When we began traveling to Europe several years ago, I spent a lot of time worrying about “not looking like a tourist,” and consequently over-packed and brought along a lot of bulky clothes that weren’t travel-friendly. I quickly realized that most of the “locals” wherever we went have different demands on their wardrobe than someone who is visiting; what you’d wear to get up and go to work is probably a bit different that what you’d wear to be on your feet all day sightseeing. The “locals” also often have access to their armoires full of clean and freshly pressed clothing, so may look crisper than those of us living out of suitcases. My goal now is to create a travel wardrobe that’s comfortable, appropriate (for climate, culture and planned activities) and allows me to travel with a carry-on sized suitcase that I can shlep through airports or train stations, navigate up and down stairs and lift over my head to place in a bin or rack. And my wardrobe focus has shifted from “not looking like a tourist” to looking like a stylish traveler.
There are a few general concepts and strategies I’ve acquired over the years that are my starting points to help achieve this. Your travel priorities may be different: some people want more style and color options, don’t want to have to deal with any laundry along the way or have formal events to contend with. It helps to decide before planning your travel wardrobe what’s most important to you, and go from there.
Start with shoes. First, determine what activities are on the agenda, and pick your footwear accordingly. Here’s one area where I’m going to urge you to put comfort first. Nothing spoils an otherwise good day like painful feet. You want footwear, whether shoes, boots or sandals that you can walk in all day without noticing your feet, and that fits securely. You don’t want to slide around in your shoes (not only more difficult on uneven surfaces but will tire you out more quickly) but you also want to be able to expand/adjust if your feet swell over the course of a day. Once you’ve settled on your 2 or 3 pairs of shoes (OK, 4 MAX but one of those has to be what you wear on the plane), then you can focus on clothing.
Neutrals. No your entire travel wardrobe doesn’t have to be black but by keeping your key pieces to one to three neutrals that all work together, you’ll find it easier to travel with fewer pieces that can be mixed and matched. If you need more color, use items like tops and scarves to add two more colors that work with the neutrals and each other. I prefer dark neutrals as they don’t show dirt as quickly, but go with what’s comfortable for you and feels appropriate.
Knits. The majority of pieces I usually travel with are knits. Not only are they comfortable, but are almost always wearable right out of the suitcase, no pressing or steaming needed. They can often be hand washed and line dried. (But if your style is more tailored and you prefer a bit more structure, look for non-iron shirts like these from Foxcroft.) Which leads to the next item…
Lightweight layers. Unless you’re traveling in the dead of winter or to a totally tropical resort, you’ll find that lighter layers give you more options and deal with fluctuating temperatures better than bulky pieces that can’t be worn over OR under another layer. (When we went on our Alaska cruise in 2009, one of the excursions was a helicopter trip to take a walk on a glacier. I layered one Eileen Fisher silk tank and two of the long-sleeved tees under a fleece vest and was plenty warm even without a jacket in 40F conditions.) An adjunct to this is, be wary of clothing with a lot of volume or that has a lot of loose bits. Trying to navigate a narrow turnstile in a voluminous “cascading” sweater or carrying around a bulky coat once the sun is overhead will drive this home. And again, lightweight layers will be easier to wash if needed.
Be yourself. By this I mean stick to the same kinds of clothing styles that you’d normally wear and feel most yourself in (taking climate, culture and activities into account). It’s disorienting enough being in new environments and different time zones; you at least want to feel at home in your own clothing. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t maintain a separate travel wardrobe, but tend to consider travel when I purchase for my day-to-day wardrobe. Resort vacations may encompass some exceptions to this…if you’ve always wanted to try a kaftan, there’s your opportunity. Likewise outdoor adventure type jaunts…break out the cargo vest and hat with mosquito netting!
What are your priorities for travel clothing?
TRAVEL-FRIENDLY CLOTHING YOU’LL WEAR AT HOME TOO…
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