3 Secrets to Perfect Travel Makeup

Remember how I said I’m “glam granola”?

If you’re wondering what the heck that phrase even means, it means that I will make posts about hiking, getting sweaty in the jungle, crashing on strangers’ couches like a homeless person… but also make a post about travel makeup. It’s that chick in the action moving running through the jungle with her mascara on point. Obviously, none of us have the production budget or time to be on that level, but there are still definitely ways to up our travel makeup game.

I’m not getting paid to say any of this (but oh, man, can’t wait until I get paid to do anything associated with this blog), I’m just a girl almost as obsessed with makeup as I am with travel. I find it a lot of fun and it’s one of my greatest pet peeves when people assume I’m doing it for anyone but me. No, I’m probably not going to see Chris Hemsworth on the Maah Daah Hey trail, and I don’t really care because makeup is me expressing myself, for myself. If the effect of that is feeling super fucking hot and all the guys (or ladies) (or whoever) up in da club (or just, like, your boyfriend when you’re eating out at Applebees) take notice, awesome.

I am also by no means an expert, but I have grown up with a huge family of mostly women, mostly older than me, all very blonde and very glamorous. I knew what the Naked palette was before I knew how to sign my name. Also, I was hella into theatre as a kid and took a makeup class with a local modeling agency. I wear makeup when I travel. My point is: my opinion isn’t totally worthless, hopefully.

1. The two most important elements to any travel makeup routine have got to be, in this order: a reliable setting mist/powder and a reliable primer.

Primers go on your clean dry face/eyelids/lips before anything else. A good primer will help keep your makeup in place, and maybe even out your skintone nicely in the process so whatever you put on top of it looks better, too.

primers are travel makeup secrets
Eyeshadow primer. Is. Everything. I have oily lids on a good, average day. When I’m outside temple-hopping in the Thai summer? Fagettaboutit.
urban decay setting spray keeps travel makeup long lasting
I promised myself I wouldn’t do any aggressive product endorsements…but… Urban Decay Makeup Setting Spray makes your makeup last forEVER, y’all.

Setting sprays and powders are the bookends to primers. You put them on after everything is finished, also just to keep it in place. See a theme? There’s literally no point in wearing makeup on any adventure if it’s not gonna last through the morning. Primers and setters are the answer!

I prefer travel-sized setting sprays; they just seem easiest, since they don’t require a brush as well like a powder would. I just spray and go when I’m done with makeup timez. On the other hand, though, powders and brushes don’t need to be stored in that precious space of the liquids carry-on bag.

After primers and setting agents, you’d think the next most important makeup step would be–obvi–the makeup itself. While that is certainly the most fun step, it’s really the least important. Because no matter how high-end or pigmented or infused or whatver, that makeup would look like crap if your skin was crap.

2. Makeup removal and skin care need to be a priority, even on the road.

I don’t care how tired or hammered I am when I get to my hostel/campsite at the end of the night, if I have the motor skills to lift my arm and vaguely aim, I am going to be removing my makeup. Sleeping in your makeup is gross, and not just because it effs up your pillow case, but because it’s mean to your skin.

I use an all-natural–here’s the “granola” part again–makeup removal and skincare system. I’ll go into more detail in another post, but basically 1) coconut oil to remove makeup, 2) honey+lemon face cleanser, 3) apple cider vinegar toner, and 4) more coconut oil to moisturize, as needed. The apple cider vinegar toner is optional, just a lil extra step I’ll throw in when I have room in my liquids carry-on bag. Once a week I add sugar to the cleanser to exfoliate. For all the misery I put my skin through, from makeup to dirt to sweat to tears, I promise with this routine my skin always looks like the bomb dot com. I bought a travel set of empty cosmetic containers on Amazon for, like, $7.

