Your Travel Wardrobe

Spring must be the time for travel, for may of you have been emailing me about what to take on a holiday – be it a long weekend in Mexico or New York City, a 10-day cruise to the Caribbean or two weeks in Europe. More often than not, we travel to a place with a nice climate (Spring or Summer-like temperatures and not terribly rainy) and we travel to places with great sightseeing (museums, famous houses of worship), and often have evening of food, drink, dancing, and experiencing local culture and merriment. Your traditional work wardrobe of trousers and oxfords and your casual collection of jeans, sneaks and fleece will not do. However you can build a wonderful travel wardrobe full of pieces that can fit perfectly into your “normal” life.

The Flight
I have written about this before, there is nothing worse than boarding a plane with a woman in the equivalent of her pajamas. Baggy velour lounge pants, oversized sweatshirt, flip flops and hair thrown into a messy topknot. Yes, you should be comfortable for your flight but you can do this with class and respect to yourself. My mom just went to Mexico for a week – on her flight there and back she wore a pair of refined knit straight-leg trousers, matching fabric shell and cardigan all in black. The knit is comfortable and resists wrinkles, the matching set looked polished and elegant. She was just as comfortable in this as a hot pink Juicy sweatsuit, but looked so much better. I have a matte jersey tunic and pants that I have often worn on flights – again it is comfortable yet refined.

For shoes, wear something that is easy to slip off for your in-flight nap and for security checkpoints. You may have to trek across an airport for transfers, or stand for a long time at the terminal awaiting your taxi or bus, so it’s best to have the shoes be comfortable. This doesn’t mean flip flops or scrubby sneakers; a pair of flats, sandals or simple shoes will suffice and look more elegant. Loafers may also be a great option to look nice, stay comfy and be able to remove them easily.

I always travel with a pashmina – I use it as my blanket on the plane, wrap it around myself if it’s cold in the terminal waiting for my flight. I must admit I have even flung it around my throat to cover a stain that came from my dinner on the plane. I then have it for the trip to use as a shawl with dresses or as a scarf for cool days.

New flight restrictions make it harder to pack for the flight. Ensure you have a quart-sized baggie for all your essentials or else they WILL be confiscated (I know, I lost my favorite lipgloss in the Indianapolis airport…). I carry a hydrating lipbalm, my lipcolor, eye drops (I wear contacts), a Tide to Go pen, a bottle of Purell (I use this on my hands and on the tray table on the flight), and a facial mist (this helps with the dry plane air – I love The Body Shop’s Vitamin E Face Mist) in my quart-sized bag. I also carry a bronzer or powder for post-flight to look presentable and composed, a wide-toothed comb to brush out any bedhead, and a clip or chopsticks to put up hair that is beyond repair from the flight. Be sure to have a variety of reading material – sometimes you just don’t want to read War and Peace on a trip overseas; a magazine can be a lovely diversion (my favorite for flights is Oprah’s magazine – it combines fashion, beauty, finance, philanthropy and self-awareness in one and has lots of color).

The Trip
You should have a general idea of what you will be doing on your journey. Long days lounging at the beach? Hiking through forests to visit Mayan ruins? Pounding the pavement as you venture from one cathedral to another? If you will be doing special activities or athletics, do your homework on Google. With a few searches you can easily find pictures of other travelers who have enjoyed ziplines through rain forests or African safaris. You’ll find travel boards suggesting appropriate gear and attire. These excursions are not about fashion, but function. Just keep in mind that if you do need to wear all neutral shades on your safari, that does not mean you must wear ugly, ill-fitting garments from Sunny’s Surplus. It is possible to find sturdy, appropriate yet flattering garments. Never shop in haste, and then you will be less likely to don clothing you dislike.

Hiking and Nature Walks
This is not the time for you dainty cotton sundress and strappy sandals, yet there is no need to wear hideous garb. Consider the temperature and climate and look for items that provide style as well as function.

