Travel Clothes: Packing for the Overseas Trips

Disclaimer: In the twenty some years I have been traveling I have never purchased what any retailer labeled “Travel Clothes”.

The concept of special clothes to visit a Vienna or Panama City strikes me as silly. Why would you need clothing any different from what you would wear in a US city?  Granted you want items which pack well and don’t need constant care – but you likely already own those. (also see What to Wear When Going Abroad)

I have personally witnessed people who probably spent $1000 to outfit themselves for six days and I’m guessing those zip-off pants, fifteen pocket vests and floppy hats won’t see a great deal of wear back in Kansas City because they are not city attire. So why would you wear them in Rome or Rio?

If you really want to go shopping, indulge yourself in something you will enjoy at home.  I do have some suggestions about your choices:

General Suggestions:

  1. Light weight, packs flat is a starting point. Chunky sweaters, terry cloth robes, and the like take a great deal of space.
  2. I look for items which can be washed in the sink and will dry overnight. This does not include jeans, but they also do not show much dirt and can be worn repeatedly, so you decide.
  3. I don’t take duplicates. For instance: make one pair of black pants work, even if you feel you need them for both dress and casual.
  4. Items which don’t show wrinkles are prized because they require less care. However, consider how you are traveling before your jettison the linen.  If you are flying from Chicago to Dubai for three months, you’ll have time to find laundry services, so linen may work fine. If, on the other hand, you will be moving every week, linen is probably going to be more trouble than it’s worth.
  5. Travel clothing sites and stores sell a range of (expensive) clothing, most of which is identical to that sold anywhere else (cotton shorts, poplin shirts, cotton knit skirts) plus the clothing apparently designed for treks which are distinguished by the fact that they come pre-wrinkled, have multiple pockets, and zippers in unlikely places.

I can wrinkle my own clothes if necessary and don’t require 15 pockets at home so have no reason to believe I would anywhere else.

Cold Weather

  1. Cold weather clothing is heavier and bulkier, but you will save space if you plan on layers and leave the wardrobe of heavy sweaters at home. Thermal or silk underwear takes little space and can be used a variety of ways.  Try the outdoor outfitters and sporting goods shops for warm, thin layers.
  2. One proviso, however: In cold climates interior spaces may be very warm, so on your visit to St. Petersburg in February only requires warm layers outdoors. The Russians like their buildings very warm.

Hot Weather

  1. What do you wear at home when the temperature soars? You might want to reconsider shorts in some area (especially women), but many of the cottons and other warm weather attire in your closet will work nicely.  If you are going to the tropics I would not recommend jeans – they are just too hot. The fact that the locals wear them should not suggest that you will be comfortable in them. At 65 degrees they are probably wearing winter jackets. It’s a matter of acclimation.
  2. If you are headed for the tropics and haven’t visited before, be aware that the humidity, especially during rainy season, can be difficult for those not accustomed to it. You will likely go through more clothes than usual. I rely on items which can be washed out and hung to dry over night. As an aside, I also take white cotton men’s handkerchiefs. Wiping the sweat from your brow with Kleenex is not only ineffective but they often come apart and leave fibers on your skin. What few women’s handkerchiefs exist now are so thin they are of little use.

Do you really need special clothes for your trip?  If you plan on spending months in the jungle or living on an ice floe and that’s not where you usually hang out, then probably you do.  If you are going to Amsterdam or Buenos Aries, you probably don’t. I’d suggest you resist the impulse to buy anything you are not likely to wear at home.