I have been meaning to put together a post about our natural first aid and toiletry travel kit for a while now. I’m constantly amazed by the power of some of the products that now come everywhere with us and still get a bit of a buzz out of how refined our packing has become.
You see, when we first set off on our travels a few years back, our lack of experience resulted in a toiletry bag bursting at the seams with pills and potions. The fear that we might get this or that the foreign pharmacies might not have that meant that we had enough stuff with us to set up our own little stall by the side of the road, selling indigestion remedies.
Becoming more confident and experienced travellers is one reason we have lightened the load. Developing stomachs of steel is certainly another. Mostly though, we’ve come to realise that there are all kinds of natural, multi-purpose and long lasting products available that’ll do everything we need. Should we require anything stronger, we know from experience that good doctors can be found in all corners of the world.
Wherever possible I try to avoid using unnatural products on and in my body. This however is easier said than done if you’re trying to shop for things on the road. Add to that the need for everything to be vegan and cruelty-free and shopping can become a bit of a minefield.
In countries where you can’t speak the language, it can be difficult to work out whether things are cruelty-free and vegan and whether they contain nasties. (Remember friends, just because something is vegan and cruelty free doesn’t necessarily mean it is free from ingredients that could be considered toxic to you and the environment.) For these reasons, we tend to stock up on all of these things when we’re in the UK so we can just dive into our bags and get what we need, when we need it.
We are currently traveling with a lovely natural first aid kit, made up of mostly natural and herbal supplements, oils and creams. We do also carry a “regular” first aid kit similar to this one, as well as painkillers and a few other creams we’ve come to rely on, but more and more we’re opting for these natural remedies first before reaching for the stronger stuff. We aren’t medical professionals, so are just sharing what seems to work for us.
Below are the natural or mostly natural medical products and toiletries that we carry with us and would really recommend.
This stuff has become so trendy lately. People are even putting it in their ice cream. Back when I was a teenager suffering with IBS, I was advised by a doctor to take charcoal tablets and to put a piece of cork in between my front teeth, to relieve stomach pain. Not sure if he threw the cork thing in there as a red herring as I never tried it, but I’ve trusted in charcoal ever since!
No matter how great your digestion is at home, every traveller encounters indigestion or bloating at some point. Whether it’s due to food poisoning, altitude or just new spices, it’s worth considering charcoal as a natural way to deal with it. Because it’s like, really clever, the charcoal is able to bind with gas-producing elements and carry them out of the body. It’s always recommended to drink plenty of water with charcoal. Follow the directions on the packet carefully and er, don’t be surprised when it comes out the other end. (Also, try to chew them at the back of your mouth if you don’t want to scare the children.) If you are really suffering then of course it’s best to seek out a doctor for some medical advice.
Its ability to absorb plaque and other tiny bits from the teeth also makes activated charcoal a great, natural way to remove stains from your teeth. To use, dip your toothbrush in powdered activated charcoal and brush teeth as normal.
There are various recipes online for delicious face masks, using activated charcoal. These will zap dirt, oil and impurities out of the skin leaving you looking radiant and adding a few teaspoons to your usual body scrub (maybe the almond oil and sugar one) will give you an extra deep cleanse!
Before you go and grab a handful of regular charcoal out of your fireplace, be aware that activated charcoal goes through a different process, making it safe to consume. You can buy it in powdered or tablet form from most health food shops or pharmacies.
My oh my. I really only got into essential oils a year or so ago and I can’t imagine life without them now. I always have lavender oil and peppermint oil in my handbag and we carry a couple of others on the road with us too. There are so many to choose from, all with different properties and benefits and because they come in tiny glass bottles, essential oils are perfect for travelling. It’s often advised to mix them with a carrier oil rather than applying them directly to your skin so find one that works for you (olive oil, rose hip oil, castor oil etc)
Lavender – The smell alone is a good enough reason to carry a little bottle of this heavenly oil with you. Haven’t showered in a few days? No worries, slap a bit of lavender oil on and you’ll be good 😉
Also, I find its calming properties to be particularly soothing. If I’m feeling a bit anxious or having trouble sleeping, inhaling lavender oil is a sure way to level me out.
I could be in the dingiest hostel room ever, but a couple of drops of lavender oil in my moisturiser and I feel like a million rupees.
Peppermint – As a sufferer of migraines, I’ve been overjoyed to discover that I can often stop the little bastards in their tracks if I can get to some peppermint oil in time. I rub some on my temples, under my nose and on the back of my neck and often (not always) I can shut that migraine down, or at the very least, soothe the pain.
It’s also great for unblocking stuffy noses if you dab some under your nostrils. Best to mix with a carrier oil though as it can be a little bit burny.
