the stylish traveler

Yes you can travel comfortably and stylishly. Click on images below for links to items shown.

Yes you can travel comfortably and stylishly. Click on images below for links to items shown.

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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37 Comments

  1. Susan
    September 29, 2014 / 4:38 am

    You have given such good tips here and I do think it is important to realize that a traveler on her feet all day and mostly outdoors, does have different clothing needs than a local person. I have the EF slouchy ankle pants you suggest in the shopping part of your post and I have been enjoying them immensely.

  2. September 29, 2014 / 5:05 am

    Such good advice! Especially the part about accepting that you will never be dressed as well as the “locals.” This is always the hardest part for me…particularly in cities. On our first big trip (3 months to New Zealand and Australia) I didn’t take jeans. When planning and packing, I had been concerned only with the walking, hiking, driving aspects of the trip. I felt soooo silly when we stopped in cities…I wanted to wear a sign that said “I look much more stylish when I’m at home.” Now I always pack an outfit that I would feel good wearing shopping or out to dinner in the city….and that means at least one pair of jeans, for me.
    Sigh. It’s been such fun reading your travel posts over the last year or so. Fun to realize there are other women out there who worry about such things as which shoes to pack:)

  3. Julie
    September 29, 2014 / 5:10 am

    I discovered your blog when preparing for a trip. I googled what to pack for a week in Paris and voila….your blog appeared. I have read it daily since. Could you advise me on what to pack for a week in Beverly Hills and Santa Barabara in early November? Merci!

    • une femme
      September 29, 2014 / 6:35 am

      Julie, I’ll put together a post for fall/winter travel in Southern California. Look for something in a couple of weeks.

      • Julie
        September 29, 2014 / 7:14 am

        Oh thank you so much. Im especially concerned with footwear for the season. Having never been there….im lost.

  4. pamlally
    September 29, 2014 / 5:20 am

    Great post- we just got back from 2 weeks in France and Belgium and I agree about (1) comfortable shoes (for me they’re black sneakers- we walked over 10 miles every day!), (2) washable shirts (the EF ones you recommended in previous posts), and (3) jeans (wore them very day out and about- since I wear them all the time at home, I feel “myself” in them and can style them). Layering was essential- I started the day with shirt + sweater + scarf, and was able to take off/put back on the sweater and scarf depending upon weather and location. I also brought 3 dresses and a pair of dressy heels- esp in Paris people dress up at night so it was once to be able to “kick it up a notch” at night (I’d recommend dresses that are knits that pack small and don’t wrinkle).
    People watching in Paris this trip: street shoes looked much more comfortable that previous years: most women wore ballet flats and flat sandals, some wore sneakers, and but hardly any wore heels (during the day).

  5. September 29, 2014 / 6:06 am

    It begins and ends with the feet! I agree, comfort shoes are a top priority. I agree with all your tips. I like to pack silky underthings that can be washed in the hotel sink. I also plan on buying a couple of clothing pieces while I travel, so I pack light. xo

  6. Linda
    September 29, 2014 / 6:19 am

    Such a timely and useful post! I’m planning a week trip to Paris in January (for my Birthday) and have already started thinking about my travel wardrobe starting with shoes. I’m planning to wear my boots on the plane, take a comfortable pair of booties, and an pair of Dansko shoes. I’m following your advice (from a previous post) and taking two pairs of jeans (Eileen Fisher skinny black and dark blue) and a pair of black ponte pants. I think I’ll take about three cashmere sweaters (dark blue, black, and grey) and some long sleeved silk tee shirts. I might take one of my Foxcroft shirts. I still haven’t decided what winter coat to take, or if I should purchase a new one. I live in a pretty cold place, but I’m thinking my puffer coat will be way to bulky. Do you think a short wool coat worn with the sweaters will be warm enough for doing a lot of waking in the Paris winter?

    • September 29, 2014 / 1:27 pm

      Linda, where do you live? I live in Montréal, and never take my warmest winter coat when travelling to Paris or even to Amsterdam (which is colder) in the wintertime. Obviously it depends on the woollen coat, but that should be fine. You may get some rain, but you can always buy a cheap umbrella at a street market.

