Travel Stories

My Struggles with Backpacking Fashion

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What does it really mean to be a backpacker? Are we defined by clothes or the way we look? Some people probably think of a backpacker with the image of someone who looks pretty rough – unruly hair, wrinkly clothes and worn-out shoes. Well, it’s not really like that. Most backpackers want to look good! However, having to fit your whole life in a backpack (or two) entails some challenges. After being on the road for eight months now, I struggled quite a lot with this new lifestyle. Here are some things I had to deal with in terms of fashion (I’m sure most women backpackers will relate to it!):

Limited Wardrobe (Or the Lack of It)

Gone are the days when there was a new dress each pay day. The problem of not having enough space in my closet became a problem of not even having one! Living out of a backpack meant less clothes to play around with. The first time I packed my 50L backpack, Jon asked “How many clothes did you bring?” I had to cut the number in half. I was frustrated but it was a good call.

Most people say the best consideration when you pack is to carry about a week’s worth of clothes – that you can always do laundry. This may work for some but for those of us who wish to stretch the options a bit further, 2 weeks-worth would be good. Make sure you can mix and match, and layer clothes as needed. Bring one of your favourite dresses along for special occasions. Light accessories will also come handy. Another thing to remember, you can always buy new pieces on the road. Coats are cheaper in Europe during winter and summer clothes are stylish and quite cheap in Thailand. Just don’t overdo it. Leave some clothes or ship old ones when you get the chance.

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You Only Need Two Pairs of Shoes

“How many pairs of shoes do you have there?” Jon asked after he saw how bulky my backpack was before we left for our big trip. “Uhmm… Five?” I replied. In the end, I left the other two, along with the other pairs of shoes I love. Looking back now, it’s true I only needed two. One pair of jandals (flip-flops) and a pair of hiking shoes (I use running shoes). But I have an extra pair of wedges, in case I wanted to dress up a bit.

You Don’t Need A Hat, Or Do You?

Europe’s winter fashion was just too charming for a backpacker. I had one woolen hat in purple but I really fancied another one in beige. I was at odds whether I should buy another one. Piece of advice: if you want it buy it. Just make sure you have room for it. I did buy the hat, but eventually had to leave it with the other winter clothes from Europe when we stayed at Singapore.


The Bad Hair Day

It’s harder to manage your hair when you’re always on the go. Bad hair days happen, get over it. I seriously miss going to the hair salon. Anyway, a pair of a scissors and a few minutes of Youtube tutorials may just do the trick. It had worked for me so far. I even cut Jon’s hair. No complaints from him. Another thing, a small hair dryer is always handy. It’s better to have one than without. It’s useful for drying clothes as well. I met a British girl who carried a hair straightener with her. Why not? It’s about what you’re willing to carry in your backpack. (She had quite a huge one.)

Another good solution – braids! (or if you fancy, a hair bun)

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Make-Up Mishaps

To bring or not to bring? Dolling up is one of the things that makes me feel happy. It’s not because I feel like I have to do it, it just brightens up your day (even when things aren’t going right). I’m sure some women can travel without a make-up kit but if you are like me who’s been used to the routine, the real problem lies on what to bring along and where to get the stuff on the road. Make sure to keep things light – I have a MAC palette, lipstick, mascara, eyeliner, and a few good make up brushes with me (I lost an eyelash curler and a blusher along the way). Anyway, the harder part is how to replace your stash. Some make up brands are hard to find. I saw plenty of familiar shops in Europe but (so far) not in Central America. The safest way is to get the stuff at airports, and they’re also cheaper!

The Tan: Getting 5 Shades Darker

Have you gotten darker? This is a question my mom would often ask during our conversations on the phone. In the Philippines, I grew up with the notion that fairness is equivalent to beauty. But is it? I often worry about how dark I am getting. After travelling for 8 months, my skin tone has really become darker. I do get frustrated sometimes, but then again, when I ask Jon or when I met a few friends they said that the tan looks good on me. Most people spend hours lying on the beach to get a tan and here I am stressing out that I am getting too dark. I realized that the less I care about my skin colour, the more I enjoy the moments I have while travelling. There’s not much I can do about it now, and it really isn’t something to be worried about. I realized that in the Philippines, most people are so fixated on physical beauty – foreign beauty standards – that we fail to appreciate our own.

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Do you have the any struggles with backpacking fashion? How did you handle it? Let us know.

About the author

Gia Kristel Algie

Currently based in New Zealand, Gia grew up in Manila, lived in Singapore for three years and travelled the world for nearly two years. From watching sunsets to hiking mountains, she loves the outdoors. She enjoys living in big cities but takes pleasure staying in quaint, small towns. An aspiring photographer and budding writer, she is the voice behind Mismatched Passports, a travel blog dedicated to the journey around the world with her husband, Jon.


  • As a Filipina, I can relate with the skin color problem, oh well, it’s definitely not a problem at all. I grew up in a society as well that only those who have fair or white skin were appreciated. But then, when I came to love my skin color, people appreciates my color as well, most of them, wanted to have the same color as mine even Filipinos. I also got darker skin (darker than the original morena skin I have), when I became a Tour Guide and wherever I go, people kept asking me what I did with my skin, awesome change of thoughts by our kababayan. But of course, I can’t please everybody, there were still some who still criticize my color, but I always kept in my mind that I am beautiful in my dark skin, thus, making me proud of myself everyday.

    Great Post for travelers who have a problem for fashion while backpacking. 🙂 Keep writing awesome articles!

    • Thanks Ferna! I’m happy to hear from another Filipina traveller who can relate to some of these issues. Hope you keep reading our blog! Where do you work as a tour guide? That sounds like an interesting job!

      • It truly is an interesting job 🙂 I work as a private tour guide in an agency which is based in Cebu, Philippines. But my work gives me the opportunity to travel to different islands in the Philippines depending on what the client/guests & the agency contracted, we guide guests to the best destination and fulfill them with how local live and it’s culture and traditions. It’s actually a fulfilling job as we get to connect with the local like farmer, fishermen and etc. and help them out. 🙂

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