
I keep my toiletry bag 95% packed at all times so that when it’s time to pack for a trip, I don’t have to run all over the house gathering the things that I need. Plus, with different airports varying the attention paid to the “3-1-1” rule, it helps me out immensely to know Past Sarah has already assembled TSA-approved toiletries and smaller sized containers.
First, I’m going to share some links to different toiletry bags I’ve used, or that you’ve recommended. Then, I’m going to give you a tour of my toiletry kit. (Yup, I feel a little vulnerable about that part, but whatever!)
NB: Most of these links are affiliate coded, which means if you shop through them, the site receives a percentage of the purchase at no extra cost to you, which helps keep us in hot pink business. So if you use them, many, many thanks!
Also: if you find shopping for luggage, packing accessories, and the like to be very tempting, please be warned. (Also, Hi! We’re very alike!) Shopping is about to begin!
I use this toiletry kit from eBags:
The Pack It Flat Toiletry Kit works really well for me because it’s very thin – about 2″ or 5cm deep. But it holds a LOT – which you’ll see in a moment.
I’m a fan of toiletry bags that hang, so I can hook them over the door or on the towel rack – or that magnifying mirror that gives me the gibblies (I really don’t want to see my skin that close up. It’s a recipe for obsessive fixation, I think). For this one, I usually leave each pocket halfway unzipped so I can reach in for things I need.
Another great eBags option is this one:
This style is a little more bulky, and since I like to slide my toiletry case on top of or behind my clothing and packing cubes (more on those soon!), this wouldn’t work for me. That said, this style does sit upright on the counter or table, which means you can keep the items inside pretty organized. The slim one I use doesn’t stand up on its own.
There are a ton of different toiletry bag options on eBags, in a bunch of different shapes, sizes, and profiles.
For a long time, I used this toiletry bag from LL Bean:
The Personal Organizer Toiletry Bag (Medium) is $30, and is designed to hang off the back of a door or sit up on the counter. It has a bunch of pockets and different side zipper pockets, and works well as a sort of dispensary for all your personal items. I used it until I replaced it with the slimmer profile one above.
In my experience, the bigger the bag, even a toiletry bag, the more you’re tempted to stuff into it, even when you don’t need those specific items.
In previous installments of my Stuff We Like: Calm Traveler Edition, a few of you commented that insulated lunch boxes like the ones from LLBean work very well as toiletry cases since they’re water proof and lightweight. Good call! I personally love compartments, but as a family all-in-one or a pet med and supplies case, a lunchbox would work well!
Since my goal when I travel is to bring as little as possible and organize what I bring, the slimmer profile of the eBags Pack It Flat Toiletry Case is ideal for me. Let me show you everything I can fit inside it.
Here’s my bag, mostly packed and zipped up, the way it is when it’s not traveling. But, it’s time to pack!
To make the amount it holds more clear, I took everything out. This was a pretty useful exercise, as I found I was carrying way more acetaminophen/paracetamol tablets than I needed.
Here’s everything that lives inside my toiletry case:
Ahoy, all my business, laid out on the counter. That’s pretty much everything, aside from my super-sexxy mouthguard, which I add before I leave, and any extras I may need for that specific trip. Let’s take a tour!
The far-left zipper pocket on this bag is lined with a thick clear plastic, so that’s where the wet, potentially leaky things go.
This stuff right here. These are also the items that have to come out when I go through TSA screening, so I keep it in a separate zip-top bag that I got at Gatwick airport when I went through security screening there. A Ziploc sandwich bag also works.
One key to toiletry packing that I recommend: decant or repackage everything.
Travel-size toiletries are often very expensive, but I’ve learned that you can buy them once then reuse the containers. The shampoo bottle, the black one, is filled with my regular shampoo from home. The Bumble & Bumble bottle isn’t hair product – that’s my evening face wash. The Boscia face oil is a sample I ordered on eBay, but I refilled it with my favorite face oil.
(Also, can I just say, as a person who went through two courses of Accutane in her 20s, the idea that I’m putting oil ON my face instead of desperately trying to get rid of it is HILARIOUS to me.)
The two little round tubes on the bottom are awesome. I loves those. One has my face scrub, and the other has hair product. They are from humangear, and they are the small size GoTubbs. You can see both sizes here:
I can fit a pretty solid amount of my face scrub in one, and it’ll last me about a week.
