I recently met wardrobe therapist Erin Keam (the Happy Wardrobe), who also co-works at The Riveter (a woman owned and run space that supports female entrepreneurs). We were talking clothing and travel – and how much we love both. Which of course led to a discussion of how we both usually travel with only one small carry on (check out my post about my favorite travel gear). Erin then asked me if I’d seen Jessi Arrington’s TED talk from quite a few years ago – about only packing underwear and buying her entire trip wardrobe in thrift stores while at her travel destination.

Wait – what?

This takes “packing light” to a new level.

Of course I had to watch and share the video, even though in internet years it’s really old.  But I think the concept is timeless and a great one.

If you haven’t seen her talk yet, check it out. (It’s at the top of this post and it’s only 5 minutes long). The basic idea is that you only pack undergarments, and of course you’ll have the clothes that you wear the first day of travel. Once you get to your destination, you go thrift shopping to find a few more things to wear while on your trip. Then you donate it all back to thrift stores before you head home.

There’s so much I love about this idea. Let me break it down.

  1. Reduces your travel prep time.  Who loves the stress of having to pack while simultaneously finishing up work and other responsibilities in those last days before travel?  I don’t.  The idea of just throwing some underwear, a bra and maybe some socks in a small bag along with my toiletries sounds so easy it’s ridiculous. Sign me up. You don’t have to spend time worrying about what outfits to bring. Sounds liberating.
  2. Stirs up more travel adventure.  Yep, you get to go on a treasure hunt when you arrive at your destination. You gotta find some thrift stores and do some looking around. It gives you an excuse to get on a subway, bus or taxi to explore various city neighborhoods. You can meet and talk to people about what you are doing along the way. Oh and you get to shop. I like shopping.  If you don’t – well then maybe this type of adventure isn’t quite for you. Or maybe you could do it on a smaller scale.
  3. You get to shop for less. I was recently in Portugal and went a little crazy buying cork items. I got a purse, earrings, a necklace, a journal, a coin purse, a sunglasses case, and a few small cork gifts. I probably dropped $200 on cork products (sheesh). I also bought a fun striped jumpsuit at full price in a Porto boutique store to the tune of $80. Now granted, I paid only $60 for my airline ticket, thanks to travel hacking, so I could afford it.  So although it might seem indulgent to drop money on clothes instead of bringing what you already own – the truth is part of traveling is spending money and having a budget for it. This approach might save me from dropping money on larger impulse purchases, having scratched my shopping itch. And I might find a unique gem.
  4. Provides an opportunity to practice the art of buying second hand.  As Jessi says in the video – thrift store shopping is easier on the wallet and also on our environment. It feels good not to buy into the massive consumerism mentality that says we need to always buy new things – which in turn creates unnecessary mass production and utilization of resources.  If everyone thrifted a little more, it would make a significant environmental impact, I’m sure of it.
  5. Gives you the chance to break out of a rut.  This exercise is like the clothing version of traveling. You get to leave your regular clothes behind and try something new. Maybe you end up rocking something you’d never normally wear. And heck – when traveling you are meeting new people every day – so you can practice being visually bold with strangers you probably won’t see again anyway.  You can try something wildly different, then go home having discovered a new style for yourself.
  6. You get to travel REALLY light.  I think this speaks for itself.  I’ve got to try this at least once because I’d LOVE to just waltz onto a plane with just a large purse and nothing else.  Sounds divine.
Jet Set LIsette shopping in Dublin
Trying on a dress in Dublin, Ireland

I can see that there might be a few challenges to thrifting your entire travel wardrobe. For example, not every destination has thrift stores waiting for you.  You would definitely need to do some preliminary research to make sure it could be pulled off.

And what if you don’t find anything to buy? I would worry about that except that I saw fellow traveler Iliah Grant-Altoro look amazing at the 2018 Women in Travel Summit despite having to wear the same outfit for 4 days straight (thanks to the airlines losing her luggage). She rocked her all-black outfit accented by hot pink lipstick, and looked so gorgeous that I it didn’t occur to me she was wearing the same thing day in and day out. If she could pull this off at a conference where you DO see the same people every day, why couldn’t I wear 1 or 2 outfits on a regular trip?

Honestly I think the hardest part for me would be donating everything back at the end of the trip. I think if I found something marvelous, I’d have to bring it home with me. My plan would be to bring my handy foldable travel bag that I usually pack in case of unexpected travel purchases. That way if I really need to bring some treasures home I could.  But I definitely would keep the intention of donating at the forefront.

So what do you say?  Anyone up for this packing (or rather anti-packing) challenge?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.  I think we could start a packing revolution.

[Photos taken in Ireland by Will Austin)

Comments (2)
  1. Avatar

    This is fabulous! You explained the concept far better than I ever could and showed me even more benefits!
    Is that you in the green dress? You look incredible!
    Thanks for the shout out, it’s appreciated, though really, the biggest bonus was talking to you.

    • Avatar

      Glad you like it and so glad we spent some time chatting about this topic! Yes that’s me in the green dress (in Dublin – and yes I bought it) – thanks for the compliment! So glad we connected. Let’s brainstom some more travel/clothing topics and ideas!

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