How to not look like a backpacker while living out of a backpack

March 26, 2012 in Philosophy,Travel

“It hurts to be beautiful,” my mother told me as I squirmed the first time she plucked my eyebrows.  That’s the beauty mantra I’ve grown up with: anything deemed comfortable automatically makes me suspicious. I don’t believe in “travel clothes” and cringe when I see multi-purpose pants, cargo shorts or money belts. If you wouldn’t wear it at home…why would you wear it abroad?

Mauve ruffled top and black skirt in Australia

I don’t claim to be stylish at all times, but recently, a travel blogger in Chiang Mai asked to borrow clothes for a wedding because I always seemed so “put together” and two other friends suggested that I do a post on how I pack for long-term travel. I travel with a 15-kilo front-loading pack (with three packing cubes) and an oversized tote–and still manage to avoid copious hemp bracelets and gypsy pants. Here’s how to not look like a backpacker while living out of a backpack: 

It’s all in the details: I swear by simple, basic clothes when I’m traveling: but when I want to spice up an outfit, whether for a night out or just because I’m in a chic city, I turn to makeup and jewelry. A lady never goes out without earrings, as my mother likes to say, and I don’t feel complete with a couple of rings and at least one other piece of jewelry. My makeup bag is just the basics—pressed powder, blush, bronzer, neutral eyeshadows and mascara—but it’s enough to make me look like an improved version of myself.

Blue V-neck and black shorts in Australia

Keep it simple: Solid colors make it so much easier to mix and match. I always have tank tops and v-necks in black, white and two or three bright colors.

Black on the bottom: I have a short black tulip skirt, loose black shorts, loose black pants and black leggings. A bit predictable, but there’s a reason why Parisians swear by black: it classes up an outfit, makes you look slimmer and goes with everything.

White top, purple shorts and Emily Green necklace on the beach

But don’t be boring: I’ve got one crazy pair of purple shorts, and they’re perfect for spicing things up.

A real purse: I cringe when I see backpacks or fanny packs in place of a proper purse. It’s one thing for a day of hiking or for a festival: other than that, what is it about being in a different country that makes a purse obsolete? My black leather “satchel” is incredibly useful when traveling in cities: I feel most comfortable with a cross-body bag on busy streets or public transportation.

Little black dress and Emily Green necklace in Bangkok

Chanel said it best: You can’t go wrong with a little black dress. The LBD is my ultimate going-out-in-a-city secret. I have a little Kookai number that knows how to multi-task: it can be worn with a low front/high back or high front/low back, by itself, or with a skirt or sarong for a classier look.

Fancy feet: One pair of embellished flat sandals dresses up any outfit without taking up a lot of space. I live in Havianas the rest of the time, but my silver leather sandals are key for a night out, particularly in restaurants or clubs that enforce a dress code (flip-flips are often refused).

The ultimate multi-functional tool: I travel with four scarfs that function in myriad ways: to warm me up around the neck, to cover up a bikini, to be a pop of color in a neutral outfit, to pull my hair back, as a towel on a sandy beach, as a blanket on a chilly plane. Watch this incredible video by Nordstrom to learn 16 ways to tie a scarf: guarantee you’ll learn something brilliant (like how to wear a square scarf as a kimono!).

What are your favorite style secrets for long-term travel? 

 

  • camorose

    I have Vibrams (those weird toe shoes) that work as my running shoes, hiking shoes, rock climbing shoes and are super flat plus a pair of flip flops and a pair of flat dressy sandals. All of them fit in the top pocket of my pack!

  • camorose

    Thanks! I think the best thing about jewelry is not only do they spice up an outfit, but they’re fun to pick up around the world, can be cheap and are really small and easy to pack. Win win!

  • camorose

    With accessories–less is more, but you know when you have just enough 🙂

  • Bsantamaria

    hahahahahahah amazing post!!! love it

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  • camorose

    Glad you liked it!

  • ShannonOD

    Hah! I just found this post on your site, and I know the friend with a wedding you speak of…she and I remarked how put-together and cute you looked! I strive to look as good on the road, but unfortunately I look like a schlump even back home, so my road style only looks worse!  Hope you’re doing well back home 🙂

  • camorose

    Thank you! Trying to put together my wardrobe for a month in Paris this summer–infinitely more pressure to look cute there than in Thailand 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying your time at home as well!

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  • I love this! These are great tips.  I’m just not particularly stylish I don’t think,  but particularly when I travel lol.  My problem is that I hate wearing jewelry. Particularly, my ears are really sensitive so I can’t really wear earrings very often.  I do LOVE me some scarves though, but I can only do it if the weather is cool or cold because otherwise I feel suffocated.

  • camorose

    Ahhh that does make some of these tips difficult! I love just tying a scarf onto my bag for a pop of color–and then it’s there if I do get chilly 🙂

  • Love, love, love these tips! Especially the video on the scarf and sarong styling. Brilliant!

  • Neil Skywalker

    I wish all backpacking girls dressed like you. It’s so much better than the average overweight hippy slobs you see on the road. 

