Maybe I’m just old-school 😉, but I like to look neat and pulled-together when I travel. I also insist on comfort and practicality. Regardless of the destination, I have a few tried-and-true guidelines for what to wear for travel days.
Airport Style, My Way
Above: Tank | Tee (similar) | Scarf | Cardigan (similar) | Backpack | Pants | Shoes (similar) | Suitcase
As I do when planning a travel wardrobe, I’ll start with the shoes.
Though it seems to be required less often than a few years ago, the possibility of having to remove shoes while going through security keeps me away from lace-up styles. And I prefer shoes that provide some coverage and protection for navigating airports or other public spaces. (If you’ve ever had someone who’s not paying attention roll their heavy wheeled bag over your foot, you understand why.) And they should be comfortable and supportive enough for hours on your feet.
I often travel with ankle boots, but I understand that during warmer months that may seem like overkill. If so, I’d recommend either loafers or a slip-on sneaker. These styles are offered in multiple widths:
Naturalizer | Dr. Scholls | Munro (similar) | Naturalizer | Clark’s | Softwalk
Some people are always warm on airplanes…most of the time I’m cold. But it’s unpredictable, so I always dress in layers that can be added or removed as needed. For this reason, I like to keep my travel day clothing simple and close-fitting. No stiff or voluminous styles, and no flapping bits. I tend to stick with dark colors as they are less likely to show dirt or spills.
I usually travel with jeans, but I’ve stopped wearing them on flights. I know conventional wisdom says to wear your heaviest, bulkiest pieces to keep luggage light, but I’m willing to make that tradeoff to be comfortable on a long flight. I’ll usually wear either my Eileen Fisher ponte knit pants (during cooler seasons) or stretch crepe pants (during warmer ones). Both styles available in Misses, Petites and Plus. And here’s a cropped style with pockets! All knit pants will bag in the knees to some degree after hours of sitting, but I find these two styles do less than most I’ve tried.
Many of you have mentioned and recommend these ankle pants from Athleta.
A Spring Travel Wardrobe Capsule
Though I don’t wear them, skirts are another option. (I’d suggest bringing some tights or leggings if needed for warmth.) I’d suggest a knee- to midi-length style, in a wrinkle-resistant knit fabric, that’s full enough to not restrict movement. Here’s one with a nice asymmetrical hem, and a straight style in Plus.
I always plan to travel with at least three layers on top. I start with a knit camisole or tank as a base layer. Natural fibers will breathe and be more comfortable, so my favorites are these silk tanks (Plus).
Next I usually add a knit mid-layer top, usually in cotton, linen, tencel, wool, or modal, depending on the season. I find a top that’s not too snug, but that will layer easily underneath a cardigan works best. You could also opt for a lightweight button front shirt, if that’s a style you prefer. But be sure it will layer easily underneath a cardigan or jacket.
And even in the warmest seasons, I never travel without a cardigan. You can vary the weight depending on the season. I prefer styles that either button, zip or tie in the front, and aren’t too bulky.
I always pack a scarf in my Personal Item (the bag that goes under the seat in front of me), where it’s handy at all times. I like a style that’s large enough to use as a wrap, but not too big and bulky to wrap around my neck. Cashmere, or a cashmere blend is my preference for warmth without bulk, but if you’re sensitive to wool/cashmere products, you can always opt for something in a cotton, silk or modal fabric.
I also keep earplugs and a silk sleep mask handy. Some people like those neck pillows but for some reason I find them more of a nuisance than a help.
What items do you find work the best for travel days?
For a while I always wore skirts on flights. Long, for warmth and so I didn’t have to worry about it riding up if I fell asleep. They seemed easier/cleaner than pants in the tiny airplane restrooms, where who knows what wet stuff was on the floor. Since the advent of skinny jeans (which don’t slip onto the floor), it’s less of an issue.
I like slip-on shoes for the reasons you cite, with no-show socks, not to be barefoot if I have to take them off. Though during extra-strict inspections after the shoe bomber, I chose sandals as the easiest option, but I had to take them off AND show the bottom of my feet. For crying out loud. As if I would be able to walk with something stuck on my feet.
I have a blow-up neck pillow. For a very long flight, it’s good for keeping your head from bobbling around while you sleep.