Peppermint oil also works really well if you’re feeling nauseous. I find that just breathing it in helps settle my stomach if I’m feeling a bit queasy.
Perhaps my favourite use for peppermint oil is as a deodorant, not just because it smells amazing but because it feels incredible! Try rubbing some on your pits and try telling me that cool tingly feeling doesn’t give you a spring in your step for several hours after.
Lemon – I can’t ever imagine getting to the end of my bottle of lemon oil. The smell is so strong that after trying it on my face once, I was up all night because I couldn’t stand the smell, even after washing it off several times. That said, I love using lemon oil for cleaning stuff. A few drops in with your laundry when you’re doing a hand-wash makes everything smell delish. There are some amazing DIY cleaning product recipes on the Under Your Sinks blog for those interested.
Clove – I recently went to the dentist with terrible pain, unable to properly close my mouth because my top wisdom tooth was tearing into the gum below. The whole thing became a vicious inflamed and infected cycle. The dentist prescribed me a course of antibiotics. I’m always reluctant to dive into a course of antibiotics if I can avoid it and it turns out in this case, I could.
As it happens, clove oil contains the component eugenoil which is an anti-inflammatory that can totally save sore gums! Within seconds, seconds I tell you, the soreness had gone down significantly and the area was virtually numb. As if by magic. A few days of applying the clove oil regularly and I was good as new, without the need for those pesky antibiotics.
We have also recently had great success using it to treat sore mouth ulcers and I’m keen to test it out on spots too!
Tea Tree – This wonderful product has an incredible amount of uses. Aim for 100% pure essential oil rather than one of those gimmicky gel sticks. There’s no need for that. As there are a multitude of ways to use tea tree oil, I’m just going to mention a few that I have experience of.
Due to its powerful antiseptic properties, tea tree oil is great to have on hand for small wounds or cuts. It’s also my go-to for treating spots (especially ones I’ve squeezed. I know I shouldn’t, but what is life without being able to squeeze spots?) which I struggle with, especially when travelling in high humidity. Tea tree is also anti-inflammatory, making it very soothing for rashes, sunburn or any soreness or aches. When combined with coconut oil, tea tree can also be really nourishing for the hair and very soothing for inflamed or itching scalp. It’s also said to tackle dandruff.
Tea tree is a fantastic cleaning product. If you’re trying to wash some really stinky clothes, a couple of drops in with the water will really help. Trust me on this one. Stinky shoes? No problem. If you have access to a spray bottle, it’s easiest to make up a water and tea tree solution and squirt it around inside. If not, just rub some oil inside the shoes. Been there, done that.
You can also combine tea tree with other ingredients like vinegar, lemon and water to create a completely natural and antimicrobial household cleaning solution. You never know what kind of kitchen you may have to cook in when you travel!
Tea tree oil is also great for cleaning menstrual cups, especially if you aren’t in a position where you’re able to boil it. A couple of drops in some water is all you need. Some people advise against this but I certainly haven’t had any problems.
If you’re still at the stage where you care about your pits, tea tree oil can make a great deodorant. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to combine tea tree with coconut oil and baking soda. I tend to just rub it straight on but intend to try the other method out!
I have also found both tea tree oil and tiger balm to be extremely effective insect repellants and tend to rub some around my ankles of an evening around mozzie hour.
Since I’ve gone “no-poo” and have started to approach my acne a bit differently, I have less use for coconut oil than I used to (hair mask, facial cleanser etc). That said, I love coconut oil as a body moisturiser (great on gross backpacker feet….I’m told), a mouthwash and to pop on the ends of my hair if it’s feeling a little dry. You can also throw together a super fast exfoliator if you can get your hands on a pack of sugar from a coffee shop. Just combine it with the coconut oil et voila! Coconut oil also works great as a make-up remover and as long as you haven’t been shoving dirty fingers in it, you can of course use it for cooking.
The list of uses for this stuff is endless so it would be mad for me to include them all here, but needless to say carrying around a little pot of this stuff when you’re traveling is a smart idea. Make sure you use a really decent container though, as I’ve experienced a number of leakages!
Before I had my eyes opened to the harmful effects of shoving chemicals under your arms, I was blissfully content with some cheapo ‘Sure’ roll-on which, if nothing else, totally stopped me from ever smelling of sweat. Now things are different for two reasons.
1 I haven’t found an all-in-one product that is vegan, free of nasties and keeps me smelling fresh
2 I really don’t care if I smell a bit these days. Soz.
For me, the best combination, when I can be bothered (oof, that sounds bad) is a Pitrock which really does prevent any kind of BO and some essential oil which makes me smell like a yummy hippie.
