How to be stylish when you travel

Let’s face it, lugging around a 60 litre backpack while you’re trying to flag down the nearest tuktuk doesn’t conjure up the most flattering of images. When you’re on the road, style often needs to take a back seat. Sometimes you’ll find yourself limited to what’s clean (yes, you should have used that hostel washing machine when you had the chance), or something that’s culturally appropriate (FYI the answer is always no to hot-pants in India). While I can’t help you to avoid ALL of the fashion disasters which might pop up along your travels (like a bottle of the local gin exploding in your bag over you entire travel wardrobe), there are certain tricks and tips which can help you to be stylish when you travel. Read on for the stairway to travel fashion heaven:

1. Swap clothes with other Travellers

This tip relies on a hint of luck and some impeccable timing but I’ve managed to salvage some great finds from the bottom of a hostel’s unwanted clothes bin. After all, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure! Whether fellow travellers are binning their long dresses because they’re off on a hike in the Himalayas, or getting rid of their walking boots as they’re hitting up Bondi beach, hostels are a great place to pick up some new items. Many of the top backpacking routes feature countries which vary in climate, and travellers going in opposite directions often need to lighten their load to prepare for a new destination. As hostels are a crossroads for travellers on these routes, keep your eyes peeled and you might just be in for a win!

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travel fashion - white palace

2. Go Bananas for Bandanas

NOTHING leaves me feeling less stylish than having unruly, unkempt hair. If you’re from a typically cold, dry climate (poor us), then the switch into somewhere more tropical can play havoc on your usual hair styling routine. A bandanna is a cheap, low maintenance fix which adds colour, personality and vibrancy to an outfit. Practically speaking, it keeps your hair out of your eyes and can hold off the need to wash it so often, which is extremely useful if you find yourself so busy with your travel schedule that you can’t stick to your usual washing routine (or am I just making excuses?). Rule 101 in the travellers handbook – every day is a good hair day if you’ve got a bandanna to cover it all up.

3. You might as well Jump(suit)

Whether it’s the comfort level, the style, or the fact that you don’t have to co-ordinate two separate parts of an outfit when you wear them, I’m the biggest fan of jumpsuits / all in ones while travelling. Jumpsuits are great for modesty in the more conservative countries and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. They’re multi-functional and you can run (or jump, as the name suggests) around in them without fear of exposing yourself. The only downfall to jumpsuits is that when it comes to needing the toilet, they require a little manoeuvring. However, I fully believe that the benefits outweigh the negatives, so in the words of Van Halen, you might as well jump(suit)!

travel fashion - jumpsuit

4. A Simple Sarong

This item is the golden ticket of stylish travel essentials, the creme de la creme of versatility. Whether you need something to separate you from the sand when sipping margaritas in Cancun, or you need to cover your shoulders as you enter the enchanting grounds of the Taj Mahal, there is nothing more lightweight and multi-dimensional than a sarong. It can double up as blanket, a dress, a shawl, a top, a towel, a headscarf – the possibilities are limited only by your creativity! If you pick up a good’un from the local market it will keep you looking stylish for many trips to come – travelling without one is just unheard of!

5. A Variety of Vests

It can be tempting to throw your brand new white blouse into your bag before you head off on your travels (especially if you can picture the perfect sunset shot of you wearing it on the ‘gram), but do you really think it’s going to make it back in perfect condition? When it comes to keeping tops stylish, stick to dark colours – you’ll be able to wear them time and time again without noticing every single speck of dirt and dust. Mix it up with vests, t-shirts and long sleeves and you’ll have a seemingly limitless amount of outfit variations. After all, variety is the spice of life.

travel fashion - hands

6. Be Thrifty

Up your travelling game by dipping into some local thrift stores on the road. Second (third, or even fourth) hand clothing is incredible for many reasons – it closes the gap of throwaway fashion, you’re often giving to a charitable cause, and what goes around, comes back around when it comes to fashion – many clothes that were first fashionable for previous generations are now cool again, so you never know when you’re going to find something on trend. Thrift stores across the globe are also categorically cheaper than buying brand new, so you’ll be able to afford those shoes and the samosas too!

