Getting my bearings on the European backpacking circuit didn’t teach me much about travel fashion. The purple 70 liter behemoth on my back was packed in preparation for nights on train station floors. Day dreams of functionality saw a bulky rain coat, yoga pants and wrinkly t-shirts in my wardrobe that ended up being a hefty sum of nothing I wanted to wear.

Weary of photos showing off international landmarks framed by frizzy hair and a dumpy figure, I traded in the bus station hobo look for bohemian chic. Like a true magician, I made more out of less and found which items to pack for my new travel persona, the fashionable minimalist. Here are my essentials.

New Zealand

2 Bold Lip Colors

If you have to bring anything along out of that dusty makeup bag, let it be bold and on your lips. Orange, red, purple – whatever color spectrum it comes from, it’s going to make even your sweat pants and t-shirt look intentional. Plus, women with fierce lips are said to look more confident and confidence is fashionable these days.

1 Scarf

Oh, the scarf in all of its versatile glory. Make it big and not too wooly and you might crown it as the most important item in your bag. The scarf has a bit of a mixed personality and can serve you as a beach sarong, airplane blanket, chilly weather accessory, hot weather hair piece and a stylish add-on to a boring outfit.

1 Bra

It better be versatile if it’s going in your pack. Save the sexy lingerie for another day and choose the bra that isn’t constantly reminding you of its presence by a metal jab on the inside of your chest. You can always use a bikini top for a change, wear a shirt with a built in bra or just let those babies free.

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1 Pair of Closed Wedge Shoes/Sandals

Cold or hot? Check the weather of your destination before packing your kicks. While first instinct may have you reaching for the best walking shoes, your fashionable inner self might make you think twice. Settle for sturdy and small wedges or boots that will shout “I’m prepared to walk around Paris all day, and I’m going to look damn good doing it.”

1 Bathing Suit

If the destination calls for one, don’t forget it or you will be sitting on the sidelines while your travel partners explore that hidden waterfall they stumbled upon.  They dry fast and get a solid washing while you swim.

1 Long Vest

The long vest may just revolutionize your wardrobe. Knitted, shear, waist length or knee touching, it can transform any outfit into a Bohemian wonder. They work in winter or summer weather and can make your go-to outfits look completely different.

2 Dresses

A dress will go far in the minimalist travel world. Leave it be during warm weather and adorn it with some leggings and a jacket when it gets cold. Double it as a nightgown for bed or stick a crop top over it to change it all together. Dress it up with jewelry, dress it down with sneakers and don’t forget that it plays well on the beach too.

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1 Pair of Leggings

Leggings can go oh-so wrong if you let them. Shy away from the movie watching/potato chip eating look and put them to better use. Wear leggings under dresses to keep warm, pair them with a crop top and long vest for a little sass or use them when you take that free yoga class that pops up in the park.

1 Crop Top/ 1 Shirt

This duo will give you the freedom to ditch the dress when the time is right. Wear the crop top or shirt with leggings and a vest or put it on for bed. If you want the dress to stick around, a crop top can fit right on top to make it appear as if you just picked up a new little number.

1 Hat

Even un-washed, un-straightened and sans product, a hat can create a style out of that mess of tangles on your head. The unruly knot it succumbs to after a ride on the back of a motorbike or the impossibly sticky nest that’s left after a foray in the sea, a floppy hat on there can salvage your look.

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how to pack like a minimalist

With some wedges on your feet, fierce lips and an outfit that checks both practical and fashionable off the list, you will be left with just a carry-on. Just remember that looking stylish while traveling isn’t the only reason for this. When people look good, they tend to feel good and traveling when feeling your best can leave you more open to all of the great adventures coming your way.


This is a guest post by Shannon Ullman.

nullShannon is an American travel blogger who writes about educational opportunities, workshops, classes and volunteering abroad. She also throws in a good dose of destination guides, personal stories and helpful travel tips. At the moment, she is living out of a van while traveling through New Zealand. You can follow her adventures at Lives Abroad or on Facebook.