After years of traveling, I’ve found that less is almost always more, even when it comes to some of the smallest items you bring along. Seeming innocent at just a few ounces here and there, toiletries can actually add up, becoming the silent killers that push your bag into bulky burden territory. And often, you don’t use up most of what’s in your cosmetics kit. When it comes to figuring out how to pack toiletries for air travel, the magic word is mini toiletries. With downsized versions of your favorites, you can pack the toiletries you need and still travel light.
Every little bit helps, and with a concerted effort, you can significantly lighten your load with mini travel toiletries featuring your favorite products. With the following strategies, I trimmed my kit down to a third of its original weight. You can, too.
Individual Toiletry Packets
At SmarterTravel’s HQ, we have a wall-mounted medical kit filled with all sorts of first aid supplies portioned into individual packets. I see it as pure packing inspiration. Small and easily tuck-able, packets are ideal for keeping things light (and complying with TSA rules), especially for short trips or for when you don’t need a lot of one thing. Plus, you can toss the empty packets as you go and avoid coming home with space-grabbing, half-empty containers.
While your local drugstore will have products similar to those in our wall kit, you can also think beyond aspirin and ointment. Here are some of our favorite packet products:
Makeup Remover: La Fresh Makeup Remover Cleansing Travel Wipes
Sunscreen: Squeeze Pod Travel Facial Sunscreen
Tip: La Fresh has a whole lineup of travel wipes that includes sunscreen, insect repellent, antibacterial lotion, face cleanser, antiperspirant, makeup remover, and shoeshine.
Razors for Travel
You try to keep those unwanted hairs at bay with a pre-trip waxing, threading, or good ‘ole plucking. But let’s face it: That scratchy stubble will inevitably come back, transforming you from well-groomed jetsetter to grungy backpacker in a matter of days. While the average razor isn’t a major space hog, more diminutive alternatives can help you shave a few ounces off your dopp kit.
For Ladies: I think Gillette’s Venus Snap with Embrace is as close as it comes to the most perfectly packable razor. Shaped like a flat mushroom and weighing in at about a half ounce, the tiny razor comes with an easy-to-grip handle, takes regular Venus blades, and packs safely in its own carrying case (though you can let it fly solo to save even more space). The beauty brand, Alleyoop, makes an all-in-one razor that lets you shave your underarms literally anywhere. The dial-like case includes a refillable water spray, a shea butter moisturizing bar, and two razor cartridges. Oh, and it’s TSA-approved, cruelty- and paraben-free, and vegan.
For Gents: Men have many options, both electric or manual, for manscaping on the go. SmarterTravel editors like the compact but classy Merkur Travel Safety Razor. Or go super light with Schick’s ST2 Slim Twin Sensitive Disposable Razors.
Tip: Let your hair conditioner do double duty as a shaving cream to save even more space.
DIY Mini Toiletries for Travel
Sometimes, your full-sized toiletries are miniatures in disguise. Unleash their packable potential by trimming them down, taking just a portion with you. This works especially well for semi-solid items like your favorite bar soap or deodorant: Just slice off a travel-sized chunk and place it in a container fit to size. Pieces of solid bars of shampoo and conditioner are another space-saving option.
Eye pencils and lip liners offer similar possibilities: Just save the stubs you’ve ground down through daily use and put them in your travel kit rather than tossing them into the trash.
Be creative. There are many other toiletries that you can cut down to size. Once, when I needed an eyebrow brush and couldn’t find a travel-sized version, I snipped off most of the handle (filing down the sharp edge first).
Surprising Travel-Sized Products
Yes, purchasing sample- or travel-sized products is an obvious packing no-brainer. But you might not know the extent of what’s out there, beyond the mini deodorants and shampoos available in your drugstore’s travel aisle. Here are some options:
Mascara: Mascara tends to dry out quickly, so you might consider saving the inevitable waste by using these half-sized tubes (at half the price) for every day as well as for travel. Try Benefit They’re Real Mascara or Clinique High Impact Mascara, or see if your favorite brand offers a travel-size mascara.
Tweezers: Tweezerman makes downsized versions of many of its grooming products, including the Mini Slant tweezers and a Mini Brow Rescue Kit that comes with a tiny brow brush, “Browmousse,” and brow highlighter in addition to the tweezers.
Makeup Brushes: EcoTools has an on-the-go set with petite versions of its normal brush line. Alleyoop also sells a handy 4-in-1 makeup brush which includes a sponge, blush, brow, and eyeshadow brushes.
Eyelash Curler: With a funky, three-dimensional shape, most eyelash curlers don’t play nicely inside a toiletries bag. But a travel eyelash curler, one with a flatter and boxier style, takes up less space. Though its unconventional grip might take a little getting used to, the tiny lash crimper tucks nicely into any corner of your bag.
Dental Floss: Next time you’re at your dentist’s office, ask for a few containers of trial-sized floss, and set them aside for your next trip. Or stock up on mini-containers of floss.
Hair Gel and Other Goop: When you just need dollops of creams and gels, Squeeze Pod offers individually portioned snap-and-squeeze pouches of hair gel, moisturizer, shaving cream, and hand sanitizer.
Tip: Buy in bulk, especially if you travel frequently, to save money on your per-item cost, as trial sizes are usually highly marked up compared to their full-sized counterparts. I buy mini Tom’s of Maine toothpaste tubes in packs of 12 from Amazon.
Despite what the name implies, makeup compacts are often much larger than they need to be for travel. Luckily, many manufacturers make compact versions of compacts (and other types of cosmetics). Here are a few ways to find them:
Samples: Go to Sephora or your department store’s makeup counter and ask for trial sizes of your favorite products. You can also check with your favorite cosmetics company; Smashbox, for example, offers samples online.
Starter Kits: To entice you to commit to their products, many companies package cost-effective starter kits with small-sized versions of their lines. With a single kit, you can get many of your makeup travel needs fulfilled. My favorite brand, bareMinerals, offers a mini foundation, concealer, a face brush, mascara, and other products for about the price of a single regular-sized mineral foundation jar.
Stackable Makeup: This is the latest invention to hit the beauty world and as travelers, we’re thrilled at the concept. Subtl Beauty sells a “Starter Stack” which includes a shine control powder, highlighter, bronzer, lip cheek, and concealer all in one convenient stack. Alleyoop also offers a similar product, a multi-use face palette, featuring a blush, contour, highlight, and mini-mirror.
Smaller Sized Containers
When you can’t find pint-sized versions of your favorite toiletries, find pint-sized containers and make them yourself. For instance, I found these super-slim Mini Sprayers from The Container Store, which I use to hold just enough pumps of hair spray and face toner for a few days on the road. The retailer has a page full of mini bottles, jars, tubes, and boxes for all your storage needs. Humangear, which sells tubes, tubs, and other tiny containers, is another great resource.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The Ultimate Packing List
- The Best Toiletries Bags for Every Trip
- 10 Ultralight Rolling Carry-on Bags Under 6 Pounds
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.