Ask Kate: What’s On Your Makeup Packing List?

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Ask Kate: What's on your makeup packing list?

This edition of Ask Kate is about how to look good on the road without packing your entire bathroom cabinet.

Hi Kate!

I have a question for your Ask Kate series: as a woman constantly on the road, how do you maintain some sort of beauty routine? What are your beauty must-haves on the road? How has your beauty routine changed from your old more “static” life compare to your current “nomadic” lifestyle?

OK, I totally lied. It was three questions. But… they’re all related.

Hope to read your answer soon!

Full disclaimer: I’ve never been a crazy makeup or beauty product girl.  I have always gone with a simple look that works, rarely deviating from it.  The only time I buy new makeup is if my eyeshadow explodes or I need lipstick to match a bridesmaid’s dress.  That’s about it.

But my home beauty routine happens to work phenomenally for travel as well.  My advice for you?  Find a simple, versatile look that looks great on you, and take the basics on the road with you.  That goes for makeup, hair, nails, and skincare.


Unlike a lot of women, I always wear makeup on the road because I think I look better in pictures when I’m wearing it.

My makeup look is a simple day look, but it’s versatile.  If it’s night or a special event, I just layer the eyeshadow until it’s darker and draw my eyeliner on thicker!

Here is what I take with me when I travel:


My hair is a crazy, curly mess, and it tends to blow up when I travel to humid climates.  I give tips for traveling with curly hair here.

I also get my share of haircuts on the road.  My absolute best haircuts have been in Italy, and my most interesting, time-intensive and precise ones have been in Asia.  I have yet to get a horrifying haircut abroad (fingers crossed!).

Here is what I take on the road:


As a lifelong pianist, I keep my nails short.  I rarely do anything to them, but I do love getting regular mani-pedis in Southeast Asia, where they usually cost under $5.

Here is what I take on the road:

Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear is the toughest nail polish I’ve ever used.  Hot pink has always been my default color and I have the nail polish with me for important occasions, like the wedding I’m going to this week. I don’t take nail polish remover with me, but I buy it if I need it.


If there’s one bit of beauty advice that I want every woman to take, it’s this: use facial moisturizer with broad spectrum SPF every day.  Between skin cancer and early-onset wrinkles, there is no reason not to.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money — the one I use costs about $10.

Here is what I take:

  • Generic facial cleanser for normal or combination skin (I’m using one from UK drugstore chain Boots right now)
  • Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture
  • Hydrocortisone cream (for eczema breakouts underneath my chin)
  • Tweezers (I love my pinup girl tweezers from Bali!)

And that’s it!  I take a small bag for makeup and a slightly larger bag for my toiletries.

Traveling long-term doesn’t mean you need to either bring an arsenal of products or look like a hobo. Just a few key products will have you traveling light and looking great.

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32 thoughts on “Ask Kate: What’s On Your Makeup Packing List?”

  1. I have moisturiser, lippy, and that’s it (plus eyeliner, which I have yet to bust out). Most days I don’t even bother with lippy. Ugh, now I sound like a total slob.

  2. Nicole | thewondernuts

    Definitely agree. It’s always good to wear makeup on the road. I use shiseido’s line of sunscreen. It smells pretty and goes on smooth with no breakouts. 🙂

    I also use a double-sided makeup brush. One side can do eyeliner and fill in brows. The other can be used for eyeshadow. I also use a brown gel eyeliner and a black one. The brown one can double as eyeshadow! 🙂 gotta save as much room as possibe in that liter-sized toiletry bag…

  3. I have a very similar make-up list (including the Cover Girl mascara – it is the BEST), and I also have explosive curly hair. Will have to check out the product you use…mine is good too, but I’m always on the look-out for something better.

  4. I carry similar products for the road as well. Half of our blog, Bruised Passports, is dedicated to fashion (my take on ‘how not to look like a hobo on the road ;-)) Take a look when you have a moment- would love to hear what you think 🙂

  5. Just like you, I wouldn’t consider myself a really girly girl, but I like looking nice on my photos. My basics are a facial moisturizer with sun protection factor (important!), black mascara, concealer (because I always look tired otherwise) and a loose powder against a glossy face. Also, I would never bring a lipstick, I usually just have a slightly reddish chap stick — and that can even be reused as blush eventually.

  6. I am really fair skinned so I MUST carry moisturizer and foundation with a high SPF! Also, I have the frizziest hair, so I also travel (when possible) with a travel straightener. If that’s not practical I always keep my hair in a braid.