    • September 29, 2014 / 1:29 pm

      You should be fine – I’d recommend though packing a pair of long underwear, along with the requisite scarf, hat and gloves! Seriously, they take up very little room in your suitcase and can make a huge difference in keeping warm. Jeans are fabulous for traveling but they aren’t the warmest and if they become damp, can be chilly!!! Also, one thing I’ve found with scarves – I generally take 3 and in the winter make sure at least one of them is heavier – wool or cashmere. As Une femme has said it is all about layers!!!

    • Sue
      September 29, 2014 / 11:21 pm

      I live near Paris and most years in January you would need a puffer coat for warmth outside, but lighter layers underneath as it can be hot inside buildings.

  7. September 29, 2014 / 8:25 am

    Footwear is my number one priority for travel. Comfortable and hopefully light. Clothing that can be washed out in a basin and hung to dry is desirable. A tunic with leggings and a nice scarf can be worn for many dressier occasions. As I usually go to Paris in the early spring, I always take clothing that can be layered.

  8. Hostess
    September 29, 2014 / 8:36 am

    I have been reading your posts on travel and packing tips for Paris. I plan to use a carry on too and think shoes will be my biggest challenge as we will be walking lots of miles each day. I plan to bring ballet flats for dresses but am not sure what to do about everyday shoes. My runners are too clunky but they offer the best in comfort. Would like to see what brands you prefer as you always look so chic.

  9. September 29, 2014 / 8:47 am

    I’m more on board with what you do now. I was a typical “gotta have everything just in case” packer for a long time. Large & heavy suitcase, always checked. No more. I not only don’t want to lug that damn thing around, wheels be damned, but I like the freedom of having less choices. It really is freeing!

  10. Duchesse
    September 29, 2014 / 9:01 am

    For me, it depends on where I am and what I’m doing. In Paris, we are often with local friends and in places where I like to more or less fit in, such as dinner parties in their homes. In Delhi, I am not going to wear a sari, so of course look like a Western tourist and face factors (heat, modesty requirements) that do not pertain in Paris. So for me, packing depends on the focus of the trip. In Europe I wear a great deal of black jersey, packable, relatively stylish and easy to accessorize.

  11. September 29, 2014 / 9:15 am

    I want a travel wardrobe that can work with all my activities. I like a pair of great looking travel pants that I also wear hiking. The same for a great shirt. The key, as you have stated, is to have all the clothing in neutral colors. The pizazz comes from well chosen accessories and a couple of cute tops.
    I think a lot of women psych themselves out. They wan to look the best in the room and bring too much stuff. If you focus on looking “nice” instead of “the best” you bring a lot less stuff.

  12. nell
    September 29, 2014 / 10:03 am

    Dressing for travel is a mini version of how I dress here. My skirts are even more likely to be denim, since that is easy and versatile, and as pamlally so perceptively pointed out, I know how to “style” them. Maybe one silky skirt for dinner out. Tights (depending on weather), jacket and cardigan that works with all the skirts. Shoes– loafer-type, and at least one pair of ballet flat-tish ones or ones with a more elevated heel. The fun is with my shirts– colorful, classic cut button downs. They HAVE to be in flattering colors, to make up for the other boring restrictions of travel clothing. So maybe a french blue, orchid-y pink, smoky turquoise. Other travellers tend to stick to neutrals even in their tops, so I like to break out a bit with my trademark color.

    And I try to get variety by wearing my boldest baubles. A chunky steel watch, long irregular strands of pearls I can wrap in a million ways and wear with everything, a sterling byzantine bracelet, steel bangle, chunky curb link bracelet, etc.

    You don’t have to bring much at all, if you bring what you love and suits the climate…

  13. September 29, 2014 / 10:11 am

    That lovely blue scarf really stood out to me .. quite pretty!

    Monica.

  14. September 29, 2014 / 10:34 am

    Make one of your pairs of shoes “waterproof”. Wet and cold feet will ruin a good puddle-jumping day Also, if you are not a dress person, don’t take one. You won’t wear it. Theresa

  15. pink azalea
    September 29, 2014 / 11:47 am

    We are in Paris now, sitting in our apartment drinking wine and listening to the rain outside our window. I read your post about about Paris in October and used many of your ideas in planning my clothes which have worked out just fine. We like traveling with a single carry-on each too. I have had so much fun looking at the fashionable Parisians. The young women are especially charming and pretty and I’ve also seen some very sexy men!

