Travel Light With These Four Essential Multi-Purpose Ingredients


We learned early on that learning to live a minimalist life is essential to traveling light.

While on the surface it seems like a good idea to take along your favorite shampoo, shaving cream, hair products and half a dozen lotions and potions, after lugging them from city to city a few times, you soon decide they’re a lot less essential than you originally thought.

Not only that, but if you are shifting to a new location fairly frequently, then you also want to avoid buying a whole new supply of these items along with a host of household cleaning products every time you arrive somewhere.

As a result, I’ve developed a love for items that can serve a minimum of two or three uses to minimize the set-up expenses and stuff we gotta have.

Jay and Lea in Paris


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There are four key items that I make sure I have at every location, and between the four of them, I not only have many of my cooking needs covered, I’ve got basically all my cleaning and skin/hair care needs handled as well.

So with that……drum roll please…..below are my “fantastic four”:

1. Baking Soda (or “sodium bicarbonate”)

Back in the day when we still owned a house, I had the usual baking soda tricks that everyone knew, like putting an open box in the refrigerator or sprinkling a bit down the drain to help with odors.

But since heading out on the road, I’ve drastically expanded my library of baking soda uses to the point where it is my very first and most important purchase. Here are just a few of my baking soda secrets:

  • Laundry detergent – mix baking soda and washing soap shavings into a cup of hot water for an easy, cheap homemade laundry detergent that really works
Homemade laundry soap while traveling

Mix baking soda with shavings from a bar of laundry soap

  • Scouring powder – sprinkle a little baking soda on a sponge or dirty surface (such as a bathroom or kitchen sink) as an excellent substitute for scouring powder. Mix the baking soda with salt if you want a bit more abrasiveness
  • As shampoo – I’ve even used baking soda on many occasions in place of shampoo. Simply dissolve a bit into hot water then use the solution to clean the scalp and hair. Finish off with an apple cider vinegar (a capful in a generous cup or glass) rinse or regular conditioner
  • As mouthwash – dissolve a couple of spoonful’s of soda into filtered water the add a few drops of your favorite essential oil (tea tree and some kind of mint)
  • To relieve insect bites -make a paste of water and baking soda and apply as a salve onto affected skin
  • As an ant deterrent – mix equal parts baking soda and salt and sprinkle in areas favored by ants

Note, in many countries, we’ve found sodium bicarbonate in the health and beauty aisles, not in the baking aisle as in North America.

2. Vinegar

Another workhorse is vinegar. Not only does it add acidity to recipes instead of buying, say, mustard, it is a natural cleaner and deodorizer too.

  • Clean mirrors and bathroom surfaces by spraying it or applying a small amount to a sponge or paper towel. Just yesterday I cleaned a bathroom mirror by dampening a paper towel with vinegar, wiping down the mirror, then finishing with a dry paper towel
  • As hair rinse – add a capful or so to a cup or glass of water and use as a finishing rinse on hair (note, apple cider vinegar is generally preferred, but I have used white vinegar as well)
  • Stop static cling — add maybe a half a cup or small glass to your wash cycle. The acid reduces static and keeps dryer lint from sticking to your clothes
  • Stop the itch — dab a cotton ball or tissue soaked in white vinegar on mosquito bites and insect stings to stop the itch and disinfect the area
  • Remove dead skin –Soak your hands or feet in one part vinegar to two parts warm water. The vinegar removes dead skin, leaving your feet soft and smooth
  • To unclog drains – pour a cup-ish of baking soda down the drain, then follow with the same amount of vinegar. Let the mixture bubble for several minutes, then flush with boiling water

3. Olive Oil

With few exceptions, the only oil we generally use for cooking is olive oil. So if you have to buy it anyway, why not use it for some of your hair and skin care needs as well? Now I know that coconut oil is the popular choice as of late, but we don’t often cook with coconut oil. So in the interest of buying only those things that serve several purposes, olive oil would be my first choice. Here are some of the things I bet you didn’t know you could do with olive oil:

  • Hair conditioner – if your hair is getting particularly dry, put the moisture back in by heating half a cup or small glass of olive oil (don’t boil it), and then liberally applying it to your hair. Go one step further by covering your hair with a plastic grocery bag, then wrapping it in a towel. Let it set for 45 minutes, then shampoo and thoroughly rinse
  • Cut down on the frizz – I have the type of hair that poofs up like a large helmet in humidity. Keeping the frizz at bay is my constant struggle, but you know what? You guessed it, a little bit of olive oil goes a long way in taming the untamable. Simply rub a spoonful or so in the palm of your hands and apply to dry hair
  • Acne treatment – I know, I know, no way should you use oil to treat acne, right?! Well, the theory is that by mixing it with salt to make a paste that’s the consistency of a mask, you get a cleanser that also restores the skin’s natural moisture. Though I haven’t tried this, I plan to. The suggestion is to apply the paste daily for one week, then cut back to two or three times weekly
  • Shaving aid – Use olive oil in place of shaving cream or soap for glide and moisture at the same time

4. Salt

Obviously salt is not only critical to cooking (especially without a pantry full of spices), but it’s used as mixing agent in many of the solutions mentioned above. Mix it with baking soda as a semi-abrasive cleaner and deterrent to ants, or mix it with olive oil as an acne treatment or exfoliator.

You’ll note that I didn’t include exact measurements for any of these. That was deliberate. Once you hit the road, unless you’re traveling with a full complement of measuring cups and spoons, you need to get comfortable winging it. It’s easier than you think! Contrary to what you’ve been conditioned to think, it is quite possible to create a gazillian different things without an exact recipe.

What other ingredients have you discovered that serve several different purposes? Please share!

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