7. Pick up Local Accessories as you go

If you’ve got the eye of a magpie, spend time sifting through the local bazaars, markets and street side vendors to find the jewellery of your dreams while you’re travelling. Picking up local accessories as you go combines souvenir shopping with self decoration (I’m a big fan of multi-tasking!) and accessorises can really take an outfit to the next level. Don’t have much money to spend on jewellery? Don’t worry – you don’t want to buy anything expensive in case it gets lost.

travel fashion - accessories

8. Buy a Bumbag

Practical and stylish – now you’re talking! Bumbags are having their time in the limelight right now, and for all the right reasons. Unlike some other fashion fads, bumbags are not just a gimmick – they come in really handy when you’d otherwise be fumbling around for your cash to pay for a taxi. As you’ll no doubt know, when it comes to keeping your stuff stashed whilst travelling, it’s best to keep everything as up close and personal as possible. Bumbags are the perfect sidekick, and as an extra bonus, the colours, styles and patterns seem to be endless!

9. A Cosy Jumper and Leggings

Picture this – you’ve just reached the top of Machu Picchu and the mix of elation and sweat has left you in need a sit down and a snack bar. You look down at your outfit choice and you’re so so pleased (and a little bit smug) that you decided to bring that oversized jumper with you, even it has taken up at least 60% of your total backpack space. It’s been perfect for sleeping in while you camp, ideal for snuggling up in around the campfire, and now it’s just as well suited to being in the main frame of your accomplished photo, with Machu Picchu as your backdrop. I’ve taken many a regrettable item with me travelling, but not once have I wished that I hadn’t brought a big, cosy jumper. It’s good for cold evenings, even colder night buses, and particularly good for when you touchdown on home soil once your trip ends. Big jumpers are timeless (if you don’t believe me, ask to see some old family photos) and you can team them with leggings for effortless style. Seriously, do not be that person who only packs a light tee!

travel fashion - big jumpers

10. Layer Up

Layer your outfits and you’ll be surprised at how many different combos you can put together. Wear t-shirts under strappy dresses, add leggings to outfits for the evenings and throw on scarfs and sarongs to keep your style looking fresh. You’ll have other travellers thinking of you as the modern day Mary Poppins!

11. Athletic Wear is in

Good news for travellers – athletic wear is officially stylish in more places than just the treadmill! Little by little, the line between clothes that belong in the gym, and clothes that belong on the catwalk has blurred. This is music to our travelling ears as it means that style can also equal comfort and we can flow our way straight from yoga to the nearest tapas bar. Leggings that mould to your shape, running shoes and sports bras are all very much approved by the fashion police standards, which is great for us travellers when it comes to packing light but stylishly. Save yourself from any fashion faux pas and grab the basics before you head off.

travel fashion - athletic wear - mural

12. Dress like a Local

From saris in South India to kimonos in Kyoto, dressing as the locals can be a great way to feel like a part of the culture, rather than just a visitor. You don’t have to replicate what the locals wear to the full extent, and you should do your research on what’s culturally acceptable, but adapting your ordinary style with small changes can make a notable difference. You can learn a lot about a community through the way that people dress, and often, if you’re buying the local clothes from a handmade market then you will be paying the money directly to the people who made them. This is typically heaps more ethical than buying from well known fast fashion stores.

13. Comfort is King

It’s important to remember that, although Instagram would have us think otherwise, travelling is not (always) a catwalk and your top concern should be experiencing the beauty of the world, rather than the beauty of your sweet garms.

Comfort should always come first, and style will naturally follow. If you’re hopping around on long bus journeys then the priority is to feel comfortable and safe without strangely placed zips and buckles prodding you from all the wrong angles. It’s also important to note that travel style really is in the eye of the beholder. What is one traveller’s idea of style heaven can be seen as another’s hell. We’re all unique, which is what makes the world so exciting. Now get out there and put your best style into practice!

travel fashion - comfort

Read more travel tips here:

⭐️ How to pack light

⭐️ Backpacking checklist

About the author:

Jen Gale is currently travelling in India and Nepal. You can follow her journey on Instagram @jenkg05. Expect critiques of curries, swoons over the colourful clothes and a generous helping of photographs.

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