How to Stay Stylish While Living Out of a Bag, Part I

Jan 10, 2013    /    digital nomads + full-time travel, most popular posts, travel how-tos

All photos by Daniel Wang.

When I came back to the states for a few months in late 2012, one of my goals was to re-pack my bags to better reflect my needs on the road. This meant adding a winter coat, subtracting certain toiletries, and re-assessing my wardrobe.

Let me rewind for a moment though…over ten years ago, when I first started traveling, my packing philosophy was this: if I take it, it’ll probably get stolen or destroyed, so I’ll only take things I don’t care about.

So that’s how I packed. Big t-shirts, old jeans, puke green ponchos, long skirts with bright patterns from the thrift store. Even though I wasn’t a huge “stuff” lover, I still prioritized taking care of my stuff over feeling comfortable and beautiful.

No longer, though.

As I started to travel as an adult, I began packing a little differently. And now that I travel full-time, I’ve shifted my priorities entirely. Instead of protecting my things, I plan on loving and using my things. And if they eventually wear out, well, that’s the point of things, right? To be used until they are so well loved that they can no longer be used.

My new goal, which fits well with this year’s theme, is to feel beautiful, sexy, and confident while on the road. Which means packing things that make me feel good.

Gigi Griffis, by Daniel Wang
Things that make me feel good: this pretty Denver Zoo hoodie. Also sunset lighting

I’ve been told that style on the road is a challenge. But it’s one I want to rise to this year. And just in case you do too, here’s how I packed for a stylish winter and beyond:

First, I chose one base color. When you’re living out of a closet, you can have blacks and khakis, grays and navies. But when you’re living out of a bag, you should really choose one base color. I chose black, mostly because it’s slimming, doesn’t show stains or dirt easily, and is really easy to find.

In my base color (black), I chose a pair of pants and two skirts, a sweater, two tank tops, a long-sleeved shirt, two small scarves (one in sequins), and a pair of sneakers. I don’t think you all have to be quite so committed to your base color (you could probably do one skirt in a complimentary color), but that’s where I landed.

Basic blacks on Gigi Griffis
Wearing the crap out of my base color right now.

Next, I added pops of color, all designed to compliment each other. I did this by committing to a color palette (pink, red, orange, gray, and yellow) in darkish shades that work well together.

For this phase, I bagged two gray zip-up tops (both with pops of orange and/or pink), two colored tank tops (pink and purple), a black and yellow zip-up, a pair of ruby red tieks, a sassy red dress for nights on the town, and a red scarf.

I also packed a pair of gray-brown boots that add interest to everything and a pair of dark jeans (which can obviously go with any of my tops).

Basic blacks on Gigi Griffis
Pop goes the yellow.

And then I chose my jewelry. I limited myself to one silver-colored pair of earrings and necklace and one gold-colored pair of earrings and necklace. Then I tossed in one tarnished bronze pair of earrings and an outrageously large sparkly pair of hoops for fun.

Finally, I added a couple outliers—things that didn’t have to perfectly match, because there’s a sort of beauty in the occasional mismatch, particularly when you’re bundled in winter things.

In my case, this meant a really warm blue sweatshirt for hanging around the house and staying cozy (which does match my pajama pants…the thing I’m mostly likely to wear with it), my beloved hand-embroidered coat in various shades of blue and white (for cold days, but not warm enough for snow), an actual ski jacket in white (for really cold days), a winter hat in black and tan, and a tennis skirt and sport top for running/hiking/etc.

Since travel does beg different criteria than day-to-day wear, I made sure that everything I packed was made from winkle-resistant, high quality, and, as much as possible, quick-drying materials. I also tried to pick things that I could wear both in the city and out in nature. And just about everything matches just about everything else (that part is key).

How do you pack for your stylish travels?

Jonesing for more? Read part II.

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  • Roommate #1
    January 10, 2013

    Super happy to see that necklace popping up in your photos (don’t forget that it’s not supposed to get wet, if wetness can be avoided). It looks great. YOU look great!

    • gigigriffis
      January 10, 2013

      Thank you for the reminder. I don’t think it has gotten wet, but I’d totally forgotten! And thanks!

  • Suzy
    January 13, 2013

    My heart always skips a beat when I see packings posts. I am very similar to you in that I believe in looking good and feeling good while I travel. I think how you present yourself to the world can in turn influence how you are treated. Great ideas!
    Suzy recently posted…Getting More Out of Travel for Less: How I Travel on a Pauper’s BudgetMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      January 14, 2013

      So true! And thanks!

