If your packing for your backpacking trip of a lifetime but want to maintain your sense of style and identity whilst maximizing the fun and potential of your adventure this post is for you!
Do your research
There are plenty of very helpful packing articles to be found online written by experienced travellers, brands and magazines. Whilst most offer a practical guide to the essentials you need when fitting your life into a backpack I have found that few of them take a sense of style into consideration. Now.. for those of you looking to embark on a serious expedition or fly seamlessly from place to place with carry on baggage alone I imagine you will have other sources to explore. Listen to the experts on the best brands and equipment to take. However if your itinerary involves a mix of city stops, beach lounging and some action/adventure type activities there is no need to restrict your attire to utility wear all the way!
Stick with what you know
There is a mentality when preparing to travel that you need to completely change your style to one of sensible boots and parkas. Great if this follows your usual clothing choices. However if you have never worn a pair of walking boots in your life do you really need some now? In most places you will visit whilst backpacking a smart/casual vibe will work just fine and can be adjusted to the local culture with simple tweaks and by using what you have creatively.
Don’t buy the biggest bag you can
I love clothes and wearing a wide range of outfits but have learned the hard way that a massive 90l rucksack is a bad choice. Remember, you will need to carry this bag and be sure, there will be an array of tempting purchases to be made along the way which will add to your load. If your stuffed at the beginning there won’t be any space for new things! Personal preference is a 60l pack plus a smaller ‘daybag’ for your day to day bits and bobs. I have travelled with large and small bags but my current preference is an Osprey Soujorn wheeled bag.
Again you will need to decide what your trip will entail. If your going off-road the majority of the time or travelling in the rainy season where pulling a bag will be an issue a traditional backpack is definitely your best bet. I have travelled with both and honestly, if your taking planes,trains, buses and cars as your primary modes of transport a wheeled backpack rocks. You can wheel it in terminals, along any paved surface and the majority of dry dirt tracks with no problem. Then if your wandering down the beach looking for bungalows or need to walk up a rocky track you can pop it on your back instead. These backpacks are heavier than an ordinary one so I don’t recommend them if you’re going to spend the majority of your trip with it on your back!
Why does it matter what i look like?
Well for many people it doesn’t. Clothes can be functional and practice and thats just fine. For me the clothes i wear make me feel good, allow me to go to the places i want to go and align me with the people I want to get to know. I feel equally uncomfortable in head to toe utility wear as I do in a tiny bodycon dress and 6 inch heals. Both have a place but its about discovering what makes you feel the most comfortable in your own skin. The more confident you are the better the experience you will have and when you’re meeting new people all the time first impressions count. Your attire can allow people to understand the type of person you are which is especially helpful when language barriers prevent you from ‘selling yourself’ through your conversational skills.
Think Mountain Warehouse, Craghoppers, Northface, Cotswold Outdoor. Think beige cargo pants with a loose fit leg, walking boots, sensible sandals, fleeces and high necked t-shirts. Very useful for trekking, outdoor adventure and for packing light. Not so good for a night out in a cool bar or to get into a high end hotel to lounge by their pool for the afternoon over a drink. This type of clothing is often made of incredibly advanced materials and can be invaluable in the right situation. I do suggest that you take a look in these stores as items such as a merino wool base layer or waterproof jacket may be really useful. The staff in Mountain Warehouse and Cotswold outdoor are particularly helpful.
Getting the right balance is the key to a wonderful trip!
The interchangeable wardrobe
To allow yourself more choice choose items that work well with a wide selection of other pieces. A set of key basics is a great starting point which will allow you to build fun and varied looks around them.
Comfortable loose fitting trousers– Perfect for flights, long bus journeys. A flattering pair of loose trousers can be dressed up for the evening or work casually with a pretty top at the beach. My preference are cotton or silk Harem trousers for at least one pair. The type with the thick elasticated waistband can be pulled up and worn as a playsuit type dress and can be accessories for a more sophisticated look too.