If you will be walking through brush or tall grass, no matter the heat you are best to be wearing long pants. This will protect your skin from scrapes, barbs and bugs. Traditional chinos can do; I found a really cute pair of bootcut trousers at REI that has a modern fit, in a neutral color and is of quick-drying fabric. They have a bit of stretch and don’t cling to my legs in humidity. If you know you will be on bare ground, capris can be a great choice. I don’t recommend shorts – I find them to be unflattering, inappropriate in many cultures, they ride up and are not good coverage when sitting on hot vinyl bus seats and performing certain activities. I promise you – a few extra inches will not make you die from hyperthermia.

As for tops, again it depends on the climate. For hot and humid climates, a sleeveless or short-sleeved knit top is a good choice. Companies like L.L. Bean offer Coolmax versions of tops that look like regular knit but wick away moisture but still provide a feminine shape and a bevy of pretty colors. There is no need to go out in public in that stretched-out and oversized silkscreened tee from Hilton Head; respect your body and wear something that flatters your shape and adds color to highlight your face. It’s good to carry a layer – a windbreaker for cool or possibly damp days, a lightweight pullover to guard against brush, bugs and gentle breezes or a sweatshirt if you plan to be out after dark. As with your daily wardrobe, solids are your best bet for versatility, mixing and matching and being less trendy/memorable so they work year after year in your closet.

This is not a time to worry about hat head; wear a hat with a brim to protect your face. Nothing is more unflattering than a burn, age spots and gosh forbid, melanoma. This doesn’t mean you can get away with wearing one of your husband’s baseball caps; look for a flattering hat that can work for this trip, sightseeing in the city and weekends at the pool and beach. I have a crushable straw hat with floppy brim that I bought on sale at a department store that has protected me and made me look attractive for almost a decade. Travelsmith has a packable Panama that comes in a variety of colors.

As for shoes, sneakers can work for simple ground. If you plan on doing major hiking over rough terrain, invest in some hiking shoes. L.L. Bean has versions starting under $50 that are as sassy as your favorite pair of trainers. I recommend a closed shoe to protect your feet from gravel, bugs and nature in general. Make sure these shoes have been worn before your trip and you have a comfortable pair of socks so you finish you day blister-free.

Day Tripping
Day tripping can be a trip to Venice to see the cathedrals, ride in a gondola and have lunch at a sunny outside café. It could be heading to our Nation’s Capital for a few museum exhibits and a stroll through the White House, it could be most any city or established town where your walking will be predominately on solid ground and you will be indoors as well as out, often standing for long hours, visiting houses of worship and dining with friends.

You may be walking all over the city, but that doesn’t mean you need to look as though you are climbing Mt. McKinley. You wouldn’t wear zip-off ripstop pants, big hiking boots and a camera around your neck if you were in your hometown; then why do it in a different one on the globe? You can be comfortable on your feet and still look stylish. Same with the typical tourist look – there is nothing wrong with being a tourist, but that does not mean you have to look like one. Leave at home the fanny packs, the Hawaiian shirts (unless you are in Hawaii), the bright white sneakers, the silkscreened tee shirts, the foam sun visors and the tote bags with logos from another tourist locale. The world is excited that you are a world traveler, but we would rather see your photos than the names of famous cities on your outfit. In many cities around the globe, dressing in this manner is almost a neon sign for pickpockets. Save yourself some grief (and get better service in stores and cafes), and dress in a way that is similar to the locals.

First is shoes – there are shoes out there that are not clunky, athletic but are still comfortable for hours on end. Dependant on the temperature and your taste, a sandal, clog or closed-toe shoe can be quite tasteful and appropriate. Born is a brand that carries extremely comfortable, well made AND stylish footwear. The shoes are not cheap, but they will last you for years of world travel and miles of walking. Merrell shoes are made for the outdoors – some of their styles are very athletic-inspired but many styles would look quite nice for work or for a day of museums. I have a style that looks like a Mary Jane but is comfortable enough to wear all day pounding the pavement.