  7. I’m all about the BB Cream as I hate the feeling of foundation (I find it too heavy) and it kills lots of birds with one stone. Mascara is a must and Carmex lip balm is the bomb diggidy too – although I lost mine about a month back and Carmex is nowhere to be found in South America. Gutted.

  8. It’s like a whole other world of packing that I’d never even imagined! While I’ve worn make-up in the past (don’t ask), I never considered travelling with any. A crazy idea: how about not wearing make-up at all? Blasphemy…or genius?!

  9. I always carry a tube of chap-stick with SPF 15 in it – it may not be as classy as lipstick but being blonde and fair skinned I pretty much burn in a matter of seconds of being out in the sun!

  10. Looks pretty similar to my makeup arsenal at home and abroad! I usually have powder foundation instead of concealer since my skin is oily. I often still look like crap when I travel (oh, pale, blemish prone skin, you sneaky devil) but the makeup helps keep me looking less hobo-like. I lovelovelove Biosilk for my thick, long, wavy hair…but had completely forgotten about it. Good reminder to go find some!

  11. I am all about the BB Cream! Smashbox makes a great one, and it has sunscreen too, double plus score! I also pack a couple of MAC eyeshadow pots that are complimentary to one another, some pressed powder, mascara, lip gloss, and I’m good to go!

  12. A great selection of make up for everyday use.

    Swap out the foundation for BB cream and the lipgloss for something a bit glossier.. and it’s just like my makeup kit here!

    I also have problems with frizzy awful hair, but my hair isn’t curly. I’ll have to look into the products you mentioned, maybe they help in this crazy Hong Kong humidity!

  13. Excellent list for day to day use and I agree, we have to look our best for photos! I love the pinup girl tweezers from Bali, they are too cute!

  14. I have given up wearing make up during the day, apart from a bit of eye concealer perhaps to cover up those puffy party eyes. When traveling in hot countries make up gets just sweated away anyway, so I usually don’t bother. To save space I use suncream as a facial and body lotion (plus aftersun). I don’t carry an extra face lotion with me. Every bit of space in my backpack is precious! 🙂

  15. I’ve been thinking about this a lot due to my upcoming solo trip to South America in 3 weeks… and I’ve decided to pretty much take the same amount of make-up that I’d wear at home. There’s never a worse feeling when you really want to put something on and you haven’t packed it! It’s already nerve wracking travelling abroad on my own, but completely ditching my normal lifestyle will probably result in a lack of confidence… which I don’t really need!

    So I’ve settled on taking a mascara, liquid eyeliner, concealer stick, face power, facial moisturiser, tinted lip balm and an eye brow pencil. I ditched the foundation, which I suppose is a step forward 😉

  16. I don’t wear makeup everyday, but I’ve started to make it mandatory when travelling. Pictures can be less flattering then real life, and if I’m going to be looking back at my photos of amazing experiences for years, I don’t want to be wishing I didn’t have that shiny face or red nose.

    I’ve been working on finding products that don’t necessarily make me look like I’m wearing makeup, but still work, and oh also are waterproof. . . so it’s not like I’m asking a lot or anything. 😛

  17. This is great advice; I also always wear a bit of makeup when I travel. I basically bring the same things as you do, and do the same thing at night – just layer it on! I love bright lipstick, so I always bring a few really crazy colours on the road with me. I find that, with a bright red lipstick and some mascara, I feel ready for anything.

  18. I have very inconsistent curly hair and unless I have it blow dried, straightened, or clipped back it looks like a mess whenever I travel and it really is the last thing I want to worry about when traveling. The main reason I care is just for the pictures as well. I’m going to Croatia for a month so before I leave the states, I’m going to get a Brazilian Blowout so I won’t have to worry about. You’re makeup tips great, I only use the basics, but I end up always packing with me my collection of eyeliners and shadows which are never even used.

  19. I haven’t worn any make up for over 4 months now and although my skin loves me for it I feel so haggard when I see fresh young things bouncing around SE Asia with their wavy ‘effortless’ hair and big long eyelashes. I definitely need to find a middle ground!

  20. I swear by Lush solid shampoo, so much easier than packing normal shampoos and you won’t run the risk of it leaking all over your clothes. In terms of makeup, I only really tend to pack mascara, eye liner and an eyebrow pencil. I sometimes bring face powder but I find that with re-applying sun cream to my face regularly it becomes a bit pointless!

  21. It’s a whole science to learn packing your make up. Every time I travel I discover another useful tip for me to use, so thanks for sharing, Kate!

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