A stylish year in one suitcase

February 24, 2011 in Philosophy,Travel

The suitcase that my life is packed in is recommended for trips of five to eight days. I’m going to make it work for an indeterminate amount of time: perhaps six months, perhaps more than a year.

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Boys, believe me, I’m jealous. If I could wear a T-shirt and flip-flops every day, whether sightseeing or barhopping, I would. But between being in a sorority and living surrounded by the chicest women on earth, I’ve learned that how you present yourself does matter—to the rest of the world and to you.

Call it the Facebook effect, but I hate being caught wearing in the same outfit twice.Have you ever seen those spreads in fashion magazines, the ones where they have five pieces and magically create fifty amazing outfits? That’s the inspiration for my packing strategy.

  • Stick to solid colors: I swear by a black v-neck, white v-neck, black tank top and white tank top. You can mix and match, go monotone or wear the tanks and v-necks separately. Throw in a few extra colors and a black cardigan, and I’ve got heaps of options.
  • Make sure every top goes with every bottom: Everything can work for day or night; everything can be worn with every top and pair of shoes I brought.
  • Make your accessories count: I swear by a few bright, colorful scarves: they can instantly dress up or dress down an outfit, depending on how you wear them. I also have a great black tuexedo vest that makes even a casual top going-out worthy. A few scarves and a vest are easy to pack and instantly spice up any option.
    • Dresses are an entire outfit in one: I got rid of a lot of my summer dresses when I was at home: they’ve had a good run, but it was time for them to grace someone new. However, dresses were my saving grace while backpacking in the hot summer months.

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  • There will never be a new black. I read one interview where a lady said that she always wore at least one piece of black in her outfit to ground it, and I love that. Black will always be chic, it will always be flattering. It goes with everything, particularly itself.
  • Jewelry organizer: My mom instilled in me that a lady never leaves the house without earrings. She’s not thrilled that I now have five holes to keep sparkling, but I always hear her words ringing when I walk out bare-eared. An awesome, compact jewelry organizer has been incredibly helpful to keeping me classy on the road.
  • Pack it right: Atlantic Luggage hooked me up with an awesome suitcase: the Atlantic Luggage Ultra Lite is lightweight, but also stylish and sturdy. After hearing reports of wheels breaking off and cases splitting in half, I’m hesitant of the hard cases. I like that the Atlantic Ultra Lite is softsided, but still packs the lightweight benefits of a hard case. There are just enough extra pockets to be useful without being annoying as well–I love it!
  • Confidence is key: One of my best friends had a simple mantra when it came to school work: look good, feel good, do good. If you’re comfortable and confident in what you’re wearing, that poise and self-assurance will come across.

What are your favorite packing tips to stay stylish on the road?

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  • Nice tips, though I’m that traveler who’s not afraid of one month with two pairs of (identical!) jeans, a few t-shirts (two black, one or to of other colors), a (black) jacket, and one pair of shoes (black Dansko clogs).

    For “style” I rely on easy things to dress up my one-look pony: colorful scarves and bold pieces of jewelry. I always bring at least one scarf (red usually, as it is my favorite color) and one or two pairs of earrings (one for everyday, and one for “dressing up”). Art and jewelry are the only things I buy as souvenirs abroad, so my look usually evolves into something more stylish by virtue of new jewelry as the trip progresses.

  • vests definitely style up any simple look, as do belts! I never leave to travel without at least one of these rather thick belts that you can wrap around a dress, a top or even a blouse. I agree on black, too – it’s such a match and always looks good!

  • I’m glad to have seen this!! I’m hoping to do the same sort of thing (moving abroad for about a year) starting in August. I’ll have a carry-on sized backpack, and a purse too to carry on the plane, granted, but there’s only so much you can fit in those things. So I’ll definitely have at least 1 checked bag. I’m a pretty light packer in general, I have done carry-on only for 2 weeks travel in Europe, but in my circumstance (I’m 5’10”, a size 12 and wear US ladies’ size 11 shoe, and I’m going to Korea where the average size woman significantly shorter, thinner, and smaller feeted than that) I’m going to err on the side of caution when it comes to clothing and shoes. That’s not to say I’ll be bringing 3 full suitcases, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried about how much stuff to take.

  • kevin

    I feel like there is such an unfair standard set for female travelers. Looking your best while living out of a suitcase is impossible. Being your typical slobbish backpacker, a few t shirts and a pair of pants is all I need. I read this because I was having an argument with a female friend about what you ‘need’ while traveling, and after reading this I see her point about how many more things there are to consider if you are a female traveler. I think I might owe her an apology.
    Great read.