Since reading that around 1 billion plastic toothbrushes end up in landfill every year, we made the switch to a bamboo one instead. It’s a fairly small thing, since a lot of the other products we’re using have some form of plastic packaging, but as a couple we’re going through what 8-10 toothbrushes a year so it does make a significant difference. Unlike bottles and pots which I can re-use, I don’t have a great many uses for old toothbrushes, so knowing that they are from a sustainable source and can biodegrade is great.
There are loads of different varieties on the market. Something like this should do the trick.
Castille soap is entirely vegetable oil based. If you’ve already heard of it, you’ll know that Dr Bronner is the don in this field with is 18-in-1 liquid and bar soaps. The beautifully eccentric packaging does not lie. This stuff can do almost anything. We tend to travel with one bar and a small bottle of liquid soap. They are both great for washing your body (and hair in Tom’s case) as well as doing laundry. If you happen to need to clean yourself in some kind of natural outdoor water source, you can use Dr Bronner, safe in the knowledge that it contains no toxic ingredients.
Just because you want to wear suncream in a hot country, don’t expect the locals to be wearing and selling it. We’ve had extremely limited choices in a lot of the countries we have tried to buy sun cream in, so we always pack our own.
Due to the sensitivity of the skin on my face, I have been on a bit of a journey trying to find a suncream that works for me. Most products I’ve tried bring me out in spots or just make me feel really sweaty, not to mention how few are cruelty free and vegan. Fortunately, I found the BEST suncream ever when we were in New Zealand. You can use it all over your body (including face), it’s all natural and in my case doesn’t cause acne breakouts. Wahey!!
The unfortunate side of things is that when I run out, I have to order it from NZ, which is incredibly costly and not very carbon footprint friendly! Getting there though…
You know when you were a kid and you did crafts and basically the best bit was peeling the glue off your fingers? Well, arnica gel is basically like the grown up version of this AND it makes stuff stop hurting! They don’t put that description on the bottle but it’s true.
Arnica is a herb and when applied to the skin it can be amazing for relieving inflammation such as bruising and muscle aches. I find it really helps to calm down angry spots too. There are a huge range of other uses of which I have no experience, so get googling and throw a bottle in your rucksack.
I’ve stopped using shampoo. At first it was horrible, but now it’s amazing. I’d considered going “no-poo” for a while to reduce my plastic consumption but my hand was kind of forced when I ran out a few months ago. I had been getting really bad dandruff and my head was always getting itchy, not to mention the fact that my hair just seemed to need washing all the time. Now though, I just wash it with warm water and occasionally I put a little bit of natural conditioner on the ends if it’s feeling a bit dry. I’ve managed to make a bottle of this Noughty Conditioner last for over 4 months now!
“No poo” is obviously really handy if you’re backpacking as there’s less to carry. That said, there are some great zero-waste shampoo and conditioner bars available that claim to last for a really long time. I just haven’t personally found one that I can recommend.
My moisturising regime depends on a number of different factors, such as climate, hormones, pollution, water quality. When I do moisturise, I use a 50/50 mix of rose-hip oil and a natural facial moisturising cream. I’m currently still using up some lovely Essano moisturiser I got in New Zealand. Once it runs out, I’ll be back onto some Sukin.
Rose Hip Oil
As a moisturiser, I find rose hip oil to be incredibly restorative and not too heavy on my skin, as long as I combine it with something else. Otherwise, strangely, it dries my skin out. It’s full of vitamins, antioxidants and essential fatty acids so works great on reducing the visibility of scars and is very hydrating.
Couldn’t miss a chance to bang on about menstrual cups, could I?
Although not all strictly natural products, I’m always keen to keep things as natural as possible…down there, so wanted to include a bit about this.
If you’ve ever tried to buy menstrual products while traveling, particularly in parts of Asia, you’ll know it isn’t always straight-forward. In lots certain countries, tampons aren’t even a thing and if you need sanitary towels, you better be liking them big and bulky. I’ve found it really hard to get hold of pantyliners and even when I’m at home in the UK it’s hard to find ones that don’t stink of old lady perfume and that aren’t wrapped in excessive plastic.
Nowadays, I travel with a mooncup (I love it SO MUCH), a wadge of Organyc cotton pantyliners and pads and two pairs of Thinx knickers. This kit takes up minimal space (unlike when I used to travel with tampons. What!?), creates minimal waste and just feels clean!
