Wardrobing Mishaps of a Backpacker

Waking up after camping on top of Nyiragongo Volcano, DR Congo. Frozen.

I’ve already staked my claim as the World’s Worst Packer. However, I have to give myself props: although a work in progress, I feel like I’ve got this packing thing down pretty well now. It’s been a long road, but here are just a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1. There’s this thing called cold weather.
I thought I came prepared for different climates. I figured it would be hot in Southeast Asia (correct), and mild in Africa since it was winter during my visit (also correct). Although it may have crossed my mind that it would be cold in Italy in March, I figured a long-sleeved shirt and a fleece would be just fine. I arrived on Day 1 of my trip to windy weather in Venice and a snowstorm. I wore leggings under my pants for four straight days and wore about five layers of shirts. Lesson: Check the weather! I lived for a summer in San Francisco and showed up with shorts, cute tank tops, and sundresses. I wore shorts one day the entire summer. That was in 2007. I didn’t learn my lesson the first time, but I have to say I and I will never forget it! (Oh yes, and I recall this happening to me in 2004 when I went to Sweden with the wrong clothing. Someone please remind me to check the weather on my next vacation!)

2.There’s this thing called cold weather. Again.
I was sitting with my guide and his family over dinner the night before hiking Nyiragongo Volcano in Congo. He asked me if I had warm clothes with me. I reassured him and pulled out my black fleece zip-up. He laughed at me and said it would not keep me warm. He also told me I should take an extra sleeping bag. I brushed it off, as I started the hike the following morning in a short-sleeved shirt. That night, I watched other climbers in their scarves, gloves, and heavy coats, also freezing, while I sat there in my fleece and rain jacket. Lesson: A little research beforehand goes a long way.

3. White Swimsuit? What were you thinking?
Okay I can explain. I have this theory that white swimsuits give the illusion of a tan. So, when I saw a white swimsuit with little multi-colored hearts on it that looked a bit 80s, I snatched it up. And now, I have pale blue bottoms and a pale pink top. You see, my blue sarong and my pink handkerchief shouldn’t have been washed with a white swimsuit. Oops. Lesson: White swimsuits are probably not suited for long-term travel. I actually recall the summer I lived in Hawaii in 2006 when I hung a different white swimsuit on a metal bar to dry. But this bar just happened to be a bit rusted and that was the end of that swimsuit. I think it’s official: I have to find things out the hard way. Twice. Maybe next time I’ll put that white swimsuit down. I’m heading to Bali next month and might just have to splurge on a new swimsuit. My it-was-white-at-one-time swimsuit just isn’t gonna cut it.

4. A skirt will come in handy- once you ditch it.
I bought a skirt in the fabulous second-hand clothing market in Nairobi. Having one skirt always seems to come in handy when traveling. I can’t be as stylish as fellow travel blogger Andi, but I sure can attempt to look like a girl every now and then. In three months, I wore the skirt once. In an attempt to be a good backpacker, I ditched it at the end of my stay in Vietnam so that I wasn’t carrying dead weight. I got into Laos and three days later, I was invited to a wedding reception. Go figure. I guess that’s how it always happens, right? It’s like how you don’t need something until you can’t find it. Lesson: Keep the skirt. I showed up in my nicest pair of North Face pants, a white top, and Chacos. But don’t you worry- I jazzed it up with a scarf and a pair of earrings ;)


Leggings make an appearance two years in a row for Halloween- at least I got use out of them!

5.  It’s an itsy bitsy teeny weeny… Egyptian bikini?
On a 10-week trip to Africa in 2008, my first stop was Egypt. My luggage, sadly, was still in Atlanta when I got there, and I left Cairo 2 days later without my luggage. Therefore, I had to pick up new clothes in Aswan before spending a few days on the Nile. Luckily, my mother taught me well, and I had one change of clothes. But the most important piece of clothing I needed was a swimsuit- try finding that in a little town in Egypt. My guide and I asked around and ended up at a little shop down some side alley. Here’s what they so graciously clothed me in: an itsy bitsy teeny weeny lime green Egyptian bikini (shocker!), electric blue leggings (what I got when I asked for shorts), yellow toe socks, girl’s underwear (yes girl’s, not women’s), a fake Puma shirt, and a fake Armani shirt. Let me tell you- I was the most stylish kid on the block for a few days! Lesson: Don’t let shopkeepers in Egypt replace your lost wardrobe.

I don’t think I’ll ever be revered in the travel blogging community as the girl who knows how to pack. If my bag is light or partially empty, I’m sure I’ll find something to put in it. And if I have stuff in it, it’s probably not what I need. It’s just going to have to be a work in progress for me!

What are your worst wardrobe packing mishaps?

11 thoughts on “Wardrobing Mishaps of a Backpacker

  • Wardrobe mishaps ARE my life when I travel! No clothing ever lasts, nothing is ever appropriate enough and I’ve just resigned to the fact that I just won’t be making any positive fashion statements. Good advice on the white swimsuit though! And it applies for pretty much anything white, at least in my case! =)

    • Connie,
      Although I hate for other people to be in the same boat, it’s a relief at the same time! I see long term travelers wearing white tank tops or tees, and they’re still white! I have one white tank top and it’s about to go. I can’t do the white thing on any level. And my fashion statements are about as uncool as they come ;)

  • Haha what a great read! Brought back a lot of memories from similar mistakes.
    I love white clothes, but I never wear them anymore. For some reason every time I wear something white I manage to spill something on it, but it never happens with any of my other clothes!

    • Thanks Sofia :) White clothes are a nightmare for me as well :) They really are a magnet for spills. I have to save them for at home- when I have a proper washing machine!

  • Stayed out way too late with friends I met and was parting after 4 weeks in Florence. Woke up late for my bus to the airport and ended up having to take a 60 euro cab ride to catch my plane to Belgium. Once I got to Belgium got on a train to Amsterdam. Then realized when i was frantically packing that morning I forgot my credit card, camera, and a bra. By the time I got to Amsterdam I had contacted my roomate in Florence who took out a cash advance on my credit card(which was sitting in my dresser) and the wired me the money (most expensive travel mistake ever!!!!) When I got to Amsterdam I realized how much colder it is in Northern Europe and I did not have a jacket. Went with out a bra in cold weather for a weekend in Amsterdam, NOT GOOD. (looked for a bra, but needless to say all of the ones I found in Amsterdam were way to kinky).

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