All my friends know these two things about me: I like makeup. And I like to travel.
What I don’t like is the task of rummaging through my beauty stash every time a trip looms, moving all the products I use on a daily basis over to my makeup bag. In goes the foundation, concealer, power/blusher/bronzer compacts, the hefty eyeshadow palette, eyeliner, mascara, curler, various glosses, and brushes—one for each task. It’s a shitload of stuff, and just as tedious to put away upon my return as it is to pack it all up at the outset. Clearly, this is a first-world problem…but a problem, nonetheless.
I’m always jealous when I read those articles about women who simply grab their ready-and-waiting back-up makeup kit and throw it in their luggage. But given that my foundation alone costs upwards of $40, creating a doppelganger has always seemed like a prohibitive endeavor.
That is, until the day I found myself in a far-too-long line at Sephora. Anyone who’s shopped there is familiar with the Disney-esque crowd-managing tactic of winding waiting customers through a maze; at Sephora, that maze is enticingly stocked to the rafters with tantalizing miniatures that I’ve always shunned (because who wants one ounce of your dry shampoo for $5 when you can buy the full size for $7?). This time, however, I noticed a decided shift in the offerings: Along with the dry shampoo and mini perfumes, were tiny, travel-size palettes—actual palettes!—of gorgeous shadows, blushers, bronzers, highlighters, and more. Like a cosmetic lightbulb going off in my head, I realized that the elusive back-up makeup stash was now within reach.
You’d be proud of me: I didn’t pull out the credit card that day and buy the whole store. I actually went home and took stock of the items I couldn’t live without when traveling, and made a shopping list.
I made one for you, too.
Small but Mighty: Our Guide to Travel Size Makeup
It’s not marketed for travel per se, but the mini size makes it even easier to take this puppy on the road. With a diminutive spoolie brush that lets you hone in on every last brow hair, this gel formula bumps up the heft of your brows, adds color, and then locks everything into perfect place.
There’s good reason this is actually the number-one concealer brand in the world (can you say 30 shades?): Shape Tape goes on like a dream, is full coverage, illuminates all the right things, won’t flake or crease, and gives a brighter, firmer look to the eye area. And it’s also available in the cutest Barbie size; which is not a rip-off because the product is so potent, you only need a tiny swipe or two to get the job done. I don’t think I could finish a full-size tube if I tried.
I’m all about the two-in-one concept, and this mini highlight/blusher combo hits the mark. The universally perfect coral-pink powder gives cheeks a pop of I’m-awake-despite-the-flight; while the ivory highlighter adds a subtle shimmer to eyes and cheekbones.
An Instagram influencer half my age turned me on to this adorable-ness of a powder bronzer…and I’ve never looked back. Though it comes in shimmer as well, I’m partial to the matte formulation as it seems to draw less attention to lines; plus, you can use it for contouring, sculpting, and defining features. (I apply it with a fluffy powder brush…but the tiny square brush that’s tucked inside the box is perfect for those more precise contouring tasks.)
This gets raves from me for a number of reasons: In the slimmest presentation possible, it offers seven great shades—the most universal of which is matte (placed in a larger pan size because that’s the base shade everyone uses most liberally. You get a good mix of shimmer and non-shimmer; a super-inky color that can double as a powder liner; and (ring the winner’s bell here) you get to choose from five different palettes—warm/cool/medium/dark/bright—so you have a true shadow wardrobe with you on the road.
Good foundation is hard enough to find. But the task of finding it tiny is near to impossible. Instead, I take my favorite liquid formula (Huda #FauxFilter Foundation) and decant it into these very cute, very portable, very cheap plastic pump containers. They don’t spill, you can see how much makeup is left in the bottle, and when things get low, you can simply twist open the top and use the long pump tubing to scoop up any remains.
I’m guessing they call this excellent lash-builder “big,” because it boasts a laundry-list of attributes that could fill a page. The packaging, on the other hand, is little: as in, perfectly sized for an on-the-go stash. Unlike other one-note mascaras, Monsieur Big has a gel-like formula that manages to volumize, lengthen, and curl, while avoiding dreaded clumping issues.
This is the item that will literally save you from hauling an entire brush collection when you hit the road. Not unlike one of those home screwdriver kits with multiple attachments, the Alleyoop brush set allows you to twist four different “heads” onto a central, two-sided brush handle; and that includes a handy sponge for dabbing on concealer and foundation.
I love that Make Up For Ever came out with a compact version of my favorite loose powder. I love them even more for miniaturizing said compact for travel. This extremely fine-milled, one-shade-fits-all product has a magical way of air-brushing your complexion with one stroke of a brush.
This long-lasting gel formula—available in eight different shades—gets my approval for its self-sharpening point that creates a precision line; as well as its smudge sponge on the other end to create a more diffused look. As for wearability, it will last through any flight you can throw at it without transferring or migrating into a raccoon situation.
I was all ready to advise that you throw your favorite lipstick into the bag, size be damned. (I mean, how big could it be?) Until I saw that MAC had shrunk my lipstick of choice into a travel-worthy version…cute as hell and so convenient. The pared-down size only comes in eight shades; but they’re good ones—like Twig, a pinky-peach tone with a satin, semi-matte finish.
A version of this story was originally published in December 2018.