I traveled across five countries in one month with a backpack.

How To Backpack Without Looking Like a Backpacker

And as you can imagine, packing was a nightmare. It didn’t help that I went from hail/snow/rain in Iceland to eventually end up in bikini weather in Croatia – with the same backpack. But my former fashion fiend wouldn’t let go of the pieces in my closet that I knew I’d need to take with me on my trip. Why? Well because I wanted to backpack without looking too much like a stereotypical backpacker.

There are tons of reasons why bringing a backpack on your trip instead of a suitcase is easier (more convenient, cobblestone + suitcases = horrible time, checking bags are expensive), but when you’re frolicking around the streets of Paris, a girl can get kind of self-conscious. So here are a few things I learned from packing for my first backpacking trip:

How to Backpack Without Looking Like a Backpacker

1. You absolutely can never go wrong with black.

My wardrobe will consist of: black leggings, black loose pants, black skirt, black blouse, black tee shirt, black shoes, black everything else. Black is the easiest way to look chic and hide any stains/dirt accumulated along the way. When most of the items in your bag are black, matching is never an issue.

2. Bring items that don’t wrinkle easily.

Silk blouses are light, gorgeous and effortlessly classy, but they absolutely SUCK when you try to bring them along with you on the road. Opt for cotton, rayon or polyester items so they’re not easily wrinkled when kept in your bag for long periods of time.

3. Leggings are easy, comfortable and chic. Bring many pairs.

Leggings are a women’s godsend. You can wear them to sleep, while working out, running around the city, or dress them up with a blouse/heels and go out to dinner and drinks. I bring two to three pairs and rotate.

4. You need three pairs of shoes, MAX.

I brought boots, sneakers and flip flops for my first trip starting in Iceland. When I went back to travel throughout France for three weeks, I brought sneakers, flip flops and heels. You only need three pairs of shoes, max – one pair for each occasion. Just make sure they are comfortable shoes you can ACTUALLY walk in.

5. Build on the warmth by packing light layering pieces.

Light cashmere shawl cardigans, Uniqlo Heat-Tech long sleeve black shirts, Uniqlo Ultra-Light down jacket, BCBG MaxAzria trench coat – four layers that actually kept me warm during the colder parts of my trip. I also love taking a leather jacket with me in the fall because it’s always effortlessly stylish and when worn over your basics, adds just enough warmth. (Find some of my favorites on my Lyst here.)

6. Always bring a scarf.

Probably the most versatile thing in your bag, the scarf is a must-pack item. In Spring/Summer, I brought a lightweight cotton-blend scarf, that ended up becoming a plane/train pillow, semi-blanket, wrap skirt and at one point even a towel. [Here are a few options I added to my Lyst account here.] This winter, I’m packing this purple fur circle scarf (picked it up at ML furs) – one of the warmest, most luxurious accessories in my closet, that’s easy, stylish and goes with just about anything. No pillow? No problem. And when my ears get cold I can just throw it on my head and wear it as a hat.

ML Furs | Fur Collar Scarf

I usually bookmark all the products I’m looking for on Lyst, a shopping platform that lets you save all the items you want from tons of online retailers. It notifies you when the items you save go on sale, and just generally makes it a lot easier for you to scan through tons of brands in one easy place. I started a few lists just for specific items I’m looking for for upcoming travels, but I also made a general travel clothing wish list – see the rest of the items + prices here.

So what do you guys think? What’s your experience been with backpacking, and what items do you tend to take with you?

  • LEE @ Modern Granola

    Such a useful post! Thanks for the tips!

  • Sara Barnes

    Great travel tips!

    506 Miles: from Detroit to Nashville

  • I’m so impressed, you really don’t look like you were backpacking around.
    Thanks for all the tips.

    xx Cheyenne

  • Great post! It’s true—you don’t really wanna look or feel like a slob when you’re making memories and taking photographs you’ll cherish forever! The things that don’t wrinkle is a big one I learnt the hard way…


  • Helena

    Great post! My clothes always consist of mostly black and I could never travel without leggings!

  • Betsi Hill

    Great travel tips Jinna! I also find maxi dresses are great in the Spring, Summer and Fall with scarves and either a cropped jacket or sweater that I can easily layer over t’s and tanks as well.

  • Wani Cullen

    Scarf is a definitely must! Besides leggings, jeans/jeggings are a godsend too!

  • So helpful! Will definitely be referring to this as I start packing for my backpacking adventure this December

  • Kira MacKenzie

    Killer post! Why hassle with checking bags when you can be so clever? xx I did a similar post on why I never check my bags, but I certainly could take a pointer or two (or ten) from you in terms of how to stay fashionable!

    Thanks for the inspiration babe!

    In case you’re curious 🙂 :

  • Maisie

    What kind of personal hygiene items will you bring?

  • Carrie

    Great tips! The vast majority of the time when traveling abroad, I stick to a carry on bag. I haven’t ever done just a backpack!

    But I totally agree… You don’t need as much as you think you’ll need. Especially in regards to shoes, as much as I hate to admit it. 😉

  • Amalie

    You are such an inspiration.. I’m definitely going to use this when I’m traveling xx

  • etsy

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve also found that scarfs are a great way to spruce up and change your look, and I’ve recently discovered that wearing a skirt over leggings can help to bring some summer/spring cheer to the traditionally dark winter wear (:

  • I love this! I could definitely do with some more packing tips because I ALWAYS over pack!

  • Travis Brown

    Wow! What a great job here. This will really help a lot of travelers out there like me. I love your designer shoes by the way. 🙂

  • Gluten Free Bitches

    great tips, I always find rolling up your clothes really saves space too. I wrote an article on what to pack in your travelling purse!

  • I just discovered your blog and I absolutely love it 🙂 A scarf is definitely something you need because it will come in handy in so many situations!

  • C’s Confetti

    this is such a great post! nice pictures, too.

  • Very helpful and gorgeous post! Loving your blog to the max.

    Hannie at // CHAPTERS LIKE THIS //

  • Black is cool but wearing black in Asian countries is hot and attract mosquitoes though.

  • I love it! Classy and comfy, thank you for sharing 🙂

  • EmilyB

    I’m travelling by car, train and air throughout Europe for three weeks this coming fall. What type of luggage do you suggest I use? I’d prefer a backpack, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to fit everything in it!

  • Kim

    This post is super helpful! Do you have a recommendation on backpack brand / size to pack everything into? I’ll be traveling in Europe for 2.5 weeks this summer and have been discouraged with the style of a lot of the more functional backpacks that are available. I want to be comfortable but don’t want to have to abandon aesthetic! It seems like you’ve done a great job balancing both.

  • Bianca

    what camera do you use and go to lens???? any other equipment you take with you???

  • Istar

    Hi, i have just discovered your blog and i love it!where is the backpack from?thanks