  • camorose

    Obsessed with that scarf video–want to watch it every time I wear a scarf so that I can try a different way!

  • camorose

    Be the change you wish to see in the world, I suppose 🙂

  • Travel With Bender (Erin)

    Great article, thank you! I am very aware my standards are slipping as I am travelling. Will endeavour to keep a higher standard! 

  • Oh it’s so hard though Erin! Especially with kids when everything gets covered with melted chocolate and boggers!!!!

  • camorose

    Glad you can use some of the tips 🙂

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  • mav

    I always used to stress when it came to packing, especially for Europe. My go to essentials now for outfits are standout pieces for days I feel like showing off my style, and basics for busy touring days. A way to go from day to night is to either play up or play down accesories, such as jewelry, purses, shoes, hair accesories and scarfs. You can even play with make up! One more key thing is to repeat. If you wore your favorite shorts when in London, you can wear them again in Paris, just with a different outfit! No one will know, or care!
    While traveling, remember youre not there to just show off your style. Youre there to enjoy your surroundings!

  • camorose

    So true! I traveled with a few of my favorite sundresses while I was in Europe for five weeks right after graduation–and it was really the first time that I was seeing different people every single day. Why not repeat good outfits?!

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  • Kristine

    Haha so I just commented on the US roadtrip entry then I saw this one!! I read this months ago and I thought YES, SOMEONE GETS IT! I totally took all the wrong advice for my first trip and brought the worst clothes…and was immediately embarrassed when I saw how fashionable everyone was in the cities in Europe. It was a good excuse to go shopping, but I knew better the second time around.

  • camorose

    Haha you live, you learn! I feel like you’ve just got to stay true to yourself–you can’t have a boring “travel wardrobe” if you’re all about fun and style at home!

  • Annaleigh

    Love this! Thanks so much for your advice. I spent 2011 living out of a backpack and wish I would have had your advice before I left 🙂
    Quick question, do you have a link to your Kookai LBD?! I’ve been searching for something cute and convertible and would love to get a number like what you’re describing. Thanks so much!

  • Karrah

    This was amazing, great practical advice! Thank you 🙂

  • camorose

    I bought it in Australia in 2011–they don’t sell online, but it was a pretty popular style that they sold in lots of colors. Probably only helpful if you’re in Oz, unfortunately!

  • camorose

    Glad you enjoyed it! Good luck packing 🙂

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  • Hannah

    I’m setting off for Europe this summer and this list is an absolute life-saver. I love the idea of using a scarf in so many different ways ! Will definitely be referring to this list when I start to pack:).

  • camorose

    Awesome! So glad it’s helpful 🙂

  • Britt Marie

    For someone who is traveling for two months, how many outfits would you suggest bringing? I am also backpacking, but I am worried about leaving my things anywhere, should I be worried about that?

  • camorose

    My main tip is to make sure that every top you bring works with every bottom–then you’ll have endless combinations! Also a big fan of dresses as an entire outfit in themselves. I wouldn’t bring super expensive or valuable stuff–sometimes it makes more sense to replace and leave things behind.

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  • Robin

    Love this article, except you are missing two crucial articles of clothing to pack that will take up less space than a pair of socks; sheer black nylons and 1 or 2 brooches. These accessories allow you to do so much more with the regular staples you listed above. For instance the lovely day dress you wore to the museums throughout the day…slip on your nylons and evening flats…and instantly ready for cocktails. Now the brooch is my fave. I will button up a cardi with it, snap it on the front of my evening clutch, decorate my scarf with it, snap it on the front of a thin belt or even sometimes throw it on the top of my evening sandals! Brooches also make an awesome travelling purchase, I always find a pretty one ( stay away from tacky) in local markets! My other favorite backpacking or carry on only weekend away trick is to contact beauty consultants such as Mary Kay and ask for samples of blush, eye shadow and foundation. They are smaller than a match book in size and allows you at least some evenings out looking glam.

  • camorose

    Depending on the weather, I do usually keep a pair of black tights around!

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  • OCDemon

    I find it incredibly irritating how the travel clothing companies haven’t quite figured out that all they have to do to make travel clothing not look ugly is to make it not ugly. They choose every year to add an extraneous zippered chest pocket to a buttoned shirt, or a series of giant flappy cargo pockets on khakis, and, worst of all, have continually failed to bring us anything along the lines of travel-worthy jeans. All they have to do is use the right fabric, but noooooooo. If they use the right fabric, they HAVE to make it ugly. Sigh.

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  • Mumun

    Taking notes immediately! Hahaha… thanks for this.

  • camorose

    Yay! Glad you found it 🙂

  • Greg

    I recommend you take clothing from exofficio which will keep you from looking like a tourist and it is also designed for travelers:

    http://voices.yahoo.com/exofficially-best-12135738.html?cat=46

  • camorose

    Thanks for the tip! I prefer not to wear “travelers clothes” though 🙂

  • HairyGuy

    then start your own company like that spanx lady…

  • Me too – I’m totally bookmarking this for packing week lol.

  • camorose

    Hooray!

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