I have to level with you: I’ve never actually backpacked in my life. ??? Shame! Shame! But I do travel a lot, all over the country and all over the world, for weekends and for months on end. Over the years, I’ve learned how to pack with efficiency, maximizing all the space my duffel bag or suitcase has to offer. So, here is how I prepare my wardrobe for a trip. I hope it helps you get ready for your own adventures this summer!
Where are you going? For how long?
Are you just going to the beach for the weekend with your barkada? Traveling for a week to somewhere in Southeast Asia, like Cambodia? Spending a few weeks in Europe, or doing something adventurous, like going to Egypt? The length of your stay will dictate the size of your luggage, and the amount of clothing you’re going to have to bring. But where you’re going is the first and most important consideration when packing. Take note of the season, and the weather.
If you’re going somewhere cold, and you’re not used to cold weather, the trick to staying warm will be to wear a lot of relatively lightweight layers instead of wearing super bulky items of clothing. One of those layers will definitely be a thin thermal layer (Uniqlo’s HeatTech range is super lightweight but super warm), then perhaps a warm pullover, and a coat (wool is great for warmth, but if you think you’re going to contend with rain, something waterproof might be good). Bring a lightweight down jacket or vest with you to layer if it gets extra cold. (Uniqlo has some that roll up into a pouch that can be easily popped into a backpack or a big handbag.) There are thermal leggings, too, that you can wear under your jeans. You’ll be able to pack waaay more of those items in the space that a bunch of super heavy coats, thick sweaters, and assorted jackets would take up, and you can mix-and-match, too.
Apart from the actual climate, you have to consider the cultural climate, too.
Abu Simbel, Egypt
Temple-running in Ayutthaya, Thailand
If you’re going somewhere hot, the immediate reflex is to pack the lightest, flimsiest things you own. That’s fine, if you’re just going to Boracay. But if you’re going somewhere like Cambodia (which can get incredibly hot in the daytime depending on the time of year) or Egypt (same; it’s a desert) where the culture requires more respect — proper attire is required to visit the temples in Cambodia, and Egypt is a conservative, largely Muslim country — you need to dress appropriately and cover up. Pack clothing items that are made from lightweight and airy fabrics but still cover your shoulders, chest, and legs. It’s totally possible to make conservative dressing look fashionable and fabulous! You can even map out your wardrobe thematically. My peg for both countries was flowing linens, dresses, or harem pants at night, and long-sleeved Tomb Raider by day. (Plus, there’s a smaller risk of getting an ugly t-shirt tan when you’re all covered up.)
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Siem Reap, Cambodia
The Pyramids at Giza, Egypt
(Yes, this is how big the blocks are!)
Also, take note that places that are hot when the sun is out can be cold when it isn’t. Even when I go to Boracay, I make sure to pack a light sweater, cardigan, or hoodie, because the temperatures drop, and it can get windy depending on the time of year.
Photo courtesy of Michael Kors
What’s your itinerary?
Some people like to travel without a plan, but I’m not one of them. Typically, if it’s a short (ish) trip, or a long one with stops in different countries, I’ll have an idea of what my day-to-day activities are going to look like. (Especially if my mom organized the tour! Then I’ll even have a printout!)
When you know what kinds of activities you’ll be doing, what attractions you’re going to be visiting, then you can plan your wardrobe accordingly. I’m not ashamed to admit that if I know I’m seeing a world-famous landmark, I make sure to plan out a cute outfit for the day. (Because pictures!) Back when I still wore colors, I would also make sure that what I was wearing would coordinate well.
Beyond aesthetics, though, it’s also important to know your itinerary so you can pack the right things to wear. I remember when we visited Crete in Greece, I saw a lady in a bodycon minidress and five-inch stilettos trying really hard not to fall all over the ruins of the temple we were visiting.
Wearing a crop-top at Jungfraujoch, Switzerland — wag tularan!
As much as possible, pack shoes that are both comfortable for long days of walking and stylish. I tend to lean towards black boots (my trusty Dr. Martens), sneakers (plain black and/or white leather sneakers or Chucks), black sandals, and black ballet flats, because they all go with everything. Shoes tend to take up a lot of space in a suitcase, so you want to pack as few pairs as possible, and you don’t want them to be bulky.
If you have a general idea of your itinerary, you’ll also know if you’ll be doing things that require a little more dressing up. Attending a fancy dinner at some point? Seeing a play or a ballet? You might want to pack a nice jersey dress (jersey doesn’t wrinkle, so no ironing problems) or a chic jumpsuit, and a pair of low classic heels.
Basically: Take note of what you’ll be doing, try to plan important outfits ahead.
Photo courtesy of Michael Kors
Will you have access to a washing machine?
If you’re staying in an Airbnb, you’ll know in advance if you’ll have access to a washing machine. If you do, then you can pack significantly less clothes, because you’ll be able to do laundry.
If you don’t, you’ll have to pack a little more intelligently. Bring as many pairs of underwear as you can, but also remember that you should be washing them by hand daily after use. (Same goes for socks.)
For a month-long trip, I always bring five or six pairs of jeans. I lay them all out on my bed, or on my carpet, then pull enough shirts from my closet to last the duration of my trip. (Most of my clothes are thin, so even 30 shirts don’t take up a lot of space in a suitcase — I layer.) Then, I divide the shirts between the pairs of jeans that they matched best. So while I don’t plan specific outfits by the day, I also never have to think about what should go together when I’m running late in the morning because I arranged the combinations already before packing. If I’m wearing a certain pair of jeans, then I can choose from among the shirts I already pre-selected for those jeans. I wear a different pair of jeans almost every day of the week, to give them all a chance to air out. Depending on the climate, I’ll have two or three coats or jackets of varying heaviness to mix and match as well, so I’m ready for any weather changes. (Pro tip: I know it’s not for everyone, but life gets exponentially easier when you only dress in neutrals. My closet these days is 80% black.)
Photo courtesy of Michael Kors
Maximize your makeup.
Speaking as a beauty editor, I spent years making the mistake of bringing too much makeup with me on my travels. I’ve since managed to pare it down to less than a dozen products that can create any look I want, from day to night. You can check them out here (with more travel beauty tips), then throw in a matte nude and matte red lipstick into your kit, too, and you’ll have everything you need to travel in style.