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How Travel Can Influence Your Personal Style: An Interview With Fashion Blogger Maria MacNamara

International style is so much more than berets and bolero jackets, so when I wanted to dig deeper into the global fashion scene, the first person I thought of was world traveler, editor, writer, and style blogger Maria MacNamara. She’s the voice behind the style letters, a blog that’s a love letter to all the people, places, and things that inspire her personal style. So let’s talk fashion, no passport required.

What’s your travel resume? 

I studied abroad for a semester in Ireland in 2001 and lived there for five years from 2003-2008 (Galway for 2 years; Dublin for 3). I’ve also traveled to England, France, Italy, the Canary Islands, Spain, Iceland, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Canada, and Tunisia. Next on the list? The Cayman Islands over Thanksgiving and a Scandinavian trip planned for next summer!

What countries have most influenced your style (and how)?

Ireland: My style was much more classic, girly, and conservative (think twinsets, khakis, and cable-knit sweaters) until I moved to Dublin. I will say this about Dublin girls – they know how to dress, and they know how to dress well. I worked for Brown Thomas [Ireland’s most exclusive department store, akin to Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman] during my three years there, and the style was unbelievable. I met designers like Orla Kiely, Lulu Guinness, Christian Louboutin, and Giuseppe Zanotti while working at the Jimmy Choo boutique. And the stores in Dublin carried the latest trends, long before they hit American shores. I loved reading British Vogue and Glamour and planning my seasonal wish list well in advance.

In Dublin, nights out were like fashion shows, and I think that’s when I became a much bigger risk-taker with trends. It was a chance to experiment with different looks and try things I’ve always loved, but never had the courage to wear. Trial and error (no matter how erroneous) is the best way to figure out what looks best on you, and these were my years to do it.

England:  I think my love for street style, edgy accessories, and the combination of pretty and undone started in London. For example, I fell in love with roughed-up motorcycle boots the first time I saw a girl wear them there with a floral dress and finally bought my first pair this year! I also developed an early obsession for Liberty prints and all things vintage in London, especially the Camden Markets and the sadly defunct Steinberg and Tolkien.

Italy: Italy has always appealed to the glamorous side of me (or the part that wants to be, anyway). I love the leopard print, the bright colors, the sleek sportswear. Prada, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli…I never met an Italian designer I didn’t love immediately. For big nights out or special occasions, I gravitate towards the big, bouncy curls and bright lipstick of many a Dolce and Gabbana model.

What’s the biggest difference between American and European style?

American style is much more laid back overall. Obviously it differs from region to region, but I think Europeans dress up for dinner and drinks much more than Americans do. I cringe when I think of showing up in jeans and a sweater to one of my first grad school parties in Galway; every girl there looked amazing from head-to-toe in dresses and sky-high heels! You feel different when you make that kind of effort for a night out, and it definitely encouraged me to be bold and have fun with style on occasions like that. Everyone needs to glam it up sometimes.

As a seasoned traveler, what are your best packing tips?

First and foremost, LAYER.  It’s the best way to plan for any and all types of weather.  Think thin tanks, lightweight tees (short and long-sleeved), cardigans, jackets/blazers, and a heavier coat, depending on the season.  Throw in a scarf in a neutral color to go with any outfit, and if you’re travelling in the winter, a woolly hat and a pair of gloves.

Pack clothes in neutral colors to mix and match.  Think black, navy, and gray for pants and skirts, and solid colors for tops.  You can create many different outfits from simple, uncomplicated pieces; this cuts down on the need for laundry (or hand washing in the hotel sink), and may save crucial room in your luggage.

Depending on how much room you have in your suitcase, you can always add a printed top or dress into the mix. Also, consider packing a bright scarf, bold cocktail ring, or beaded collar necklace to dress up any outfit. A fun pair of wedges or platforms will take you from dinner to drinks in any city and help you navigate cobblestone streets much easier than stilettos (a hard-earned lesson learned in various European destinations).

Finally, always pack more underwear than you think you’ll need.  Trust me on this.

