beauty, bras and backpacking: being a girl on a budget

I have never been a particularly girly girl.

Sure, I like to feel pretty, but I am also more than happy to leave the house with a bare face, get muddy whilst camping and (prior to this trip) could lift weights some would consider way too big for a 5'5 girl.  

There are times in my life when necessity requires skipping a shower for far too many days than can be considered sanitary, my toenails are so infrequently painted that the polish often goes solid between applications and there is a solitary hair on my chin (affectionately called Spike) that embarrassingly grows a little too long between plucks.

But - and a big but here - in the last few years, as I rapidly approached 30 (and sadly, as I then saw the back of it) I succumbed to the skincare ads and Cosmopolitan's scare-mongering which insisted that £50 moisturiser and £25 eye cream must become an essential part of my daily routine. I started to pay far too much money for regular haircuts (where despite receiving free cocktails, it is very difficult to break even and remain upright in the chair), finally accepted that a quality item of clothing is likely to cost more than £20 and that a number of more questionable items in my wardrobe needed to be discarded, quickly.

Leaving for Latin America, I knew that life on our budget was going to mean a complete change of lifestyle, a change that I was ready to embrace.

Yet, as liberating as it has been to keep make-up for special occasions, spend months at the beach in little else but a bikini, endlessly wear the same pair of distressed-denim shorts (unfortunately not fashionably distressed, just distressed) and live without the pressure of having to look so damn presentable everyday, it has not been without its downsides.

Despite travelling in relatively cheap countries, it surprised us to discover that toiletries, oddly, are not. We were shocked that a tube of run-of-the-mill face wash in Nicaragua cost $10, that any 'named brand' shampoo or conditioner could set you back more than $7 each and even the cheapest shower gel left us fleeing for the soap isle. $25 a day each just doesn't allow for many luxuries and certainly doesn't provide funds for cosmetic or clothing shopping sprees. 

Now, with the last of my expensive moisturiser long-gone, and the combination of nine months of bargain-bin hunting for conditioner and my hiatus from the hair salon leaving me with tresses one might expect if Michael Bolton and Scar from the Lion King had a love-child, I can't help but feel a little, well, unattractive.

Don't get me wrong, I still make an effort. I'm carrying (despite all evidence to the contrary of their necessity) a heeled pair of camel suede ankle-boots in my already over-stuffed bag, I religiously cover my face in factor 50, and I ALWAYS wear clean pants - something Andrew can certainly not claim to do. However, when the number of clothes with holes outnumber those without, your whites haven't been their whitest whites for many a month and your fanciest underwear hasn't been fancy since August, it is difficult to feel at your best.

It doesn't help that there appears to be vast numbers of short-stay, stylish 'flashpackers' sauntering up and down the continent languishing on sun beds and hiking in hot-pants. I don't mind that they are usually at least 10 years younger than me, but I do find my self a little envious of their brand-new bikinis, fancy sandals and freshly gym-honed bodies - especially when I am wearing a rapidly ageing bikini top that my ample-sized boobs are threatening to burst out of, flip-flops that disassemble themselves at least a couple of times a day and I haven't lifted anything heavier than my backpack since March.

Over the last couple of months I have come to realise that whilst I am happy to budget on everything from transport and food to activities and accommodation, to spend days on a cargo ship instead of paying for an expensive flight and to sleep on some questionably stained sheets, I can no longer sacrifice myself.

For fear of ageing five years in the two that we're away, to not be momentarily shocked when I catch sight of myself in a hostel mirror and for Andrew to remember my beauty by simply looking at me rather than consulting a photograph, something simply must be done. 

This epiphany came at a good time.

Thankfully, limited only by British Airways' luggage allowance, Santa provided a bounty of beauty products to Panama this Christmas, begrudgingly couriered by my parents. 

Whilst it is going to take a professional to tame the mane (something which, despite having nine months of local lingo under my belt, I am a little terrified of - does 'just an inch' in Spanish translate?), I can at least now wash my face without resorting to the same bar of soap I use to lather up my legs pre-shave, have several tubes of actual eye cream and - the most precious commodity in their booty - two bottles of Original Source shower gel. Ladies and gentlemen, I smell like lemon meringue pie.

In honour of my resolution to take better care of myself, yesterday we went shopping. Andrew learnt how difficult it is to find good bras (for me I might add - his moobs aren't quite there yet) and the feeling of exhilaration when you do. And I realised that I used to wantonly spend hundred of pounds in shopping centres, without actually buying anything I loved.

Yesterday, I spent only what I could reasonably afford, but I left with a number of items that will make me feel just that little bit special again. We also, despite its impressive claims, managed to resist the temptation to purchase imitation whale sperm hair serum (it's supposed to be a miracle cure y'know!?). But that's a story for another day.

I love that I am living a life where I don't have to conform to social norms and expectations, but just sometimes I want to conform, just a little. Not to make others happy, but to make myself feel pretty. 


Gone are the days of expensive face creams and indulgent shopping sprees. I managed like this for nine months, but then I had an epiphany. Click on the pin to find out what it's really like travelling long-term on a budget - but still wanting to feel pretty.

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