Posted by: Chelsea Novak | May 25, 2012

Travel fab

I’ve had a few requests in the last year or so to write a blog post about travel. Specifically how to travel and not look like ass. I have the great fortune to be able to travel for my work. It’s an amazing opportunity to see parts of the world I’d have never seen otherwise and to meet so many amazing people. Sadly, in these times, the process of getting from point A to point B can be a miserable slog.

I’m on planes a lot and often have to make very efficient use of my time. I’ve been lucky enough to know a lot of optimization-inclined engineers who have done a great job at figuring out how to make travel as painless as possible. I’ve learned a ton from them about frequent flyer and trusted traveler programs (sign up NOW), how to pick a seat on a plane (book early, check in early), how to not lose your luggage (easy, don’t check it) and how to spend as little time in airports as possible, cause really, they’re just miserable places sometimes.

When I started to travel with these optimzation-inclined engineers, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t holding them back by checking a bag or holding up the line at security. I didn’t want to inspire ridicule or reinforce stereotypes about women who travel, but at the same time, I’m kinda of a girly girl. There are people out there who treat travel like it’s some kind of survivalist experience. When you travel a lot, you need to make sure you’re doing everything you can to be comfortable. Otherwise, you will lose your mind and you won’t be able to do the things you traveled for in the first place. I know that if I’m not preoccupied with feeling self conscious about how I’m looking, then I can put all of my brain power behind work or play. So I have to achieve some kind of balance.  

One thing my colleagues couldn’t teach me was how to be an optimized traveler and still, well, look good. This means not just being fashionable, but also having the beauty tools I’m used to using on a daily basis on hand. It turns out, it’s not that hard. With a little preparation and thought, you can breeze through an airport with the skill of a veteran traveler AND you can have the means to beautify. I feel like I’ve achieved a balance between being a highly efficient traveler and knowing that I have the beauty tools I need to mitigate that “out of your element” feeling that comes with being away from home.

With that preamble done, I’d like to share with you a bunch of the things I’ve learned over the last few years.


  • The first thing you need for traveling well is good luggage. Personally, I recommend Briggs and Riley bags. They have a lifetime warranty, look great and are built to optimize the packing space available in the bag – a key feature in a carry on. Their larger bags are also excellent for packing dresses and suits.
  • If you can avoid it, try not to check luggage. Any time you are separated from your things, the risk of losing your luggage increases dramatically. I can usually do a little over a week (workout clothes included) in a carry on, so I generally avoid checking. Sometimes I have to. If I’m traveling to multiple climates or if I have a formal or dress-up event to attend checking is unavoidable.
  • The second thing you need to invest in is a high-quality travel hairdryer. Most hotels have hairdryers, but they’re usually terrible in terms of power and you can be stuck having to waste extra time drying your hair. I have a Babyliss ionic travel drier with a folding handle. It’s high powered and effective. Get something that works on 120 and 220 voltage to you can use it overseas too.
  • The last essential for me is a big scarf. It may sound silly but here’s how they’re useful. First, great accessory. Also, can double as blanket on a plane or, as I recently learned, as a blanket at a SF 49ers game. Always have one in your carry on.

On the plane
Planes are great. They let us be in the sky and get to places with amazing speed. However, they are also horrible for our skin. They are metal tubes filled with dehydrating circulated air. Dehydrated skin is sad skin that will start producing excess sebum to compensate for the dryness. This will lead to fun things like breakouts, clogged pores and that gross waxy look that people come off planes with.

There are a couple of things you can do to mitigate this. If you’ve gone with carry on luggage, you’ll handily have all your beauty supplies right there will you in a fashionable clear plastic ziploc bag. Put the tyranny of the TSA to your advantage and fight some of the ill effects of air travel.

  • First off, once you’re settled on the plane, put on a hydrating mask. I’m not kidding about this. Buy one that’s clear (like the Dermalogica hydrating masque). On flights longer than 4 hours, put it on twice. Don’t worry about washing it off. Your skin will absorb it all. Also, the eye cream you’ve packed, put that on too.
  • Flying is murder on your hands, so put on some hand cream and cuticle oil as well. Basically as soon as I’m settled on a plane, I’m moisturizing within an inch of my life. It goes without saying that drinking lots of water will help you as well.

Taking it with you
Sometimes I think the TSA flight regulations have less to do with keeping the skies safe and more to do with people having to  prejudice against people who like to look good. Someone once referred to it as the “war on moisture.”

