I checked into a new hostel while travelling in Ecuador and my new dorm companion turned to me.
“How do you look so nice?” he asked inquisitively. “Seriously, who travels like that?”
He was apparently referring to my outfit; a white t-shirt tucked into pinstripe culottes, a pair of Birkenstocks and a grey knit jumper tied around my waist. I hadn’t realised I had looked particularly special that day, especially considering I had just arrived off an eight-hour bus journey and so was in what I considered to be my comfy travel gear.
Another time I was in my pyjamas, a floral jersey over which I threw on a white cardigan. A new friend of mine entered the room and exclaimed: “Oh great! You’ve decided to come out then.” I looked down at my pjs, bewildered.
But when I thought about, I suppose I didn’t look like the a-typical backpacker. You know what I mean; striped traveller pants, endless anklets and wristbands, a jumper from Peru and a t-shirt from one of the many hostels along the way. This was just some of the stuff constantly on offer to us backpackers in South America though the style varies across the world.
In Asia, light elephant-print pants and an overabundance of anklets take precedence. In Latin America, wristbands from all the party hostels you’ve stayed in become custom jewellery and printed jumpers that scream “I was in Peru!” are everywhere (probably because no one realised how cold it was going to be).
And there’s nothing wrong with this. These clothes are practical, cheap and durable and will get you through any activity you choose to do on your backpacker adventures.
For me, they are just not conducive to my own personal style, something that has always been inexplicably important to me. And so while my style has certainly adapted to my travels, it does not sync up with stereotypical ‘travel style’.
I pick up clothes in second-hand stores and artisan markets rather than in the tourist markets that litter the Gringo trail in South America. I buy accessories, bags and clothes that I feel like I need (but don’t always need!) and I buy things that I genuinely like, not just what is there or what everyone else wears.
And so I have built up a little wardrobe of practical items I can mix and match and that I still want to wear, even at five months into my travels.
I discard things I am not getting use out of or that are starting to fall apart. I replace them with cheap second-hand things to fill the gap but also items that breathe some life back into my wardrobe.
I suppose the difference between myself and many backpackers out there is that I care about my clothes and that’s something that is not important to other people while travelling the world – and that is absolutely a-okay.
Taking pictures and putting outfits together is an important part of my travel experience and something I enjoy. And I am certainly not afraid to admit that.
Having said all this, I suppose the price I pay for my wardrobe is having a backpack I can never close. It’s a compromise!
To summarise, here’s some handy ways to maintain your style while backpacking:
- Keep it simple: Only buy things that can be paired with several other things in your bag.
- Keep it practical: Buy things that are easy to wear, comfortable and can sustain high heat at the laundromats.
- Keep it light: Things you don’t wear need to go. You can fill that space with practical items (or more clothes…).
- Keep it fresh: If you can afford it, buy 1 or 2 pieces every month that will breathe some life into your existing outfits, or simply buy some items that you need.
- Keep it accessorised: The key to style is accessorising. I always think a belt, a nice pair of sunglasses, some ear rings and a nice shoulder bag make a huge difference to an outfit. They don’t take up much space but have serious impact.