  16. Lady of Style
    September 29, 2014 / 1:06 pm

    I especially love your last point “be yourself! For example, I do take dresses when I am travelling because I love them and that’s me… I’d never change into shorts and trainers because that’s not what I’d wear at home.
    Living in a very popular tourist area in Bavaria, Germany I often wish some visitors wouldn’t dress like tourists 😉

    Annette | Lady of Style

  17. September 29, 2014 / 3:36 pm

    I love the suggestion of accessories for those pops of colour. For all those photographs, a fancy scarf really adds a put together look. It’s my go-to when it comes to trip packing these days.

  18. plutrell
    September 29, 2014 / 5:21 pm

    For me it is all about the shoes…I have to be comfortable when I travel…but your tips are great and I love that pop of blue!. Look forward to your first view from the window!!

  19. September 29, 2014 / 11:22 pm

    Great tips! I think it’s quite difficult to wear stylish yet comfortable clothes when traveling. I usually pact too many pieces. Have a wonderful week!

    Jasmine

    For a Real Woman Instagram Bloglovin

  20. pink azalea
    September 30, 2014 / 1:35 am

    Oops, I didn’t exactly respond to your question. Yes to comfort in shoes and clothing. And layering in order to adjust to weather. Found museums warm, but they had good coat checks. I have read your blog regularly and between you and your readers, it has really been helpful with packing and trip planning.

  21. Ellen
    September 30, 2014 / 6:22 am

    There is nothing to disagree with here, but it seems to stop short. I had to laugh about two silk Tshirts and a vest being warm enough for anything, even 40 degrees! You must have never been to Chicago in the winter, nor Minneapolis, where I live, or Toronto…or the Baltic countries in September. So in repsonse to the reader going to Paris in the winter: I know that living in a cold city, as I do, we accustom ourselves to dressing for varying temperatures, but we forget that when we experience that cold temperature, we may not be out walking around in it for hours; rather, we are walking across the parking lot from our warm car, or perhaps on overheated public transportation. Most of us in the North have more than one warm coat, and there are the things that we wear when its below freezing, and warmer things that we wear when its below zero. If I know I am going to be outside touring around, I dress for a temperature slightly colder than the actual predicted one, so i can be comfortable as long as I need to be out.

    If I were going to Paris in the winter, I would probably tuck in some leggings, or silk long underwear, to wear under my jeans on the days I would be out walking about, and something similar on top (look online at WinterSilks). I would pack socks to wear in my boots so my feet would be warm, and rather than my big puffer jacket, I would probably take my ultralight down which keeps me warmer than any wool coat, but is still light enough to wear if its 50. Unlike the wool, it sheds rain (although its not totally waterproof). Luckily for me, I am going to Paris in two weeks, so can stroll about at still comfortable temperatures!

    • une femme
      September 30, 2014 / 6:30 am

      Hi Ellen, just to clarify, I didn’t mean to suggest that tees and a vest would be “warm enough for anything.” I was sharing my experience of using lighter layers rather than a bulky layer where I might normally have worn a heavier coat. As I said in the post, “unless you’re traveling in the dead of winter…” When we go skiing in Colorado in February, there are definitely parkas involved! As Sue mentioned, indoors can be overheated in winter, so lighter layers underneath that parka are definitely helpful.

  22. September 30, 2014 / 8:26 am

    My greatest packing triumph was last fall: two weeks in Tokyo and Kyoto with one carry-on. As others have said, it did begin with the shoes: I wore my comfy but stylish sneakers on the plane and packed a pair of flats that I knew would be comfortable all day. One lightweight dress, one pair of light army green chinos, one pair of jeans that I think I wore only once; one long-sleeved button down and two t-shirts. My favorite purple scarf, and a lightweight raincoat completed the capsule.

