How to Be Fashionable While Living Out of a Suitcase

Whether you’re planning an epic vacation or studying abroad, the thought of living out of a suitcase for several weeks—even months—can be daunting. Worse, airline luggage weight limits, unpredictable weather, and too many different events and activities to dress for only complicate matters. But never fear. our fashion sense doesn’t have to suffer despite all these limitations.


Clothes You Can Mix and Match


There’s nothing worse than wearing the same twelve or so outfits over and over while traversing a variety of new sights. That’s why it’s important to pack tops and bottoms that you can mix and match. If a pair of pants or shirt can’t be a part of at least two different outfits, don’t bring it.


I love pairing blouses and shirts that have only one or two colors on them with different colored skinny jeans and sweaters. Layering also can turn one outfit into two or three.


Pick a Color Scheme


Having clothes you can mix and match is a lot easier when you stick to the same few colors. Likewise, the less time you have to spend figuring out what goes together, the more time you’ll have for sightseeing.


I tend to wear a lot of black, white, and gray, and match it with pops of color like red, blue, and teal.


Dress It Up or Down


Most trips will require both casual and dressy outfits. You’re also bound to engage in  some activities where the dress code may be a complete mystery. To avoid any fashion emergencies, bring outfits that you can dress up or down just by changing a few pieces, such as the shoes and jewelry.


Shoes do a great job of setting the tone of an outfit. Sneakers for casual day to day stuff, Oxfords or sandals if you want to give your casual look a dressier feel, and heels or ballet flats for your dressiest looks. I love how Oxfords and a statement necklace can elevate an outfit and give it extra personality.


Layers, Layers, Layers


There’s no way you’re going to know what the weather is going to be like even a week into your trip. And seasonal averages are no guarantee that the weather won’t be abnormal. That’s why outfits you can layer are vital to being comfortable and prepared for whatever comes your way.


When I studied abroad in Bath, U.K., there was a heat wave for the first three weeks and we didn’t see rain for several weeks either. And let me tell you, British buildings were not designed to handle 80 degree weather! Fortunately, I had outfits that were comfortable for both those early hot days and the chilly, rainy London weekend later on.


Research Cultural Customs and Dress Codes


If you’re traveling with a group or participating in a specific program, a dress code may be provided. Or a specific event (like seeing a play) or place (like the Vatican) may require you wear specific clothes. And if you’re traveling abroad, it’s good to be aware of what clothes and manners are frowned upon. There’s nothing worse than being unable to participate in something because your outfit doesn’t meet the cut.


Spend a little time reading through information on the program, researching the different cultures you’ll be participating in and talking with people who have traveled there or participated in that program to get a sense of how to pack for your trip.

Comfort and Practicality Is Key


If it’s not already clear to you, it’s best to leave your 5-inch heels that look amazing with that one fancy dress at home. Most likely you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, whether around a city, a national park or historical area. You might even be hitting several different kind of locations in one day. So it’s important to make sure everything you pack (even your dress clothes) are up for a long trek.


During a weekend trip to Cornwall, I hiked along the coast, dined at several pubs, shopped in St. Ives, and toured a Victorian country house. Having clothes and shoes that were appropriate and comfortable for all settings made packing for this weekend getaway so much easier.


A Few Statement Pieces Go A Long Way


Less is more, especially when there’s a weight limit on your luggage. Fortunately, jewelry isn’t that heavy or bulky. Earrings and necklaces are a great way to add personality and color to an outfit.


Some of my favorite accessories are several pairs of oversized stud earrings that are fun colors and patterns. I also have a gold cobra necklace that works with a lot of different outfits and always makes a statement.


Pack Smart


Getting your suitcase ready to go is often a struggle (thank God for expander zippers!). I always begin with shoes and my toiletries bag on the bottom, using socks to protect nice shoes and shoving underwear into the crevices. Then I add layers of rolled up jeans, camisoles, sweaters, and t-shirts. Bras and other miscellaneous undergarments can be slid into the pockets. Blouses, dress shirts, and dresses should go on top and be folded as little as possible. I also recommend packing a pair of pajamas on the top layer so you don’t have to dig through everything that first night when you are undoubtedly exhausted from travel and time changes. Also, ironing spray will eliminate wrinkles from your clothes without the use of an iron!


Lighten Your Load with Your Travel Outfit and Carry-on


Wear your heaviest, most comfortable walking shoes on the airplane. Also, wear and/or bring your heaviest jacket or rain coat. Pack several spare outfits in your carry on bag. Not only does this lighten the load in your suitcase, but it makes sure you’re prepared for whatever weather greets you and ensures you’ll be OK if it takes a couple days for your suitcase to join you.


My family spent a week in Paris without our suitcases and trust me, nothing ruins good Parisian sightseeing than having to take time out of your trip to buy sneakers and underwear. Well, maybe wearing the same dumb graphic t-shirt in all your vacations photos is pretty bad too!


Leave Room for Souvenirs


Undoubtedly you’re going to be picking up some mementos for yourself, family, and friends. So it’s  a good idea to embark on your trip with some extra space in your suitcase.  Alternatively, you can  bring towels, old shoes, and other items you don’t mind leaving behind at the end of the trip.


Your toiletries kit will most likely get lighter as you use up the contents, and you can even discard some of those items before you leave and rely on travel size products for the return trip.


Some of my favorite souvenirs from the U.K. are clothes—both tourist-y sweatshirts and average, everyday clothes brought from British shops (looking at you, Primark). Best of all, getting a couple new clothing items gives you some new pieces and potential outfits to freshen up your wardrobe!


Preparation Is Key


Packing the night before or day you leave is not a good idea. You need time to think through your wardrobe, adding and removing pieces as needed. It’s also good to have someone else— whether a parent, sibling, friend, or significant other—look over what you plan on bringing. They might be able to point out something you definitely don’t need or advise you on what dress or heels to bring. Of course you can always ignore their advice, but another perspective can help you see the flaws in your selections.


I usually lay out all my outfits on my bed and have my mom look them over. She’s also been great help in saying yay or nay about clothes I’m on the fence about. While we don’t have the same fashion sense, she does a great job of suggesting what I might need or what I could go without.


Your travels and experiences are sure to be something you’ll want to look back on many years down the road. Living out of a suitcase doesn’t mean you can’t feel fabulous and comfortable while touring famous sites or spend years regretting an unfortunate outfit that appears in way too many vacation photos.


Images from Pinterest

Maggie Stough

Maggie is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington and is currently trying to make the most out of post grad life (read: figuring out what she’s supposed to be doing on this planet). When she’s not having an existential crisis, you can find her working on a novel, having a cuppa, petting a dog, reading a YA novel, coloring, getting her cardio in at a concert, or quilting.
Maggie Stough
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