Like many people who travel a lot, I have special clothes that are the backbone of my on- the-go wardrobe. The rule is sturdy and squishable -- delicate or temperamental fabrics are useless. These clothes must handle abuse and keep their style and shape.
Jeans and Cargo PantsI love to travel in cargo pants -- those deep pockets are so handy for tickets, boarding passes, passports, even some easy-to-reach cash. Denim is a rugged fabric that I find I can dress up or down. My only gripe is that women's cargo pants have pockets that are just a bit too small.
Versatile ClothesWhether or not I'm told in advance there's a dress-up evening, I always take something with me. Surprises happen. Regularly. The key here is the fabric. It has to be light and thrive on being rolled up into a tiny space. My favorite is a combination of polyester or acetate and spandex. The spandex seems to help it hold its shape and the polyester/acetate makes for a silky fabric that can be folded and rolled.
My technique for finding these dresses, pants, and tops is to walk down the aisle of the department store and get the feel of the fabric. Then, I firmly squeeze a corner and release. If there's any sign of wrinkling, I move on. It certainly won't survive 7 hours crushed into a suitcase.
I have a lovely dress I bought from a local store (in black, of course) that I have literally folded into a square and stuffed into a sandwich bag. And, yes, it was just fine when I shook it out to wear hours later. Why black? If I'm wearing the same clothes a few times, I don't want people to notice. Black becomes invisible.
Where to Buy Travel ClothesThere's another tactic that works even better for finding appropriate travel clothes -- purchase clothing produced for travelers. Chico's has a wonderful line called Travelers that I had the pleasure of testing. The 95% acetate 5% spandex tank top is made of a rib knit with a scoop neck. I paired it with slinky pants (with the somewhat unfortunate name of No Tummy Pant) to go with me on a marathon central Europe trip. In my favorite travel color -- basic black --they formed the cornerstone of my dress up clothes. They rolled up into tight cylinders, and were ready to wear, creaseless, with just a shake. And while I didn't like the name, I did love the elastic waist, especially after a few days of serious eating.
I've noticed I'm not the only travel writer who loves her Chico's travelers. Several of my colleagues rave about them as well. And, I can even wear them when I'm back at home when I go out for a nice evening.
Another source for travel-friendly clothing is Magellan's. This company has a well-deserved reputation for all kinds of travel necessities. They have a complete line of clothes for all and any occasions. I've been testing two of their jackets and loving them.
The first is their Crinkle Jacket -- one of those dress up and dress down jackets. The elegant style makes it useful for times I need something nice, but not too dressy. I've worn it with the slinky pants and with jeans. It worked both ways. Well designed with a zip-front, mandarin collar, and two zippered princess seam pockets (handy for making sure my stuff doesn't fall out) it comes in a crinkly fabric that resists wrinkles and doesn't show the few it picks up along the way. And, of course, it took my usual abuse of clothing, rolling and stuffing it into corners when neat packing was too much trouble. You can also wear the jacket with the matching trouser or capri as a set. It's also made of a rayon/polyester/spandex blend that works so well for travel.
OuterwearThis part of packing has got to be the trickiest. Heavy jackets and bulky sweaters take up room in suitcases, or have to be dragged around on and off planes and while traveling from one place to another. The rule of layering clothes helps, as does having the right outerwear.
One important characteristic for me is that it needs to be water resistant and have a hood. I can't stop a trip because of bad weather. It also has to be able to handle abuse. Here again, Magellan's has a winner with their Museum Jacket. It's lightweight and wrinkle-resistant, with a draw-cord waist, hood, front zipper. Front pockets, and interior security pockets gave me room to keep items safe. The jacket has survived being crumpled it up in my suitcase, used as a blanket on a plane, and tied around my waist. I walked for an hour in light rain protected by the hood and the water resistant jacket and was dry when I got back to my hotel.
If I were planning to travel in late fall or early winter, I might opt instead for the Reversible Museum Jacket with a fleece side, but I was going in early fall so choose the lighter version. Nonetheless, on some of those early mornings I would have welcomed the warmth of the fleece.
ShawlI finish up with a lightweight cashmere/pashmina and silk wrap that enables me to vary the look of my clothes just a bit, and provide some warmth if needed. I can't say that they thrive on abuse since my wraps are the only item I do pack carefully. But they are elegant and worth the extra bit of space.
But the problem I've had with shawls is that they are always slipping off my shoulders. As much as I love draping them dramatically around my neck, or tying them in clever ways, I really wanted something that wouldn't slip all the time.
Enter the Shoul. They call it the Smart Shoulder Wrap and it is. Cleverly designed, it looks like a well-behaved shawl. Lightweight, soft and comfortable, when I put it over my shoulders, the Shoul stays put looking elegant. I have it in basic black which will go with all my travel clothes. It's the new staple of my wardrobe perfect with everything from dresses to jeans.
ShoesThe one area that has always been a problem for me is footwear. I need a pair of nice shoes to go with those nice pants and dresses. I need comfortable footwear for the serious walking. I've even been known to drag my hiking boots for handling tricky terrain.
HatsI always take a hat with me to protect from the sun. While a baseball type cap works quite fine, I do have a canvas hat - similar to a Tilly bucket hat with a full brim all around, mesh air holes and leather wind cord. I bought it at a local hat store. For cold weather I have a pull-down-over-my-ears cap that is dense and warm. I love it.