Jeggings/leggings I’m not a fan of jeans when travelling. They take up far too much space and are generally hot and clingy in temperatures above 30 degrees. Black Jeggings are a lighter, more comfortable choice which can be used smart in the evening, under a pretty dress or skirt, as a warm layer under your loose trousers or for modesty when you need to cover up.
Block coloured tops-bring some simple tops in your favorite styles and colours. You will undoubtedly buy some brightly coloured patterned bags/skirts/scarves on your travels and these will allow you to put a great look together without going OTT with the pattern clashing.
A sarong. this is a great item to pick up on route as a souvenir but a large scarf or sarong is the most useful piece of clothing you can bring. The multitude of ways it can be used include as a dress, a skirt, a top, a towel, a scarf, a bag and a bedsheet
A pashmina shawl. Again perhaps you can pick this up on route but a genuine cashmere pashmina is the ultimate in luxury comfort. They are incredibly warm and whilst the obvious use as a scarf is key, I have used my pashmina in many places as a comfort blanket or laid over dubious smelling pillows to help me to get to sleep. Spritz with your favourite scent or some lavender for an instant sense of wellbeing.
Use your own preference here. High top, Ankle boots, Converse, Jelly shoes. Its up to you but something that you can walk around cities and sites in during the days and party in at night. My preference is ankle boots but thats just my personal style. Something that you can wear with socks when it gets a bit cold makes the most sense.
Flip flops/sandles. These will probably be your staple footwear for everyday. A pair which you can strap to your feet will allow you better support when clambering over rocks and walking long distances however I also think keeping them smart and simple will also allow you to wear them in the evening to a nice restaurant.
Kikoy- I always take one of these beautiful kenyan sarongs as an alternative to a towel. One side is towelling and the other cotton so as well as drying you after a shower or swim they can be fashioned into a makeshift beachbag, rug or shawl. This version has a sneaky pocket where you can put your money and phone on the beach if you want to go for a quick dip. Less likely to be stolen than your bag.
A dress- I always think its key to have something smart and sophisticated with you. You never know where you might be invited to. Choose something that could also look good as a skirt with a top over/under it over leggings for versatility.
A plain hoodie– There are always times when you just want to hide away and a simple, warm hoodie is the perfect, practice way to cover up. Fleece or cashmere is ideal as this fabric is thin and doesn’t take up much space but is incredibly warm when layered. Obviously the former is more cost effective and easier to clean.
Lightweight shorts and skirts- the lighter the fabric the more you can take is my moto! Silk, satin and rayon work well. Loose fitting are more comfortable and generally more socially acceptable.
Cover up t-shirt/shirt/top- A loose fitting shirt will come in handy when you need to cover up in hot sun, whilst snorkling or when visiting religious buildings. Trust me, you will want to cover up in some places, its not worth the hassle to have your cleavage showing!
Bumbag If you still think these are lame get over it!! Practice, safe and generally awesome all round. There is such a good choice of vintage and new styles that there is something for everyone. Get one big enough for your passport, phone and money and your laughing. Leave your hand free for drinking, dancing and having fun and forget having to keep an eye out for your handbag all the time!
A decent sports-bra– Comfortable when travelling, supportive for activities and looks great under drapy tops or with your sarong . I like to take one in a bright colour which looks great with the block coloured t-shirts and vest tops for something a bit different.
Layers layers layers!!!
Small, lightweight garments are easy to mix and match and maximize your choice. They will also keep you warm when the sun goes down or you find yourself at higher altitude, change in the season. EG. a dress and ankle boots for clubbing in Berlin can have jeggings , a long sleaved layer, a jumper and a pashmina added and still work at 6000ft in La Paz, Bolivia.
Denim shorts– Denim shorts go with everything, they are hardwearing and can be dressed up or down . Im more inclined to go for a longer more 80’s style high waisted and longer pair than teeny weeny ones. You can then work in them without showing off more than you planned on!
Accessories! The best way to add interest to your look is through inexpensive fun jewelry, scarves and hats. These can be easily picked up on route. A cap is practice to keep the sun off too. I had some great tip from the actress Emila Fox before I left who spent time in the Jungle with Bear Gryls on the show… who used hairbands around her sleeves and trouser hems to stop biting insects from creeping up her arms and legs. She also recommended having a bandana which could be dampened and put round the head or neck in hot weather to cool down.
