Style & Culture

How I Travel: Trixie Mattel Has a Suitcase Just for Wigs

We peek into the airport routines and bizarre quirks of the world's most well-traveled people.
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Drag queen Trixie Mattel wears so many hats atop her colossal wig: She’s a singer-songwriter (with a new album out this month), comedian, author (with another book planned for the fall), TV star, and the entrepreneur behind Trixie Cosmetics. But after touring around the U.S. and the world, what she really wants is to get into the hotel business. “My partner and I have talked about it for years,” says Mattel, whose off-stage name is Brian Michael Firkus. “I'm always at hotels doing investigative journalism. In my mind, I have a travel blog and I'm taking notes.” She explores the interest more fully in her new Discovery+ reality show, Trixie Motel, which finds her renovating a property in Palm Springs in high style with celeb pals like Lisa Vanderpump and Nicole Byer.

In anticipation of the show, which is now streaming, Mattel chatted with Condé Nast Traveler about what she looks for in a hotel, how she dresses for flying, her pet peeves from other travelers, and more.

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Her packing strategy:

Everything is very modular. It's a few suitcases with lots of small clear bags. There's a clear bag just for nails: like nail stickers, nail files, nail polishes, false nails. Then there's a clear bag for just removers: makeup remover, makeup wipes, skincare. There's a small makeup kit for tours that has just the essentials: the foundations I need for drag, a black eye shadow, a white shadow, a few brown shadows. Enough to basically do my exact same face every day for tour and then change up a few things, like the lip color. My whole makeup bag for tour is maybe the size of a loaf of bread. Then I have empty palettes. To get in drag, I need about six different pressed face powders. They all sit in one mega palette, basically. Or I travel with a palette of like 52 lipsticks. Everything is just efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. We have a suitcase for costumes and a suitcase for wigs, so one bag will just be hair, bags of hair. My wigs are big, and they come apart like Legos. I'll travel with a base wig and then a bunch of different toppers that dramatically change the look in just a few minutes.

And her approach to skincare:

For drag especially, you got to double cleanse. You've got to use removers to break up the makeup. You have your makeup removal process, and then a shower, and then normal skincare stuff. I use a lot of simple things, like Paula's Choice, Native. I love anything where it's simple packaging, simple ingredients. I have SPF 70 for my face and then Supergoop SPF 30 for the body, because I run every single day no matter what. My favorite cleanser right now is the Ole Henriksen Truth Juice Daily Cleanser. It's orange fruit water and for me, somebody whose skin is pretty dry and dull, a citrus face wash in the morning has a real brightening effect. If I'm real fancy, I'll travel with a facial steamer.

Her go-to flying look:

My travel outfit is almost the same every day. It's either a black Gucci tracksuit or it's a Nike running suit. It just makes it easy to have top and bottom matching, really simple, all black. Otherwise, if I'm feeling fancy, I [do] stretchy black skinny jeans with black sneakers and then I have this giant, over, over, over-sized Balenciaga sweater that’s just like wearing a blanket.

The cities with really solid drag scenes:

The thing is, everything has a sliding scale, right? So the bigger cities will have more good drag queens and more bad drag queens. The ratio doesn't really change. I would say for every 100 drag queens, there's one really amazing one. But as far as very vibrant scenes, Milwaukee—where I'm from; I own a bar there—we have five drag shows a week. Milwaukee is the 16th largest city in the U.S. and we have five drag shows a week at my bar. Vibrant drag scenes end up having less to do with the performers and more to do with a supportive audience. In Milwaukee on a Tuesday, if there are drag shows, they're going. Milwaukee is also probably the drinking capital of the U.S., so that's part of it. People just need a half excuse to get drunk.

Her favorite vacation to date:

I've not really gone on a lot of vacations but last year, for my anniversary with my partner, we went to Lake Arrowhead. My friend Christine McConnell—she’s a famous renovator and restorer of antiques—owns a mountain home there and everything is vintage, from the stove to the cookware. It looks like it is frozen in time. It's spooky! It's almost like if Dita Von Teese owned a house in the country. For the whole weekend, we got to go for walks and listen to music and make dinner and just relax. I'm from the country, so living in Hollywood, I love to go somewhere quiet.

Her travel pet peeves:

Phone etiquette. When you're in public and you're having a loud phone conversation, you need to either talk quieter or go somewhere. A speakerphone in public? Jail. Straight to jail. I hate that so much. What else? Children. Having them, showing them to me, bringing them to the airport, letting them leave the house: jail, jail, jail. Being too dressed up at the airport or too dressed down. Believe me, if I was TSA, I'd be like, "You can't get in. You're not dressed cool enough.” You can go comfortable and not go sloppy, you know what I mean? A comfortable jean!

How she gets to know a new city:

I need routine, so no matter where we are, I run every single day. Seeing a city on foot is the best way to know it, especially to understand where you are in relation to the rest of the city and what the neighborhoods are like. When I was doing [TV show] Queen of the Universe last summer, one day I [ran] 20 miles basically through London and back, which is an extreme amount of running. But I got to really understand what the shape of the city was and what all the neighborhoods were, because I got to see them change into one another. Or thrifting! You learn a lot about a city based on what people are getting rid of, or by the way the second-hand stores do their displays. In my home town of Wausaukee, Wisconsin, my assistant found a Moschino scarf in a bin. In small town Wisconsin!

A few of her favorite hotels, and why she wants to open one:

A really beautiful one in Palm Springs is the ARRIVE. Gorgeous, simple, very pretty. The Beck's Motor Lodge in San Francisco is really gay and charming. The Jupiter in Portland, Oregon, is very pretty, very cute. Honestly, there needs to be more and better. That's part of why I want to throw my hat in the ring. It’s like, you either get a comfortable, high-end experience that's devoid of personality or you get a really low-quality experience that has a little too much character. You know what I mean? Too many bed bugs. I look for something with personality that still is clean and elevated.

Where she wants to go next:

I've never been to Asia. I would love to go to China or Japan. The late Chi Chi DeVayne, the drag queen, we were friends and she'd be like, "Oh, I go to Hong Kong like four times a year. How have you not gone?!” Then there's a few places that I'd like to give another chance. I went to Fire Island once for a gig and had a terrible time. I would love to give Fire Island another opportunity. One of my favorite places to go in the world is Provincetown—I'm a Provincetown person. In gay world you have to be a Provincetown person or a Fire Island person, and I'm a Provincetown person. But I'm open to becoming a Fire Island person. I'm open to the possibilities.