As Atlas & Boots embark on their trip of a lifetime, Royal Robbins travel ambassador Kia Abdullah shares her top style tips for travelers dressing from a backpack.
Twelve kilograms. That’s the upper limit of how much I can carry. A mere twelve kilograms. And, so, I was faced with some tough decisions when it came to packing for Atlas & Boots’ yearlong trip across the Pacific and South America. It would have been fine if it we were planning 12 months of frolicking on a beach (a bikini doesn’t weigh very much!), but the breadth of activities we have planned meant I had to pack so much more.
Even our first month in the tropical Pacific islands of Vanuatu has been more active than one might expect. We’ve kayaked to the tiny desert island of Erakor, learned to dive at Aore Island, explored the depths of Millennium Cave on Espiritu Santo and trekked Mount Yasur, an active volcano on Tanna Island. And that’s not to mention what Peter has planned for South America: trekking the Inca Trail in Peru, rafting the Iguassu Falls in Brazil and hiking the mountains of Patagonia, all of which require slightly more gear than lazing on a beach.
With this in mind, I had to be very careful in choosing what to pack, how to pack it and how to use it when on the road. Here are the tricks I used to get to 12 kilograms without compromising on style, comfort or practicality.
1. Buy your clothes from a travel specialist
Preparing for travel is expensive business. Flights, accommodation, insurance and vaccinations can add up to a huge amount – and that’s not even considering the holiday wardrobe. It’s little wonder then that so many of us opt for cheap high-street stores where a whole new wardrobe costs less than a milkshake. This might be fine for a two-week break to Magaluf, but those on longer-term travels need much better quality. This is where travel specialists are particularly useful. These retailers specialize in clothes that are comfortable, breathable and durable. Designed specifically with the traveller in mind, their clothes are usually lightweight, crease resistant and high quality enough to survive a round-the-world trek or two. Avoid the false economy of buying super cheap and go for high-quality items that offer long-term value instead.
2. Keep your wardrobe organized
Backpackers aren’t exactly renowned for their sense of style but they should be forgiven for this – living out of a bag isn’t easy. The temptation to throw on the first thing you can grab is just too strong. This is why it’s important to keep your ‘wardrobe’ organized. I gathered my clothes into separate piles based on type (e.g. underwear, shorts and trousers, t-shirts and shirts, skirts and dresses) and stored them in separate stuff sacs, making sure to roll the clothes instead of folding to minimize creasing and to save space. Organizing your clothes in this way will help you wear what you had in mind, not in hand, and thus avoid the dubious ensembles we see on the road. In addition to this, I bought a backpack that has a zip across the length to help me quickly locate a specific item – it’s much better than taking everything out from top to bottom.
3. Pack a capsule closet
The perfect capsule closet comprises items that you can wear with everything else in your collection. I refuse to pack anything that can’t be used as part of at least three different outfits. In fact, the five bottoms I packed can all be worn with the seven tops, giving me a total of 35 different outfits to mix and match.
Throw in my favorite cardigan, the Mary Jane from Royal Robbins, and I have even more permutations to play with, not to mention a precious extra layer. Every experienced traveller knows that layers are the key to traversing territories in style and comfort. Even in the sweltering heat of the Pacific summer, you’ll find a cardi in my bag. One hit of the evening trade winds and you’ll understand why!
4. Stash your cash
When stocking up on your holiday wardrobe, aim to buy items that have plenty of pockets. This makes it easy to split up your cash; meaning that if you ever run into trouble, you’ll likely still have some stashed somewhere. Peter and I tend to divide our cash between us, storing some in our backpacks and some in our pockets. If we’re visiting a particularly sketchy area, I’ll also stash some in my bra just in case we need emergency funds. We’re heading off to Fiji next and have been warned that the capital, Suva, can be dangerous after dark, so all our extra pockets will definitely come in use.
5. Wrap your shoes in a shower cap
I tried and I tried to cut down on footwear but still ended up bringing four pairs: ballet flats, flip flops, trainers and hiking boots. Based on the variety of activities I have planned, it was simply unavoidable. In fact, I’ve already used them all in our first few weeks in Vanuatu: ballet flats for a smart dinner at L’Houstalet, flip flops for the beach at Pango, trainers for the Millennium Cave Tour and hiking boots for Mount Yasur. Wrapping and unwrapping (and wrapping and unwrapping) shoes in plastic bags can become tedious after a while so, instead, I packed a few shower caps to go over the soles of my shoes. They protect my clothes from dirt, are quick and easy to deal with, and weigh a little bit less than bags. Yes, the difference is marginal, but when you’re struggling with a 12kg bag, trust me – every little bit helps.
6. Cover up
I’ve already mentioned the importance of layers. If you’re convinced you won’t need a cardigan or scarf or a long pair of trousers, bear in mind that I’ve needed to cover my arms and knees in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Dubai, not to mention less conservative countries like Italy and Cambodia. I always pack a trusty pair of capris and my aforementioned cardigan, which have me covered wherever I go.
It’s worth noting that this doesn’t just apply to women: Peter wore long trousers for much of our visit to Jordan as locals pay more respect to men dressed modestly. So many travel experiences are related to cultural or religious attractions, so you never know when you’ll need to cover up.