With two daughters who are now in their early to mid-20s, I’ve learned a thing or two about what college girls need. Not just on campus, but also on study abroad trips, spring breaks, and for post-grad couch surfing. I’ve helped assemble many a base kit like the one I’m recommending here.
Granted, some items were initially met with eye rolls and a Seriously, Mom? When this happened I just stuffed it in their bags anyway, pushed them out the door with an “Okay Byeeeeeee” and waited. Six months later came the grudging confession that yes, the items had proved useful. Occasionally, there was an expression of gratitude. “Mommy, you’re such a dork. But thanks. It wasn’t completely ridiculous.”
(Translation: You’re the best mom ever. And you were right. I don’t know what I’d do without you.)
That’s about the highest form of praise you’ll get out of a college kid who thinks they know everything. I’ll take it.
HOW TO USE THIS LIST
There’s no rule that says you have to buy everything on this list. If you’re in the market for great gift ideas for a college girl or graduate (or even for yourself, if you’re a hardcore traveler), pick and choose what you like or can afford. Or not. These are just my “best of the best” suggestions based on personal experience with what works. Ultimately, you’re the best judge. Also, if you find and would prefer to use cheaper versions of the items listed, go for it. (Just don’t blame me if it fails or otherwise disappoints!)
Sidebar for Cash-Strapped Folks: There’s no reason why a single person should have to shoulder the entire cost of this kit. Get your relatives involved! What good is family if you can’t pass the hat? Make it a group Belated Graduation Gift.
Which brings us to Dopp. You may have noticed this isn’t your average dollar store toiletries bag. The market is flooded with options, but Dopp by LiveWell360 is my bag of choice because (1) it is constructed to last; (2) it has a unique shape that accommodates longer odd-sized items (and more of them); and (3) it features a backpack-friendly footprint that is easier to pack and tuck into tight, narrow spaces.
If you are unfamiliar with the life of the average college student, let me clue you in. They live hard. Stuff gets banged around, dragged, thrown, dropped, crammed into tight spaces, spilled on, dropped in the toilet, and worse. A cheap toiletry kit may fall apart or turn really disgusting before the end of the semester, with a zipper that’s likely jammed or broken. (The transparent ones are the worst. I fell for the whole “Look, you can see all your contents from the outside!” concept, but soon found that the cheap plastic covering which gleamed like fine crystal when I bought it, quickly turned into a cat-scratched, film-covered mess that no amount of soaking, wiping or scrubbing would fix.)
Anyhoo. Back to Dopp. Here’s the bonus: it holds not just toiletries, but a night shirt and pants that can be reconfigured into a new outfit the next day. Let’s take a look inside.
(To purchase any of the items, click the title links listed below the infographic.)
1. LiveWell 360 Dopp Toiletries Bag, $37 at LiveWell 360. All its virtues are listed above. The trick to making this work is advance planning and packing. And then stowing it away. As far as you’re concerned, until the day you wake up in a bed that’s not your own, every item in there is like an Oompa Loompa at Willy Wonka’s factory:
It never comes out.
Except, of course, for needed refills, or to be laundered. It’s helpful to always remember that this kit is a duplicate set of grab-and-go items. Don’t go mixing it up with your daily rotation stash of personal care products.
I’ve bought and own every LiveWell360 bag ever made (some twice over for gifts), and all are top quality. (If your college girl also needs a workhorse of a backpack for hauling books, electronics and gear in style, check out the LiveWell 360 Backpack.)
Let’s look step-by-step at how I fit all the featured items into Dopp, plus a whole lot more…with room to spare!
2. Vigilant 130dB Personal Student Emergency Alarm with LED Light, $17 on Amazon. No one wants to think about it. No one wants to talk about it. But I’m gonna. Because I have two daughters and I don’t mess around when it comes to their safety or well-being. As we learned from our favorite women’s self-defense expert Felicia in a previous post here, it’s critical to make noise – BIG noise – whenever we find ourselves under attack. So a girl can’t go wrong with this in her palm. Thankfully, no one I know has ever had to use one in a time of need, but that’s not the point. If its mere presence does nothing more than provide peace of mind, along with a tangible reminder to remain vigilant of one’s surroundings at all time, it’s a good investment.
