How to Build Your Travel Wardrobe and Still Travel Light

I am currently in one of the fashion capitals of the world, Milan and  this post was inspired while I was walking around watching the displays of the fancy shops of this city. And since I’m not a fan of spending my money on these fancy shops, I might as well write a blog post on travel fashion.

During the fifth month of my trip, I met a girl on my 24 hour bus ride from Krabi to Kuala Lumpur. She asked how long I was traveling and this was her response: “You’re already five months in your trip and you still look so tidy?”

A lot of girls have asked me how I’m able to wear the same thing again and again in my trips and still don’t look like a backpacker. This post addresses that issue.

I believe that traveling long-term is not an excuse to dress sloppily. It pains me to see a lot of girls looking like they are prime candidates to audition for a film called Que Horror while traveling. Unfortunately, you are judged everyday with how you look. It’s just a fact of life. But fear not ladies, you can still travel light while wearing comfortable and nice clothes. I’ll teach you how.

I don’t follow trends nor would I teach you to follow trends. I don’t have special tricks and my tips here are simple and timeless. Most of them I believe you already know and I’m hopeful that you learn a thing or two to achieve your best looks whether you’re traveling long-term or short-term or maybe still preparing for your trip.

I don’t claim to be a packing and fashion expert and this is certainly not a fashion blog. But I am a woman and I understand women’s concerns in stylish traveling versus traveling lightly. I hear you ladies! Why debate when you can do both? Traveling light is so much easier and freeing than you think.

You don’t have to bring a big suitcase of stuff on your travels just to look good on your pictures. I don’t own a lot of clothing and I normally travel with not more than 10 kg on my trips. I’m not going to post every piece of my pack here because that’s not my style. But the pictures of what you’ll see here are half of the clothes on my backpack. You can see how small my backpack here.

So how do I travel long-term, travel light and still look and feel good? Here are my glampacking tips:

1. Dressing up should reflect your personality.

MilanFeeding the pigeons in Milan

I admit, I’m not a typical backpacker. You know those wearing fisherman’s pants with baggy Angkor Wat tops, loads of handmade bracelets and with Bob Marley dreadlocks? That’s not me. I’m not saying it’s not good. If you’re into it, I’d say go for it! In fact I even bought fisherman’s pants when I was in Cambodia. But it was a fashion fail and just not fitting for my personality. Guess what’s the first thing I threw when I went overweight on my pack? Right, those pants. I’m not going to transform into someone else just because I’m traveling or because it’s “cooler”. I don’t like following the majority.  Nevertheless, I’m honored to be called a glampacker by the Sole Sisters.

2. Know your body

Ko Phangan

Enjoying the sun in Ko Pha Ngan

Aside from knowing your personality, knowing your body is important. No one knows your body more than you do. Nobody is perfect and every woman has a part of her body that she’s insecure about. The secret is in dressing up with pieces that create an illusion of having a nice body.

The key to carrying great pieces of clothing is having the right fit on your body. Do you have those items where you think it will still look great on you if you lose a couple of pounds? No matter how beautiful the clothing is, if it doesn’t fit you don’t buy it or bring it on your trip. I call these items- fantasy clothing. You know those items you think you might need,  the just in case clothing? Chances are, you won’t need them and they will just weigh you down.

Tip:  If you don’t like your size, cut the tag and feel better on your right size!

3. Dressing up need not be expensive


Increasing the peace in Thailand (one kid is not convinced)

I love dresses and I don’t mind carrying a couple on my trips because it makes up one attire already. The second dress and the one I have here while teaching English in Chiang Mai are dresses I bought at the Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai for THB 100 or $3 each.* I could use them either day or night. They’re easy to fold or roll and don’t weigh a lot in my pack. Since they’re also very cheap, I don’t mind giving it up or donating them in case I go overweight in my pack. I rarely check in my pack and don’t like paying extra baggage fees.

*Note that I’m a professional in bargaining. People who have traveled with me call it “getting Anna prices”. My negotiating secrets  is another blog post.

4. Invest in comfortable footwear


Getting my free pair of flip flops thanks to Havianas Philippines

Dressing up comfortably can also be stylish. I walk a hell lot in my trips. Now that I’m in Europe and visiting a couple of nice cities, I walk even more than I did in Asia. Though I use my flip flops almost all the time in Asia, there have a lot of instances when I need to wear closed shoes. Don’t leave it at home. It’s essential to be walking in comfy footwear. I don’t bring rubber shoes (they’re heavy and I don’t like wearing socks) but I bring with me my Cole Haan Nike Air ballet flats and wear them with my jeans and dresses (see picture #8).