I have yet to find the right long distance travel outfit. Part of the problem is that I am usually travelling from Sydney to somewhere in Europe which means I will be in my travel clothes for at least 30 to 35 hours by the time I get to my hotel. However one thing I find useful is to have pockets to stash lip balm, tissues etc when in the plane and always dark clothes to hide spills due to tubulance and eating in confined spaces.
another reason to wear shoes that cover your feet, but not heels, they make it easier to evacuate if needed. same with long pants instead of shorts or skirts.
This was very helpful. Thanks!
Agree with all your travel wardrobe. My favorite, however, is a black knit maxi dress with a sweater
Or jean jacket and slip on shoes. If I have to sit for hours, I like nothing around my waist.
This is a great idea!
Good suggestion. I am traveling to Paris and worry
about what to travel in. I was concerned about something tight around my waist. Never been out of the States so nervous about so much. This post helped me.
The one thing I will not travel without are my Bose noise canceling earbuds. Of course it cuts out crying babies and loudly talking passengers but also the constant engine sound. I didn’t realize how disturbing that constant thrumming was until I began using the earbuds.
I do have a neck pillow that I bought from a store in the airport. I sewed tabs in the opening and added a large snap. I then turn it around when I use it , the thickest part in the front. It prevents my head from falling forward and bobbing. With the snap I can then hook it over the luggage handle as I go through the airport. Not the prettiest sight, but I am able to sleep on the plane. We travel to Singapore twice a year and it’s 27 hours (with layovers) to get there. Plus the time zone change, I need to be able to get some sleep.
I always wear compression socks as they truly make a difference in how my legs and feet feel after air travel…also have friends who wear them for car travel. Love skinny, stretchy ankle length pants and layer! Also a neck pillow. Thanks for all the helpful hints!
All knit pants do NOT bag at the knees although it is true that some high end brands do. My favorite pants for travel come from Athleta which makes wonderful pants for travel in a wide variety of styles and sizes. They never get baggy, even after sitting for twelve hours on a plane, and they wash and dry quickly if that becomes necessary. The same company is a great source for packable outerwear as well. The clothes are contemporary, minimalist, and offers styles appropriate for city wear, as well as active athletic activities.
Agree! You want the shoes you take to fit you once you arrive.
Love, love, love the Athleta pants. I have 3 pairs in different colors, and they are my favorite for traveling. You can sleep in them on a 10 hour flight and they look good as new when you arrive. I omce spilled a glass of red wine on my navy pair (I knoooow) on a flight from Houston to Dusseldorf. Blotted them on the plane, rinsed them out in the hotel tub, and they were perfect the next day.
Thank you for this post. I completely agree. My husband and I are heading to Paris for 10 days in September for our 35th wedding anniversary so I am listening closely to all the great recommendations.
J.jill makes a linen and rayon cardigan called the “long and light 2 pocket cardigan” I would recommend trying, especially in warmer weather. They carry it in different colors every season and I’ve ended up with it in black, navy, and teal. It’s a great light layer and collapses into nothing so that it tucks into a tote bag or even a large purse when you don’t need it. When you take it out to wear any wrinkles just fall out. I love this piece for its convenience and versitality and wear it with jeans, skirts, dresses, and leggings.
I like to look put together when I arrive at my destination, but for plane travel I dress in “barely more than pajamas” – old leggings that I can discard if I have to, old sweaters. A scarf if I need it. Shoes with zips or slip-ons. Air travel these days is a cattle drive.
Along this same line, and you’re going to laugh, but……..I wear a polo or tee that I’m planning to give to Salvation Army and a pair of Walmart Tried and Tru Black leggings/jeans on international flights. Never would have owned these jeans except needed something cheap and comfy for a dirty job; where else would I look? Anyway, tried them for a flight and they look great, are super stretchy, don’t bag at knees and are very comfortable for long travel days. I used to be a polished traveler. Still am, but thrifty!
I also recommend the Walmart Tried and Tru knit long sleeved tees. Soft yet not too tight in several colors. A thrifty option for an under layer.
I’d be afraid of looking TOO grubby if going through customs and immigration…
The Athleta Brooklyn pant is lightweight and great for travel plus it has pockets which I must have. I have also discovered t shirts from Outdoor Voices which are quite soft and comfortable. I wore these on a long flight to Asia with a Patagonia nano-puff jacket. This jacket is lightweight and versatile.