3. Every Drop Beauty Spatula, $7 on Amazon. Ask any woman to empty her makeup bag right now, and you’ll find a tube or container of her favorite something that’s almost gone, worn down to the nub. Beauty products can be quite expensive. Nobody wants to throw away a container that still contains product, which is the equivalent of setting money on fire.
Help a struggling student stretch her beauty dollars with this handy little tool for scraping the last bits out of even the tiniest crevices.
4. Gap PureBody Essentials T-shirt Dress, $40 at The Gap. The most comfortable nightshirt-slash-pajamas ever made. Added bonus: in an emergency wardrobe crisis (like waking up in someone else’s flat the next day with a suspicious amount of hot wing sauce all over your clothes), this can double as a shirt over leggings if you tie one side in a knot. I got lucky and paid much less for mine, thanks to a Gap 50% off sale with free shipping. While random, they do cycle around pretty consistently, so join their email list for sale alerts.
5. VioLife Slim Sonic Travel Toothbrush, $15 on Amazon. Every college student can use a discreet option that lets her take the benefits of sonic tooth brushing on the road. Comes with spare AAA batteries, an extra brush head, and is a completely self-contained unit (no contamination worries, regardless of how junky and nasty her purse gets). Many cute designs to choose from, slim profile.
6. SmartMouth Mouthwash, Travel Size (Pack of 10), $9 on Amazon. Added insurance for #5. Because sometimes brushing and mints won’t cut it. And a mouthwash guaranteed to keep breath fresh for 12 hours (rinse before bed, wake up without morning breath!), plus eliminate strong food odors like garlic and onion, is worth its weight in gold. SmartMouth was developed by a dentist, and many users (self-included) proclaim it to be the most effective mouthwash on the market. Also comes in larger quantity bottles for regular home use.
7. FLOSSCARD Dental Floss in Credit-Card Shaped Dispenser (Pack of 10), $14. Because talking to somebody on a date or at the club with food still stuck between your teeth, is not cute. The only downside is that you might pull it out by accident to try to pay for food and drinks. Look before you grab.
8. doTerra Fractionated Coconut Oil, $13 on Amazon. This is a must have for any woman’s beauty toolkit, whether age 19 or 99. When space is at a premium, you can leave most everything else behind and rely on this jack-of-all-trades beauty secret. Want to learn how? Allure Magazine lists these 21 Unexpected Beauty Uses for Coconut Oil.
9. ShowerPill The Athletic Body Wipe (Pack of 10), $10 on Amazon. Because there’s not always enough time (or available facilities) to take a shower between the gym and class. Or class and work. Or work and date. Or date and…whatever. You get the picture. These body wipes are awesome, like a shower in a bag.
10. Bocco Leak-Proof Travel Bottles (set of 4), $24 on Amazon. For whatever random lotions, potions and gels are still needed. Which shouldn’t be much, thanks to the coconut oil.
11. Intimina Lily Cup, Compact – Collabsible Menstrual Cup, $40 on Amazon. She may be slow to come around to the idea at first, but trust me…the day will come when she’s standing in the tampon aisle at CVS, down to her last $10 before the next infusion of cash. She’ll look at the price on the box. Then back to her wallet. She’ll remember the *free* Intimina, and make an instant decision to keep her money in her pocket. (Because beer.) There will be no turning back. Maybe later she’ll also come to realize and appreciate that she’s reducing her environmental footprint by keeping her periods completely waste-free. But right now, it’s all about stopping the flow of cash spent every month on feminine hygiene products, to the tune of around $3,000 over a lifetime.
12. THINX Period-Proof Panties, $24 – $34 at SheThinx. OK. Speaking of periods. This product’s a game changer. Not just for college women, but women EVERYWHERE. These are the panties you wear when you think your period is about to start. And while you’re actually on your period (wicks away up to 2 tampon’s worth, without leaking), whether that’s a routine day or hiking eight hours outdoors with no bathroom access. And, also, when your period is tapering off.
So, pretty much half of any woman’s childbearing life.
