Packing for a trip is often a point of stress. You don’t know what you really need, and you have plenty things you want along. I’ll get to other stuff later, today, it’s all about clothing. Of all the truly necessary things, clothing is the only one, and a toothbrush. When you see hard-core backpackers, all they have is, literally, a backpack of clothes. Depending on where you go, you can find cheap clothes to replace or augment your own supply, think 5 t-shirts for $10.
Since I can’t comment on your individual fashion style, I can only offer my own strategies. If you’ve known me for a while, you would have noticed that over 90% of my clothes are black, white, or gray. This means that I don’t have to worry about separating colors when doing laundry, everything gets thrown in together. If any color bleeds into another, who would notice, and what would it matter, it’s all shades of gray. Sure, a dark green or blue shirt gets in there, or some beige cargo pants as well, but then they look well-traveled and experienced, making you look like a more serious traveler.
Lately, I’ve been pushing for all carry-on luggage, regarding airline policies. This means that I am very mobile and flexible: no large suitcase to watch and no waiting for the baggage carousel. After my last large research cruise, I ended up in Tahiti and Australia, taking multiple planes and public transports. A giant suitcase to supply me with 2-3 months of clothes and other stuff is highly unwieldy. The hardest part was waiting for my departure from Tahiti to Melbourne, via Auckland and Sydney. I had to check out of the hotel by 10am (not really a hotel, more like a bungalow collection), wait until noon for a ride to the ferry (I had found a ride with some scientists who were getting on the boat after my trip, so saving $55 from a taxi), then a bus to the airport (saving $25 from a taxi), and waiting from 1pm to 3am for my departure flight. That means 13 hours waiting in the airport, when all shops and restaurants close by 10pm (there was a 24-hour cafeteria, but expensive). I couldn’t sleep because I had to watch my large suitcase, backpack, and computer bag, and carry them everywhere – exploring the airport end-to-end, getting food, in the bathrooms, lots of sitting and waiting. The Faa’a airport in Papeete has arrivals late at night and departures after midnight for some reason.
While it was useful on a boat, where you can store it and not use it for 2 months, is fine. Having to pack it up again and move every 5 days in Australia gives a nice biceps training and possible risk of injury. What I did then and still do, is take old and beat-up clothing that you are of a mind to discard. Shirts and socks with holes that are still functional are prime candidates for travel clothing, as at the end of the trip, you can throw it away as you were planning to do anyway. Now you have a lighter pack, and/or more room for souvenirs.
On a research cruise, you have to expect to get wet, and saltwater is not good for clothes or shoes, so I bring a second pair as a backup. Fortunately, on both large research cruises, my current pair of shoes were getting worn out. When the first one gets wet, clean it off and leave it to dry and use the second. Make sure both are clean and dry when getting off the boat. Here’s the relevant part for the rest of you. At the end of the trip, throw away the old shoes and use the new ones to travel home. Again, a lighter pack, but make sure you break in the shoes before leaving home.
One very important thing to remember is not to leave the clothing in the trash in your hotel/hostel/B&B-whatever room. If housekeeping finds it, they may think you forgot it and it may get sent back to you at your expense (usually charged to your credit card on file, if cash, no worries as they won’t spend their own money). You should take a few plastic bags (grocery bags are fine) with you, as they are multi-purpose. Put your garbage clothes in the plastic bags and discard them in a public trash receptacle (hotel lobby, sidewalk bin, airport bin, etc.), that way, you don’t have to worry about it being sent back to you. You may think donating it to a charity is more noble (and a fine idea), but if your clothes are as run-down as I let mine get, it would be rather insulting to give it to them. If you travel to outer villages (outside the US), where the income level doesn’t allow regular trips to the local mall, you may wish to leave behind your better-condition outerwear (shirts, pants, etc.). It’s a kind thing to do (part of repayment of hospitality), you leave them with a good impression of tourists, and you end up with a lighter pack. It’s safe to assume they can use second-hand clothes more than you.
What do I normally pack and wear? I’m liking cargo pants lately because I like big pockets, and more of them. I can carry lots of small stuff and it doesn’t weigh me down. Higher up, it’s usually a t-shirt and a buttoned shirt over that. Layers are the smart thing to do. Many a time I have been able to lend the button shirt to someone feeling chilly. I’m a big guy, so cold doesn’t bother me as much. That’s not to say I never get cold, I just prefer colder weather. Layers here are an obvious benefit, but (unusually you might think), I may just stick with the shirt and no jacket, sometimes just the t-shirt.
If you’re thinking, “Wait Kevin, your last cruise was along the Equator. Isn’t it hot? Why the layers and black clothes?” While true that I’m not a fan of hot weather, I can tolerate it just fine. I’m not a fan of the sun either, so layers, long sleeves, and pants are preferable. I think my dark layering strategy helps me in the long term, by acclimatizing me to a higher range of temperatures. I see my fitter shipmates in shorts and a t-shirt complaining of the heat. Then there’s me in black shirt and sweat pants standing next to them on deck. Now if I change to lighter colors and shorts, I’ll feel even cooler than before, while the rest of them have no other clothing options, save for nudity. I got lots of flack from scientists and crew for wearing black clothes on the boat for no good reason.
As proof of what I can tolerate, here’s what I was wearing when I visited Uluru, in the middle of the Australian Outback at the height of summer. The temperature that day hit over 53°C (127.4°F), and the sun is unavoidable and dangerous. Our most recent cruise in the Gulf of the Farallones (one month ago), provided us with much wind-blown cool, where I was able to work on deck in a t-shirt and work vest, while others bundled up with jacket over sweatshirt and a hindered range of motion. Again, more comments from scientists and crew.
But I’m digressing from the original topic – budget travel. I don’t know what works for you. You may wish to bring fashionable clothes when you travel. Depending on where you go, that may be a good idea, possibly even necessary. You shouldn’t have to worry “these people will think I look like a slob” as my mother complains about my clothes, because you’ll either never see them again, or not remember each other if you do (which means you technically are seeing them for the first time), you’re just “another tourist.” I do mix the beat up clothes with the more stylish stuff, but for me, it is always function over fashion. Don’t bring that shirt or shoes that only look good with one other thing, or that requires its own special washing detail, multi-purposing is very important if you want to lighten the load.
Two final things: 1. the website One Bag is a great place for minimal packing strategies. 2. It takes extraordinary circumstances for me to wear shorts, as I rarely bring them anywhere. Besides, I only have one pair, I jut don’t like them.