Surviving Holiday Travel: Top 5 Tips for Packing the Perfect Carry-On

Holiday travel season has arrived. Look good under the mistletoe with these 5 tips for packing the perfect carryon cosmetic bag.

As a child, I idolized glamorous women traveling to foreign lands, train case in hand. They traveled in style. Heels, handbag and that magical mini suitcase devoted to potions and primping and powder. These women, who I saw mostly in old movies, were immune to jet lag and dark circles.

Cut to 2013. Traveling is the antithesis of glamour with long lines, baggage fees, security checks, and beauty squashing carry-on regulations. Nothing makes me feel more glamorous than a clear plastic baggie struggling to contain my contact solution and liquid foundation. But nostalgic train cases of yesteryear are impractical and could lead to nightmarish results if said bag is lost by the airline. No one, I repeat, no one needs to see me without concealer. 

So, what’s a jet-setting girl to do this holiday travel season? How merry can one be after sacrificing shampoo for concealer or toothpaste for mascara? Sacrifice no more because we are sharing our best tips for packing a smarter, lighter AND fully stocked carry-on cosmetic bag.

Tip #1: Start with a Packing List

I don’t mean that hasty unorganized mess scribbled on the back of your electric bill or take-out menu. Borrow from well-traveled pros instead. Fashion and beauty expert, Bobbie Thomas’s personal packing list is perfect for the modern girl and even includes items like self-tanner. Download her template at

Tip #2: Consolidate Foundation and Concealer

Multi-tasking formulations are a globe trotting girl’s best friend. Consolidate foundation and concealer by using foundation sticks. The beauty of a foundation stick is adjustable coverage. Lightly apply and blend for all over sheer coverage and conceal dark circles, redness and blemishes by applying directly to areas of discoloration. Better yet, the stick formulation is not subject to security scrutiny so just toss it in your handbag.

Check out Benefit’s Play Sticks or, if budget is no object, try Bobbi Brown’s Foundation Stick.


Tip #3: Eye shadow ISN’T just for Eyes.

Lighten the load by using eye shadow to line your eyes, fill in your brows, highlight cheekbones, contour your nose and paint your cheeks. BUT, a word to the wise, proper brushes and color selection (see Tip #4) are key for successful untraditional eye shadow application.

A brow brush is essential when using shadow to fill and define brows. Transform shadow to liner sans messy fallout by using a damp eyeliner brush. Use the same liner brush for precision contouring. Apply color to cheeks and highlight planes of the face with a blush brush or fingers.

Tip #4: Build Your Custom Travel Compact


Customizable compacts are crucial for travel because you need your make-up to multi task (see Tip #3). I promise a small investment of time and money will save you space, time and stress.

The ideal travel compact requires a 6 pan customizable, refillable compact. Urban Decay, Bobbi Brown, Elf, M.A.C., and Stila offer great options. Remember, this compact is your primary source of color cosmetics so choose your colors strategically. Fill the compact with your choice of shades based on the following criteria:

  • A white or champagne shimmer shadow to highlighting brow bones and cheekbones.  
  • Shade matching brow hair for defining brows
  • Contouring shade to contour nose and the hollows of the cheek. 
  • Pink or apricot shade to replace blush or cheek color
  • Choice of base shadow. Apply all over the lid up to the natural crease.

Choice of crease shadow. This color should correspond with base shadow. Apply into crease and/or corners of eye.

Now, if you are lucky, you can use the same shadow for brows and contouring which frees space for another shadow option. Don’t forget that a damp liner brush turns any shadow into liner.

One word of caution, most refillable compacts only hold pans made by the same brand or line. For example, Urban Decay compacts only hold Urban Decay products so purchase accordingly.

Tip #5: Stockpile Samples

I never ever pack without consulting my sampler drawer. Yes, I have a sample drawer. The array of miniature shampoos, conditioners, moisturizer, eye cream, perfume, body lotion, facial cleanser, night cream, primers, exfoliators and serums is the cosmetic equivalent of the office candy dish the day after Halloween.

Packing mini products means you no longer need to sacrifice a step in your beauty routine or funnel facial cleanser into a tiny travel bottle. Free samples are easily obtainable from high-end department and beauty stores. Product junkies, like myself, can even subscribe to beauty sample services to receive sample kits each month (Sample Society is my favorite).

Hoarding mini size shampoo, conditioner and other liquid formulations will pay off the next time you pack your clear plastic quart bag of liquids. Trust me.

The holidays are hard. And I, for one, need the comfort of a good eye cream and familiar perfume especially when face-to-face with that brassy, eggnog fueled relative eager to scrutinize any trace of a dark circle or under eye bag or blemish. There’s one in every family, right? Ba humbug to that.

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About the author

Mariah P

My love for beauty products began at age 4 when I snuck into my mother’s make up drawer. The array of eye shadows and liners and lipsticks were magical. And I coveted her pristine jar of cold cream as if it were pot of gold It was love at first sight.

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