Strong second to the Brooklyn ankle pants from Athleta. I now own three pair and find them to be perfect for the hours one must put in at airports and on flights to get from point A to Paris! 😉
Kathy and Lee, Do these pants run TTS? They look exactly like what I have been looking for. How is the fit in the waist? Length? I am kind of thick in the waist even though I am a small size. I am 5’3″ but petites rarely work because my legs are relatively long for my height. Thanks in advance.
Rondi, I’ve tried these pants and found the petite length just a little shorter than I prefer (I also have long legs for my height). You may want to try both the regular and Petite cuts to compare.
I have these pants, and ordered the Tall size because I found them a bit short. They are supposed to be ankle pants but seemed short on me (I’m 5’7”). Tall size worked great.
This isn’t a clothing tip, but might help my fellow economy window seat travelers. I take a quart ziploc baggie, fill it with the things I want at hand–lip balm, eye drops, facial mist, cough drops, etc.–and use a Command picture hanging strip to stick it under the window. Those seat back pockets are getting smaller, and it leaves me room for my iPad, book, headphones. It’s been a game changer on my last two long flights!
Great tip, love it!
Love this idea.
I also recently read that those pockets are a veritable petri dish; people stuff garbage in there and they are not thoroughly cleaned.
Yuck! Next flight, I’m bringing a gallon bag to put inside that pocket! My husband is the king of disinfectant wipes, but we never wipe INSIDE that pocket!
Love this! Command hooks are amazing. You can buy extra sticky tabs so you can reuse them.
This has been very enjoyable reading. I don’t enjoy flying and have not flown in years. But I will be flying in the near future and find this so helpful. I appreciate your comments about looking both pulled together and comfortable. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. And thank you for the featured slip on shoes in 3 widths! I can actually consider purchase and don’t have to pass them by because my feet are ridiculously narrow! Plus I think its a good idea to support manufacturers that provide shoes in different widths. I also love that most of your featured items have several color choices available. Fun!
I think you are spot on Susan for travel. You want to look nice and in fact I have been complimented by fellow travelers on my choices. You must be comfortable and look good. I stopped wearing jeans on very long flights. Tops and cardigans as you mentioned and even an extra blanket.
I just cannot get the shoes. You must wear socks for security in case you take shoes off. You don’t want to catch something so sandles are out and to keep feet warm you need socks. No bare feet in the toilet rooms of planes. So disgustung.
But for the life of me I cannot find a pair of sneakers that look good. I never wear them unless I am exercising. I think they all look awful on most women. No matter the style. But you need comfort. Still a challenge for me.
I am off to Australia soon for a month. I am wearing ankle boots and taking mephisto sandles
With big wedge heel and the velcro….like you have…. Mephisto and Naot have some ok shoes. Not cheap though.
I don’t take any jewelry while traveling. Some countries are more of a concern than others. Even cheap stuff can make you a target. Simple earrings. All my good stuff goes in the lockup box I miss it but for safety, that is what I do.
Jude, consider Merrills for a decent looking sneaker. I call them “shoes for sore feet”. They have a little zipper so quick and easy to get out of for security lines. Same sort of price as Naot but well worth the expense.
Hi Kathy and thanks…. I have looked at Merrills. I have just come to the conclusion I do not like sneakers but to exercise. I see them all over Europe with sequins etc….beautiful but still sneakers…blah.
There are shoes that work but not sneakers. My husband loves them for himself but never white.
I travel a lot for months at a time and I walk a lot. I have stuff that works but the sneakers are for the gym…just my opinion. 🙂
Good pair of loafers are my solution Jude. Have worn on numerous long hauls from Aus and also so useful at any destination or cruising. Enjoy Aus
I learned, when I first started traveling, that there is nothing more useful than a large scarf, shawl, pareo. I always carry one on my flights and anytime I travel. Not only will it keep the chill off on the flight, but you can use it as a swimsuit coverup, a bathrobe of sorts, as an evening shawl. It can also be tied in various ways to create a tote bag/carry bag, a beach dress, a casual skirt. And back in my youger years, it was a good cover for lower budget hotel bed linens. Thankfully, I’ve been able to upgrade my accommodations and it’s not necessary to cover bed linens anymore. The big scarf is still indipensable, though. Don’t leave home without it!
