Study Abroad in a Carry-On: Clothes (2/7)
Have you ever stood in front of your closet and proclaimed, “I have absolutely NOTHING to wear!”? If you’re anything like me, I’m sure that you have uttered this statement at one time or another.
And again, if you’re anything like me, I can safely guess that you don’t mean to say that you LITERALLY have nothing to wear. Rather, your favorite jeans are in the wash, and none of your remaining clothes match. At all.
WHY I PACK LESS CLOTHING
I’m proud to say that I’ve lived to tell the tale of days like these, usually by inventing a new creative ensemble, but what happens when the Nothing-To-Wear Syndrome strikes when you’re traveling? You don’t have your entire wardrobe packed into your suitcase. If none of your clothes match, you’re pretty much out of luck, all thanks to poor planning.
When I tell people about the few clothing items that I bring on my trips, they look at me as though I’ve lost my mind. Again, I probably am a bit crazy, but stay with me here.
I like to take no more than 15 pieces of clothing with me when I travel, and my semester abroad is no different. Before I get into the specifics of how I go about accomplishing this, let me tell you why I’m crazy enough to attempt five months with only fifteen pieces of clothing:
My first trip abroad was to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, for a mission trip. Like many people who travel to impoverished countries, my time in Haiti completely transformed the way I look at material items.
I had purchased all-new clothing and shoes for the trip, the quality of which was significantly different when contrasted to that of the Haitians. Not only were my clothes in remarkable condition, I had the advantage of actually changing my outfits every day. During that trip, I would step into the hot sun in a freshly-laundered outfit, only to meet my new friends wearing the exact same dirty pants and torn pair of knockoff Crocs as yesterday. And yet, despite their lack of basic necessities, they were joyful. More joyful than I had ever been in my life.
Events like these trips helped me realize that I had WAY too many clothes. My identity did not need to stem from how I dressed; rather, my character should manifest through the way I interact with others. Over the coming years, I purged my closet of things I didn’t need, wear, or like. And as my wardrobe quickly diminished, I realized something very important.
I wear the same clothes on a weekly basis. Seriously! I do my laundry once a week, and as soon as all of my clothes are clean, I always reach for the same items. My maroon pants, my turquoise sweater, my tan cardigan . . . they are the items I reach for first. I love them so much that I end up wearing the same things every few days.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Recognition of concepts like this is the first step to creating a fantastic travel wardrobe that kills the Nothing-To-Wear Syndrome before it begins. The next steps include analyzing the culture to where you’re headed and looking at the weather.
These two steps go hand-in-hand, and they are extremely important when deciding what to wear on any trip. For instance, you might be traveling to a very hot destination, so you naturally want to pack shorts. Except, you’re going to the Middle East. Shorts are not culturally-sensitive clothing.
Remember, when you go abroad, you are a guest of another culture. I know that in the States we have this mentality that autonomy reigns supreme, and that nobody can dictate what you wear. However, this is a TERRIBLE approach to traveling. You have no right to enter a country’s borders. The government is granting you the privilege of visiting their country, so it is best to dress as culturally sensitive as possible. Not only does this show respect, but it lessens your chances of exploitation for being an obvious foreigner.
A great starting place would be Google (or your preferred search engine). For instance, I searched the term “people in Lima,” went to “Images,” and studied those images. I noticed that other females typically dress in pants (as opposed to dresses or skirts) and only wear shorts to the beach.
I encourage you to take some time and do some serious research about your location. Look at other travelers’ packing lists for the region, consult forums, and read blog posts. Not only will they help you determine what the locals wear, these resources will help you assess the weather patterns during your stay. After my research, I learned that Lima is actually a desert, so even though it can get hot during the day, the temperature drops significantly come nightfall. Thus, I now know that dressing in layers is key. If I had not researched Lima, I would have packed inappropriate clothing for my trip.
THE CLOTHES I’M BRINGING
After much deliberation, I finally decided on the garments I’m bringing. Even though I’ve been to Peru several times (more on that later), it took me weeks to make a final decision.
I needed to make sure that all of my clothes were relatively wrinkle-free. Even the richest people in Lima do not have clothes dryers, so I opted to take items that line dry well.
I have one pair of shoes in Peru. I opted to bring shoes with arch support, because walking is crucial in the city. Comfortable shoes are important when you walk almost everywhere!
Here is the final list:
- 3 pants
- 4 t-shirts
- 2 sweaters
- 2 cardigans
- 4 dresses
- 4 pairs of shoes
This is my basic wardrobe. Each of the items match all others, thus eliminating the chance of having “nothing” to wear. Because I have so few items, I can focus more on the experience of being in Peru, rather than worrying about something so trivial as my clothing.
And here’s the beauty of taking just the basics: if I truly need something while I’m in Peru, I can just buy it down there. The last time I was there, I forgot to pack a cardigan, so I purchased one. Now, whenever I see it in my closet, the item conjures warm memories of purchasing it in Peru. It’s completely unique and has a great story to carry with it.
If you look closely at my picture, you will notice that two of the dresses are missing. That’s because they are in Peru. As I mentioned earlier, I will detail my connections to Peru in a later post. In the meantime, do know that I am leaving space for those dresses upon my return.
When I put clothes into my suitcase, I like to use packing cubes. They aren’t completely necessary, but they help organize and compress the clothing, which makes the whole packing process much easier.
These are from Eagle Creek. They’re extremely lightweight. With the exception of the outfit I will be wearing on my flight, I can fit all of the clothes pictured above in the largest cube with some room to spare. The other two will be used to transport the dresses on the way back.
I used a combination of rolling and folding to fill the large cube. Here is the finished result:
As for shoes, I decided to bring three pairs of flats and one pair of boots. Two of my flats are leather, and the other one, which is in Peru, is actually a pair of Crocs sandals. They’re great because they are ridiculously comfortable, waterproof (thus eliminating the need for flip-flops), and they match my dressier outfits as well as my casual ones. The leather flats are brown, and have the same versatility as the Crocs. The fourth pair of shoes, the boots, are actually really unique. They are chukkas, so they’re similar to a tennis shoe, but they have the sole that mimics a hiking boot. I bought them for trekking Machu Picchu, but they are still fashionable enough to wear with my regular outfits when going to class or sightseeing.
All of these shoes are great for walking, but be sure to break in any new shoes BEFORE your trip. When I first got my leather huaraches (one of the pairs I’m bringing along), I would get TERRIBLE blisters just walking to class—and Illinois Wesleyan is an extremely small campus. However, once the leather stretched out completely, they quickly became one of my most comfortable shoes.
When packing shoes, I have a shoe bag that I use for extended trips. Since it leaves a lot of excess room, I fill it with pajamas, workout clothes, underwear, and socks. I stuff the socks into the shoes, put underwear into a pouch, and fill the top with the other clothes. This way, I do not waste space in my suitcase.
These two large bags, once filled, will take up only part of the bottom half of my suitcase. That’s it! I personally find clothing to be the most stressful part of packing. If you have any questions about this post, leave a comment down below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible!
Check back soon for Part Three, where I will discuss technology & school items.