3. Okay, fun part. THE MAKEUP!

The best thing about makeup is there’s room for a lot of interpretation here. If you’ve followed my primer/setter tips, you don’t need uber-expensive makeup by any means, because the whole point of those steps are to give even drugstore brands the staying power of more luxury products. So from your lipstick to blush to eyeshadow to mascara, just do and wear what you love*.

*Within reason. There are a few products out there that are just crappy, flaky, too orange, wash you out… if you’re a world traveling makeup-wearer, hopefully you’ve already discovered your own makeup blacklist to some degree. If not, read on! Well, read on either way. If you want.

sephora play monthly travel makeup samples
Sephora Play! I am not sure if there’s still a waitlist though there was when I first signed up.

One strong recommendation I have, if you travel and love makeup, is to subscribe to a monthly makeup box.

I know there are several out there (Ipsy? Is that makeup? Birchbox?) but I am very happy with Sephora Play. You can’t really lose; for $10/month you get a bunch of insanely nice, TRAVEL-SIZED makeup samples. I discovered one of my favorite lipsticks, liquid eyeliners, and mascaras from what I get in that monthly box. The only heartbreaker is when you fall in love with a product and go online to buy the full-size, only to realize it’s a $90 moisturizer. Goddammit, Dr. Jart.


sephora lip cream in always red is beautiful travel makeup
Sephora matte liquid lipstick, Always Red
mac ruby woo travel makeup red
MAC lipstick, Ruby Woo

While I’ll rock a vampy purple in London or neon teal in Bali, at the end of the day I love a good red lip.

Just like the perfect glass of wine, or budget hostel, I’m always searching for the perfect red. Right now I am very into two different reds, one a liquid lipstick and one just lipstick. I prefer liquid lipstick in general because of how immovable it seems to be once it dries (just, for the love of god, moisturize the living daylights out of your lips first), but the MAC Ruby Woo is so iconic I can forgive it for not being a liquid formula.

If anyone has suggestions for a new red that just Straight Up Changed Your Life, and is a permanent member of your travel makeup bag, let me know. I think my next one will be Anastasia Beverly Hills brand liquid lipstick or, as much as it pains me to admit, Kylie Cosmetics in Mary Jo K. NYX and Colourpop are great budget options.


selection of Maybelline travel makeup foundation shades
I’m 115/120 in the winter, a little darker in the summer. I prefer the matte+poreless to the dewey and smooth, though the latter gives you a gorgeous glow.

I’ll buy $50 eyeshadow palettes until the cows come home (hello, Too Faced Peach collection!), but for some reason I have never been able to justify dropping more than a tenner or so on foundation and concealer. Maybe because it bores me a little bit. Idk. But that’s okay, because Maybelline’s Fit Me line is rocking my world right now. I usually prefer powdered just because of the whole liquid carry-on mess, but damn that stuff is awesome. Both in the matte and the dewey version.

As I’ve been hammering into my laptop so hard in this post I’m surprised my keyboard still works, if you have a good primer and setting spray a drugstore brand can and will rock your world.


Finally, mascara. Mascara is a big dumb finicky beast all its own. Oh, yeah, I wear it every damn day. It’s in every travel makeup-savvy girl’s backpack. If I had to wear only one thing on my face, it would be mascara. BUT I never buy it anymore because 1) it goes bad fairly quickly for makeup and 2) I just use the samples in my monthly Sephora Play box which always juuuuust get me through to the next shipment. I don’t find waterproof necessary; setting spray takes care of daily smearing for the most part, and no amount of waterproofing nor spraying can hold up to monsoon season in Southeast Asia anyway, tbh.


Finally, if you want to throw all these tips out the window and do you, please do so! Makeup, particularly travel makeup, is such a fun expression of yourself. Who I am to tell anyone how to do it?


Talking about makeup can kind of turn into a crazed neon unicorn stream of consciousness for me. Is there anything I haven’t touched on here you guys want to talk more about? Any travel makeup tips you all want to share? I definitely think this is a shamefully unexplored corner of the travel blogosphere 😛