When she’s not busy guiding her successful NYC-based beauty and lifestyle public relations firm, RED PR, Julia Labaton seeks mental clarity—and a lot of it—through travel. “I do travel quite a bit—a benefit of being single without kids—and I’ve made it part of my ‘Quarterly Travel Strategy for Sanity’ that my friend and fellow entrepreneur Anne and I created,” she shares. The two globetrot twice a year to destinations far and near—but Labaton admits she packs up her must-haves and hits either the road or friendly skies much more than that bi-annually: “I’m on a plane approximately every two months, and in a car most weekends!” she says. With so much travel under her well-adjusted belt, Labaton knows exactly what to pack—and how to pack it. (Though, she readily admits to struggling with whittling down an extensive array of beauty items—go figure!) With getaways increasingly on our minds, we asked Labaton to unpack her best travel tote tips and favorite picks, including pre-flight beauty services that save her time while trekking to why she stocks up on a certain avocado oil whenever she’s in Paris.
How do you approach packing?
Before any trip, I usually write a packing list. I organize it by categories and, if it’s s a work- or event-related trip, also by outfits per day. By nature, I’m an over-packer so I try to do a list to avoid too many extras. It works … but I also like to have choices just in case.
Do you have any packing rituals?
First I make the list, then I create piles [of clothes] by category, stacked on my bed: tops, skirts, jeans, etc. Then, I add in shoes and accessories. I do toiletries last. And, I always include a bathing suit—no matter what—in case there’s a great pool. If I have a morning flight or am going away for a week, I usually stay up the whole night before, working and packing until I leave for the airport.
What’s your essential luggage?
For long trips where shopping might be involved, I love the Longchamp Le Pliage Expandable Travel Bag. It’s light and convenient. And I swear by Delsey luggage. They’re lightweight, durable and expandable. I have a smaller one for overhead bins, and a large one if I’m checking a bag. These two cases have lasted me about 15 years!
How do you pack for a work trip?
For a work trip, I plan a.m. and p.m. outfits plus layered travel clothes. I pack by complete look to save time getting ready and to not have to think about it once I arrive.
What about a weekend away?
For weekends, it’s comfort all the way unless there’s a special event involved! The fewer things, the better.
And, of course, long vacations?
For domestic trips or beach vacations, I try to take carry-ons to avoid waiting at baggage claim—especially on the return to NYC. For longer trips, packing depends on the destination. For Tulum, Mexico, I only take bathing suits, yoga clothes, easy dresses, flip flops, sunscreen, a flashlight, and reading material in my small suitcase. For trips abroad, I take a large suitcase and a fold-up extra bag just in case. Shoes and toiletries take up so much space!
My most recent long trip was to South Africa where I thought I had packed really well until the day of the flight when I panicked and ran to the Gap for safari clothes. Of course, I totally over-packed at the last minute. (And then, I swear none of my usual clothes fit because your body is virtually upside-down on the other hemisphere and bloated beyond belief. They all fit again when I got back. Super-frustrating! Note for next time.)
How do you pack your beauty items?
Ugh, being in the beauty industry, you’d think I’d have this part down to a science by now! Nope. I always over-pack beauty items. Makeup is the easy part: Three to five lipsticks and glosses from nude to pink to red; NARS or L’Oréal Paris foundation; Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage Concealer; MAC blush; NARS and Becca Cosmetics bronzers; Maybelline New York brow pencil and Urban Decay Naked 3 Eyeshadow Palette. I get a Gelish manicure and Morgan Taylor pedicure using React Max before I go anywhere.
Skin and body care take the most time and space to pack. I never travel without Natessance Nourishing Avocado Oil. It’s 8€ at Monoprix in Paris. I stock up on it each time I’m there. My skin gets easily irritated by super-dry air, odd pillows or unusual detergent—all things you encounter when you travel. This avocado oil cures all.
For organizing, I love MZ Wallace cosmetic bags. Makeup goes in a smaller one. Eye cream, night cream, day cream, SPF, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. go in a larger one. Then, I always stuff in a bunch of “just in case” items, like travel-size or gift-bag samples I want to try—think: exfoliator, sheet masks, perfume samples, maybe a face mist. Then, the necessities like Q-tips and Advil. Last but not least, lavender oil, hand cream, lip balm, wipes and eye drops go in a pouch in my carry on. Lavender oil is great to inhale on a stinky plane and before bed if I can’t fall asleep.
What beauty items do you make sure you always have with you?
Several lip balms or glosses from sheer to light pink. I hate when my lips feel dry. I like to carry a mini Dadi’Oil Nail & Skin Treatment because it immediately makes your fingers or toes look less dry and it can double for lips, hands or healing cuts and scratches if needed.
Is there a beauty item you tend to over-pack?
Moisturizers of every kind. Itchy, dry skin is the worst!
Is there anything strange that you pack?
Before 9/11, I always packed a Swiss Army Knife. They come in very handy for the scissors and corkscrew. Now, I only pack one if I know I’m checking my bag.
What do you absolutely have to have in your carry-on—for easy access mid-flight?
Lip balm or gloss, and water.
Do you have any space-saving tips?
Space saving is essential. (Note preciously mentioned over-packing habit.) Who knows what you might decide to buy and bring home? For clothes, I’ve heard and tried all different tips from rolling to laying each item flat. I find laying things flat and stuffing small items in the corners works best. Dry cleaner bags are a lifesaver to keep clothes from getting too wrinkled.
Has TSA ever made you remove anything?
Yes, some very good Clarins sunscreen that hurt my heart to see tossed.
What was your most recent trip and what one item did you bring that made beautifying a breeze?
As I type this, I’m on a flight home from Paris where I visited for my goddaughter’s first communion! While it’s not exactly something you’d pack, getting lash extensions prior to travel makes life so much easier. No need for mascara and its “PIA” removal! Other than that, beautifying is always made easier with NARS Lovejoy Blush and some red lipstick.