Oaxaca is a place for artists. Though we saw one group of drunk American chicks wandering past our mezcal bar while we were there, they were the exception to the rule. This magical desert town has an energy that attracts people who are looking for inspiration, and thrive in mystery and ambiguity. Not much English is spoken. The liquor is hard. The food is spicy. The sun is harsh, and the nights are cool.
So when you’re considering what to wear in Oaxaca, Mexico, leave your cardigans at home and channel your inner Georgia O’Keeffe-meets-Freida Kahlo love child. Think flowing cotton dresses, wide-brimmed wool hats, ponchos and bright colors popping against the color of sand.
Also pack a bathing suit and resort wear in case you’re going to Oaxaca’s coast.
Or, don’t pack much and leave room for shopping. I support either approach.
Some helpful guidelines:
- Layers. It’s the desert, an area where you sweat during the day and shiver at night, so come prepared.
- Natural materials. You don’t want to be wearing polyester (itchy and bad for your girl parts), rayon viscose (attracts and retains B.O.), acrylic (same), or pleather (sticks to skin, falls apart quickly). Merino wool wicks away moisture and lets go of odor (more on why I love wool) in all temperatures, cotton is healthy for your skin for a whole day on planes, silk is lightweight and healthy for your skin, hemp is strong and long-lasting, as is linen, and artisan-made leather accessories will last. Why real leather for artisan-made items is better.)
- No dry clean only. The desert was made for line drying. So pack items you can hand wash in the sink and throw over the balcony for a quick dry.
My Traveling Outfit
This was for leaving New York City in December. You might be different, obviously.
- Ably Apparel Sweatpants – I like these because they’re fitted, so they look pretty put-together, plus they are cotton (so comfy for wearing for long periods of time) and stain and odor resistant. Perfect for traveling!
- Ably white t-shirt – Again, has stain-resistant technology, which is crucial if you’re traveling!
- Merino wool hoodie – I used this constantly. A dark grey color ensures if you layer it under a scarf or poncho, no one will know it’s also for hiking
- Comfortable undies in natural fabric.
- Socks – I love merino wool because it wicks away moisture and odor.
- Stylish tennis shoes – Veja or Allbirds, or Adidas Parley if you want to go on an easy hike while you’re there.
- Baseball cap – To protect your face from the harsh sun.
- Mini crossbody purse – I’ve started carrying a mini crossbody purse when I travel, because it gives me quick and secure access to my passport, wallet, and tickets, without me having to take off my backpack. O My Bag has a ton to choose from.
- Passport and Passport case – I’m so glad I brought this case, because I stuck my Mexican visa in here, and still had it when I found out that you need to present your copy to leave Mexico, or else pay for a new one at the airport. I also have my yellow fever vaccination card, extra visa photos, and my international drivers license in here.
- Charging cord
- Mini wallet – There’s lots to choose from at O My Bag.
- Sunglasses – here’s my shopping guide to the best eco sunglasses
This backpack stylistically can go from the city to a hike.
- Portable phone charging battery
- Earbuds – traditional jack for laptop/airplane console, and a dongle if you have the newest iPhone
- Camera and lenses, extra battery, battery charger, extra memory cards – I love my compact but powerful Fuji x-t10, with a wide angle lens for landscape, architecture, and room shots; and a 50 mm lens for portraits and food.
- Matador lens bag and camera bag
- Chico reusable bag with stuff sack
- Grayl purifying water bottle – This water bottle gets rid of bacteria, viruses, and even heavy metals. You’ll never have to buy bottled water while you’re in Mexico
- SPF chapstick
- Mini bottle SPF moisturizing day cream. It’s so great to have this in your backpack or purse at all times, because you’ll find yourself walking around and think, oops! Should have put on sunscreen! Here are my favorites.
- Hand sanitizer – The public bathroom may not have any soap available. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll want to pet a friendly stray cat or dog!
- Portable spork – so you don’t have to use disposable one. Make sure it’s plastic or wood (not metal) so it doesn’t get confiscated by airport security (whoops). Or get a bamboo travel set from Life Without Plastic.
- Pack of tissues – this isn’t for your nose, so don’t think I’m advocating this over a reusable handkerchief. It’s for bathroom emergencies.
- Reusable handkerchief – Yup, this one is for your nose.
- Portable pillow
In My Suitcase
- Lightweight top – These from Beaumont Organic are perfect
- Linen long-sleeved button down – Tradland has some
- Reversible washable tie top – I wore this to the beach and out on New Year’s Eve in Oaxaca. Tie it in the back and it’s a lovely top that goes with any bottom, from jeans to a skirt. Tie it in the front and it’s super sexy. It seems to be sold out at Elizabeth Suzanne, but Whimsy & Row has a linen version.
- Wool or alpaca sweater – like these.
- Par en Par mustard robe/dress – I can wear this as a beach cover up, a dress, or a robe. And Par en Par’s rich colors were made for the desert.
- Jumpsuit – I like the ones from Ozma and Mara Hoffman
- Par en Par culottes – modest, fashionable, and comfortable, they’re super versatile, from the beach to a restaurant.
- Black jeans
- Blue jeans – Try Armed Angels, G-Star, Re/Done, Reformation, Everlane, Nudie, Levi’s, or Kings of Indigo.
- Trousers – All about Jesse Kamm’s sailor pants.
- Easy dress – I like ones from Maiyet or Mara Hoffman,
- White tank – I packed the scoop necks from Groceries Apparel, or try a stain-resistant one from Ably.
- MATTER pants – A must for traveling
- Kayu clutch – I’ve had mine since 2011. It’s a great go-to clutch that matches almost anything.
- Organic cotton yoga leggings – These are my tried and true favorites – comfortable, flattering, versatile.
- Leather jacket – Try one of these.
