I believe it was Naomi Wolf who spoke of a ‘tax’ that women pay for being women. This tax is paid in the form of time: minutes and hours that turn into days and weeks spent applying eyeliner, blow drying hair, filling in brows, blotting lipstick, filing nails, snipping split ends, and the multitude of other things we do to maintain our looks. On a work day, it takes me an hour to get ready from morning shower to out-the-door. It takes Peter a maximum of 30 minutes – and that includes a morning coffee.
Being on the road is meant to be liberating. It’s meant to quash the social pressure to look attractive, and allow you to embrace the ugly comfort of hemp skirts and Birkenstocks. This is mainly okay as I don’t want to spend an hour of every day on the road making myself presentable but, equally, I don’t want to look like a mess either. I don’t want that weather-beaten look some long-term travellers end up with: straw-like hair, lined skin beneath an armful of ethnic bracelets. I want to look happy and healthy and radiant.
It took me a long time to learn that being smart and being pretty are not mutually exclusive, so I have no qualms about admitting that I want to look good on the road. I spoke to the beauty editors and experts in my contacts list to get their best beauty tips for backpackers
1. Don’t touch your face
This is hugely important when you’re on the road. Planes, trains and long bus journeys in unfamiliar environments will leave your hands crawling with dirt, even when you can’t see it. Touching your face with filthy hands will give you spots, pimples and breakouts so do your best to refrain. Resting your cheek on your hand while dreamily sipping a coffee may be a cute look but it’s terrible for your skin. If you’re a repeat offender, make sure you carry and regularly use antibacterial hand gel.
In addition, do not scratch any bites – on your face or otherwise. Soothe a bite with some antiseptic cream (I use Savlon) and leave it be!
2. Focus on improving your skin – not covering it
Instead of covering up your skin for a flawless finish, focus on improving it. There is all the obvious stuff – drinking plenty of water, cutting down on sugar, using sunscreen – but sometimes you need something more heavy duty than that. Three months before departure, I started using a Lactic 50% Gel Peel from Perfect Image once a week (imported from the US). It works wonders on blackheads and reduces pores like magic. It is heavy duty so make sure you read all the instructions carefully.
In addition, I use Paula’s Choice Liquid Exfoliant every night, which leaves my skin looking fresh and renewed. This is far easier than slopping on foundation every morning only for it to melt in the sun.
3. Reduce eye bags
One of my greatest beauty bugbears are the stubborn dark circles beneath my eyes. Alas, I haven’t yet found a wonder solution but there are things that have helped. First, Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair is worth the hefty price tag. I stopped using it when my last bottle ran out, opting for a cheap alternative – within two weeks, I looked like Michael Jackson in Thriller (and not the human version).
Of course, I promptly bought another bottle. Another method of combat is taking daily supplements of iron – I take Floradix tablets. Finally, I’m told that eating bright fruit also helps (kiwi, grapes, strawberries, papaya, guava). In addition to this, make sure you get plenty of sleep and pack an eyemask.
4. Protect your hair
Firstly, the basics: don’t skip conditioner or spend too much time in the sun (see point 9). Preparation is also very important. Again, three months before departure, I started conditioning my hair with castor oil once a week. A big bottle costs a couple of pounds, so it’s a great alternative to expensive products like Moroccan Hair Oil and Argan Oil. I rub the oil into my hair from roots to tip and leave it overnight. I probably won’t take any with me on the road to keep my backpack as light as possible but it’s definitely helped prepare my hair for the coming assault. Finally, I take Viviscal hair supplements once a day. Again, it’s quite pricey but it does what it says on the box.
5. Use a practical alternative to dry shampoo
Dry shampoo has been a Godsend for women with fine, limp hair like mine. A spray at the end of a long working day spruces it right up for an evening out. Unfortunately, a bottle doesn’t last very long and unless Batiste’s market coverage is far wider than I expect, I won’t be able to buy any on a tiny South Pacific island. As such, I’m taking along a small bottle of talcum powder.
This is a better solution for blondes than brunettes but works as long as it’s blended well enough. Simply tip your hair down, sprinkle some powder onto the palm of your hand and run it through your scalp and roots, making sure to rub it in properly. The powder will soak up excess grease and oil, leaving you with fresh(er) hair instantly. I’ve read that pure cocoa is a good alternative for brunettes but I’m yet to give it a try.
6. Pack the ultimate multi-purpose product
Vaseline. It’s invaluable. It protects your lips; soothes cuts, burns, sores and grazes; tames flyaway hair; adds volume to lashes; moisturises cuticles; adds healthy glow to cheekbones, calms windswept brows and so much more. Pack a pot and keep it in the fridge to prevent it from melting. You will use it.
7. Don’t overdo the perfume
A summer spritz or five might keep you smelling fresh but it will attract mosquitoes. If you will be indoors, then you’re less likely to be affected but heading out in a fruity or floral scent is likely to draw the pesky buggers to you. Stay au natural as much as you can.
8. Wax on, wax off
As mentioned in 5 backpacker problems only women will understand, unwanted hair can be difficult to deal with on the road. Shaving doesn’t last very long and can get expensive. Waxing is slow and reliable treatments can be hard to come by on remote islands. As such, I’ve gone ahead and got a Philips SatinPerfect Epilator. Cordless and suitable for wet/dry use, it comes with a whole host of accessories (cleaning brush, detachable razor head, storage pouch, etc) and isn’t half as painful as I remembered epilation to be. It is best suited for hairs 3-4mm in length so you might get imperfect results on shorter or longer hair but other that that, it works like a dream!
9. Be very wary of the sun
Peter insists on using Factor 15 sunscreen because that’s what I wear and always ends up being burnt. This time, I’ve forced him to pack a bottle of SPF30 too. Start high at the beginning of your trip and work your way down as you acclimatise to being in the sun. Just remember: it may be a good course of Vitamin D but is bad for you in many other ways! It dries the moisture in your skin, increases your risk of getting skin cancer, causes wrinkles, ruins your hair and can leave you fatigued. Take regular breaks and of course always wears sunscreen and a hat where possible.
10. Don’t over indulge!
I know, I know – you’re on holiday but don’t overeat and make sure you get regular exercise be that walking, hiking, swimming or another form of leisure sport. If you’re on a budget, it can go one of two ways: you eat lots of lean, healthy food like fruit and salad, or you eat lots of cheap junk food like chips and burgers. Make a conscious effort to make healthy choices. Eating junk might be okay when you’re on a two-week break in Morocco but doing it on a long-term trip will leave you looking and feeling pretty bad.
It’s important to remember that few of us can look like the Goddess that is Gisele on the beach but we can make healthy choices that will help us in the long run. Go forth and conquer.