The Only 16 Pieces of Clothing to Pack

If you are anything like me you are staring at your 50L backpack on one side of the bed and a pile of clothes as big as your entire closet on the other side of the bed. How in the world are you going to take all these clothes, plus have enough room for everything else? Thankfully you can limit your options, but still be fashionable while traveling. Think mix and match, and lots of sink laundry.

1. T-Shirt

This will always be your staple item. Choose a colour other than black or white. Black can get hot in the sun. White is going to show stains very easily, plus it will never get as clean as you would like it to be when you’re washing it in the sink. Choose a colour that will go with either your shorts, trousers and skirt. If your T-Shirt is longer it can also double as a nightshirt for sleeping. Ideally your shirt should be in a technical fabric and stay away from cotton. Cotton dries far too slowly in humid climates, shows sweat, and is always wrinkly, where many of the technical fabrics and made for keeping you cool in extreme heat, keeping you warm in cool climates, and are quick dry. Bring 2 but no more than 4 tops. You can mix in a tank top, but ensure at least 2 of your items have covered shoulders, especially if you are planning on visiting conservative countries or temples where you must have shoulders covered.

2. Breathable, Collapsible Rain Jacket

There are so many jackets out there now that are durable enough to handle the rain, but can fold into the size of a pocket when no longer needed. The jacket is mostly needed for those days where you are caught in a light daily drizzle or a quick, unexpected downpour, before you are able to find shelter. When the clouds part and the sun comes out again you want to be able to fold the jacket up and put it in your day bag. Don’t opt for an expensive in the event it gets stolen. Don’t choose a heavy fabric jacket, you already have limited room in your bag and you don’t want a jacket that you will only wear a handful of times taking up a majority share.

3. Micro-Fleece

Your go-to outer wear for cold mornings or chilly days. If it is raining you will wear your breathable rain jacket over top to keep you both dry and warm.

4. Plastic Poncho

Fold it up. Keep it in your bag. When it is really raining hard all day, this is what is going to keep you dry. Have it large enough that it can also cover your day bag, and also your backpack, if it doesn’t already come with a rain cover. You may think it looks silly when you buy one, but they are absolute life savers, and when you get to countries where monsoon rains are the norm, everyone is wearing them anyway. I bought mine cheap in Vietnam, although I wish I would have had it sooner.

5. Trousers

You want something that you can easily move and hike in. Do not choose black, as it will show dust and dirt too easily. You can choose a pair of zip-aways but choose a stylish design. If you choose a style that looks like a cargo pant, you’re exposing yourself by looking like a tourist. The trousers should have pockets deep enough for your items, and with a zipper or an interior pocket built inside. Make sure they are wrinkle free and lightweight. I choose one pair of grey zip aways that were perfect when the day started out cool, then later I could convert them to shorts, or I primarily wore them as shorts. I also bought another pair from an active clothing store that allowed the legs to be rolled up in a boyfriend jean style. They were also quick drying and had zippered back pockets with deep front pockets.

6. Shorts

If you decide to not go with a pair of zip away trousers, bring a pair of walking shorts. They should be a respectable length that you don’t feel you are putting everything out on display. Please, because you wear daisy-dukes cutoffs at home does not mean it will be received well everywhere.

7. Dress

This was my primary go to throughout my travels. You can almost never go wrong wearing a dress. It is the perfect thing to wear if you are going out. It is light and breezy for the hot days. It is so incredibly easy to wear. Choose wrinkle-free dresses. With the longer dresses in style, they are perfect to wear if you are visiting temples (as long as your shoulders are still covered). If you choose a dress that cuts above the knees you can wear a pair of capri-length tights underneath that still covers your knees, which is still acceptable for many places. If you are unsure, bring a sarong with you to wrap around your waist. I had three dresses: a floor length one, one with covered shoulders, and a 5-way dress that could be worn as a skirt or tied in a variety of ways for different styles.