  • Montecristo Travels (Sonja)
    January 14, 2013

    Love it. Adult, Sexy and Stylish. I have also used black as a base. Tan for summer.

    I love your line on how things are meant to be loved to the point that you can no longer wear them. It reminds me of folks that put plastic covers on their couches. Or the “real” jewellery in a safety deposit box. Or even, a case around an iPhone 5.

    I do non of those things. Our white leather couch gets used to bits and is slowly getting that happy lived in look. Leather DOES age well. I wear my diamonds and platinum damn it … even to work. It’s not red carpet stuff after all but day-to-day stuff … you know the kind I can afford. My iPhone 5 was designed to take a serious beating … I will not hide the sleek sexiness that is the marvel of flat tiny technology with an ugly rubber case.

    All that to say – you are on the right path for sure! I SAY YAY!!

    • gigigriffis
      January 14, 2013

      So true! I too have taken that approach to jewelry (even when having a home base) and other gorgeous stuff. I don’t ever want to just hide all my stuff under the mattress…it was meant to be loved! :)

  • Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels
    January 14, 2013

    This is usually my approach to packing as well. I try to make my travel style similar to my every day style, while still being appropriate to the occasion. It’s an evolving thing. On my first trip to NYC I had comfort foremost in my mind and packed tshirts and a pair of Skecher sneakers. I felt frumpy walking around stylish NYC women. I know know that there’s a way to compromise between stiletto boots and sneakers. Thanks for laying it out in a straightforward manner.
    Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels recently posted…Photo of the Week: Cloud GateMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      January 15, 2013

      I hear that! I lived in New York for a while and you could always tell the tourists by their comfortable shoes. :)

    • gigigriffis
      January 15, 2013

      If it makes you feel better, those of us who were wearing heels around NYC all day were going home afterward and crying over our blisters.

  • alison
    February 17, 2013

    At the end of the week I’m going on a trip to visit the graduate schools I have applied to — so I found this post at the perfect time! I haven’t had much practice dressing like a “grown-up” (I’m 25), but I know I’ll have more confidence and make a better impression if I’m well put together on my visits. I needed a couple sweaters to wear to my visits in the freezing mid-West… and I kept your advice about sticking to one palette when I went shopping today!

    ANYWAY, all that to say, thanks for the advice! I’ve already started taking it to heart. :)

    • gigigriffis
      February 18, 2013

      Awesome! So glad to hear it.

  • Antoinette | love.antoinette
    March 3, 2013

    Wherever you go, one can never go wrong with a black base color. I hated black when I used to work as a hostess and waitress in college because growing up in a city like NYC, that was the “it” color everyone and their mama’s wore. But now I understand why. It looks sophisticated, no matter a person’s skin color or tone. I do love my bold, bright colors, and I can never seem to sacrifice my style even though I travel with a 55L backpack. I always say “I’ll make it work!”
    Antoinette | love.antoinette recently posted…The Highline Revisited in 10 PhotosMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      March 4, 2013

      True story. I fit in really well in cities like Paris, as black is the it color here too.

  • Elle
    March 18, 2013

    I love this post and really wish I had read it before I packed!! I tried the base colour thing (somewhat successfully), but some how ended up with tanks that make no sense with sweaters and wayy not enough warm clothing! Oh, well, all part of the lessons learned along the way right?

    • gigigriffis
      March 18, 2013

      Very true! No matter how long I travel, I always end up shifting my packing around constantly and picking up new tricks along the way. :)

  • Lauren Hesterman
    May 6, 2013

    Tricky indeed. And I think you nailed it. What we wear is a direct representation of who we are; the same should go while we’re on the road, thanks for the great post! New reader here.
    Lauren Hesterman recently posted…What’s For Dinner Tonight, Hunny? Stir Fry?My Profile

    • gigigriffis
      May 7, 2013

      Hello, welcome, and thanks!

  • Anne from Viajar y Amar
    March 1, 2014

    Well, I can certainly pack for my travels, but my stylishness is questionable! I’ve really never been very good at dressing myself. BUT I am rocking 2 base colors (black and purple — ooh that sounds like a bruise. It works better than it sounds) and I’m choosing simple clothing and fancier locally-made jewelry to bring the pop. Thanks for the post! It certainly helps us style-challenged traveling ladies!
    Anne from Viajar y Amar recently posted…Rainy Season Has BegunMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      March 1, 2014

      I’ve been doing a lot of black and purple myself lately (this winter’s theme has become black + jewel tones). Loving the combo.

      Glad the post was helpful!

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