Packing Light-ish While Still Looking Pretty-ish (Lots of Unsolicited Advice)

Funny thing, but I've gotten a lot more particular about my appearance since moving to Mozambique. Maybe because most of the people around me look like they ought to be fashion models, and I'm not a fan of being known as 'the grungy American'. Anyway, I've discovered that I actually like dressing nicely. It's kind-of a mood lifter on not-so nice days, and since I honestly don't know who I'll be interacting with day to day, it's a relief to unexpectedly encounter Really Important People with the soothing knowledge that at least I'm wearing well-coordinated clothes.

Since I travel a goodish bit, and have an affirmed hatred for carting lots of luggage about with me, I've been working on perfecting my skill of packing light-ish and still looking nice-ish. Because it occurred to me that not everyone has as many opportunities as I do to mess about with packing trial-and-error, and also because I'm in South Africa, vacationing hard and aching to do a photoshoot with the lovely white counterpane on my bed, I decided to throw together a list of the packing tips and tricks I've figured out over the past few years.

Read ahead to find out how you, too, can pack like me.

My South Africa Wardrobe
It occurs to me that I over-packed for my little, one-week trip. But I was just so excited about being able to wear ALL THE CLOTHES in the cooler weather. And also, my going-to-a-new-country anxiety kicked in, and I wanted lots of different wearing options so that I wouldn't immediately be identified as 'The Hick from Mozambique'. Anyway, all of this stuff (plus several other items that weren't quite so *ahem* photogenic), will pack away inside of my trusty comrades, Flowerdy Backpack and Brown Plaid Purse.


  • Pick a color schemed and stick to it. This is mostly because of shoes, because shoes are going to be one of the bulkiest things you pack. For this trip, I chose a color scheme black/grey. I packed my grey dress shoes and made sure that all of my clothes & accessories would coordinate with them.
  • Don't worry about an outfit for every day. If you have access to some form of soap and a bit of water, then you can wash your clothes.
  • But DO pack layers. I packed three different colors/styles of jeans and trousers, one tank top, two t-shirts, one long-sleeve shirt, and three shorter-sleeve blouses along with a jean blazer that will coordinate well with all of the blouses. This means that a) I came prepared for both chilly days and hot days and b) I have way more outfit options because the blazer completely changes the look of the tops.
  • If you like variety (like me) then don't skimp the accessories. Necklaces, earrings, belts, and scarves are light and small and will make it look like you're not always wearing the exact same clothes again.
  • Think about the wrinkles. Most hotels/houses have an iron, but it's always nice to have some non-wrinkle items that you won't have to worry about. An alternative to ironing is to mist a wrinkled garment with water and let it hang up for a while (but that means you'll probably also have to pack a squirt bottle). 


  • Think about the things that are going to take up the most space and how necessary they are. For me, for this trip, those things were
    • My computer
    • Bath towel
    • Shoes
    • Books
      • I decided to bring my massive computer, because I wanted to be able to write and watch movies. 
      • I brought a capulana along to serve as a bath towel/skirt/blanket/headwrap/pillow in a pinch, so didn't bring a regular towel (because boring). 
      • I solved the shoes problem by packing my flip-flops and my grey shoes in the bag and wearing my bulky tennis shoes in the car (I try to make it a habit of always wearing my bulkiest clothes while I'm traveling so as to save space in the bag). 
      • And the books? Well, Lawrence and the Arabs, my Bible, a journal, and my Kindle all went into my purse. You don't leave books behind, folks.
  • Only bring what toiletries you actually need, because those things can get heavy! On this trip, I opted not to bring shampoo and conditioner from home, because I couldn't find my little travel bottles and I knew I could get more shampoo and conditioner in South Africa. I have yet to travel to any place where I couldn't buy soap, a razor, shampoo, or feminine hygiene products. However, for the sake of my fellow travelers, I prefer to embark on a journey with a toothbrush and enough toothpaste and soap to see me through to the end.
  • As mentioned above, pay attention to how much your luggage weighs. This is obvious for those traveling by plane, but even if you're not flying/your luggage is under the weight restriction, it's still a good idea to put your purse and backpack on and ask yourself, 'am I ok with the idea of walking around all day while carrying this much weight?' I discovered this the hard way during a 14-hour layover in Paris, where I couldn't find a locker for my backpack, so ended up carting it all over the city with me. By the time I got back to the airport, I was so tired that even the prospect of sleeping on those hard benches seemed divine.


  • Pack a wallet or clutch that will hold all of your documents, money, phone, etc. I started doing this for border crossings, as I got tired of lugging my big, heavy purse full of books through immigration lines. Yeah, you have to watch out so no-one steals all your stuff while it's conveniently in one, small container. But whatever. You're going to have to do that, anyway.  AND I REFUSE TO LEAVE MY READING MATERIAL BEHIND.
  • Buy a phone with a good camera. It took several years of gentle persuasion to convince me to finally buy an expensive phone with a nice camera, but I'm so glad that I did. As a photographer, I want to be able to take good photos. As a traveler, I don't want to lug a massive camera bag around with me. My beloved HTC phone means I can have a pretty happy medium. 
  • Think about what you're most likely going to do while you're away, and pack accordingly. That may seem like a no-brainer, but there have been times when I've left bulky, but fairly necessary, items behind, and then spent the whole trip regretting that I didn't have them. There have also been times when I've packed things that I never even used. So make a plan, and try to avoid packing while you're sleep deprived.
  • Carry a light source. I haven't needed my headlamp on every single trip, but it's come in handy enough times that I almost always carry it with me. And anyway, it barely takes up any room. 
  • Also a pen or five. People never seem to have pens.
  • Always have a complete change of clothes and undergarments, and a toothbrush with a travel-sized toothpaste handy when you're taking a long flight. The ability to freshen up on a layover can make you feel less like a sleep-deprived zombie. 
  • Also, slip-on shoes when you're going through an American airport where they make you take off your shoes for security scans (I haven't encountered any other country that does this. But Americans are paranoid of bombs in shoes). One time, I wore boots with laces, held up the entire security line for what felt like an hour as I struggled to get them off, and fervently vowed never again.
  • Bring stuff to do when if you get stuck. A card game. Books. Whatever. You never know when your plane will get delayed or you'll be sitting in the hot sun for 2 hours, waiting for a military convoy.
  • Also always bring water. And food. And painkillers. And toilet paper. Ok, maybe not always the toilet paper...I do live in Mozambique, after all. Things are a bit different here.
  • Travel mugs come in handy sometimes. Especially if you're a coffee/tea addict. It also doesn't hurt to pack a couple of tea bags and a packet of sugar for emergency situations. Not like I've ever actually done that...
  • Oh, and if you're traveling internationally, don't forget about plug adapters and telling your bank/credit card company where you're going so they don't shut down your card. That's kind-of important.


Probably the most helpful thing for me to remember is that the whole list above is just fluff (except for the tea and the books). Even if I forget everything except my travel documents and my money, I'm probably going to be just fine. The most important thing isn't what you take with you on a trip, but deciding that you're going to have a fabulous time and remembering to laugh heartily at all of your mistakes.