Cosmetics and beauty products can be a tricky thing for many backpackers. Especially for those of us that aren’t just concerned about our skin’s health but also our appearance.
Skincare is something I’m deeply passionate about (blame years of heinous teenage acne and the remaining scars to prove it) and that’s not something I leave at home when I go on a trip.
For years, I traveled like a backpacker. Meaning, I traveled on a shoestring budget, packed light (carry-on only), and was always on the go.
On any given day abroad, I may be snorkeling, parasailing, or hopefully skydiving in the near future! Putting my skin through the figurative ringer. All this means that I need the absolute best travel beauty essentials to keep my skin healthy and beautiful.
While my backpacking days are behind me and I now prefer a little more luxury and a slower pace to my travels, I never once forsook my skincare routine. And while I rarely put on a full face of makeup while traveling, I almost always stick with a few tried-and-true essentials.
Even these days, I still keep my cosmetic bag light. I’ve found that if you pack smartly, you can look radiant and beautiful in all your vacation photos!
So why are these products important? Because a beautiful face doesn’t start with makeup, it starts with skincare.
Maintaining a thorough beauty regime, even while abroad is crucial to our skin’s health, now, and in the long-term.
We want to look as beautiful as the scenery while we’re capturing our memories on camera, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Some of these products are favorites I’ve had for several years. I brought them on my first trip to Belize and I continue to bring them with me now.
Others are new members of my skincare fam and I’m so happy to have found them after years of searching!
All products are ones I would highly recommend to any backpacker or traveler, no matter your budget.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll keep it down to the nitty-gritty ESSENTIALS.
If you’d like to see a post that goes more in depth to my personal cosmetics bag and more products I love that withstand heat, wind, humidity, you name it, let me know in the comments!
This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click or purchase through my links, I receive a small commission. This helps me pursue my dream of providing you with more helpful content like this as a full-time job. Please know that I only recommend products I have purchased myself, trust and love!
If you want to look glowy, gorgeous and put-together in all those vacation photos, these will be the products to snag ASAP.
A Powerful–Yet Gentle–Chemical Exfoliant
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
This product is first on the list because it is my most highly recommended product to any and all people trying to keep their skin beautiful, young and healthy.
Whether you’re traveling or not, I can’t recommend this product highly enough.
Exfoliation is very important to our skin’s health and appearance, especially while traveling. Between all the different climates and pollutants it’s quite likely you’ve noticed break outs more often while traveling.
Part of that is due to worse (or extremely different) nutrition and dehydration–both are quite common for many travelers, no matter where you go.
It’s also because you’re putting your face through a lot: Sun exposure, wind damage, salt in the ocean, sunscreen, makeup, pollutants, etc. The list goes on.
Your skin takes a heavier beating while traveling no matter what, but especially so if you are a backpacker.
Thoroughly exfoliating with these pads will save the day, I assure you. It will remove all the grime and dead skin cells GENTLY and have you waking up the next day with a brand new, baby smooth face. Ditch the physical exfoliants (IE: scrubs) for a chemical exfoliant.
If you’re physically exfoliating, you should probably stop that and get on the chemical exfoliant train.
Why? Physical exfoliants can often cause “micro-tears” in the skin. These are teeny-tiny cuts that allow bacteria to get in to our pores. The last thing we need when traveling!
If you’re unsure of the difference, here’s an explanation:
Physical exfoliants: Exfoliate the skin by manually removing the dead skin cells on your face. (Think St. Ives Apricot Scrub).
Chemical exfoliants: Help dissolve connections between skin cells so they may be easily shed.Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at the Department of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Source
This product is definitely the most expensive on the list, but it is by far the product I recommend most often to people, no matter their skincare concerns.
These peel pads are my end-all-be-all. If you find yourself not-so-happy with your current face, get a new one with these bad boys!
Okay, not really. But they are absolutely incredible which is why I keep forking out $88 for them! I’ve tried plenty of other similar products and nothing compares to these ones. I pack enough to use for each day of my trip but sometimes only use it every other day. Not only are these a travel beauty essential of mine but also just a regular beauty essential that I never go without and I recommend them to anyone and everyone.
If you still aren’t entirely sure, Sephora sells trials packs with 5 treatments. I recommend starting with the ultra gentle version if you have sensitive skin.