Periods and what they represent keep humanity going (literally), therefore are nothing for women to be ashamed of. Still. That doesn’t mean we want to wear them like billboards, or spend our lives obsessing over its poor timing. THINX eliminates all that. They’ve changed my life. They’ll change her life. And by her, I mean ALL the hers. I’m convinced women the world over will begin investing in THINX as simply a necessary part of our wardrobes, much the same way we invest in bras. Sure, they cost more than regular underwear. But when paired with a menstrual cup like Intimina (there are other great cup brands like Lunette, but none that I’ve found which collapse flat into their own carrying case), they eliminate the need for a student – or any woman – to ever have to spend another dime on disposable liners, pads or tampons.
What’s better, your purchase of THINX helps a girl in the developing world. I was shocked to learn that “100 million girls in the developing world fall behind in school because of their periods, forcing many of them to eventually drop out.” (Source: SheThinx.com)
That is a [censored] crime.
If you’re a girl in a developed country lucky enough to be enrolled in an institution of higher learning, you might want to stop and take a moment to think about the global implications of that. Thankfully, there’s something you can do today to help. Spend your period dollars responsibly. Beer will still be there tomorrow.
(And, oh yeah. Call your parents – or whomever made the sacrifices for you to be where you are – to say thanks.)
13. Zella “Live In” Leggings, $52 at Nordstrom. Cheap leggings for a college student is folly. At the rate at which they wear them (near daily), they’ll be full of holes, tears and pilling within weeks. How do I know this? More than once, when they were on a semester break, I caught my daughters trying to leave the house with me wearing leggings that had rips in some very unseemly spots, which they thought was well-camouflaged by some flowy peasant blouse, or long jacket. (It was not.)
Me: Oh my God. I hope you didn’t wear those to class. Or on study abroad.
Me: You did, didn’t you?
Her: [Blank stare]
Her: [Shrugs] “Broke people problems, Ma.”
When I was coming up, the only people you saw walking around in leggings were Jane Fonda, that chick from the movie Flashdance and the occasional streetwalker on Miami Vice. They were spandex – spandex! – and they were fabulous, but nobody took them seriously as a fashion statement. (We had designer jeans, whose creases we would stay up late nights and meticulously iron with Niagara spray starch. Funky fresh. Gotta love the 80s.)
Times change. Leggings, or their close cousin yoga pants, have become the uniform of choice for today’s college girls. They wear them everywhere: to the gym, under dresses and tunics, and just hanging out around campus. They are also a study abroad staple since they take up minimal packing space. Every girl needs a reliable, long-lasting pair that will resist rips and hold up over repeat washings. These Zellas are the ones. They cost more, but are worth it.
14. Mane Street Elastic Hair Ties, $9 on Amazon. The perfect hair tie-slash-scrunchy-slash-ponytail holder. Does not tear or pull the hair the way typical elastic bands do. Best of all, they can be worn on the wrist until needed, bohemian bracelet-style. Except for those who have short hair or a pixie cut, I don’t know of a single girl who’s not always on the hunt for one.
So those are some of the more unique items you may not have thought of. But you’re not done yet. There’s still plenty of room left in the Dopp, so it’s time to head to Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond or [insert your town’s equivalent here] to top this kit off with some basics.
Each of these discount retailers has a special aisle devoted to travel-sized beauty and toiletry items, usually sold for about $1 each. Not everything that lands in these bins is of equal quality, so be selective. Grab a tiny deodorant, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, Airborne, Advil, pack of tissues, etc. Then head over to the hair aisle and pick up a pack of bobby pins. And so on. Go wild.
It’s not the sexiest gift. But it will likely be the one she comes to appreciate most, and she’ll be reminded of your thoughtfulness over and over again whenever she hauls it out for her next adventure. Every time I turn around, my daughters are heading off somewhere, even if it’s just to hang out with friends in the city and then crash at someone’s apartment closer in. I’ve heard first hand that their travel kit, which they often keep stored in the back of their car “just in case,” has come in handy and been well-used.
We now live in a globally-connected world. Millennials and their younger counterparts seem more mobile, transient and filled with a wanderlust more readily indulged than that of previous generations. Walking around looking homeLESS, just because you didn’t wake up at home, does not appear to be trending at the moment. Fashions come and go, but girls still want to look presentable, no matter where their travels take them.
A well-packed Dopp won’t help her solve world hunger. But when a young woman learns and practices the art of being prepared and well-organized, it has a way of creeping into other areas of her life. And that’s a good thing.
Success leaves clues.