I have an orange one in my toiletry case that I use for medication:
I know somewhere, a pharmacist is screaming, but I know which pills are which and can put a week’s worth inside one tub.
I’ve bought two sets of the GoTubbs in small and medium, and we use them for everything now. Allergy meds for the boys, medication for the dogs (labeled, obviously), some cooling gel in case we get sunburn. They’re ridiculously useful.
Note: There is also a GoToob with a soft silicone bottle meant to hold shampoo, conditioner, or other liquids or gels, but I had one set and really didn’t like them. The suction cup on the side did not hold, the lid cracked in my bag, and that made it leak. So it wasn’t as useful as repurposing a travel-size bottle and refilling it each time I go.
So, back to the leaky stuff. I put all the 3-1-1 TSA liquids in a separate zip top bag, and put that in the toiletry case on the far left side.
When I go through security, if I need to place liquids separate from my bag, I can grab the baggie and off I go.
The far right zipper pocket does expand if I need it to, but the most it holds is my toothbrush, paste, and floss. I keep a separate toothbrush in my bag so I don’t have to move my home toothbrush around. I get so many from the dentist, I have spares.
Now for the main compartment: this is where I keep my pills, my mouthguard, and a few larger items, plus some first aid items, too.
In the small zipper pocket in the middle, I keep bandages, Tylenol sinus, ear plugs, emery boards, tweezers, and a tiny pair of nail clippers.
In the main pockets of the middle section, I keep Tylenol in a small bottle, plus Q-tips, a deodorant (full size), and a comb.
I have very short hair, so I don’t need much in the way of travel hair product. A comb and a small tub of styling cream are plenty. But when my hair was longer, I had a small brush and a snack-sized zip top bag with hair ties, bobby pins, and the like in this section, too.
Now on to the makeup. This took a few trips for me to refine, especially because most of the time, when I travel, it’s for something business-related, and I want to look somewhat professional.
Usually I don’t wear a lot of makeup. My cats don’t care if my eyelashes are thick and full, and my skin dislikes it. Around the third day of a conference, my skin starts freaking out – what is this silliness? Stop it! So I carry very basic cosmetics that I know won’t make my skin irritated, and that are versatile for different occasions.
Again, all of these items are for travel only. I keep these items in my travel bag, and leave them there. They last longer and I don’t lose them.
Here is what I carry, starting with the largest item.
This is the Budoir collection from Too Faced ($39).
It’s housed in a metal container so it’s durable (it’s never been a problem in security, either).
The key here: INSTRUCTIONS IN THE LID. Seriously. I am not that skilled with eye makeup, and the instructions make sense and I don’t feel like a total idiot.
The tin doesn’t come with brushes, but after a few cosmetic “bonus with purchase” bags, I have an eyeshadow brush that came free with one bonus, and I bought a narrow, slant-edged brush for using the darker shades as eyeliner (which works really well for me).
I love the Too Faced eyeshadow collections, and this one is great for travel. There are two others in metal tins: the Natural Matte collection ($40) and the Natural Eye collection ($40). I have another collection, but it lives at home because the housing is paperboard. The Boudoir collection is the only eye color I have in my bag.
This is the rest of the makeup I carry:
Much like the idea that large items of clothing are worn twice on a trip, most of the items in my bag can be used in multiple ways. Here’s a list of what I carry:
All of these items, plus my mouth guard, fit into this case easily. I have extra room, even. But I haven’t found myself in a hotel missing something I vitally needed.
To develop your own toiletry kit master list, or pack yours up now, you can use the existing Packing List Templates:
The second tab, “Toiletries,” is filled in with the basic essentials I carry, but it’s a spreadsheet, so here’s literally thousands of cells for you to customize for yourself (but don’t carry thousands of thing! You’ll hurt your back).
The process is very similar to the Packing Template sequence:
- Identify your essentials
- Identify the things you need each morning and evening, when you shower or bathe, and when you get ready for a professional event
- Streamline products when possible
- Decant or distribute existing full-size products into smaller travel-friendly containers
- Assemble the items and pack your kit!
Now, whenever you’re ready to travel, you won’t have to run everywhere gathering each item. It’ll be ready to go when you are.
If you’re enjoying this series, you can get this content early and exclusive extras on personal organization, both digital and actual, from the Organization Academy newsletter:
What are your toiletry essentials? Any products you swear by and never leave home without? What type of bag is your favorite?
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