International Travel is an undertaking. Eye-opening? Yes. Challenging? Uh-huh. Enriching? Absolutely. But it can also be an exercise in mind-bending and questioning long held assumptions - and that's just the packing bit!
Now, there are not many things that I can claim to be an expert on (unless you count 'Pony-tail Wearing' and 'Compulsive Cheese Eating') but travel fashion? After five years and twenty countries, I've got a few tips to share, if you guys are willing to look past the crumbs of cheddar all down the front of my sweater.
Picture from here
Thou Shalt Not Wear White Sneakers
Are they comfortable? Sure. But they are also deeply unflattering and mark you instantly as a clueless yokel who's obviously 'not from around here.' And you have no excuse when there are so, so many other options! If you're in an urban area, Adidas or Converse are always good. If you want something a bit dressier try, I cannot speak highly enough of Clarks ballet flats. They're crazy comfortable, dressy enough for a dinner out and small enough that you could pack a few pairs.
Thou Shalt Reconsider Cotton
Yes, yes it's the fabric of our lives and everyone's girlfriend Zooey Deschanel seems to love it, but you guys? Cotton is heavy, dries really slowly and it's not so great with the sweat-wicking. I know that artifical fibers get a bad rap, but if you're trying to pack light, it's worth considering the poly blend. You don't need to splash out on over-priced specialized 'travel clothes.' Target frequently has cute, non-cotton button-ups and tank tops.
Thou Shalt Not Wear Print T-Shirts
If you're traveling through an hip, English speaking country you can probably disregard this one, as I suspect that the keyboard kitty T-shirt may speak the International Language of Awesome, but in rural India? or Paris? or Bolivia? you're going to look like a grade-A douche. Also, in twenty years, you will probably be embarrased that all of your pictures in front of the Eiffel towel also prominently feature your U of M t-shirt. Opt for mono-chromatic tops in dark colors that won't show drips of olive oil or all the sweat from hiking along The Great Wall.
Thou Shalt Only Pack What Thou Can Carry
Ooooh, that's quite the challenge isn't it? But don't you want to be that woman who whizzes through baggage check, rolling only her enviously small carry on? Annnnd, $25 richer because you didn't have to pay any of those ridiculous baggage-checking fees we're all saddled with these days. A good rule of thumb is to pack everything you think you'll need. And then leave half of it at home. And then pack the remaining half into your backpack and carry it around the block. If you don't break a sweat, you win!
Thou Shalt Pack a Sarong
After a pocket dictionary and a few tablets of Imodium AD, you will find few things more useful than a sarong. It’s a beach cover up! It’s a towel! It’s a sheet/blanket/pillow/skirt/scarf/impromptu bag! You can use it to cover your shoulders or knees when entering cathedrals or temples or to cover your hair during a surprise afternoon rain shower. And if you’re one to hand-wash things in your hostel’s sink, sarongs dry really quickly as well. I’d highly recommend steering away from the tropical, tie-dyed sarongs in favor of something a bit more sophisticated, so it could actually pass for a piece of clothing, like this one or this one.
Thou Shalt Not Wear Something Thou Bought in Said Country
I know you can’t wait to wear that awesome Che Guevara/Kangaroo/I Heart NYC t-shirt. And I know that it’s one of the only clean things that you have left in your bag. But trust me, roll it up, tuck it into the bottom of your bag and save it for your flight home. You’ll thank me later. Not only will you look cooler, you won’t be such a target for touts, pickpockets and the other no-goods that hassle tourists.
Thou Shalt Not Wear a Visor/a Fanny Pack/A Passport Holder
You do, in fact, need something to protect your head/ carry things/hide your passport. But let’s opt instead for this cute little number. And a messenger bag. And a hidden, under-your-clothing money belt. You can carry more in a messenger bag *and* tuck it under your arm so you’re less likely to get pick pocketed. And less likely to look like a 56 year old woman from Wisconsin.
Thou Shalt Consider a Color Scheme
If you are going to attempt the carry-on only approach to packing (and I know you can do it!) a well-thought out color scheme will help you out immensely. A good way to go is choose two neutral colors and an accent color and work from there. I’m a big fan of black and grey plus pink, or brown and navy plus orange – but you should obviously choose something that works for you.
Thou Shalt Consider The Local Culture
It’s tempting to think that because you’re going somewhere warm your travel wardrobe should consist of tube tops and short shorts. But a surprising number of countries that we think of as beach-y destinations are actually quite conservative. You’ll rarely see native Thai women swimming topless like the tourists, or Fijian women even baring their shoulders. Indonesia (and it’s famous islands of Bali) is actually Muslim and not too keen on your bustier as a top. This is not necessarily to say that you are required to wear long sleeved shirts and pants through out your trip, but you may want to bring at least one outfit that’s culturally appropriate if you’re going to visit rural areas or religious sites.
Though Shalt Bring Two Swimsuits
If you're headed someplace warm and beachy, you'll probably be spending approximately 97% of your time next to the water. And the other 3% of the time oggling the waiters over the top of your Pina Colada. But if you spend your morning spashing around in the shallows in your bikini, then dress for lunch, putting back on your wet, slightly smelly swim suit is a less than appealing option come 2 pm. And if you want to try kite surfing? Or snorkeling? Or riding a horse through the waves? You're exponentially less like to flash your goodies if you bring along a cute one piece.
What are you travel fashion commandments?
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