7 Top Secret Health and Beauty Tips for Female Backpackers

Traveling can be exhilarating, freeing, magical even – and I think most of us agree, well worth a few sacrifices when it comes to maintaining a stylish haircut, having as many wardrobe options as we might prefer, or having access to the entire armory of skin products and warpaint that we would have back home. Who really cares about having perfect hair and makeup when living in a hammock and spending all day scuba diving? Who minds their underarms being a little fuzzy when spending 10 days hiking in the Himalayas or through the jungles of Borneo? Would anyone miss a full skincare regime when climbing volcanoes at dawn or watching the sunset over Angkor Wat?

However, we’re still girls, and feeling happy about our body and ourselves can still be important to us while on the road – there’s no shame in that. Especially when you’re spending months (or in some cases years) on end living out of a backpack, finding quick and simple ways to keep up with personal beauty basics that don’t take up bulk and weight in our bags, and that are practical when you’re living in dormitories with shared bathrooms, can mean that you generally feel more comfortable in your skin, especially when spending time in cities or when that cute guy traveller catches your eye.

Over my travels, I’ve worked out and picked up some great time- and space- saving tips for staying groomed on the go, and want to share them with you…..just don’t tell the boys, let them carry on believing we really are naturally frizz-and-fuzz free!

Your penknife is your best friend

I bought a Victorinox penknife on a trip to Switzerland 10 years ago and it has been a mainstay of my travel kit ever since. From opening bottles when sharing a drink with new dorm-mates, slicing veggies when the hostel’s kitchen is less than well equipped, to opening cans (or even gutting fish!) on camping trips, a good multi-tool is invaluable for any savvy backpacker.

However for us girls, it also doubles for some everyday essentials – namely tweezers, and scissors. The scissors on all models are great for keeping nails in trim (who wants talons getting in the way of adventure!) and, I can vouch from experience, are completely suitable for a quick DIY haircut in an Egyptian guesthouse bathroom. Fiddly penknife tweezers might be slightly more of a challenge to use than posher models that you might have at home, but speaking as a naturally more bushy-browed sister, you can quickly get used to how to handle them effectively and every few ounces less weight in your pack helps.

Go for multipurpose items

A penknife is the classic example of one item having multiple uses – for anything to earn space in your rucksack, it has to be as small and light as possible, and do more than one job. Something that fits the bill perfectly is a travel hairbrush/mirror compact combo, a fantastic space-saving tool.

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Seek cosmetics that are solid

I first got into using solid products because of environmental interests (reducing packaging and waste) but quickly found that they were also fantastic for traveling, and am amazed that out on the backpacker trail more people haven’t heard of them. The most widely available are made by Lush, who have stores and mail-order available in nearly 40 countries. A solid shampoo can last around 4-6 weeks or more (depending on frequency of use), is small, light, won’t leak in your bag, doubles as a body soap and can be used to wash your clothes too.

For long trips I’ll pack several months worth, and until they’re needed store them amongst my clothes – with the added advantage that my clothing is all beautifully fragranced! Depending on your hair type, many solid shampoos may leave your hair soft enough to not need a separate conditioner, but if you’re not that lucky, Lush make a solid conditioner too – which also doubles as a great shaving cream if razors are your preferred choice for keeping your pits and pins silky smooth.

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Epilating is worth the pain

Speaking of fighting body fuzz, my personal choice of secret weapon is an epilator (for the uninitiated – this is a device that looks like an electric razor, but instead of cutting the hairs, rotating blades pluck super fast as you move it over your skin). You can get very light, small portable models, and once you get used to it, it really doesn’t hurt that much, honest! The advantage of not having to shave every few days saves so much time, both spent in grotty hostel bathrooms and scouring foreign markets for decent razor blades.

It’s an individual choice, of course, but an option that doesn’t seem to have occurred to many girls I meet so I feel it worth including here. If you’ve never used one before, it’s probably easiest to try it out at home first, and to get used to using it on your legs before progressing to more sensitive areas.

The many uses of moisturizer

A small tube of good moisturizer is one staple that most ladies wouldn’t be without anyway; but not everyone seems to realise its potential for doubling up as many other beauty products that you might otherwise miss. The first point to make is that there’s absolutely no need for separate face and body lotions; one size really does fit all here, and a good basic moisturiser should do the job for both keeping your facial skin hydrated and dealing with the after-sun needs of the rest of you. You also don’t need to bring tons from home – as it is one thing that you can pretty much find anywhere in the world.