    One key for us was being able to stay partly in an Air BnB that had a washer. (No dryer, they are still uncommon in most homes in Japan, so we had to line-dry and with the humidity that was tough.) Also, I had planned to do a little shopping 🙂 so by the end of the trip I had added another lightweight dress, a tunic, and a shirt. All of that carried me through sight-seeing, hiking in the Kyoto mountains, two family parties, dinner with friends, visits to temples, and brunch in an upscale restaurant.

    I think it does have to do with attitude. After many trips to Tokyo I had to accept that Tokyoites were always going to be more stylish than me, and embrace that I was a traveler, with a traveler’s style. We had a great time!

    I love these travel posts, it sets me day-dreaming about the next trip I’d like to take…!

  23. Sally
    September 30, 2014 / 11:20 am

    These are great thoughts and suggestions from everyone. I’m still stuck on socks! I’m still looking for no show socks that don’t fall down at the heel. Does anyone have suggestions about no show socks?

    • KateS
      October 3, 2014 / 6:18 am

      Sally, Smartwool has great footies that are super lightweight and don’t fall down. The style name is Secret Sleuth and I got mine at 6pm.I have mild problems with Raynauds but I hate wearing bulky shoes and socks to work and these work wonderfully under most of my work shoes. They don’t quite work for ballet flats(at least not mine).

      • Sarah Harvey
        October 3, 2014 / 8:29 am

        Thank you so much–I’ll give them a whirl. Sally

  24. September 30, 2014 / 11:25 am

    When we travel, it is usually for 2 months. And we travel a lot to Europe. I have learned that I can take almost anything, it is in the packing. I roll and put stuff in plastic ziplock bags as they help keep out the wrinkles. I also pack my best clothes. Europeans always seem to look nice and very stylish. Shoes, are one of the keys. Italians look right to the feet and check out your shoes. The last time we were in Italy, the Italians came right up to me and started to speak Italian. They thought I was a local. You can look fabulous with really nice knits and ladies wear your best clothes. What are we saving them for? I just love your posts, Trish and love the book. You are such a lovely lady!

    • Sarah Harvey
      September 30, 2014 / 1:18 pm

      Debi I loved your comment about Italians and shoes! I had that experience in Italy (a woman loved my European looking Merrell sneakers) and in Paris (wearing edgy Pumas). I guess I looked local in Paris because the young woman looked shocked (after asking me where I got those sneakers) when I opened my mouth and spoke English! I was thrilled of course. And wearing your best clothes? Why not indeed! Best, Sally

  25. Louise
    September 30, 2014 / 1:49 pm

    Good tips. Years ago I also had the “aha!” moment when I realized that people in the city I was visiting had access to their entire wardrobe and probably laundry facilities. Since then I have tried to pack a small but versatile wardrobe that can be adjusted to nearly any eventuality. I generally only take 2 pairs of shoes plus a pair of cheap flip flops for showers, hotel rooms, beaches, pools, etc. Sometimes, if my trip will include a number of “dressy” events I will take a third pair of dressier shoes, but I never take more than 3 pairs. I also layer or use a base layer (silk or wool in the winter) to keep me warm in colder weather. As you have noted, a silk tee can work under dressy clothes or casual clothes and provides warmth without bulk.

  26. Judy
    November 29, 2014 / 7:33 pm

    Here is my belated opinion, and honestly I don’t want to offend anyone. I was in Paris for two weeks the first half of October, and it was fairly mild, not too cold. I was alone but had French friends of long standing to see. I had a couple of different outerwear options, and really, that was all that mattered as far as my “street self.” I wore the same damn things most of the trip, and who was to see me? (Alas, no romance.) I wore what I usually wear in NYC and, now that I’ve lost weight and am fairly slender, what makes me feel comfortable and attractive. A few favorite tops and an old denim pencil skirt and a new coated-denim black stretch denim skirt. And some lovely new scarves. But really … if you don’t have a husband to dress for, and I think most husbands couldn’t care less, WHO are you guys dressing for on your trips, except yourself? Nobody cares! Just dress for yourself.

  27. Judy
    November 29, 2014 / 7:37 pm

    and actually that is what What Femme recommends, above. The only thing you need to worry about is your footwear!

    • Judy
      November 29, 2014 / 7:39 pm

      er, Une Femme. No edit function here, I guess! Dommage.

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