To prevent slipping, sweating and blisters, peds are a great choice to wear in these shoes. Virtually invisible, they provide the comfort of a sock without ruining your look. I even have peds made specifically for slides that cover the part of the foot that holds the shoe and leaves my toes free. These days, peds come in colors other than white so you can find one that matches your shoe in case part of it peeps out.

Even if it is hot as all heck, there is no reason why you should wear flip flops in public. Flops are for the beach, around the house and pool. They are not real shoes, and podiatrists will tell you they aren’t even that good for your feet. If you care for your walking shoes, they will last you for many many years.

As for clothing, you need to keep in mind that you are visiting a different culture and you need to be respectful of it. Better safe than sorry, leave the spaghetti-straps, minis and shorts at home. As always it’s safer to dress up than down for a day – you never know where you may end up visiting or dining. I do not believe jeans are a good travel garment – they aren’t especially comfortable, they aren’t versatile when placed in social situations and usually look grungy. This is the same with logoed tee shirts (fitted baby tees with logos, or larger shirts with silkscreens) and sweatshirts and most any athletic-inspired clothing.

For day, a pair of capris, trousers or a skirt to the knee or lower is quite lovely. Many houses of worship ask women to cover their knees, so prepare for the day by being properly dressed. A-line skirts in cotton or a cotton blend can be comfortable as well as flattering on a warm day. Capris always look festive on a warm day, and a simple pair of trousers with some stretch will get you through the day and into the night without any wrinkles or bunching.

For your top, a cotton or knit top in a flattering color is always a safe bet. Ensure the top has a feminine shape so you look your very best. A candy pink knit shell with black capris and slides will look cheerful and classic. A leaf green scoop-neck feminine tee with a black and white patterned skirt and sandals will be lovely for any occasion. Be sure to carry a cardigan or shawl with you for air conditioned buildings and to be more modest for houses of worship.

As for a bag, I like microfiber because it works with all seasons of clothing, it’s stain resistant and can be dressed up or down. I have a DJ bag I got at Target a few years ago – it’s about the size of a spiral notebook but thicker, and has a strap that can be adjusted so the bag can be slung over your torso or rest on one shoulder. The bag has a long flap that is secured with a snap and several zippered compartments inside to keep my passport, cash and other valuables safe from pickpockets. The bag is big enough for my camera, a small bottle of water, cosmetic essentials, sunglasses, a travel guide or map and my pashmina. No decoration, no adornments and no logos. It’s simple and works for almost any occasion. I wear it across my body for day trips and shorten the strap to make it a shoulder bag for casual evenings. If your bag is much larger than this, you will not only have sore feet but sore shoulders come the end of the day. Unless you have children in tow, there isn’t much need for a larger bag.

If you will be in a sunny city, make sure you bring that packable hat and your sunglasses!

Evening Affairs
Come evening, you will often be out on the town having dinner, visiting friends or enjoying the city’s nightlife. It is possible to have a packable collection of pieces for an evening out.

I never travel without my wrinkle-free version of the Little Black Dress. Currently I have a matte jersey sleeveless shift I got for less than $30 at Old Navy – it has a surplice bodice and empire waist for interest and hit just at the knees. With pearls and heels I am ready for a cocktail party, with sandals and a turquoise necklace I am appropriate for any restaurant in town. Accessories take little space in your suitcase – consider taking a few extra pieces to dress up or down a simple dress so you are ready for any occasion on your trip. Many companies sell “traveler fabric,” often a version of matte jersey or another synthetic material. Chico’s has an entire Traveler Fabric collection and a nice tank-style dress perfect for evenings on the town. Even Title Nine Sports has a great dress that is available in sleeveless, short-sleeved and long-sleeved versions that can go from museum-hopping to dinner out with ease. You will find that a dress like this will get much mileage on travel and at home – my LBD was worn to my company’s holiday party, a day wedding, to work with a cardigan and on a Caribbean cruise on Formal Night. How many other pieces in your wardrobe are that versatile?