It can’t be stressed enough how crucial it is to put SPF on your face, not just while traveling but every single day!
For years, I struggled to find the perfect sunscreens for my dry, acne-prone face and I’ve finally found them!
Australian Gold Botanical Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 50
One of my favorites are the Australian Gold Botanicals mineral sunscreens. It is reef-safe and works well for face and body, though I use this mainly for my body. It doesn’t make me break out but does leave a white cast sometimes, so I do use it on my face if I run out of my other faves.
COOLA Classic Face Sunscreen SPF 30 Lotion, Cucumber
If I have it, I always reach for my Coola Classic Face Lotion in SPF 30. It is a clean product, reef safe and the one linked has a lovely cucumber scent! It feels like a moisturizer and leaves my skin ultra soft even after a full day of use in sun & sand.
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30
On days I wear makeup, I also use the Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer with SPF 30. It’s very light coverage and is great for those of us with dryer skin. It blends out best with fingers or a brush.
On top wearing sunscreen, I always recommend packing a sun hat if you’re going somewhere hot, tropical, or sunny. Even the most diligent of sunscreen appliers can miss spots, and most of us don’t re-apply often enough. Protect your beautiful face!
It’s common to experience some sun damage or sunburn while on vacation.
To properly combat that and all the pollutants I mentioned earlier, I suggest going with a gentle cleanser. No scrubs or anything with fragrance!
While I usually double cleanse at home, (and suggest you do the same!) first with an oil-based makeup remover, and then go in with my cleanser. I usually just pack my regular cleanser for trips and cleanse twice with it.
**If you’re in a real pinch and want to oil cleanse first, olive oil will do the trick just fine! Just make sure you really get it all off when you wash afterward.**
I have 2 favorite cleansers and have alternated them on my most recent trips.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleansing Cloths
An oldie but goodie is the Cetaphil. A great gentle cleanser for all skin types. I also use it as a makeup remover before cleansing with the next product on trips sometimes. I like to bring the wipes with me while traveling especially because then you have a way to cleanse and remove grime even if you don’t have access to clean water.
YTTP Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser
A new cast member is the Youth to the People Kale + Spinach Superfoods Cleanser. Wow! Your skin truly feels squeaky clean after using this.
I also love this brand because they are clean products, made and packaged sustainably. With glass bottles that can be recycled infinitely and vegetable ink dye on cardboard boxes, YTTP is a brand worth paying attention to and spending your money on.
Sephora sells the large bottle, linked above, as well as a mini. I purchased the mini to try and use it as my travel container now, simply refilling with my large bottle at home.
A Heavy Duty Moisturizer
A heavy duty moisturizer doesn’t necessarily have to be a heavy feeling moisturizer but it does need to do a lot of heavy lifting!
It’s no secret that the cabin of a plane is brutal on one’s skin.
Traveling to different climates–warm or cold–can also really dry out our skin, as well as any potential sun damage you may incur. So it’s absolutely crucial that you have effective moisturizers in your travel cosmetics bag.
Personally, I use a night and day moisturizer. A night can be heavier since I won’t be putting anything on top of it. A daytime moisturizer needs to absorb quicker (but still get the job done) and sit nicely under makeup.
Peter Thomas Roth Cloud Cream
For a night moisturizer, I use Peter Thomas Roth Cloud Cream, which is excellent for all skin types. I love this product so much. I’ve been using it for years and have repurchased several times. Every friend I’ve ever let try this, has also gone out to purchase as well!
The price tag is hefty but Sephora also sells mini sizes if you want to try it out before you fully commit. But I promise, once you try it, you’ll never go back.
After my favorite day moisturizer was discontinued, I had to begin the search for another.
First Aid Beauty Priming Moisturizer
While I haven’t found something quite as amazing as my previous fave from Korres, I have enjoyed using the First Aid Coconut Skin Smoothie Priming Moisturizer and feel it would work well for many people.
We all know how easy it can be to become dehydrated while traveling. With all the excitement, it can be too easy to forget to drink water!
One of the worst immediate symptoms? Dry, chapped lips. I don’t ever not have lip balm on me so this doesn’t change while I travel.