5. Bring a couple of solid colored tops


Exploring the Borobudur Temples of Yogyakarta

This might be the most boring tip of all but this is also the most common for every traveler. It’s easier to disguise having only a few clothes with a couple of solid colored tank tops or shirts. With that in mind…

6. Accessorize

Tarsier headband

A tarsier headband is essential to scare other travelers

I’m not a big fan of having a lot of accessories. The only accessory I wear on my trips are my earrings and my sunglasses to cover my eyes and also acts as a headband. As corny as this might sound, I believe that the best accessory you can wear is a genuine and nice smile and guess what? It’s free. Less is more.

7. Go for the classic style


Me and my friends wearing the dresses we bargained in Chiang Mai

I don’t follow trends and I don’t own a lot of clothes. One of the biggest advantage of this is you’ll always find something to wear. I never had any problems wearing the same clothes I wore in Asia in Europe. I can wear the same piece of clothing whether I’m in Bangkok, New York or Milan. That’s because I choose my pieces wisely and go for the classic style. You don’t need a lot, you just need the best ones.

8. Don’t forget the Little Black Dress


Strolling the streets of Konstanz, Germany

If there’s one mistake I did in all of my trips, it’s not bringing a dress on one of my side trips in the Philippines. When I went to Jagna, Bohol and my cousins invited me to give a talk in their school, I only had my t-shirts, shorts and jeans with me. It sure was a lesson learned to not travel without a dress. You’ll never know what you might get yourself into. Better be prepared than sorry.

And let’s face it ladies, if you’re traveling solo, chances are you will meet interesting travelers and go on fun dates. You seriously don’t want to be scrambling for a piece to wear when that handsome American who biked from Portugal to China asks you out on a date. A black dress will never fail you. Whether I’m going out on street food dates at a noodle stall in Chiang Mai or wandering the streets of Barcelona, I’d wear my black dress. It’s that versatile.

9.  Bring the most versatile travel item- The Sarong

Ko Tao

Wearing my new sarong in Ko Tao

If there’s one piece that’s so useful in any trip, it’s a sarong. The sarong is a such a multi-purpose item. I use the sarong on the beach as a mat, as my towel and I can also wrap it around myself as a dress afterwards. Not only that, you can also use it as a blanket during plane rides, overnight bus and train rides too or as a shawl when entering temples or churches. I only bring one and actually used it so much that my original sarong fell apart on my sixth month of travel.

10. Pack your jeans


Bumping into my friend while sightseeing in Macau

A lot of travelers would advice you not to bring your jeans. You would need it as much as you think you won’t. As far as I’m concerned, almost every woman like wearing jeans. You don’t need to skip it if you’re going on a trip and planning to pack light. I only brought 1 pair of jeans in my trip and I can say that I’d be really lost without it. I haven’t met a woman traveler who regretted bringing jeans.

I used my jeans a lot not only in cold countries that I visited such as Belgium and The Netherlands but also in very conservative countries like Sri Lanka for safety. Sad to say I still have been harassed in Sri Lanka even while wearing jeans. Traveling solo safely as a woman is another topic that I would address soon.

Bonus Secret Tip: One In One Out

I’m a girl and sometimes I can’t help resist the cheap clothes especially in Thailand. Being a minimalist doesn’t mean that you should only own 5 pieces of clothing and I know I’m not going that route. So when I’m traveling, I only bring my backpack and think about every piece of item that goes to my pack. If I buy one item, another one has to go. While I was in Barcelona, I donated some of my clothes to the Humana organization. It always feels good to give and travel light.

So what do you think ladies? How do you pack for your trips? Leave a comment!

To sassy and fun travels,


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6 Responses to “How to Build Your Travel Wardrobe and Still Travel Light”

  1. Joey
    August 1, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Bringing an LBD is a must esp for those ‘fun’ dates ;p Great post b ;)

  2. Christine
    August 2, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    Thank you! Great Tips!

  3. Sabrina
    August 2, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Anna! Great post! Question: how do you wash your clothes when you’re traveling? :)

    • August 2, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

      Laundry. It’s cheap, $1/ kilo in Asia. :)

  4. Sucy
    August 4, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    You are truly an inspiration, Anna! These tips will come in handy as I prepare for my first solo travel. :D

  5. Donna
    August 9, 2012 at 1:16 am #

    hi anna looking forward to see in Jersey soon and you can share your wonderful experience with us in person . miss you :)