  • Kim

    I couldn’t survive in Paris. When I visited last year I felt like such a bum! It’s nice to see this post and remember that I COULD HAVE (though didn’t) pack such a way as to look chic at all times.

  • I’m an extreme packer. I either take a ton of outfits that I never wear, or I’ll only take one or two outfits and rewash and wear them. I have a wedding to go to in Mexico in May and I’m determined to keep my packing to a minimum, and still look good. These tips will come in handy.

  • Anonymous

    That’s definitely rougher in Korea–I’ve always gone places where I know I can supplement my wardrobe, like France. I’d always bring more basics, since it’s easy to buy scarves and other accessories anywhere to spice things up!

  • Anonymous

    Glad that you were able to enjoy it! As a female, I certainly “could” dress the same as a guy while traveling but I don’t think I’d be welcomed in the same sorts of establishments in shorts and a t-shirt like guys are! The world is an unfair place–oh well!

  • Anonymous

    Scarves are the key! The French actually focus more on quality than quantity, so it’s totally possible to wear all black and a chic scarf and completely fit in.

  • Anonymous

    Hope they help! I think the best tip to make sure every top goes with every bottom, every scarf with every outfit, etc–then you can mix and match to have so many options!

  • I’m currently an expat in Korea. Here’s the best piece of advice I can give you: Bring PANTS, however many you imagine you’ll need for about 2 years. Most places don’t even have sizes, just “one size fits all except Americans.”

  • Agreed that black and accessories go well together, and go a long way toward making you feel a little bit human on the road. I’ve been moving around a lot in the last few years, though lately in each place a bit longer, and as Risamay said below scarves and cheap jewelery are both plentiful and reasonably priced. So I’ve taken to picking them up as I travel, with the added bonus of a smile-inducing memory from some faraway place whenever I put them on. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    So funny but unfortunately probably so true! How much does it cost to ship from America to Korea? I heard that in Australia it’s sometimes cheaper to pay the international shipping than to buy clothes here!

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great way to think of it–pack the basics and then pick up souvenir accessories as you travel! I like that 🙂

  • Totally agree about black anything. Sometimes I think I need to add more color to my wardrobe, but I love seeing how pretty much anything in my closet matches with something else. I wish my ears were pierced, but I’ve replaced earrings with a stack of chic bangles. You can NEVER go wrong with accessories!

  • I love that you are all for the suitcase and not the backpack too!! Wooooo 🙂
    I always have a good sized suitcase, a great carry on (I have a lovely blue lugg bag) and a great purse made of good materials (mine is leather, I figure the better the quality the harder to cut off me….. haha) with zippers to keep everything locked up tight 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I like colorful accessories and neutral basics–you can’t go wrong!

  • Anonymous

    I went backpacking once for five weeks right after graduation, and while it was fun, I can’t do more than a month out of a backpack–and only in summer! Beyond that, you need a suitcase. I love my totes and laptop bag for carry-on—good carry-ons are key!

  • emily

    What a wonderful blog! I feel simultaneousely awed by your confidence at travelling alone, and soo inspired to try the same! Hope you’re loving Australia, I’m in the Dandenong mountains near Melbourne… its always been my home and i love it! 😀

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the kind words! So glad that you’re enjoying it–any tips on exploring Dandenong Mountains would be fabulous (I just moved to Melbourne)!

  • Excellent tips, though I might add that navy blue w/ lighter blue mixes work great as well (what can I say? w/ blue eyes it’s my best color)  Also scarves – they add so much pizazz, have a gazillion uses, and take up NO SPACE at all!

    I too normally do “only-carry-on”/never check luggage for 3-6 week trips. But like Kaylin S. (below) I’m soon headed to Asia (Vietnam) to live/teach English as an expat and… my usual 2 capris, 1 long crinkle skirt and a handful of tops just won’t cut it for months – perhaps years – on end.  Besides, my digitals ALONE (laptop, netbook, Kindle, iPod, DSLR, P&S camera, chargers, portable hard drive for backup, etc.) take up my usual 25l rolling backpack.

    So sadly my clothes, etc. will have to go in a 2nd rolling backpack (I swear-by the versatility of both the straps and the wheels) and for the 1st time ever, I’ll have to C-H-E-C-K a bag (OMG – travelin’ light BLASPHEMY!) 😉

  • Anonymous

    Haha I usually check my bag on long flights–mostly because I’m too lazy to sort out my liquids! Good luck packing!

  • Love your tips. And you’re right about black. So often I see “(fill in the blank) is the new black.” Black will always be the new black. Word, sister. Word. 

  • Anonymous

    Saw an interview with a stylist once where she said she always wears at least one piece of black–totally agree with her. It grounds the outfit!

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