Generally the following are going to be a waste of space in your pack. You just wont get enough use out of them or they are more likely than not inappropriate in most situations
High Heels– On the beach and on cobbled street? Forget about it!
Massive walking boots on a South east Asia tour-Unless your trecking, they will just hang on your pack for the whole trip weighing you down. Walking shoes or trainers will work well for most outdoor activities.
Jeans– personal preference but the are just too bulky, slow wear in the heat.
A big woollen jumper– Buy one there if you need it but layering is best.
Revealing dresses, super short shorts that show your bum cheeks.– You are unlikely to get any respect from locals and these kind of things don’t work that well with layering.
A lot of places that we visit are very westernized and as soon as its hot its easy to adopt a beach side, anything goes kind of vibe.. especially in Goa, Thailand, Turkey and Mexico. In any of these places, if you look at the local women you will realize that they dress much more conservatively than Brits, even those in shorts and t-shirts will more often than not be more covered up than we might be. It depends on what you want from your trip but in my experience of travelling alone, and also with other travelers is that you will get much better treatment if you show less skin. Its easy to still look awesome without having your boobs and bum out. Around the world a smart appearance is deemed to be hugely important and being well turned out will open a lot of doors for you, in terms of social invitations, business dealings, haggling and generally getting around. There are always guys who are keen to talk to girls but ultimately you want to get the women onside. This is where you will make friends and get to see another side of the country your in, especially where women are somewhat hidden away. Remember too that where there is a cultural divide amongst men and women thhe key impression that the people have of you is that of the dancers and singers in music videos… scantily clad and writhing around on rappers crotches. Even self defined feminists such as Rhianna and Beyonce base their whole persona around sex so its understandable when confusion arrises when women are wearing hot pants and bikinis.then thats what they think you do and it has definitely led to a lot of girls receiving more attention than she wanted. Men don’t have a right to touch you or abuse you in any circumstance, however do think about how what your wearing could lead to unwanted advances and make the decision on how you want to be treated in accordance with the cultural situation your in. Obviously this doesn’t mean being buttoned up to the neck in a twinset and pearls, be yourself, but its worth a thought if your finding that your not getting the reactions you had hoped for.
Why buy Vintage/2nd hand
A long trip away usually means leaving our job behind. A limited budget calls for sensible choices when it comes to your purchases and what with the jabs, flights, visas etc. buying a whole new ‘travelling’ wardrobe can really add up. I love the experience of buying pre loved clothes anyway. You never know what you might find and more often than not are able to buy a much better quality item for the price of a When your not sure exactly what you will need or how often you will use it a 2nd hand item will give you a level of use but if it falls apart its not the end of the world. you will probably be bored of it by then anyway! Picking up some pretty, stylish pieces cheaply mean that when your bag becomes too overstuffed with new purchases you can happpily ‘let something go’ without stressing that it cost you £100!
Aside from your passport and mobile phone I don’t suggest you taken anything with any major monetary or sentimental value with you. Expensive jewellery may attract thieves and is irreplaceable. Designer clothes will be ruined when worn to excess, exposed to the elements on the beach or a boat,or when sent to the laundry. Take what you like but not what you love!
Your Travel Wardrobe
50% of your wardrobe.
For most days out and trips think about what you would wear for a summer picnic in the park. Vest tops, shorts, loose trousers, dresses, a light sweater, long sleaved top or cardigan, sandals or ankle boots. Fun,pretty and within your usual style.
25% of your wardrobe
It makes sense to have some practice warmth and clothing. Have an outfit which will work well in all the situations you envisage such as a visit to a temple, hill walking, a cold night in a mountain hostel without heating, a visit to a local’s home.
15% of your wardrobe
Swimwear, underwear and socks. Take a couple of bikinis. You might be wearing them every day so 1 isn’t enough. At least 1 pair of big pants for wearing under skirts (G-strings and a gust of wind are not fun) and a comfortable sports bra/crop top for travelling and sports/yoga. Take at least 1 pair of warm socks or pick them up on route.