8. Sarong

This becomes your everything. The sarong shouldn’t just be classified as a clothing item, because it does so much more. You will use it as your beach towel. It will become your blanket on a cold train or a pillow on a bus. You can tie it as a skirt or if you know how to as a dress. Don’t worry about buying one before you go, I bought mine in Indonesia for a very cheap price.

9. Swimsuit

You need no more than two. One to wear while the other is drying.

10. Swimsuit Cover

You could use your sarong as a swimsuit cover, but I found I was using my sarong as a beach towel and the last thing I wanted to do was put a sandy, salty piece of cloth against my body. There are some really pretty dresses that are simple and casual. If you put one on over your swimsuit you can easily go to a beach casual restaurant for lunch or walk around the town (for those places where it is appropriate to do so).

11. Socks

Keep your feet warm on cold days or anytime you wear your running shoes. If you are planning on doing any overnight hikes, bring two pairs. Go to your local running or athletic store and pay the extra money for a double layer or performance level sock. The double layer rubs against itself and not on your heels, preventing you from getting blisters during hikes or runs.

12. Underwear

Leave the cute lacy sets at home. You only need 2–3 sets of technical fabric underwear. They may not be the cutest things ever, but they dry quickly, they are comfortable whether you are going to be walking all day or are in a ridiculously hot climate. They are coming out with some cuter styles now at many athletic shops. It may be a little more expensive, but they will last longer. As for bras, 2–3 are fine as well. Make sure one is a proper strapless with optional straps that you can wear under a halter or strapless dress, but with the straps it can work under a t-shirt. The other one or two choose a stylish low-impact athletic bra, with or without cups, that is quick drying. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being in a hot, humid climate and having to deal with boob sweat.

13. Sports Sandals

There are so many great options nowadays for sandals. DO NOT go cheap on this purchase. Your shoes may see more of the world than most people, and when you are walking for as long as 7–8+ hours a day, your feet are going to thank you. Choose a neutral colour that you can pair with your shorts or a dress for going out to dinner. Choose something with enough cushion that your feet will feel comfortable all day. Ensure it has a back strap so that it doesn’t easily flip off when you are riding a camel, jumping into a boat or running for a train. You want something that is water resistant because when it’s raining heavily, it’s smarter to wear the sandals as decide you’re going to get soaked anyway than try to stay warm with a pair of socks and sneakers, which are going to get completely soaked anyway. I choose a pair of black leather sport sandals first after a few months the sandal strap broke down. I then bought a pair of unique gold Haviana flip flops with a back strap which I still have and wear to this day.

14. Running Shoes

Choose a comfortable pair of shoes that you either already run in or if you are buying a new pair purchase them a 1/2 size larger with traction. When you are climbing down hill, or your feet start to swell because of all the walking you’ve done all day, the extra half size is going to make a massive difference. You want them to be breathable. They should also have great grip as they are going to double as a pair of hiking shoes. I like the option of running shoes over hiking shoes because when you are in need of a workout, at least you can go for a run. As a packing tip, stuff your socks and other items inside the shoes to maximize space and ensure the shoes don’t lose their shape.

15. Bandana

A great bandana is going to help cover your head, keep the dust out of your face and when soaked in water keep you cool. I like the special sport and travel ones over the classic cloth triangle. They are made out of a technical fabric and stretch, also doubling as a head band.

16. Hat

Either choose a collapsible hat or a technical fabric ball cap. Hopefully you are traveling to a lot of sunny, hot locations, and you are going to want to keep your head cool and the sun out of your eyes. For the most part your hat is going to stay in your bag, so make sure when it collapses it doesn’t lose its shape or gain lots of wrinkles. I poorly choose a small beach hat that said it collapsed, but when I would pull it out it had wrinkles in the brim and I found it hard to wear after that since it wouldn’t sit on my head properly.

What items have I missed out that are a must to bring? Is there anything I mentioned that you would have left behind?


Kim Orlesky is an Executive Life Coach inspiring daily joy. She is a world traveller, author, one-time marathoner, adventurer, poor golfer, inconsistent yogi and puppy parent to her Weimaraner.

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