Last summer my very dear (and ridiculously stylish) friend Jess quit her impressive job to travel for six months. I counted the days till I could pick her up at MSP international airport; she’s a woman who lives out of her suitcase every day.
When I pictured Jess traveling I rather imagined she’d stop being so painfully stylish. My own travel outfits are fine but I’m not sure anyone in Paris is going to mistake me for a local.
Meanwhile, Jess maintains a flawless ballet slipper pink gel manicure while living out of her tasteful suitcase. She is literally better dressed while traveling than I am in my daily life. Like, even when I have access to a giant walk-in closet and unlimited pairs of novelty ballet flats.
When I witnessed her travel style in person, I immediately asked her to contribute a guest post for any readers who are a bit more glamorous than I. (If you’re the sort of lady who doesn’t pack a curling wand, my packing post is here.)
So, without further ado: I hand over the reigns of this post to the most stylish traveler I know: Jessica West-Walker.
How to Look Great When Living Out of a Suitcase
Out of all the organizing I did for my six-month trip, I shamefully admit that building the perfect travel wardrobe was nearly top of my list – right below budgeting to buy said wardrobe.
I’d been planning this trip more or less since conception, and always imagined Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember. All flowing gowns, jewels and tasteful (faux) fur. And of course I would return with a photo collection of equally glamorous proportions.
But when faced with a single bag allowance, I decided to go a la Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. A simple style that transitions between sophisticated and spontaneous and is ready for whatever fun comes its way.
Here’s how I managed ‘pseudo fancy lady travel’ without breaking the bank or my back.
Golden Rules of Living Out of a Suitcase Glamorously:
Every item has two purposes (day + night, light weight + layered for cooler weather).
Pieces pair with other items in your wardrobe.
Be 110% happy – meaning no compromises or convincing yourself you like it.
Can you eat an entire Italian meal, climb the stairs of the Colosseum and ride a bike down the Seine and still be comfortable? Great – then get it!
Everything should be easy to clean, durable and wrinkle resistant. If you do encounter an unexpected spot – carry one of these.
Choosing your palate:
When I went shopping for my first travel wardrobe, I spent hours staring at changing rooms full of beautiful things that I loved. I was overwhelmed with choice. To combat this fashion paralysis I employed the below parameters.
3 main colors + 1 pattern + 1 metal = success
After I figured this out, I could confidently blaze through racks and whole stores. I knew what I was looking for. If I didn’t see it, I moved on. (Not to say I didn’t indulge in the odd luxury try-on,because I love pretty much anything that sparkles)
Now we’re talking about a serious fashion issue. With limited bag space, this is where we need to don our clever fashion berets (because they make us look smarter). This dilemma is based on the assumption that you (like me) refuse to wear practical footwear.
I usually go for this combo:
Travel sandals: have a slight wedged heel, straps below the ankle, preferably leather can be dressed up or down, like these. I prefer sandals to flipflops, as flipflops are a death-wish on wet paving stones.
Casual flats: with a fun texture or color like these or these.
Tennis shoes: there are so many options now that can be perfect for a day hike, a run or as casual day wear.
Ankle boots: they can go with jeans, dresses and shorts = winning. I loved these.
Heels: I aim for a more practical heel that can be day or evening wear. I happen to think these are the perfect pair. They were made in a magical land where practical, met pretty and ran into affordable.
Breaking the rules (sort of) when you live out of a suitcase:
Of course the best part of rules, is breaking them. Allow yourself one or two non-rule abiding items that you love and look forward to wearing as a special treat. When you’re sweating it out in the same digs for six months (and have no room for shopping) – this treat makes you feel less like a dirty traveler.
Some special treats could be: This party dress. This kimono.
Bras: One nude, one white, one black – all with removable straps to go with any outfit. I loved these.
Polyester / Viscose / Rayon / Lycra: What?! The internet tells us to avoid these fabrics. Being the rebel I am, I wear them (usually in cotton blends) for loose fitting tops and dresses. They’re wrinkle/stain resistant, and don’t stretch two sizes when you wear them (hallelujah!).
Flat iron = iron: your hair flat iron can iron clothes wrinkles too!
Beauty products when living out of a suitcase:
Somehow there was an entire bathroom dedicated to creating my face. When I took time to really look at what I used, it was quickly apparent that most of the bathroom was occupied by samples, cast-off products and approximately 1 million bobby pins and hair ties.
I wanted to be able to create a few looks, and use products that would actually stay on. Here’s what I brought.
Foundation: Estee Lauder Double Wear
This foundation is the first I’ve experienced that really does keep your face from melting off come heat, humidity, rain or sweat. You only need to apply once = save time and money. Double high five! High ten? (it also comes in a super wide range of colours for different skin tones)
Eyes and cheeks:Stila Girl Travel Palette is slim and comes with instructions on how to create different looks. Like a tiny fabulous personal stylist in your bag.
Bags: Travel organizer / party clutch: keeps you organized and looking fancy. I loved that my travel organizer doubled as an accent piece for an evening out. Look, a sparkly one!
Day bag: Preferably a side satchel, easy access for you, hard access for thieves, and you don’t get ‘sweaty back’ (confessed sweat-er here). Avoid rough fabrics that will rub/wear out your clothes, and dyed synthetics as they can bleed in contact with moisture (like sweat, ya that again). This was a major splurge but I love it and I’m still using it!
Main bag: My better half spent days trawling the internet before we settled on a pack. It can be wheeled or worn as a pack, has loads of separate compartments to keep your life organized, and the fabric is sturdy/water resistant and looks classy. It also zips and clips to deter someone stealing your well-planned wardrobe or slipping in kilos of white powder.
My general rule is that you must be able to handle your bag without assistance (and be honest with yourself. I once packed 75lbs to go to New York for ten days in a suitcase that could fit a body. It was a drag, literally.) Here’s a graceful video of me putting on the pack for the first time.
Fit & Savvy while you live out of a suitcase:
Stay fit + stay sane + don’t look like a tourist with a paper map.
Yoga paws+ FREE class videos: When an ohm is required after a day of ‘navigating’ with your travel companion – these yoga paws are a God-send.No mat required! This site also offers a range of yoga videos FREE, or download for a small fee. This was my favourite class on the road.
Cash Passport Multi Currency Card: forget those creepy/dirty/expensive exchange offices with this puppy. You can load the major currencies and easily transfer money from one currency to another online. Load multiple currencies and the card will sense which currency account to draw from based on your location. I say! What sorcery is this?!
Sygic GPS: save on data roaming charges, this GPS app has maps for everywhere, even this tiny island. *Once downloaded the app only requires GPS use.
TripAdvisor City Guides: look like a local using their detailed public transportation maps, information on local attractions, and suggested itineraries by time or interest. *Once downloaded the app only requires GPS use.
Whew! That’s one metric ton of information! Have any of you guys successfully traveled while glamorous? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!