Oh my beloved Tiger Balm. Where do I even start with this magical burny potion in its satisfyingly exotic hexagonal jar. I was first introduced to this at uni by a lecturer who swore by it for headaches. Made mostly from natural camphor, menthol, clove oil and cajuput, Tiger Balm was apparently formed in the ancient courts of Chinese Emperors and has been used to relieve aches and pains all over the world, ever since.
It wasn’t til I began traveling that I realised quiet how effective this stuff is. There are two different types – red and white – with red being stronger. Do not put the red one anywhere near your eyes. For serious.
Tiger balm is extremely soothing for headaches and migraines. Massaging it into your temples creates a wonderful cooling effect around the area and really seems to help with the pain. It is generally renowned for helping to relieve aching muscles, so always have some on hand if you’re out hiking. Great for a shoulder massage at the end of a long day.
I have actually also used tiger balm on a number of occasions just to cool down, when I’ve felt unbearably hot on buses. A little bit on the forehead, temples and wrists is like your own little personal A/C!
I have very sensitive sinuses which are easily irritated and inflamed and occasionally suffer from sinusitis. I’m pretty sure my OTT sinuses are the cause of some of my migraines. When hayfever hits, it feels like someone has stuck their fingers up my nose and sleeping can be a nightmare. You know when you have to breathe through your mouth and you wake up coughing spluttering because it feels like there’s cotton wool in your mouth? Yea, that.
Fortunately, Tiger Balm seems to offer a lot of relief, being that it’s a powerful de-congestant. Just dab some under your nostrils and within a few breaths you will notice a difference. I also massage it into my temples and any other parts of my face that feel achey. (Again, keep well away from the eyes.) If you are suffering from a cold, rubbing tiger balm on your chest can also provide relief from sore throats!
When it comes to insect bites, have tried all kinds of remedies, as we have fallen victim to mosquitos and sandflies a fair few times. By far the best thing we’ve found to help with itching is…yep, you guessed it, Tiger Balm! Not only that, as I mentioned earlier, combine it with tea tree oil and you’ve got a fantastic insect repellant too. (If you’re traveling somewhere with a high risk of malaria or dengue you may want to consider combining this method with other medical precautions)
Finally, the Tiger Balm people won’t advertise this on their website, but let me tell you, this stuff can be an absolute Godsend if you are lumbered with some kind of odour from which you cannot escape! Think bus seat next to the toilet. A dab of Tiger Balm under your nose and you’re all good.
If you’re visiting dry, high altitude climates, you will kick yourself if you don’t take something for your lips. They will split if you don’t apply something to moisturise them. Coconut oil to the rescue. Alternatively, if you need something that will hold its form in hot weather, Hurraw Lip Balms are a real treat!
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve had a right old time with my skin. It seems to be sensitive to everything that travelling throws at it. Humidity, air conditioning, pollution, bad water, greasy food, haywire hormones. However, after trying all sorts of different products I’ve managed to get a decent hold over my face by just doing less to it. I absolutely love everything I’ve used so far by Sukin. Nowadays, I just use a tiny bit of this cream cleanser at night (it takes off mascara no problemo) and wash with water in the morning. My skin seems to be loving it. Alternatively, you could experiment with making your own cleanser at home
Apple cider vinegar toner
I like to carry an apple cider vinegar toner with me as I find it keeps my skin under control when conditions get particularly extreme. I don’t use it every day, I just kind of know when my skin needs it, but I know a lot of people are on it daily.
To make, just combine organic apple cider vinegar (with the motherrrrrr) with distilled water and a few drops of essential oil. I use frankincense. The ratio depends on your skin type, so you may need to experiment. I use 1 part apple cider vinegar to 4 parts water.
Natural cotton pads
Flannels can be a bit of a pain to travel with as it’s not always possible to dry them or keep them clean enough to use regularly. When I haven’t lost them in the depths of my rucksack, I like to use natural, re-usable cotton cleansing pads. You can get some super sweet ones on etsy. Because they’re tiddly, you can wash and dry them easily.
I intend to add a few more products to this blog once I’ve got more use out of them and have decided whether they’re worth recommending. These include
For me, the next improvements that I’d like to make to our collection of first-aid and toiletry products is to reduce the amount of plastic involved so would be really interested to hear tips or recommendations from others about this. I’m feeling semi-ok about the plastic packaging at the moment, knowing how long-lasting everything is and the fact that I keep and re-use most stuff. Also, the reduction of plastic pill packets and tubes of creams is a real positive. For me it’s a fine balance between reducing waste, using affordable and long-lasting vegan and cruelty-free products and sticking with things that actually work.
I do plan to write a blog about the various ways we have reduced our use of plastic and incorporated more eco-friendly products into our travel. In the meantime, there are some fantastic tips on the awesome Live Conscious blog.