I’m always trying new lip products; balms, glosses, sticks, liners, you name it.
But my all-time favorite lip product ever was discovered when it was given to me as a gift!
Hanalei Lip Treatment
These lip treatments are cruelty free and come in several beautiful shades for just a touch of color. My favorite is the rose and it also tastes & smells amazing! I always have one in my bag and on my bedside table.
For a pack of 3, they’re also a great deal!
Long Lasting Blush
Now that we’ve covered the skincare essentials, let’s move on to the absolutely necessary makeup products!
Whether you’re someone who wears a lot of makeup or prefers a more natural look, blush is a must-have.
Most importantly, it needs to last a long time!
Blushes are my favorite beauty products. Just a little bit can make a big difference and can help you feel best in front of the camera, even if the rest of your face is completely bare.
Whether you prefer a cream or powder, I’ve found the best there is to offer!
Glossier Cloud Paint
Glossier’s Cloud Paint is my all-time favorite blush and my everyday go-to. With several beautiful shades, it’s hard to pick just one!
If you’re wanting more than one, Glossier also sells a duo where you can pick 2 shades for a slightly discounted price. My personal favorites are Beam, Dusk & Puff.
Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-hour Blush
If you prefer a powder blush, I can’t suggest a better one than Tarte’s Amazonian Clay 12-hour blush.
I received this product in a beauty subscription box many moons ago and actually had no idea it was a “long lasting 12-hour blush” until I looked it up to find the link for this article! Goes to show you how amazing it actually is!
I suggest purchasing the mini because it contains A LOT of product. Even years later, I still haven’t hit pan on this bad boy. The only downside to the mini is that it only comes in 1 shade. I find it to be a pretty great universal shade but if you find another you like, you’d need to purchase the larger size.
An Excellent Setting Spray
Whatever other makeup you decide to bring with you can be dictated by your own personal preferences but no matter what makeup you’re using, you must set it with the most amazing setting spray there is on the market!
Whether you’re wearing just a little bit of makeup, or a full face, you’ll want to make sure all that work is locked in before you set out for your days’ adventures!
One of my all-time favorite products and one I’ve repurchased for years now. Urban Decay’s All Nighter Setting Spray isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny.
Urban Decay All Nighter Setting Spray
It’s like setting your makeup with hairspray but way better for your skin. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty beauty gurus and bloggers talk this product up–and for good reason!
Whether you have dry, oily, or normal skin, you’ll find the right spray within their different formulas. The product promises makeup that looks freshly applied for up to 16 hours, and it truly delivers.
This is another product that Sephora offers in a mini size so it’s carry-on friendly. I have a large bottle at home that I use to refill my mini for traveling. 2 sprays are all you need for your face, all day!
Hair Moisturizer & Styler
Aside from your own favorite shampoo & conditioner, you’ll want to make sure you have something to help protect & style your hair.
Just like our skin, our hair also loses lots of moisture during plane rides and while traveling.
For my curly hair, I usually bring a leave-in conditioner and a gel, at minimum.
Lush R&B Hair Moisturizer
I love Lush’s R&B Hair Moisturizer any day of the week but especially while traveling. It leaves my hair soft, frizz-free and smelling divine. It’s a product that could work for just about any type of hair. Just be conscious of how much you use, because a little goes a long way.
Innersense Quiet Calm Curl Control
If you prefer something without fragrance, I also love the Quiet Calm Curl Control from Innersense; a clean, fragrance free, & organic beauty brand that is a quickly rising star. Even if you don’t have curly hair, their site has something for every type of hair!
Innersense I Create Hold Gel
If you also have curly hair, I suggest Innersense’s gel and have brought it with me on all my most recent trips. It’s light but builde-able and perfectly protect and shapes my curls and think it would work for just about any curl type.
Rounding up the Travel Beauty Essentials
I hope you found some excellent options that work for your personal beauty routine within this post.
These are the products I would highly suggest investing in, and the ones I personally never travel without.
While I do of course have many other favorite beauty products, the purpose of this article is to help you find the absolute essentials and build from there.
A full in-depth article sharing all my travel beauty products, from face and body to hair, will be coming soon.
What are some of your travel essentials? Let me know in the comments, and if you plan on trying any of these suggestions!