I see your suggested luggage. I am happy to spend the money on the perfect piece of luggage.
My concern is I love rolling thru the airport on 4 wheels but the moment a cobblestone,cracks or uneven surface arrives I’m stuck literally at times. I see this Briggs luggage seems to have a set of larger wheels with a set of smaller wheels does this allow pulling and gliding your luggage?
Any thoughts on the subject from you or your crew would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your timeless advice and oh so cool classic chic savvy style:)
Hi Julia, I don’t have this particular bag, but have two Briggs & Riley spinner (4-wheel) bags that I use regularly for travel. I find that the bags can roll easily on two wheels for navigating curbs and rough surfaces, and I’ve never had a problem doing so. We’ve been very happy with our luggage from this company, and they have a great warranty.
Try Travel Pro. I’ve used my 26 inches all over every type of surface.
I travel frequently, often by air. My latest idea has been to wear the same outfit to fly to and to fly from. I have a “uniform” of sorts: EF jersey tank or tee, EF jersey pants, EF linen cardigan, slip-on type sneakers, socks and stretchy underthings (no wires!) Everything is a neutral color, mostly black, and I carry my cheerful peach and pink sling backpack for the carry-on. I love EF for travel, especially the tencel jersey, because it can be washed in a hotel sink and dries overnight. The pieces I wear on the plane will work with whatever I have packed, so stuff gets double wear. It also forms a good starting point for planning my travel wardrobe if I know what I’m going to be wearing on the plane every time.
We are going on a 12 day trip, 3 days in Venice, 8 days on a cruise ship and one day in Athens. We only plan to bring a roll aboard because of previously lost luggage. I am interested in the luggage you posted. Can I pack for that long in this bag? I have done trips this length with a rollaboard but it wasn’t a cruise. We are traveling with friends and all agree on fashion limitations. Thanks for any ideas.
Hi Gayle, it would really depend on the type of cruise and whether you need to bring formal wear. But I have packed for a 3 week trip to Europe in a similar sized bag, and found it quite do-able.
Thanks, I just wanted to hear you say that! We will be together on the ship for meals and decided we would wear the same pants and shirts every 3rd night! Maybe a different shell and scarf or jewelry? I love your posts, your style and your photos.
Don’t forget packing cubes, Gayle! They help tremendously when trying to get more in a suitcase.
I use travel compression bags and then I can pack easily for 2 or 3 weeks in a roll aboard.
1. A very small cross body bag for wallet, phone, passport. It allows you to sneak on extra stuff when it’s under your jacket. you can also walk around the plane without leaving your valuables at your seat. Baggalini makes great ones, often found at TJ Maxx for $20.
2. Sneakers on the plane when you have to run.
3. One extra thin long shirt in case something gets spilled on you.
4. A black square cotton scarf. Becomes an eye mask, sheet to lie down on, blanket, rolls into a pillow, picnic cloth, extra warmth…a million uses!
I save old underwear and t-shirts as disposable ones for travel which has no time for hand laundry and drying.
For travel in hot climates (Mexico, Vietnam), I rely on my Keen sandals for my daytime needs. In hot climates, sandals are more comfortable then shoes. I have finicky feet, and Keen sandals are always comfortable and waterproof. I also always bring two pairs of Athleta pants and my white shirt from Habitat. Both wash and dry in a couple of hours.
I second the Keen sandals. I love mine, comfortable and waterproof.
As Nauruan does, I carry a small cross body bag too. After knowing someone who had her wallet taken on the plane and reading other stories of this, I decided this was an easy solution. It also gives me an option if I’m going someplace that doesn’t permit large wallets or bags.
That friend was lucky. She spotted the missing wallet before deplaning. The crew held the plane and searched a passenger who had been behaving suspiciously. She had pilfered from three people.
I am going to suggest a Sash bag. They are out if California and are a miracle of design! You do not need to carry a wallet as everything is in the pockets ie card slots ( although I carry a small coin purse in mine for..coins!)
This bag is unusual as it is designed to go across the body and fit close to the hip ( like a sash!) and is adjustable to your height. It can be worn under one’s jacket or coat on a bus or anywhere you might feel your security is compromised. Of course it looks good worn outside of a garment too.