- Wool or cashmere poncho/serape – So I actually didn’t pack this. I bought a fringed cashmere serape in San Miguel de Allende from Recreo, and it became the most beloved thing in my suitcase! It can be draped around you in cold weather, is appropriate for the city or the resort, and you’re essentially wearing a blanket, but stylishly. If that price tag is too high for you (understandable), try this from Victoria Road, and these from VOZ. You can also buy this as a souvenir when you arrive to Oaxaca.
- Ankle Boots – you can’t go wrong with Nisolo or Fortress of Inca
- Hobes shoes – They flat pack and look super cute on.
- Pons Avarcas walking sandals in camel brown – These last forever and are super comfortable and versatile – I wore them literally every day in Oaxaca. And when I showed up to lunch with Hannah from Manos Zapotecas, I realized she has the exact same pair.
- Chila Bag – You can flat pack this in your suitcase but it holds a lot! I got the camel brown one, which goes with my Pons Avarcas.
- Wool socks – Merino wool keeps your feet cool or warm, and wicks away odor and sweat.
- Sarong – Great as a cover up, towel, or beach blanket. I got mine in India from Anokhi, but of course you can get these anywhere!
- Pajamas – I chose this set because I could wear the t-shirt separately out in public (and did!), and the shorts to the beach.
- Jewelry? – I had so much fun jewelry shopping, that I actually wish I hadn’t packed anything except my ear studs.
- Small off-white cotton scarf – I use this for wrapping my hair a lot. It came free with my Par en Par purchase, but you can easily find a similar one!
- 2 bathing suits – 1 one-piece and one bikini. Here’s my list of favorite sustainable swimwear brands.
- Packable wide-brimmed hat
- Sports bra
- Casual watch
- PurSteam traveling iron/steamer – this thing is tiny, but crucial!
- Travel yoga mat – So you can get a good long stretch in every morning, regardless of where you are. I fold mine up and pack it inside the suitcase.
- 3 bras and 8 pairs of underwear. Here’s my 5 rules for packing undies for travel.
- Universal sink plug – So you can wash your clothing in the sink
- Travel dry line – Drying something on a line as opposed to over the railing or on the floor makes a huge difference in time spent. (I lost my bikini top in Hawaii drying it on the railing!) I like this one because it comes with a stuff sack.
- Waterproof reusable laundry bag – I forgot to bring this and I regretted it! I ended up taking one of the (ineffectual) compression bags Illich was leaving behind. Things will get wet and you’ll want to put them in something waterproof…so synthetics wins out on this one.
- Travel first aid kit – Get a basic one, then add in medications you’ll need, like malaria pills, altitude medication, ibuprofen, imodium, etc. You can always get more medicine where you’re going, most likely, for cheaper than in the U.S.
- Heating coil – Plug this in and it boils your water within a minute. Great for purifying water on the go so you can avoid buying plastic bottled water, or just making tea when you’re in a room without a teapot and no access to a kitchen.
In My Toiletry Bag
- Travel toiletry bag – So, I ditched my eco-friendly but not very organized travel toiletry bag. Illich ordered two sizes of this nylon one, and gave me the larger one and I love it. It has a travel mirror, so many pockets, and isn’t stiff so it takes up less room.
- Argan oil – I can’t live without argan oil for making my hair shiny and smooth, plus sealing in moisture on my face after a shower.
- Coola Tinted SPF BB cream – This is my absolute favorite tinted SPF moisturizer. It’s not too thick and makes your face glow!
- Micellar water – I love traveling with Micellar water, because you don’t need to use water for it. I like Yes to Cucumbers, which you can find in the travel size in your local CVS or Walgreens.
- Reusable cotton rounds
- Ultra moisturizing night face cream – For the arid, mountainous region. My night regenerative balm from Apoterra was a lifesaver in Mexico.
- Body lotion – this one from Osea comes in the travel size.
- Balm – for moisturizing your lips, cuticles, or cracked heels. After a month in Central Mexico, my feet were wrecked.
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste – I have to admit, mine is plastic, because I wanted a compact toothbrush with a protective cap.
- Deodorant – here’s my roundup of my favorites.
- Mini hair iron and/or hairdryer – I did not have room to bring both, though I wish I did! I went with the hair iron.
- Mini hair brush
- Hair elastics
- Reusable metal nail file – great for both filing and digging crud out from under your nails. I’ve lost mine and I’m desperately searching for another.
- 1 matte lipstick – I like Jane Iredale lipstick in red
- 1 lip tint – Something more subtle and beach appropriate
- Shower bag – Having all my shower stuff in a separate bag is crucial to ensure I don’t leave things behind in the shower. I consolidated everything for a side trip to an eco village, and guess what: I left several things behind in the shower.
- Shampoo and conditioner – At first I packed full size, because I didn’t want to keep buying and ditching bottles, but damn, they take up so much room and I finally gave up and got two travel sizes.
- Multipurpose soap – This one by Akamai is amazing for shaving as well as cleansing.
- Soap box by Life Without Plastic – They have a whole travel set if you’re a DIY beauty type of gal!
- Shower cap – I got one from Shhhowercap that wouldn’t be thrown away by the cleaning people the way small plastic ones are, but it came in over-the-top, wasteful packaging, so I don’t recommend it. But once I had it, I stuffed it in a little cotton bag.
- Safety razor and razor blades – I switched to this because it’s less wasteful and less expensive than the fancy razors. Just be aware, you need to check these – they might confiscate them at airport security.
- Sunscreen – Here’s my guide to non-toxic sunscreen
- Dr. Bronner travel sized – Great for if the place you are staying doesn’t provide hand soap, or if you need to wash your clothes in the sink.
- Earplugs – Get them on a string so you don’t lose them when they fall out
- Safety pins
- 1 mini bottle LURK perfume