  • The key to being able to take all your beauty stuff with you is travel containers. The best way to get them is to get bottles in a variety of sizes. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll need 4oz of every beauty product that you need. Usually the only things you need in that volume for a week are items like shampoo, body lotion and body wash. Other items like face cream, eye cream and masks you can use the smaller containers for. What does container size variety get you? It means you can get more things in your sad little ziploc bag. Think hard about what you can bring in smaller amounts.
  • Sample sizes rock. Whenever I’m shopping for beauty products, I usually work in that I need things that travel well and nine times out of ten I’ll get sample sizes along with my purchase. These are perfect for your sad little ziploc bag as they’re small and disposable. The containers can sometimes be reused as well if you find one that fills a need and doesn’t take much space.
  • Get a pack of beauty wipes as well. I love the ones from MAC, but there are other great ones that are good too. These solve a couple of problems. First, you don’t have to bring makeup remover with you. For years, the only thing that would ever leak in my bag was makeup remover. Like, EVERY TIME it would leak. The wipes don’t have to go in your sad little ziploc bag (saving you space for other items), they save you time at the end of the day for washing your face and they won’t leak all over your other stuff.
  • Since liquid is apparently a gateway terrorism, another way to make room in your sad little ziploc bag is to use powder-based products. I use a powder exfoliant and just add water and since that water is far away from a plane, we can all breathe easy. Dry shampoo is a great thing to bring along as well. Just a little bit can refresh your hair.  Also, try bringing as much powder-based makeup as you can manage as well. Bring mineral makeup instead of liquid foundation for example. Usually the only make-up based liquids I’ll bring are eyeliner, lip gloss and mascara. For some longer trips, I’ve gotten eyelash extensions – though not just to save space in my sad ziploc bag, but it was an additional bonus.
  • Put together an essentials bag. Here’s a photo of mine and everything in it – all TSA size approved (I usually have to take a third of the contents out and put them in the sad little Ziploc bag).

I actually carry this bag with me every day, cause life has proven to be pretty unpredictable. The only thing I add to this bag for travel is a small tub of hydrating mask and eye cream for the plane.

Included: Hand cream, toothbrush and toothpaste (never under-estimate how refreshed you can feel after brushing your teeth), travel size cuticle oil (very handy for when you’re on the streetcar and note how totally dry your cuticles are), rosebud salve (good as a lip balm, cuticle treatment, soothes burns and treats pimples), blister preventer (I hate socks. Blisters are always a danger), pill pack (always have ginger pills for upset stomach, antihistamines, Advil and Benadryl which is great for sleeping problems or treating the first stages of a serious allergic reaction), nail clippers, mini tweezers, a few Purell wipes, hair elastics and a few bobby pins, mini hair brush (I use this all the time, especially now that I have bangs), pressed powder (I love how pretty the Guerlain compact it), cheek/lip colour – it does double duty! (I usually only carry one, Poppy by Stila, but I’m kind of in love with the Coralista blush by Benefit right now so I keep it close), foundation stick, blemish cover stick (I use the Bobbi Brown one and love it. It’s tiny, fits in a pocket and does magic) and various lip glosses (usually just one or two).

Picking your makeup
As I mentioned above keeping liquid makeup to a minimum is handy for travel. Another thing is to bring a palette. When you pack your clothes, putting together things that mix and match saves space. Same thing works for face colours. Some companies even make it easy for you by putting together an essentials palette for you. Pick up a set of travel-size brushes (MAC makes some great ones) – a powder, blush, eyeshadow and concealer brush and you’re laughing.

Making it like home
My last tip about looking good while you travel has nothing to do with packing. It’s about how to treat yourself while you’re away. My mental well being has more impact on how I feel and look than any powder or cream. To that end, these are a couple of things that I do to keep me sane.

  • Unpack completely. Living out of a suitcase makes me miserable. As soon as I get to a new hotel and time permitting, I take about 15 minutes to unpack all my things, hang them up, organize my belongings and make the space comfortable.
  • Creature comforts. Sometimes I bring a travel candle with me (hotels or new cities don’t always smell awesome) to make it comfy. Also, if I’m in my hotel room I’m always playing my music off my computer. These things make hotels less sterile. Also, staying in boutique hotels helps as well as they’re decorated with a lot more warmth typically.

There’s what I’ve learned so far. Hope it helps and happy trails.

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