When le Monsieur and I began traveling overseas ten years ago, I was clueless about how to pack. I overpacked, I brought lots of bulky “just-in-case” pieces that were never worn, and realized after our first couple of trips to Europe that I’d worn most of the same few things over and over.
Over time I’ve learned to pack more successfully (up to 3 weeks in a carry-on) and have not invested in a separate travel wardrobe.* When it’s time to pack, I pull from tried-and-true pieces I’d normally wear at home. First, it makes putting outfits together easier; I know what goes with what. Second, travel can be a disorienting experience. I find that wearing familiar, comfortable clothing helps me feel more like “myself” when I’m away from familiar surroundings.
So when I shop for my everyday wardrobe, I keep packing in mind. Not everything I purchase is intended for travel, but I’ve learned to prioritize travel-friendly features, especially with regard to my core basis.
5 Tips For A Travel-Friendly Wardrobe
- Start with the shoes. Do you have a pair of shoes in your wardrobe that are comfortable enough to walk in for hours, and that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear to meet friends for lunch? If not, that should be your top priority. To keep my luggage light, I prefer styles that can go from sightseeing to dinner. I like ankle boots for all but the warmest conditions, but loafers, Mary-Janes, brogues, or even a sleek sneaker will work. Some don’t like to travel with sandals, but in hot weather I’ll opt for a supportive and well-fitting sleek pair of sandals. No matter the type of footwear, be sure there’s enough padding in the sole for comfort on a variety of surfaces. Chances are you won’t need anything formal for most leisure travel, but if you do a pair of low-heeled pumps should cover it.
- Master the basics. I build my travel wardrobes around a core of basic pieces that can be dressed up or down, and re-mixed in multiple combinations. I find separates provide the most versatility, as long as most of the tops go with most of the bottoms. I’ve found that neutrals (black/navy/grey/white/taupe/brown) work best for the core. The goal is cohesion; you want pieces that work well together in multiple combinations. Don’t worry, you can add color accents to this foundation, and/or dresses if you prefer.
- Think lightweight layers, and Ban the Bulk. Temperatures in any destination can fluctuate, and being able to easily add or remove layers is key to staying comfortable. Bulky, heavy pieces will not only be more difficult to layer, but will take up more space in your luggage and add to its weight as well. If you’ve ever had to shlep around a heavy coat for several hours while sightseeing because a chilly morning gave way to a sweltering afternoon, you’ll understand.
- Be selective about fabrics. In addition to light weight, look for fabrics that breathe, are washable, resist wrinkling and aren’t too delicate. I’m a big fan of knits for travel. I love silk jersey for base and mid-layers. (Good quality silk is actually very durable.) Merino wool handles temperature fluctuations well and doesn’t absorb odors. Linen jersey is a good option for warm weather travel. Cotton can be light and breathable, but can take longer to dry when wet. Modal is a soft, breathable fabric that lends itself well to tees and tops, and will dry more quickly than cotton. If you’re going to travel with denim, some of the modern fabrics that blend cotton with rayon, tencel and even polyester will be lighter and dry faster.
- Focus on Fit and Function. I find the best travel clothes are cut fairly close to the body, but with ease. You want to be comfortable and able to move, but don’t want a lot of extra fabric flapping around. Again, this is where knits often perform best. Pieces that can layer over or under other pieces, or do double-duty (e.g. a cardigan that can be worn open as a top layer or buttoned as a mid-layer) will help you get more from your travel wardrobe.
*For those whose travel includes activities like mountaineering, horseback riding, kayaking, etc., of course you may need to bring special clothing or equipment that’s not part of your daily wear.
What are your favorite pieces for travel?