You’re lounging on a beach chair in Mexico, looking out over the beautiful Caribbean ocean. On your perfect bikini body (thanks squats) you sport an ah-ma-zing swimsuit from a local boutique you’ve just discovered, and a chiffon kaftan falls perfectly off your shoulders.
Alternatively, you accidentally did an awkwardly loud swallow-cough when you found out the beach chair costs $20 per day to rent, and have tried to seek some shade by sitting in the sand behind someone else’s umbrella and hoping they don’t notice. The daggy singlet you’re wearing is stained with guacamole and, underneath, you’re fighting to keep your boobs locked down because your old swimsuit has lost elasticity.
If, despite your best efforts, you’re a little more scenario b than a, this guide is here to help you build a practical, minimalist and frugal (read: cheap and nasty) backpacking style.
1. Limit the amount of clothes you’re lugging around
So you’re not going to be the girl with a chic maxi dress for every occasion, but you do get to be the girl skipping past everyone with your dainty little backpack while they’re hauling around 20 kilo bags. Nothing looks as good as your smug face when people gasp and say “is that all your luggage!?” (except for maybe a chic maxi dress). Limit your clothes to what will fit in a carry on size backpack (packing cubes are your friend), and bask in the glow you can only get from not having a stiff neck and shoulders the entire time you’re traveling.
2. Get thrifty
Unless you’ve really gone off the beaten path, chances are some enterprising hippie has come before you and is selling second hand clothes somewhere. Even with the #authenticlife mark up, you should find some decent clothes for cheaper than new, and, being able to say “Oh yeah, I picked this up at a cool little thrift store in Guatemala.” can make you feel stylish, even if you’re not. If you’re in Mexico or Central America, keep an eye out for shops selling ropa de segundo mano. The complicated global trade in second hand clothing means that you can easily find a second hand Billabong skirt with a Goodwill tag attached in a small clothes shop in Mexico.
In a hostel and heading out for the night but hate all your clothes? So does the girl in the bunk next to you. Wear each other’s shit.
Visiting winter for a little bit, but not long enough to actually buy any cold weather gear? Make friends and look cold enough, people will dress you in their shit.
4. Invest in a few quality pieces
There are times – two miles into an eight-mile hike with a broken flip flop and hard core thigh chafe, for example – when you’ll just wish you had some quality gear.
A good looking, sweat wicking, non-smelling, space age shirt and pair of pants is worth the investment. Probably. I don’t actually know because I’ve always been too cheap. I do have a $100 pair of Shamma Sandals, though. They’re definitely not the most attractive thing I’ve ever put on my feet, but they were my only pair of shoes for four months, and nobody judged me openly to my face, so clearly I was stylin’.
5. Fill out your wardrobe with some cheap shit
Unless it’s technical, sweat wicking, and space age, it’s going to get smelly, at some point you’re going to lick guacamole off it, and it will fall apart. So, stock up on simple stuff at Wal-mart, the sale rack at H&M, and that aisle in the grocery store that has T-shirts in a weird bag. If you follow all of the advice in this article, I can’t promise you will look even remotely fashionable; I can promise that you won’t spend much money, and you will not be naked.
Genevieve Dwyer is a freelance travel and copy writer from Australia. For the last 3 years she’s been collecting vaguely rude sayings in other languages in the notes app on her phone. Follow her on Instagram @gendwyer.