Monday, 23 July 2012

How To Go Backpacking With Style: The Ultimate RTW Packing List

I have actual, honest-to-goodness nightmares about packing.  I'll be wandering around my dream life happily enough, then suddenly, out of nowhere, I'm supposed to be at the airport, the taxi's outside and I'm desperately flinging things into my suitcase and hyperventilating until I panic myself awake.  So packing for me is up there with unplanned public nudity and revising for the wrong exam in terms of nightmare fare.  The Rough Guide to RTW trips was no help, as clearly written by a man who suggests just popping to the nearest charity shop for a jumper if you need one.  Oh.  Dear. God. Stress.

Still, this is about strategies for the freak outs, not the freak outs themselves, so how did I do it?

Step 1 - Research:

Initially I was all, 'I'm going to Canada, must have snow boots!' I quickly realised that Vancouver in September is much more likely to require wellies and I am in fact chasing the Summer for the whole trip. (Go team!)  So the first step is to look hard at where you're going, what you're likely to do there and what the climate is like when you're due to arrive.  All the Rough Guides and Lonely Planets have year climate tables, as does Google.  For me this narrowed my focus to Spring/Summer clothes, with an emphasis on staying dry.

Most backpacking lists are all about the middle-of-nowhere travellers, where they don't have mirrors and you never need to see your thighs in hiking trousers, but over half my time will be in major metropolitan areas in which I do not want to look like a cross dressing Bear Grylls.  This is where I think it's best to pay attention for a week or so to what you wear on a daily basis.  One of the best pieces of advice I read was, if you don't wear it at home, you won't wear it abroad.  I never wear cargo pants at home, so regardless of how many packing lists they turned up on they aren't happening.

This is also where I turned to my favourite fashion blogs, Fashion Grunge and the Sartorialist, for ideas about a capsule wardrobe with personality.  Nina Garcia's The One Hundred, also really helped me think about the classic items that will look good no matter where you are - bateau tops, ballet flats, dark denim.  Lots of black, because according to American travel sites, us Europeans wear a lot of it and everyone wants to look European. Done.

Make up a Pinterest mood board so you can see how everything fits together.  I chose my signature colours, black, white, denim and red, and worked everything around them.  Made it so much easier to whittle when the criterion was that everything had to layer and match everything else.  Look at people's Six Items Or Less challenge wardrobes for ideas on how to accessorise a small number of clothes to feel like a whole wardrobe.  I must also give special mention to Sarah over at YesandYes for her Definitive What To Pack Post.  She's clearly more hardcore than me, but it was a great place to start!

Step 2 - Planning:

So here is my list of items and justifications.  You can see them all in glorious technicolour over on my aforementioned Backpacking Packing Pinterest board.

Bamboo leggings, yoga pants, long sleeve tee, zip sweat, vest top, socks, thongs x 7.  All black for obvious style and dirt disguising properties.  Bamboo because it is either warm or cool depending on what you need it to be, dries quickly and doesn't smell as fast as cotton.  It also feels like being silkily hugged by your clothes; none of the faint itch of merino.  The leggings are for running or sleeping in.  The yoga pants are smart enough with ballet flats for long flights.  Everyone needs a black vest top in their life and the zip top is warm but not bulky.  Thongs to avoid VPL with all the stretchy trousers going on.

T-shirts - petit bateau, white, grey, lace stripe, peace vest. A classic stripe tee is instantly stylish no matter where you are, ditto white and grey plain tees.  The black and cream lace and peace ones are my wildcards.  I love these shirts, bought them in Lille, they squish to about the size of a 50p piece and make me feel sexy.  I can't do too classic, too much or I won't feel like myself.

Denim - dark skinnies, levi cut-offs, shirt. Skinnies to wear tucked in boots or rolled up with flats.  Dark as it's smarter.  Cut-offs - 'nuff said really. Classic.  Denim shirt to bring a bit of the East London hipster with me. Can't wear it here anymore without being a try-hard, plus good layering piece.

Jumpsuit, multiway dress. I love jumpsuits.  I hate my legs so dresses really aren't my thing, but jumpsuits I heart greatly.  That said, this multiway dress from American Apparel is a traveller's dream, as it can be worn so many different ways I lost count, even as a skirt or a halter top. Amazing! It's actually flattering, too.  Both are a whole outfit in one and both can be dressed down for the beach or up for partaying the night away.

Pac-a-parka. Small, light, but my ex-Girl Guide self can't leave without a waterproof.  I've tried to make sure it's not completely ugly.  Red to bring an easy flash of colour.

Salomon Crossmax. I'm a runner and I don't want to lose it over 6 months, but regular running shoes aren't helpful for other things. Cue the Salomon Crossmax which is designed to be half road, half trail equipped, so no need for hiking boots either! Whoop!

Ballet flats, Vans, Havaianas, D&G's. Ballet shoes are timeless classics, but I got these with punk studs for a bit of personality.  Vans, because they have slightly thicker, read more comfortable, soles than Converse.  Havaianas as the most comfortable flip flops around.  Do not even think about packing 'walking sandals', even the supposedly cute ones are hideous. Do not go there.  And you should have one pair of heels, shiny heels.  Yes I know most purists will roll their eyes, but I'm going to New York! I'd be letting Carrie and Co. down hugely if I didn't have just one pair of expensive heels to strut around in. 

Biker jacket, All Saints cardi and biker boots. Because I'm a little rock chick at heart and these are my staple, don't-go-anywhere-without's.  Also warm and comfy.  I'll wear the boots to travel in.

Scarves - red leopard, floral.  Big enough to double as sarongs or towels.  They instantly make you look pulled together even if you're only wearing a t-shirt and jeans.

Ray Ban Wayfarers

Arm Party


Black cross body bag in which I can fit my Kindle.  I don't go anywhere without a book, but I want my normal bag to be no bigger than necessary and I'm not wandering around Seattle with a daypack. Gah.  Cross body to keep hands free and zip up to deter pesky thieves.

Lastly and irresponsibly, gold sequin waistcoat.  I know, I know, but I like sparkle and sparkly things and it's very small but adds a ton of glam. And I'm a muppet. But a shiny muppet. Yes.

Step 3 - Purchasing:

Once you've got a list of things to look out for, the fun begins! But if you're like me and have a very limited budget, this stuff can really add up.  So be canny about it.  Take what you already have and love to wear.  I hid some of my favourite t-shirts so I could get excited to wear them again. Also, I started planning early enough that I caught the end of last year's Summer sales for the bamboo base layers and saved about £60.  Finally, I can't say it enough - Ebay, Ebay, Ebay.  Gap Always Skinny jeans? 99p RRP £39.  Those shiny designer shoes? £30, RRP £350.  Seriously, get in there!

Now I was going to take my trusty Karrimor 65l friend who has been up hill and down dale with me, but it is far, far bigger than all my stuff, so I've invested in a new Osprey Farpoint 40 (the s/m is actually smaller than 40l). Pics of it all packed up to follow, mostly as otherwise no-one who has ever travelled with me and my mega-bag(s) will believe it happened...

So, friends, that's it for the style part, stay tuned for electronics, toiletries and miscellaneous.  Oh my.

Read part 2 here:


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