For other evenings, consider similar types of items – dark colors, simple shapes and fabrics that travel nicely and have a bit dressier of a sheen. You can also take your daytime skirts and capris and dress them up with a nicer blouse and more elegant of shoes.

As for shoes, for more casual affairs your day-tripping shoes can suffice. I usually bring one pair of dressier shoes in black leather in case of a more formal affair. For me it’s a strappy black leather sandal with a 2” heel, for you it may be a simple pair of pumps or even some dressy flats. Keep the shoes very simple; if they are black and leather they will usually work for any occasion that isn’t Black Tie.

If you have the room and do know you will go to dressier places for the evening, consider packing a small evening bag. I have a small crepe clutch or a leather one that I often take – it has a detachable strap that comes in handy if you decide to do a little more sight-seeing after dinner. This bag only needs to be large enough to hold your lipstick, passport, cash, and maybe a small camera. Again, you don’t have to carry all of your wares with you. As for a coverup, the pashmina you wore on the plane is a good choice. For more casual affairs feel free to wear a cardigan, though the pashmina would still be appropriate.

Personal Care:
How long does it take for you to do your hair in the morning? Do you fight nature with straightening products, curling irons and such? You may want to rethink your hair while on travel (and possibly once you return home). Hair doesn’t have to be a chore if you have the right cut and tools. All your straightening and smoothing may be a waste in a tropical climate. Try letting your hair air-dry before you leave to see the result. Consider a simpler style. When I travel I let my hair go wavy; I try to wash it at night and let it air-dry as I sleep, adding a bit of styling lotion for definition. I use chopsticks and elastics for updos and ponytails when my hair loses the battle to climate. Nothing is worse than starting your day of vacation cursing your hair or reflection.

This goes for your cosmetics. You should be able to take one “look” of makeup and just intensify it for evening. On my recent cruise I took my foundation, a blush, mascara, one lipstick and one shadow trio. For day I applied just a light shadow, for night I added a darker color to the crease and along the lash lines in place of liner. Spend the least amount of time in your hotel room and the most out in the world. I carried a powder and lipstick for touchups, but because the look was so simple, it required less maintenance.

Sample Wardrobe for Long Weekend in a Mild Climate:

  • Flight – black knit trousers and matching boatneck ¾ sleeve top, candy pink pashmina, black leather Mary Jane-style walking shoes, small silver hoops and bracelet
  • Day One: Black and white print cotton a-line skirt, French blue round-neck tee with a feminine shape, black microfiber bag with pashmina tucked inside, black leather Mary Jane-style walking shoes, silver hoops and bracelet, large black plastic sunglasses
  • Evening One: Black matte jersey shift dress, black leather sandals with a 1.5” heel, interesting silver necklace bought at a market that day, black leather clutch, the silver bracelet and pink pashmina as a shawl
  • Day Two: black stretch twill capris, leaf green sleeveless knit shell, black cardigan tied around the shoulders, small silver hoops, Mary Jane-style walking shoes, microfiber bag, sunglasses
  • Evening Two: The black and white print skirt with a black silk/jersey sleeveless wrap-style blouse, silver hoops and bracelet, the black leather sandals and clutch and the pashmina as a pop of color and for warmth
  • Day Three: the black boatneck from the flight, khaki twill capris, black Mary Jane-style walking shoes, the interesting silver necklace and slim bracelet, black microfiber bag, straw hat and large black plastic sunglasses
  • Flight – Black knit trousers, red round-neck tee with a feminine shape, black cardigan, black walking shoes, silver hoops and bracelet

What Else You Need:

  • Nightclothes. You may sleep commando at home, but on a trip, it’s good to have something on in case of emergency.
  • Small bar of Ivory Soap or equivalent: So great if you have to spot-wash an item in your bathroom sink.
  • Spot Remover: Same reason. I am partial to Tide to Go sticks because they seem to remove EVERYTHING without leaving a ring.
  • Undergarments: Make sure they are comfortable, in good condition and breathable. You will often be hot and not in place to adjust your garments. Take more than one bra because your day bra will get sweaty. Take one more pair of underwear than you think you will need.
  • Proper Appliance Converters: Before you head to your destination, look into their electric plug and voltage. Make sure what you take will work.
  • Body Powder: This is great for humid climates, long days of walking and times when you have to dash to dinner without a chance to freshen your hair. Some powder applied to the warmer spots of your body will help absorb sweat, reduce odor and chafing. A small amount of powder to the scalp and then brushed out (VERY small amount) will absorb sweat and oil, refreshing your style. You can also add it to your shoes to reduce rubbing.