They have introduced a few new variations on the original. I have one in the very luxe black leather but many colors available…I fold mine in half and place in my carry on then pull it out after I am on the plane and wear it so passport, cards, id, cash are all safe and I don’t have a bulky Crossbody taking up room. I think the web site is Sash.com or just google Sash Bag. If you live in Canada they ship out of B.C.
I go often on long flights. Off to Africa in May. My go to travel clothing consists of leggings, a merino wool long tunic sweater (Eileen Fisher), boots or booties or Allbird sneakers depending on the destination. In my carry on I a long sleeve cotton or silk tee. I never go without a wrap…ever…all of mine are versatile and I’ve never been sorry I brought one. I take my Bose headphones and I have “noises” downloaded on my iPad so I can doze to a crackling fire or rain or whatever soothing white noise suits me.
GREAT suggestion!! I never thought of downloading white noise; thank you!!
I use travel compression bags and then I can pack easily for 2 or 3 weeks in a roll aboard.
On long hauls I make sure I wear a soft, pull on knit bra. I also have a very light weight, insulated vest (black reversible to black and white animal print) that can double as a pillow or blanket if needed.
I like Sheldon on Big Band Theory. Like him with his “bus pants”, I wear “plane clothes”. Then I bag them in a cheap dollar store cotton tote, store them in my suitcase and wear them on the return trip. I have been known to wear disosable hotel slippers on the plane (but switch into my shoes to use the washroom). Wet wipes and alcohol hand cleaner are essential. As for the plane blankets, a recent documentary exposed that they are not washed, probably ever. I only use them to sit on anyways, on long trips. Remember, they are touching my “plane clothes”.
Airplane travel has reached a new level of disgusting, and I’ll never touch the pocket on the seat in front of me again. You shouldn’t, either.
The latest news reports on airplane horrors? Bedbug and scorpion bites. It makes you think twice about travelling abroad, for sure.
Why “abroad”? Alas bedbugs are everywhere now. Scorpions depend on the climate.
Thank you again, I always review your site before a trip and have implemented many many suggestions.
I’m about to purchase the Eileen Fisher stretch silk tanks you’ve recommended and have linked to many times, most currently it links to the Eileen Fisher website. Would you tell me if these are the same as the ones listed on the Nordstrom site? They are the same price, slightly different description. If so I’d prefer purchasing them from Nordstrom today. Perhaps provide the link if they are? All the best x
Hi Elizabeth, yes they are the same ones. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/2TCsXqh Thanks!
Great. Ordered. Thank you 🙂
Spot on ! For domestic travel I will wear tailored pants with a zip but I need the stretch ones for longer distance, as overseas travel to Europe, USA is 20 hours +. Only thing I add to your list is compression socks. The one time I didn’t wear them my legs were swollen and uncomfortable for the first few day.
For airplane travel, I wear compression socks with a pair of thin socks over them to go through TSA check. Before I put my shoes back on, I take off the thin socks, fold them in on themselves and stick in an outside pocket of my carry-on. I do a quick sink wash once I get where I’m going, so I can wear them through security coming back home.
I carry a small spray bottle, empty because we do not usually check luggage. I’ve found that the knees on knit pants will “tighten” up if misted with a little water and left hanging overnight to dry. A little misting and hand-smoothing will also take out most wrinkles. I think it works as well as “steaming” in the bathroom and it isn’t so wasteful.
Lands End Starfish pants. Super comfy. Sketcher shoes. They adapt to swelling feet! Fleece jacket (I freeze) Neck wrap
I swear by 5 Units pants (with zip pockets), compression socks, deodorant stick, possum merino jacket or cardigan, cashmere blanket scarf & layers in case I get upgraded. Crumpler luggage is excellent (Aust & Europe). Often shower in the airline lounge at transit b/c we have to travel so long from Oz (worth it tho). Happy travels
Thank you so much for your valuable advice. I have been following you for just about five years. I started while I was recuperating from a heart transplant. Now I am traveling up a storm! I have already been to Italy and now planning a trip this year to Spain. I am having fun organizing my travel wardrobe capsule and my travel ensemble for the plane. Have you ever thought about writing a book with all your wonderful tips and advice? The world is a better place with you in it.
Aww, thanks so much, Nancy! I’m so glad you’re doing well and are able to enjoy traveling!