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Sarah Browns Guide to Travel Essentials

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The Violet Files

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Wheels up, we’re going on vacation. Sarah Brown on the ultimate in-flight essentials and how to perk up a hotel room.

Written by:
Sarah Brown
Illustration by:
Donald Robertson

We all have a travel style. I like to travel super-light, and yet I pride myself on having everything (evvv-ery-thing) on-hand, at all times. This translates to sourcing compact versions of all-time favorites (and scooping spoonfuls of whatever I currently can’t live without into tiny reusable pots), an emphasis on multi-taskers, and a talent for consolidating.

Truly, if we are ever on a trip together and you need something (Fashion Tape, emergency manicure maintenance, every size of Band-Aid, a random antibiotic), I’ve probably got it. Ask my husband. Ask Cassandra Grey (she may fond-ish-ly recall a not-VIOLET-CODE-APPROVED hotel we once journeyed to for a corporate retreat in a distant Medieval village where, yes, I had gum, an extra adapter, and a few loose Euros for her on arrival. It was one of those trips where nothing is ever open and you are starving the entire time, but I digress.). 

I generally have several cosmetics cases going on any trip, whether I am carrying-on or checking luggage. For (1) En Route, there’s the small pouch that contains the TSA-approved items I “need” in-flight and upon touch-down, especially if I have to look decent stepping off the plane. For (2) Once I Get There, there is the professionally outfitted (by me), multi-pocketed washing machine-safe case stuffed deep inside my luggage that I don’t see until I reach my destination. This contains every single thing I would need for any particular occasion or ailment, Armageddon, you name it. It’s not about taking more, it is about making every single thing count.




I love a (biodegradable) wipe, and keep a pack of Bioderma’s micellar-soaked cloths with me not only to remove makeup as the plane takes off, but to wipe the whole place down (seat, window shade, germ-encrusted seatbelt buckle—literally anything I touch). 

Some people perform elaborate skin care routines while strapped into their seats. Any time I attempt an in-flight facial or masking extravaganza, I break out—truly, I wake up at the end of the flight with acne—so I personally just concentrate on keeping myself decently hydrated (hello, Avene mist; hello tiny tube of Dr. Rogers’ all-purpose Healing Balm, which I dab on lips and cuticles throughout). 

A sleep mask just might make all the difference to your trip—even if you are not a sleep mask person. I recommend you treat yourself to one in silk, from Slip

Anything in a rollerball or a stick is very welcome in my in-flight case. Slim, spill-proof. Think Tatcha’s spot-treating Serum Stick (so good), Susanne Kaufmann’s Eye Rescue Stick (cooling, de-puffing), and Aman’s Zen-inducing Pulse Point Remedy, which is great for anxious flyers and can double as a fragrance (palo santo and jasmine, yum).   

My new everything is RMS’s gently tinted SPF serum: It’s your glow drops, barely-there tinted moisturizer and (mineral) sunscreen all-in-one. It wakes up your complexion, gives enough coverage that you look polished and presentable, and provides the SPF you’ll need ASAP if you are touching down somewhere sunny and going straight to lunch—my ideal scenario. (Word to the wise: wearing sunscreen on the plane is not a bad idea, either: You are in a tin can much closer to the sun receiving UV radiation with nowhere to hide for a period of hours. Derms are with me on this.)

*An un-related-to-beauty piece of advice: Always, always keep anything you genuinely need and ever want to see again (prescriptions, jewelry, CHANEL evening clutch) with you at all times. Do not check these items. And invest in a cashmere travel blanket (which can double as a pillow, a scarf, or a wrap later on). You won’t regret it.



Yes, you’ve been sure to pack shrunken versions of your ride-or-dies—Bader, U Beauty, you name it. You’ve got your tweezers, your hybrid does-a-bit-of-everything cosmetic all-stars like Fara Homidi’s glamorous new Essential Face Compact and Charlotte Tilbury’s excellent double-ended eyeliner/highlighter. You are covered. Now let’s talk about where you are staying. 

Regardless of the glamour quotient of your hotel, there are always small things you can do to perform a self-upgrade. One of Santa Maria Novella’s super-portable incense papers—the size of a pack of gum—can make the meh suddenly marvelous. No time for the spa? Take a bath. Heaven, especially on a business trip, or any trip where you have nowhere to be and nothing to do. A pouch of Pursoma’s bath soaks are worth the real estate in your luggage. 

The ultimate compact travel accoutrement, though, might just be Kiki de Montparnasse’s pocket-size Bullet Vibe. Make that trip business and pleasure.