Is it possible to live out of a suitcase – for months! – while looking posh and pulled-together? I would have doubted it till I saw it with my very own eyes.
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.
So, without further ado: I hand over the reins of this post to the most stylish traveler I know: Jessica West-Walker.
How to Live Out Of A Suitcase + Still Look Stylish
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!
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Such a fun post. As a trying-hard-to-be-somewhat-fashionable travel blogger I do have changed my wardrobe to be travel appropriate last year, and I do travel a lot. I agree with you on most points. I also stick with about three main colors so everything matches and then have my occasional splash of color. The only thing I would disagree with is 5 shoes… that is a bit much, and personally I tend not to wear all five. I would advise: a pair of sneakers for long walking in cities but also medium nature (I have New Balance and swear by them), a pair of flip flops for in showers and beach, and a pair of black flats. They are nice enough to wear with dresses, can just be worn out during the day, and they weigh nothing. 🙂 Enjoy your trip, you look beautiful!
Yeah, I'm with you about the shoes, especially since the title specifies only one suitcase – half of it must be full of shoes! I usually only travel with trainers, and maybe boots if it's going to be raining.
Then again, I'm also usually just traveling for a long weekend on a cheap ass airline where I only get one carry-on.
It was so much fun to write.
And yes that is a mountain of shoes… But I just love them and they were my burden to haul around the world.
Goodness! Old habits die hard!
Wow, these are some great tips I've never seen anywhere else. A lot of them seem like they'd be good not just for travel, but for defining a style in general. Thanks!!
Thanks Erica – flattered!
I felt the same when I was searching the interweb pre-travels.
I hope I can help the rest of you glamorous gals.
Awesome, travel wardrobe advice that isn't all about wearing zip off pants and wearing beige 🙂
Thanks – we need to come up with a fashion friendly pair!
Who said clothes for wading through thigh high water had to look functional?
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Cheers from both of us.
Cheers from both of us.
I love this! I’ve just started my 2 year travel/filmmaking/world-saving adventure and, just like you, planning the wardrobe was almost top of the list! I’ve gone with black, white and red and some splashes of print but my main problem is with shoes…sneakers for hiking, heeled ankle boots for business-y things, flipflops for beaches and showers, running for running and big giant boots for hiking…I really need them all but oh my do they take up a lot of room! Great to know it’s not just me though, have fun on your next trip! 🙂
Great tips, and I especially like the yoga paws suggestion plus the travel organiser / evening bag idea!
One question though…I see from your pics that you were travelling around Europe. I myself just did 8 months in Europe, but since I actually lived there I did not have to travel everywhere on one luggage as I had a home base between destinations. As you must know, the weather in Europe can be unpredictable and vary a lot across regions and over time. How do you pack for snowy weather and also sweaty summer in one luggage? Would love to know your suggestions. In winter I was wearing a down jacket but could not possibly imagine having that in my luggage even for a summer destination!
Love this article but almost all of the links don’t work! Pics would be great instead for future posts or an update:)
What brand/style was the main bag? It looks and sounds perfect, but I need to know what it was! Thanks
Great post. A bit heavy on shoes and light on dealing with cool/cold or wet weather, as others mentioned.
Im a very experienced international traveler and like that I usually find at least one new product or idea in your posts. (Please get an editor or proofreader, though. The colors you choose for your clothes are your palette, like a painter uses. Your palate is the roof of your mouth.) 🙂