This last decade I’ve lived in 10 different cities, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the places I’ve passed through incidentally or for holiday purposes. Sometimes I don’t unpack my suitcase. One eye trained on my front door, I know it won’t belong before I step through its frame and enter another.
As I travel, certain things connect me to these places and keep me grounded. It’s hard to carry the city of Los Angeles in a handbag, Taipei in a backpack, or Sydney in a pocket. But it’s very easy to collect a bar of soap, a fermented cure-all in a tube, or a bit of clay in a jar from them.
If you visit a place and wish to remember it long after you’ve left, let your senses momentarily take you back by taking away a cosmetic with you as a souvenir.
Here are some of my favorites to look out for on your travels.
The packaging is distinctive – a little bit plain, but very sturdy and functional: a bright red tube printed with black ink that simply states its name, and beneath, “Fermented Papaw Fruit.”
When I first saw it at a drug store in Surry Hills near Sydney’s Hyde Park, I had no idea what “papaw fruit” might be. I had never seen the word before, but once I noticed it, I saw it everywhere. Fresh or fermented, cheap and abundant, it appeared as papayas on fruit stands, or in greasy containers in pharmacies.
As the Aussies say, I decided to “give it a go.” I bought a tube. And after that I bought several more tubes. Once I left for the States, I made my erstwhile repatriated boyfriend buy half a dozen more, as well as a giant tub.
Since that fateful day, I’ve used it daily on my lips. I’ve use it on my cuticles. I’ve used it on light burns. I’ve used it as a facial moisturizer in a pinch. I’ve used it for almost every topical use imaginable, and I’ve even heard of people using it to heal tattoos.
I’m down to my last tube.
If you’re in Australia and are reading this message, please send help! I need more and I don’t know where to get it in the U.S.
Bee & Flower Soap
I don’t remember where I found this soap, but I do remember reveling in the shower’s precious quiet away from the crush of Shanghai’s population of 24 million as its fragrance of sandalwood enveloped me.
Nothing says poise, luxury, and femininity to me quite the way the ads of old Shanghai do. The Shanghai Soap Company’s Bee & Flower line capture it perfectly. Their scents of Sandalwood, Rose, Ginseng, and Jasmine whisk me back to that by-gone time. While they smell of their namesakes, they do so in a slightly dusky, dusty way that leaves a heavy aroma in their wake.
I’ve been known to keep the paper packaging in which they come, elegantly topped with an embossed gold stamp. I’ve repurposed them as stationery, letting the recipient get a soft trace of the soap’s perfume.
Snag a bar (or many) in the great city in which they were first produced, or look out for them at your nearest Chinese grocer.
Yes, this is a Korean product, but I first experienced it in California. My college roomie, Julie, and I spent many an evening smearing homemade masks of strawberry and bananas and oatmeal on our faces and then following with this, fervently tapping the rich, silky formula into our skin.
I was skeptical at first. “‘Moistfull?'” I recall saying with disdain. (I hate the word “moist.”)
“Yup. Prevents wrinkles,” Julie informed me. Until then, I had never considered wrinkles as being part of my future, but as Julie pointed out, it was never too early to stop ’em before they happened.
After that, the Moistfull eye cream resided on our shared vanity as a cute, little orange jar that symbolized our pursuit of a beauty world that was just arriving here.
I repurchase it for old time’s sake, and also because I love how pampering and protective it feels. Because it’s so emollient, I reach for it all throughout winter.
Boulder is a city known for a few things — the dramatic Flatiron Mountains and Celestial Seasonings Tea, to name a couple. It’s also known for having a *slightly* hippie-ish character.
Some remnants of said character may be observed on Pearl Street if you can look past the luxury ice cream stores and high-end athletic apparel shops and instead see the likes of Rebecca’s Apothecary.
This establishment doesn’t strike me as an apothecary, at least not the ones I’m used to seeing. (The ones I’m used to have animals, both dead and alive, herbs pungent beyond my wildest dreams, and many other things that are probably not commercially popular in the U.S.)
Rebecca’s has a variety of salts and dried herbs that smell pleasant, some tinctures and ointments that manage to be effective without being repulsive.
And different kinds of clay. Lots, and lots of beautiful clays that look like crushed, earthy pigments. It’s sold in bulk. I took away two types: rassoul in a rich yellow, and rose in a dusky pink. Both touted to draw out impurities from my skin when mixed with a dab of water and applied as a mud mask.
Equipped with scoops and spoons and shovels and little sacks and jars, you measure each out to your liking, weigh it, and pay.
What about you? Are there beauty products you’ve found on your travels that you love? Share below!
Sara Hayden is a lifelong storyteller and currently a full time Soko Glammer. She’s worked with a variety of outlets including the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times bestselling author Lauren Myracle. Dim-sum is her comfort food. Follow her travels on Instagram @thewholehapa.