I personally think 3/4 pairs of shoes works well. Some comfortable day shoes (trainers, converse,ankle boots etc.) Everyday sandals or flip-flops and some smarter evening shoes or sandals. If your trekking seriously consider walking trainers rather than boots. I love to take a big pair of biker boots instead as they are cooler than hiking boots, whilst still waterproof and practice they can be worn with a little dress or shorts in the evening.
Suggested packing list.
Stick to your own style! At least half of the items should e easily dressed up or down depending on the situation your in.
2 x loose trousers
1 x plain black vest-top
5 x your choice of tops/vests/tshirts
2 x shorts
1 x skirt
1 or 2 dresses.
1 x long sleeved top or base layer
1 x slight sweater/cardigan
1 x black hooded fleece
6 x underwear (At least one shorts style)
5 x socks (1 thick pair)
2 x bikini
1 x sarong
1 x small head/neckscarf
2 x bikini or swimming costume
1 x kikkoy or travel towel
1 x wooly hat, cap, sunhat (depending on your estination)
1 x pashmina
3 x bras (1 sports , 1 pretty and 1 everyday)
A small selection of accessories such a earring, necklaces, sunglasses and hairbands.
1 x outdoor shoes/boots (trainers, biker boots, walking boots/shoes)
1 x day time flats
1 x flip flops
1 x smarter sandals
1 x bumbag
1 x foldable shopper
Other useful bits and bobs
A small pacsafe- great for putting your valuables in when you leave your hotel room. Dont get the one that goes round your bag. It looks paranoid and you wont use it once you settle in.
A leatherman or penknife with a variety of attachments. Dont put it in your handlugage though! it will be confiscated.
A rape alarm- attach to your bag on trains whilst your sleeping or on your hotel door whilst your inside. It will definitely deter a random opportunist or at least wake you up!!
A small portable keyboarad.- Dont take your bulky laptop unless you really need it. Use a bluetooth keyboard and your smartphone to write your blog and emails home.
A Spare rechargeable battery- indispensable for recharging your devices when your away from a power source.
Gaffatape- useful for everything from sticking up mosquito nets to fixing ripped bags. You can create your own travel size version by peeling 20 cm off, folding one half back on itself and then continuing to pull out and fold round on itself until you have a few metres of it. flat pack and ready to go!
Bike lock- for tying your packs together or to something on trains/busses or whilst checking in. Whilst this doesn’t make them completely theft proof it can act as a good deterrent short term.
Modeling balloons/bubbles/balloons/ a football- basically something to break the ice with the local kids. Laughter is the universal language and happy kids generally mean happy families. We are all shy sometimes and I find starting a game usually alleviates any initial nerves.
Ziplock bags- a multitude of uses from separating exploded toiletries, storing dirty knickers, collecting beach finds, protecting valuables in the rain. Super useful!!
A Truphone chip to be used in any country. This is a great idea when your travelling through multiple countries as you can keep the same number throughout your trip. You receive a UK number initially but can also add additional local numbers to the chip so locals can contact you at their usual rate. Costs vary but approx 15p per minute to call and recieve and 6p to send a text. Simply pop it in your own phone or buy a cheap handset for use on the road.
I will write another post on toiletries in due course.
Your going to see a lot of beautiful, inexpensive handicrafts. More often than not they will be brightly coloured and patterned. Sticking to a colour palette with your basic wardrobe will allow you to wear 1 or 2 of these as statement pieces. Try to avoid buying everything in clashing colours and wearing all at once!
Beige in the city
Come on guys, this is a buzzing city, not the alps. A city gives you a chance to mingle with other stylish, likeminded people and show off some of your more interesting ensembles. Be inspired and be an inspiration!
Eye popping body-con
Of course there are times when sexy is what its all about. Just choose your place carefully and remember that wandering the streets in your club wear may not be the best idea after the party is over. Take your lead from the local girls and call a licensed cab to get home.
I would love to hear your thoughts or suggestions on great packing ideas. Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or using the Instagram hashtag #happinessisthelittlethings
Have a great trip!