Packing Toiletries for Adventure Travel: How to be Natural, Cheap, Compact, Efficient

Toiletries can get expensive. They can also be bad for you and for the environment, since almost all of the popular body care brands are made with harsh chemicals that you don’t really want to be absorbed into your skin. Over the course of my travels I’ve slowly dropped the use of different toiletries and replaced them with extremely simple and much healthier options, usually homemade. And generally once I’ve switched over, I never go back- not even on long stays home between travels. I’ll share some of my most effective tips with you.

Some of these tips will require you to buy a few ingredients. They should be easy to find- some you can buy in various stores and the rest you can easily find on Amazon. The upfront cost for the ingredients might be higher than just buying the brand name version of the toiletry you are trying to make, but you will get much more for your money and the products you make will last a long time. Some of the products are also multi-purpose, so you only need a few basic ingredients to make many different types of personal care products.

Combination Lotion/Sunblock/Bug repellant

This one recipe will serve many purposes. Put it on in the afternoon when you go out in the sun and it will act as sunblock, keep mosquitoes and bugs away, and moisturize your skin. And it smells good to boot.

You will need:

  • coconut oil
  • zinc oxide powder
  • essential oils (your choice of: lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, clove, cedar, and possibly pine). Do NOT use citrus oils, as they can cause your skin to react badly to the sun. Also never put essential oil directly on the skin- they require some sort of carrier oil or liquid to dilute their potency. A tiny bottle of essential oil goes a long way.

To make the lotion: open your jar of coconut oil. That’s it. Coconut oil, without any additives, is an excellent and healthy skin moisturizer. I have completely stopped using other lotions and creams and only use coconut oil (or other oils like almond or apricot, or even olive) on my skin. My skin typically dries out during New York winters, but this does the trick. Plain coconut oil also has a natural SPF between 5 and 10, so you’ve already got an instant weak sunblock.

To give your lotion bug repelling powers: add the essential oils to your coconut oil. 50 drops of essential oil to 8 oz of coconut oil is a good goal, but this is more an art than a science. Essential oils all have their own unique powers- lavender, for instance, is anti microbial and generally produces a calming effect in humans (and keeps bugs away, of course). So its sort of like you’re brewing your own unique potion.

Coconut oil has a melting point in the mid to high 70’s (Fahrenheit), so depending on the temperature of the room you are in it may be a solid or a liquid. If you are in a cool room you’ll need to heat it up a bit so that you can mix in the essential oils. For storage purposes it comes down to preference. I prefer it right at the melting point when it is sort of a runny cream, but I generally just leave it at my bedside and it is what it is.

All the essential oils I listed repel mosquitoes and many common bugs- you’ll have to do a bit of research to find out which oils repel exactly which bugs, but you can effectively deter flies, spiders, ticks, gnats, and more with the right combination of ingredients. But if you want a bug spray or a spray sunblock, you’ll obviously need to keep it on the warm side.

To turn your bug repelling lotion into sun block: add the zinc oxide. This comes with some standard warnings- basically don’t eat it or snort it or rub it in your eyes, and you’ll be fine. Remember that coconut oil itself is a weak sunblock- so we are adding zinc oxide to make it stronger. Zinc oxide will dry white unless you buy a version comprised of small particles- then it will dry clear.

Mommypotamus recommends your mixture contain 5%-20% zinc oxide, but notes that the difference in effectiveness as you add more zinc oxide will be very little. So at a certain point you’re just wasting zinc oxide.  Read her post here. She also notes that if you have a favorite lotion, you can use this as a base to mix the zinc oxide into instead of using coconut oil.

You may prefer a more solidified or waterproof option, and can choose to use different cream bases or beeswax in your recipe. So if you want to get a little more complicated or you feel like you need an exact recipe, check out this article at Wellness Mama. If you are really into living a natural and healthy lifestyle, her site is one of the best around.

Combination Deodorant/Bug repellant/Sunburn relief/Facial cleanser

This is essentially the same idea as first recipe, but you’re ditching the coconut oil and using witch hazel instead. And since this isn’t a sunblock, there is no zinc oxide involved.

You will need:

  • Witch Hazel
  • Essential oils (same as before)

To make: Caitie at Naturalla Beauty recommends 4 drops of lavender essential oil to each ounce of witch hazel. Other sources say 20-ish drops to the ounce. So as before, artfully mix some amount of lavender with whatever other oils smell nice to you and some witch hazel and stick it all in a spray bottle. That’s it. This one product can be sprayed under your arms as deodorant, on your body as bug spray, held with a cloth over sunburn or bug bites to provide pain and itch relief, or used as a facial cleanser. I will be staying in a tent soon so I plan to spray it around the perimeter to deter bugs from my living space.

If you’re using this only as bug spray, you can dilute the witch hazel with water and add some extra drops of essential oil.

For a bit more info about natural deodorants, check out this post at Naturalla Beauty.

Monthly girl stuff

Guys, skip ahead. Girls, stop whatever it is you’re doing and buy this right now: Lady Cup. Size small for young folk, size large for women who have given birth or are over 30. It is an alternative to tampons and something I wish Id known about years ago. I haven’t used a tampon since I bought a menstrual cup. (I call it the hippie cup, but I’m not a hippie- just FYI.) It is ridiculous how much more comfortable this is than a tampon- I’ve forgotten its there multiple times. And as a bonus, it will save you tons of money (and space in your suitcase) since you only need to buy one for the next ten years.

What it does is collects the blood throughout the day- you only need to empty it once in the morning and once before bed. It creates a sort of suction barrier so you don’t have to worry about leaks nearly as much as if you were using tampons. The first few days will be weird but by month two you’ll be a pro. Rinse it in hot water and mild soap each time you empty it and stick it in some boiling water for 30 seconds before you use it each month. The brand Lady Cup comes with a cute little storage pouch and different color options. Throw that in your travel pack and you’re good to go.

I’ve also turned in disposable pads for cute reusable ones. These are very soft and comfortable. There are some options on amazon, but they look a little too hippy for me, so you can also search for literally thousands of design, size, and absorbency options. Its a good idea to wear a thin pad along with your lady cup for occasional leaks. You can hand wash these or throw them in the wash with the rest of your clothes. Hand washing is good if you don’t want to buy too many- wash one and let it dry overnight for use the next day.

Ditch the tissues

Use a hankie. Any old bandana will do, though its kind of fun to pick out a nice one. Buy two and you’ll never need to buy tissues again- just wash one hankie and use the other while the first dries. Its a lot more comfortable than using tissues, in my opinion, and when I got a cold it didn’t make my nose sore and chapped like repeated use of tissues usually does. If you’re traveling, you can even use your dirty t-shirts from the laundry bag in a pinch- it sounds gross, but it will wash right out. Unless you’ve got a nosebleed.


If you found this post interesting, there is a world of natural body care and natural remedies that you can look into. Wellness Mama is an excellent blog to start at. Some things I have tried that aren’t on this list are a jojoba oil antimicrobial with lavender and oregano essential oils for small cuts and acne, boric acid powder suppositories for yeast infections (TMI, but is amazingly effective), sugar/olive oil/essential oil body scrub, witch hazel/corn starch/cocoa powder dry shampoo for those days you don’t feel like showering, and cocoa butter lip balm. If you have any other cool ideas for natural travel toiletries, let me know!