When I was 16, I embarked on my first study abroad experience. I picked up my life, kissed my parents goodbye, and moved to Verviers, Belgium. As trying and fun as this experience was, it taught me a lot about independence, responsibility, and how to travel with ease in a more minimalist fashion. I honed these skills (and my wardrobe) during a semester interning in Washington, D.C. While preparing for two months of studying and interning in Italy, I decided to forgo a checked bag altogether and moved with only a carry-on bag and a backpack.
Now, I know that this may sound extreme to some, and others may question why I chose to travel like this when I could’ve brought more stuff. But it’s just "stuff," and "stuff" comes with responsibility and unnecessary stress in keeping track of bags and bags of ‘stuff.’
The following are tips and rules that I’ve developed specifically for what to bring clothing-wise and makeup-wise when trying to travel more minimally.
(I’d like to note that these clothing options are specific to my summer travel in Europe and for a more casual internship abroad. That being said, I wear almost all of these pieces both at work and in daily life.)
The criteria I like to pack clothes with are as follows:
Make sure the items you are bring are quality pieces that are able to withstand harsher washing machines, tougher climates, and a lot of packing and folding. For myself, I looked at quality pieces, mostly cotton, from good brands at Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack as well as J Crew, J Crew Mercantile, Anthropologie (the sale section, of course!), and other items I’ve collected from reputable brands and thrift stores.
Before leaving, I made sure all of my clothing items fit me well. This is extremely important when traveling and doing an internship abroad, as a good fit will always serve you better professionally. Although I may wear my baggy college tees at home, dressing well outside, especially in Europe, is not only customary, but required if you don’t want to stick out.
Dressing in clothing you're comfortable in is also necessary for eliminating excess clothing in your packing. Although you may want to bring a cute crop top or tighter pants, remember that you only wear them when you’re feeling your best. Eliminate items that you don’t feel consistently comfortable in.
Lastly, I’d like to recommend that all clothing items are wearable with multiple other clothing items and in all different situations. If an item can only be worn with one other item in your wardrobe, avoid bringing it -- as you will most likely not wear it enough to justify packing it.
I'll also note that while traveling, I tend to dress more conservatively. This allows me to always feel comfortable in what I’m wearing, be respectful of the cultures I am entering, and sometimes protects me from harassment. Although I am a strong feminist and advocate for people wearing whatever they want to wear, I would rather be safe and unaffected by comments because of my attire in a foreign country. I also always want to be respectful of other countries' cultures and religions by dressing accordingly.
Below are some samples of things I’ve chosen to bring while living, traveling and working in Italy for two months:
This was probably the easiest section for me. Before leaving, I purchased two white tees, one purple and one black. These tops are quality cotton, meaning they don’t wrinkle as much and don’t retain as much smell as other fabrics. I wear them to work and just about everywhere. They can easily be dressed up or down.
Following these tops, I have a silky black top from Zara. Although this top does wrinkle more easily, I chose it because it works in different settings than a normal tee or tank would. I’ve worn this top out with my friends and paired it with a skirt and to a fashion paired with black slacks and a Gucci-esque belt.
For work, I did bring a couple button-downs. In retrospect, I would only bring one white one, as work style is less American-business-casual. I haven’t encountered many women wearing button-downs at all in Italy, and I would only wear them in more formal settings for women. I also have a few typical, simple women’s work shirts that pair best with black slacks.
Lastly, I have a couple of cropped tops that are fairly simple and work well when I go out with friends.
For pants, I tended to stick to the basics as well: two pairs of well-fitting jeans, black slacks, some hiking/climbing pants, and a few pairs of loose, printed pants that can be worn both for work and play. These items also go well with the majority of my tops, allowing me to change up my outfits as needed.
|(Left to right: My favorite jeans from a thrift store and top from J Crew; Similar patterned pants; Zara top, J Crew pants, Zara bag and Clarks shoes)|
I’ve found that due to the heat and the need to dress a little more sophisticated, dresses have come in handy in Italy. My favorite dress is a unique, blue, bell-sleeved dress from ASOS. It’s incredibly comfortable and versatile. I also have a button down, A-line dress from J Crew that is worn only for work, and a red-and-white striped dress for non-work-related activities. I also have a printed travel dress from Title Nine that works best for work and day trips. I did bring a classic black dress with me for work, but I found it is both too formal and too hot to wear to work.
|(Blue dress from ASOS and a similar red-and-white striped dress)|
In this section, I had a little more fun. My favorite skirt that I brought is a long, wrap, red, floral skirt. I’ve worn it to work, Pride, the beach, and out to dinner. It works best with a white top but can be paired with a black one as well. Surprisingly, it has probably been my most versatile piece. Other than this skirt, I brought a uniquely designed white skirt, a shorter loose black skirt, and a black denim skirt. Although a denim skirt does say ‘American’ in many settings, it’s my favorite skirt for going out.
|(Left: Similar to my favorite skirt. Right: A similar black skirt from Zara)|
I will admit, I’m not the biggest shoe collector. I tend to stick to basics for most occasions, making this section easier for me than it might be for others. For my time studying and interning abroad, I brought a pair of grey Adidas that can be worn for and with just about everything. They were a bit of an investment, but well worth it as I wear them almost every day. They are also a staple work piece for me and in many Italian work environments. For work and play, I also brought a pair of nude sandal heels. These shoes are ridiculously comfortable and work with all of my clothes. I also brought a pair of black oxfords that I wear to my internship when I don’t want to wear heels, and lastly, a pair of running shoes. These are optional, as Adidas can be used for most activities, but I love to run and work out, even while traveling.
|Left: Similar oxfords. Right: Exact shoes from H&M)|
Miscellaneous Active: I brought two workout tops, two sports bras, two pairs of legging, and one pair of shorts. I work out almost every day, so I simply hand-wash everything as needed. This both saves me space and decreases the wear and tear on my workout items.
Swimwear: I brought one bathing suit with me that I know looks good and fits me well. I’ll only go to the beach probably five times while I’m here, so I didn’t find it necessary to bring more than one. I also brought a scarf that I can use as a cover-up and for daily use.
Bags: I purchased a bag in Florence that was inexpensive and works for everyday use. I will probably only use it here and donate it once I’m done. I didn’t want to use anything too expensive that I would be afraid of losing.
Belts: I have one black belt that fits at all levels of my waist and hips and can be worn with just about everything.
Jackets: I only brought one loose black jacket that can be worn more for looks than warmth. Florence is so hot in the summertime that jackets are pretty unnecessary. I did bring one sweatshirt, which I wore on the plane and wear mostly in other colder countries when I travel. I do wish I’d brought a small raincoat.
Makeup: I try to wear the least amount of makeup possible when in warm climates and while traveling. I stick to SPF moisturizer, tinted powder, bronzer, mascara, and one lipstick when I’m going out. I will say my skin is easy to manage, so I don’t worry much about makeup.
Luggage: I have an Osprey travel bag that detaches into a backpack/personal item and a perfectly dimensioned carry-on.
Replace and Replenish
Lastly, don’t be afraid to replace items as need. If a top gets a hole in it or you find you’re not wearing it and probably won’t back home, find a place to donate it such as public clothing donation bin or an H&M. I’d also recommend that you leave a bit of room for inevitable souvenirs and new pieces.
Sofia Filip is a CEA Summer Content Contributor studying abroad in Florence, Italy. She is currently a student at the University of Utah.
Read more about our CEA MOJO Bloggers & Photographers.