Is your fluffy ‘do missing smoothing styling products? Take a squidge of moisturiser, water it down slightly, and this works as well as many commercial anti-frizz serums I’ve tried over the years. Off on a night out in the city? While I don’t advocate taking a full makeup kit, a few choice items are good to have for special occasions, and one that I wouldn’t be without is a good concealer – mixed with a bit of moisturiser on the back of your hand and you’ve got yourself a nice light foundation that won’t slide off your face halfway through the night nor take up extra space in your luggage. Concealer also makes a good neutral eyeshadow, by the way, as well as doing its primary job of hiding those inevitable breakouts after the weeks of partying and poor diet many of us subject ourselves to.

Skin treats anywhere

If you are guilty of over-indulging on greasy street food and a few too many late nights over the full  moon, and your skin is showing the effects, it’s easy to give yourself a homemade (or hostel-made) facial with a mashed fresh fruit mask. A trip to the local market to pick up some exotic produce is a great travel experience in itself, and it’s a fun bonding activity with your new traveler girlfriends.

It’s as simple as it sounds –  borrow a few supplies from the hostel kitchen, skin/peel/stone your chosen delicacies (using your trusty penknife, of course) and mash the flesh to a consistency suitable for a face mask, apply, kick back in the dorm and relax, then rinse off. Many fruits such as avocado, banana, and papaya are packed with vitamins and antioxidants to give your skin a boost, if you choose fruits with smaller seeds you can even fashion a gentle facial scrub, and what’s left over is a healthy snack!

The menstrual cup will make “that time of the month” easier

This is not so much beauty-related as personal hygiene, but again, something absolutely awesome that so many people haven’t heard of, and the word needs spreading! Anything that makes that time of the month easier to manage is a good thing in most  girls’ books, and all my backpacker girlfriends who use these, love them, and would never go back to tampons or pads.

It’s a small silicone cup worn internally to collect menstrual flow, which you empty and clean a few times a day. Aside from being extremely convenient for traveling (completely discrete, suitable for any activity, only needs changing every 8 hours or so, no need to carry bulky supplies with you or try to track down tampons in the middle of nowhere), it’s healthier for you and better for the environment. The most popular brands are the Moon cup and Diva cup. Try it – you won’t regret it!

If you have any more hints and tips to share with your fellow female travelers…..why not share them in the comments section below or get more tips for female backpackers: 

Photos by: Hallvard E, WillBurton2PhoneyNickle,  yuchi6,  shawn campbell,  jpockele, gillian hefer 

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  • Flavia Asnaghi Nicastro said at 2012-10-02T20:31:35+0000: I spent a month in Ecuador and definitely do not recommend Lush Solid Shampoos *UNLESS* you have the time/climate to dry everything up before you pack it up again. Mine would not dry and turned into goopy jelly. The tin was also difficult to open without using a nail file or similar to prop it open. The product smelt great and lathered great, etc. I just don't recommend it for traveling unless you'll be in one spot for long enough to not have to pack it up wet...same with bars of soap.
  • Abby Tegnelia said at 2011-12-17T16:55:57+0000: I had no idea Lush made solid shampoo -- that's brilliant! I agree that moisturizer is a life-saver. You mention using it with concealer... It also takes OFF the makeup later!
  • Sophie Massie said at 2011-12-20T18:09:27+0000: This might be too fussy for some, but I like to paint my nails in a nude color before departing and then bring a little bottle for touch ups on the go. If your paint job chips or your nails grow out, its not that noticeable. Its also good to have a bottle of polish around to cover up on any unsightly bruised toenails you may incur from stubbing your toes on impromptu hikes in flip flops.
  • Jade Johnston said at 2011-12-21T21:59:15+0000: I love the solid shampoo from lush! Although the solid conditioner does not work very well with my super curly and dry hair.
  • Vanessa Nessie Watson said at 2011-12-18T18:16:08+0000: here are some more great tips! http://www.wanderlustness.com/2011/07/traveling-fashionable-flat-broke-poor.html
  • Julie Van Wagner said at 2011-12-17T15:25:49+0000: I've never heard of solid cosmetics, so thanks! Will def try to find them. As to the moon cup... it sounds good, but looks so... awkward. Is it really that great and not hugely weird and uncomfortable?
  • Betsy Mikel said at 2011-12-16T17:46:04+0000: This is a great article. Thanks for all these useful tips Emma! I'm definitely going to check out the solid comestics, and I'm lucky there are seveal LUSH locations in my city. I tried to bring cleaning wipes in place of face wash on my last trip, which I felt guilty about because of the waste, but I thought would be a better option because it wouldn't leak. And it still leaked, because there is moisture inside the bag obviously, and all of it got squished out onto my other toiletries.
  • Sii Ibrahim Pér said at 2014-01-10T11:25:43+0000: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m05WwunLkF4