Carry-on or checked bag?

Most seasoned travelers will tell you it’s best to carry-on for a variety of reasons: no risk of losing your luggage, less time in the airport, the convenience of having everything you need on the plane. All valid, yet I’m not one of those seasoned travelers. I almost always check my bags and here’s why: I’m definitely a girl who needs options, and a carry-on suitcase does not allow for many of these. I over-pack, this is true, but if I’m on an extended trip for a week or longer, I like having all the essentials and a few extras to change things up at a moment’s notice.  I try to follow my own advice above and pack practically, but I don’t like feeling stranded without key items (or potential accessories at that).

I do advise carrying on for short trips, with one caveat: if you plan to shop, pack an empty duffle bag in your suitcase in case you need to check your new purchases on the return flight home. This has saved me from having to wear multiple items of clothing on the plane. (I’m kidding, but an extra bag really can be a lifesaver!)

What are your airplane essentials for a long flight?

Water!  Flights are incredibly dehydrating, so it’s important to drink water throughout the flight and if possible, skip alcohol altogether. For long flights, I go make-up free on the plane (sorry, future fellow passengers) and layer on a heavy moisturizer to protect my skin. Other essentials? Chapstick, hand sanitizer and lotion, ponytail holder, tissues, gum, disposable toothbrush, and healthy snacks for mid-flight hunger pangs. I often get really congested on planes and have suffered an upset stomach more than once, so I always carry medicine for each, just in case. Long flights are rather chilly, so I stash a heavy scarf and extra sweater in my carry-on to keep warm.

About a half hour before landing, I use face wipes to clean my face and apply the following: concealer, mascara, cream blush, a light dusting of powder, and a swipe of lip gloss.  This makes me feel more human when I depart the plane, and makeup is easy to pack in an oversize tote or purse. (Just remember to pack toiletries in a spill-free case that can be wiped clean after the flight.)

As far as entertainment goes, I’m usually asleep before the plane takes off, but on the rare occasion I stay awake, I always have: a notebook and pen, my Kindle, and the latest issues of Vogue and Elle.

Any tips for what to bring vs. what to buy there (when you move to/visit another country)?

If you’re moving to another country: When I moved to Ireland, I packed as if I were going on a really long vacation. Clothes and shoes, makeup and toiletries, an extra duffle bag for weekend trips, and my IPod and camera all made the cut. I also brought photos to frame and mementos from home to give my place a personal touch.

Items that required a different power outlet (like a cell phone, hair dryer, and curling iron), I bought in Ireland once I arrived. Bed measurements vary slightly overseas, so I waited to purchase bedding until I got there, as well as bulky items like towels, pillows, dishes, and all my textbooks for grad school. Every apartment I rented in Ireland came with furniture and appliances, so I lucked out there! I definitely splurged on American fashion magazines and the occasional pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

If you’re visiting another country on vacation: No one likes to pay extra money for things they can buy cheaper at home, but most destinations have a pharmacy or grocery store for forgotten essentials. That said, put these items on the top of your packing list: sunscreen, medicine, contact solution, Band-Aids, and feminine products. Not only are many of these items twice the price overseas in some places, but it’s a huge pain not to have them on hand when you need them. I also include an extra memory card for my camera and a spare pair of contacts.  I prepare for all disasters because I’ve weathered most of them in years past.

As for souvenirs, this differs for everyone. Because I love fashion, I gravitate towards department stores and boutiques we don’t have here in the US.  Many of my favorite scarves and jewelry were purchased on my travels, especially the vintage brooches I collected in Dublin and London. I try to visit Ireland once a year to see family and friends, and I always head to my favorite shops (and home with an armful of wardrobe updates).  A good rule of thumb for vacation shopping? If you can’t get it at home and know you’ll love it forever, buy it. (Within reason, of course.) Happy Travels!

For the latest style updates, visit Maria at the style letters on facebook and Twitter (@styleletters).

Photo courtesy of LuSarah SEAS Photography.

What are your style or travel (or stylish travel) questions?