If you’re anything like me, you spend an inordinate amount of time sorting out the perfect capsule wardrobe for your trip, sussing out what tech and accessories are essential, only to have your carry-on plans foiled by an over-stuffed toiletry bag. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, toothpaste, moisturiser, lens fluid, mouthwash, foundation, mascara – that’s a lot to fit in to a tiny 1 litre bag! And what you do manage to squeeze in often weighs a ton and will only last a few days anyway.

One of the best tips I came across when learning to pack light was to go for solid toiletries whenever possible. Solid products take up less space than their liquid counterparts, weigh less and last much longer, which inevitably saves you money as you’re not constantly buying more. They’re the environmentally friendly option, saving countless plastic bottles from ending up in landfill. I started with a solid shampoo from Lush and never looked back. Here are my top tips for trimming down your liquids bag and making carry-on travel easier.

French Soap

Use soap instead of body wash

Ah, cheap, abundant, simple soap. The main problem with soap is it can quickly turn to mush if you don’t carry it properly. Cheap soap containers often don’t clip together very securely and cause the soap to leak everywhere if it’s not fully dry before storing. The best tip I’ve read on how to carry soap when you can’t leave it to dry out (for example, if you’re staying in hostel dorms or moving around frequently) is to wrap it up in a facecloth before placing in a ziplock bag, or other leak-proof container. Some people just put the soap straight into a ziplock by itself, but you’ll find the bag will quickly get slimy and could leak with repeated use. The facecloth absorbs the moisture from the soap, which you can just rinse off or use the next time you take a shower.

Solid Shampoo

Try a solid shampoo and conditioner

Solid shampoo was my first foray into the wonderful world of solid toiletries (OK, besides soap). I use the Godiva 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner from Lush. To use it, you lather it up in your hands like soap before running through your hair, or you can rub the bar directly onto your scalp. It lathers nicely, smells divine and leaves your hair very clean, without any residue or build-up. One bar should last up to 80 washes. Lush also sell metal storage tins for the shampoo, but I find them finicky to open and you still need to leave the top off for a bit to let the bar dry out or it’ll turn to mush. You could try wrapping the shampoo up in a breathable cloth as suggested with the soap above.

As a shampoo then, it works brilliantly. But as a conditioner? Not so much.

Lush do make a couple of conditioner-only bars as well (as opposed to the 2-in-1), though I have yet to try these as the reviews I’ve read have been mixed. It seems it’s much harder to make a solid conditioner than a solid shampoo. What I prefer to do is use a concentrated leave-in conditioning treatment, the spray-in kind. Yes, that means using liquid, but a 100ml bottle will last for months, not days. If you can’t find a 100ml bottle, buy a refillable travel-sized spray bottle that you can pour it in to.


American and Canadian readers are probably already used to using stick deodorant. Here in New Zealand though, we mostly have liquid roll-on deodorant or antiperspirant spray – which I think is what many other places are used to as well. Stick deodorant can be hard to find here, but Dove (a popular brand available world-wide) make an excellent stick deodorant with their standard 1/4 moisturising cream. Have a look for it at your local supermarket.

Aroamas Perfume SticksSolid Perfume

Solid perfume is genius. I use it everyday at work as well as while travelling. It comes in a little tube, which you rub onto your skin and massage in. I like the “Lust” scent at Lush (the others weren’t very appealing), but there’s also a new range called Aroamas, created by Brooke from Her Packing List.

Marseilles White SoapLaundry soap

I see a lot of travel websites talking about hand-washing clothes with Dr. Bronner’s all purpose liquid soap, or individual packets of laundry powder. A much better way is to use a bar of laundry soap. Just rub the soap over your clothes in the sink, massage in, rinse, ring out and hang up to dry. It’s also a brilliant spot cleaner to remove stains. In Australia and New Zealand, there are two commonly available brands – Sard Wonder Soap (which I use and it lives up to the name!) and Sunlight Laundry Soap. Sunlight is a UK brand that’s been around since 1884, so should hopefully be available there and across Europe. A quick look on Amazon.com shows a number of alternatives for North Americans.

A few more tips

So-called travel-sized tubes of toothpaste only have enough in them for a couple of days. Don’t waste your money on them. Just take a medium sized tube instead (around 80-90ml). By cutting out the above liquids you’ll have plenty of room. Similarly, don’t bother with toothpaste tablets or powder – if you don’t use them at home, you won’t like using them on the road.

You could probably find a solid version of almost any liquid toiletry product you would need. Make-up is an easy example – opt for a pressed compact foundation instead of a liquid (or forgo the make-up altogether – you might end up doing this anyway on the road). Some other options to look into, which I haven’t tried myself yet, are solid lotion bars and sunscreens.

One last thing to keep in mind – the 100ml max rule on airlines pertains to the size of the container, NOT the actual amount of liquid present. If you bring a 150ml bottle that’s only half full, airport security will make you throw it out. This seems to catch out a lot of people.