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Packing for my first international trip, I wanted to channel my inner Carrie Bradshaw. Feeling fabulous and flawless, heels clicking on the cobblestones, bold colors and prints making my fashionable travel outfits stand out. No way was I showing up in typical American tourist clothes — yoga pants and sneakers. This always made me feel like a skeleton in someone else’s closet and nothing remotely close to my own. I was anxious and wanted to still feel like myself while traveling, but also not succumb to the typical fast-fashion trends that bombarded me online.
I knew this vision was not 100 percent plausible. My destination was the beach. On top of which, I also had to fit everything for this month-long vacation in a tiny, blaze red, hiker’s backpack. (This isn’t unusual for me now, my little red backpack has been my trustworthy travel buddy for years.)
Over the years, I’ve developed a formula for how to escape the frumpy tourist syndrome and look like the fashionable traveler I want to, even when on the roads for months at a time. Here’s how to achieve the perfect balance between comfortable and cute while also feeling yourself:
Thrift and find diamond-in-the-rough pieces
The first time I fell in love with an article of clothing, I was a teenager. I was at a garage sale with my mom and saw a pair of Lucky Brand jeans. The iconic clover wasn’t what pulled me in but their slogan on the zip that said, “Lucky you.” Cheeky, memorable and described exactly how I felt to wear a pair of jeans that not a single one of my peers owned. Those jeans made me feel like a million bucks, even though they only cost less than three.
That feeling is intoxicating, it’s what I search for every morning when I get dressed. Looking in the mirror I want comic “pow” blasts to fill the frame.
I knew fast-fashion wasn’t my scene long ago. Fashion that’s never vogue in the current decade has always beckoned me. (Hello, bell-bottoms!) What better way to score these pieces than at a thrift store? Also, it feels like you’re giving the non-inclusive parts of the fashion industry a big middle finger, which is so empowering. (All bodies are beautiful!)
Channeling your inner Flower Child? More of a disco gal yourself? Don’t worry, I’m gallivanting through the decades with you. Embrace whatever makes you feel confident. Your confidence is what is going to make you shine like a blazing neon-lit sign.
Dress properly for the weather
There are two things in my wardrobe that I have an abundance of: shoes and coats. At least I know that I can properly dress for any scenario Mother Nature throws at me. Snowy afternoon? No problem! Boots and a down-feathered coat. Drizzling showers? Waterproof wellies and a rain jacket. When it comes to packing, prioritize practicality. There’s nothing more miserable than having to stand in the torrential rain without anything to shield you from the raindrops or the risk of hypothermia.
A good example is when I visited Iceland. Most days, it wasn’t warm enough for me to venture out without a coat. To make myself feel more stylish, I sported a colorful scarf and mittens. It definitely helped me feel more than a puffer-coated blob. On the bright side, I didn’t get sick on my adventure and was never zapped of energy. Sometimes being more practical is the way to go.
Nothing screams “unfashionable” faster than seeing someone struggling to walk or who is constantly adjusting to prevent a wardrobe malfunction. Yes, those stilettos may be the hottest thing off the runway, but personally, it isn’t appealing when the person donning them is writhing in pain. When you’re comfortable in what you are in, you’ll exude more confidence and appear happier and more stylish.
For me, skirts are my kryptonite. There’s nothing that makes me feel more vogue than a skirt that has a fabulous print or has to texture that’s to die for. It’s a versatile piece that also transitions well from day to night. There are days when I’m traveling that I’m on my feet the entire day without a break. For instance, I’m walking from my Airbnb, grabbing breakfast on the go while exploring the cobblestoned streets and local shops. I duck into a few museums to grasp the historical context of the city before getting lost in the local market. I don’t realize what time it is until the sun starts to set and the temperature tapers off by a few degrees. A pretty average day when I’m traveling, so there’s no time to waste being uncomfortable!
This also applies to your footwear. Athletic sneakers are my arch-nemesis. I’m most comfortable in a pair of supportive boots, which pairs perfectly with the skirts and dresses I adore. During the summer months, I gravitate towards a pair of supportive sandals I snatched up on a recent trip to Europe. Whatever shoes you decide to wear, be sure you’re able to walk for hours in them. I like to take my shoes for a test spin at the mall before embarking on my journey. Definitely is a good indicator of whether they’ll hold up on my intense journey.
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Sometimes timeless and classic is the best bet
Timeless and classic is something that’ll never go out of style. Seriously, that’s why monochromatic is always a look! Classic is always a safe bet, and it’s always an easier way to pack. When packing I channel my inner Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. The styles from the 50s and 60s just scream fashionista and classic to me — mostly because of the simplicity and faltering silhouettes.
To create a timeless look, stick to neutrals and basic pieces. But to elevate it, splurge on accessories to dress up or down an outfit. Work with different fabric scarves and layering jewelry to add another element to your outfit. I like to pair my outfits with jewelry I pick up on my travels. There’s always room in my carry-on to bring home a few new scarves and pairs of earrings I’ve scored at local markets.
Versatile pieces are your best friend
It goes hand in hand with classic pieces; versatile pieces are the best pieces to pack. Packing a black-and-white striped shirt? Pair it bright colored accessories for a fun beach look, or with more subtle accessories for a more sophisticated vibe. That striped shirt can be worn with a patterned or plain skirt, shorts and pants, and even with textured and multicolored scarves.
When packing, I try to also wear the same piece of clothing more than once. Packing a skirt than can pair nicely with three different tops is more ideal than a skirt that only works with one top.
Versatility also gives you the freedom to play. Fashion is vastly different around the world. This gives you an opportunity to seamlessly introduce new patterns, colors and designs from other cultures into your existing wardrobe. The easiest way to do this is scarves, but there’s no limit to how this can be done.
When tapped out of luggage space, this is an ideal way to free up some room. After all, you’ll want a little room to bring back some goodies to remember your trip with.
Take notes from the locals
I’m a huge advocate for slow travel and embedding yourself into a culture. The best gems of a destination reveal themselves just as you start to get comfortable and forego the typical tourist buzz. To get pointed towards the best local eateries and hangouts, blending in is key. When decked out in typical tourist garb, locals are going to point you towards the places that cater to tourists. Experience how locals live by swapping out your own customs for theirs, including your wardrobe.
Mimic the locals’ style for an added confidence boost. Flaunt the same patterned fabrics and get inspired by the clothing they wear.
In Estonia, I rocked my safari guide-esque, maroon dress. (Thrifted, of course!) Paired it with a simple black sleeve top and black tights to keep me warm. I was inspired by a woman I saw working at the food stalls in a new up-and-coming district of Tallinn. I was able to melt into the woodwork at a local cafe and simply people watch.