3 Fashion Essentials from My Semester Abroad

Finding the elusive balance of versatility and fashion.

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Hello America! You look good! It’s been awhile.

This weekend, I returned home from a semester in Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg is a small city near the boarder of Germany. It’s the epitome of charming, with hundreds of years of history in each building, winding stone streets, and stunning views of the Alps. I missed a lot about home and it’s nice to be back, but I will always cherish my time there.

My travels weren’t limited to Salzburg, however. Over the course of this semester, I visited 11 countries. I never expected to do so much traveling, but I had so much fun in every place I went that it was hard not to. I even spent two weeks mid-semester backpacking across the continent.

What I Learned, Style-Wise, While Abroad

I learned a lot about myself over the three and a half months I was abroad, but nothing was more surprising to me than the realization that I can be very low-maintenance when I want to be. I never expected to be able to live out of only one backpack for two weeks, or even to live out of only one suitcase for a semester.

Living the travel lifestyle and wearing a limited wardrobe doesn’t mean you have to give up fashion. When you’re surrounded by all the beauty of your destination, you’ll find tons of fashion inspiration. It’s all about finding the right pieces that will have the versatility travel requires while also appealing to you visually.

I developed some study abroad fashion go-tos over the course of my semester. I recommend everyone figure out what works for them personally, but whether you’re planning for your own semester abroad and for next month’s vacation to New York, I hope this list serves as somewhere to start.

My Top 3 Study Abroad Fashion Go-Tos

1. The Right Bag

I brought the cutest purse to Europe. It was brand new and in super trendy rose quartz. I was super proud of it and couldn’t imagine leaving it behind. 

In reality, it virtually never left my room. When you’re moving around a new city or traveling for hours on end, you do not want a chunky, vulnerable purse with you.

I had read before I left that you should bring a crossbody bag and threw in my old green one as an afterthought. I can’t imagine where I’d be if I hadn’t! I realized quickly that the advice I’d read was sound. Carrying a crossbody bag is the most secure way to travel, and using one, I developed the anti-pickpocketing practice that successfully protected my valuables through 11 countries.

A thin, flat crossbody bag with enough room for your wallet and phone is a must-have, because it allows your to layer your items under your clothing. Some areas, like the Eiffel Tower, are so filled with pickpockets that there are signs everywhere warning you. Some places won’t give you reminders, but the problem will be just as prevalent. A crossbody bag of the right size can actually be placed under your zipped coat, keeping eyes and hands away from the bag. I did this everywhere I felt uncomfortable or had to be in crowds, and it made me feel very secure.

Cross body bag examples

Products, L-R: 1, 2, 3

These bags, in addition to being cute accessories for your trip, are all small enough to zip into the right coat. Speaking of which…

2. A Spacious Coat

I know that when you go out shopping for a jacket, your goal is probably not to buy the most baggy and shapeless coat your can find. I myself tend to favor fitted, belted peacoats that prove I have a body under them.

Obviously don’t go out and buy something that makes you look like a marshmallow, but when shopping for your next trip, consider, for a moment, a new silhouette. I happened to bring a spacious, triangular coat on my travels, and it turned out to be an absolute essential.

A wide coat opens many doors for you. The biggest thing, as I mentioned above, is that it allows for you to fit a never-ending amount of stuff under it, protecting it and you from theft. Shoulder-bag? Check. Travel belt? Check. Fanny pack full of snacks? I didn’t try this one, but I bet it would have fit under my coat! It also helps to have room for layers for the days when you have a walking tour scheduled but it’s below freezing. (Been there, done that. 0/10).

A series of spacious jackets

Products, L-R: 1, 2, 3

The best part is that there are plenty of great ways to rock a spacious coat, and there’s one out there for every style.

3. Sleek Black Boots

This might sound oddly specific, but I cannot recommend these enough. Shoes are something that take up a lot of room, and you can’t roll, smoosh, or suck the air out of them to make them fit the way you can clothes. For this reason, I think it’s important to take a deep breath and cut yourself loose from your shoe addiction, just for your time traveling. I only brought three pairs of shoes to Europe, and only two on my two weeks of backpacking. And you know what? Sometimes I was annoyed. Sometimes I wanted my cute strappy sandals and I didn’t have them. But for the most part, I lived happily with only three pairs.

The trick is packing smart. Your neon pumps are not going to be a versatile shoe to bring. For me, my super essential, literally-would-have-died-without-them travel shoes were a pair of sleek black boots. They weren’t snow or rain boots, but they were tough enough to wear in cold weather and it wasn’t the end of the world if I got caught in the rain. Because they were a neutral color and not too chunky, they could go with most outfits, and they worked for day or night. I never could have made it through my travels without this ultimate shoe for all occasions.

Some sleek black boots

Products, L-R: 1, 2, 3

Keeping the heel low is important for travel, and I found it easier to style shorter boots for more occasions, but it’s still easy to customize this look for your specific wardrobe needs.

What do you think?

Are you headed off on a trip soon? What are your must-have fashion items when you travel? Let me know in the comments!

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