A vacation should not induce stress, but remove it. Start planning your wardrobe ahead – try packing it before the actual date to see if it all fits. Write down scenarios on a piece of paper and match them to your clothes. Why are you taking a cocktail dress if you will be staying at a dude ranch? Do you have enough tops (you will not want to re-wear a top after a day of hiking or sightseeing)? The time you take to properly organize and pack before your trip will give you all the more time once you arrive to enjoy yourself!


  1. cas the gma
    January 19, 2014 / 3:05 am

    I have been trawling the sites for wardrobe suggestions for a couple of months, we are going to paris and down the Rheine in july this year before spending two days in prague and then back to Australia, this information has been really useful and certainly appreciated.

  2. crtfly
    January 26, 2012 / 1:11 am

    On the flight, please, please don’t wear scented products. Some folks are allergic. Some of us, like me, find certain scents to be migraine triggers.


  3. Anonymous
    February 9, 2011 / 9:45 pm

    This post is phenomenal! This spring I am traveling to Argentina and I have been searching for professional advice on how to create a traveler’s wardrobe. Your tips have the perfect balance of practical and fashionable, I can’t thank you enough for all of the outfit advice you have given me!

  4. June 29, 2009 / 9:19 pm

    The outfit she was wearing was from LL Bean of all places. Lands End and Chico’s carry similar sets.

  5. Anonymous
    June 28, 2009 / 11:25 pm

    Can you recommend a source for your mom’s outfit? Sounds like just what I am looking for.

  6. November 13, 2008 / 5:14 pm

    Thanks for all the helpful informaition!

  7. January 25, 2008 / 6:15 pm

    Shorts are rarely acceptable attire in most other countries and never in houses of worship. Pants are often too hot. Capris can be anywhere from knee to ankle bone and a variety of leg widths so usually one can find a pair that works for her frame. Now that city shorts are Bermudas are in style, they are a nice alternative. However they may fall out of fashion as quickly as they returned tot he scene. Capris, and variations of them have been in style for years and do not seem to be going anywhere. 🙂

    Skirts are a great alternative to the capri, but many women have issues with chafing during long walks and hot days.

  8. January 25, 2008 / 6:12 pm

    great suggestons….. only why so up on capri pants? I don’t find them very flattering on most women, esp me. If you are short and have any hips they make a person look squatty.

  9. rar
    July 14, 2007 / 12:23 am

    This is a totally fab webpage.

    Free GREAT advice is RARE online !

    I agree with all the points made

    and I think the authoress of the page

    is gifted. Thanks !!! In my faves.

  10. Anonymous
    April 27, 2007 / 4:43 pm

    Leaving for London/Paris in two weeks and your suggestions are perfect! Thanks so much!!!

  11. March 5, 2007 / 6:45 am

    Your travel suggestions are great! I have blogged about traveling light, as well, on a post called Organize It. Visit me!

  12. March 1, 2007 / 8:04 pm

    I absolutely love your blog! This post really hit the spot though! We are planning a Hawaii trip this summer and I had already started thinking about what to pack, your post was just the guide I needed! Thanks so much,

  13. March 1, 2007 / 7:32 am

    Simply fabulous blog with awesome piece of information. It is so very helpful for all my female friends who just don’t know what to carry and where to go and are all over the place while planning for a holiday. Thanks a lot! I think this time I really know what to advise them once they set their mind on a trip:)
    Do drop by my blog too coz there are many stuff of interest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

powered by chloédigital