When I’m traveling, I want to feel comfortable, prepared, and ready for whatever adventure may come my way. To best experience another country, I have to be able to say yes to an unexpected dinner, an invitation to a weekend house, or a tour of my host’s favorite sights. Being ready for all these possibilities might bring up visions of people traveling with trunks of luggage piled high, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Over the years, I’ve perfected a technique to pack light and look put together, while being ready for whatever may come my way. These rules apply in any country, for any season, and will work for anyone!

Have a foundation

The little black dress is a popular idea because it serves a lot of purposes at once. I take that theory and apply it to all the items I consider my foundation for travel. Can I dress it up, dress it down, feel comfortable, and look good? If so, then it might be a foundation piece. Usually, these are basic colors and simple cuts, so I can layer in colors and accessories. I also want pieces to be more basic so they can mix and match. It’s amazing how a simple top can be transformed depending on what it’s paired with!

Another consideration is any local cultural standards for modesty, especially if there are historic sites. If I’m traveling to a holy city or another religious area, I’ll pack something more conservative and remember details such as a shawl. It may be scorching hot in Italy in the summer, but to go into many churches it’s important to have something to cover your shoulders. This is both respectful and feels better. After all, you can’t tour the Vatican in a minidress! Many churches even have someone at the door to make sure you’re appropriately dressed. A large scarf or pashmina in a basic color can pack into a small bag and save the day.

Plan for the unexpected

To pick my wardrobe for a trip I’ll consider the season, events I know I’ll be attending, and finally events I would like to go to. Just because I haven’t booked plans to visit a certain area, or eat at a restaurant I’ve read about, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I never know when I might meet someone interesting who invites me on a trip to their village, or a day on a boat. It’s important to plan for whatever could come my way. That’s the fun of travel!

At this point my suitcase might include comfortable day clothes in simple colors, a dress that can be formal or informal, and a few basic layers such as a shawl, sweater, or coat. This is about 1/2 of my packing.

Footwear and accessories

Balancing comfort and style is difficult in shoes, but it’s no excuse to look shabby. While it’s important to have comfortable walking shoes to see the sights, it’s just as important to have something that looks nice for special events and evenings. One of the reasons I love to travel is to get to know the local culture. That could mean that I am invited to someone’s home or a special event, and it would be disrespectful to show up in sneakers! I always pack shoes that would look appropriate for a nice dinner. I also try to have several shoes, because I might be walking and using them a lot. Being able to change footwear can help sore feet recover.

And now my final tip: jewelry and accessories.

This is the secret weapon to looking great without having a massive suitcase. Earrings, necklaces, and bracelets can change an outfit entirely from day to night and make everything look pulled together. As a bonus, I like to buy jewelry when I visit somewhere known for it. If there are local artisans producing something, I will buy it to support the local economy, and then wear it on my next trip. These always make great conversation pieces!

My mother is known for her chic way of dressing, and people always remember her for it. She represents herself and her country. I always keep in mind that travel is a time to get to know another country, but also to represent my own culture and heritage — in my case, America and Venezuela. I want to set a good example for myself and my home, because I might be the first person with this background someone has ever met. If all goes well, hopefully we’ll meet again!