September 17, 2014

12 Things to Look for When Shopping for Travel Clothing

I know we all like to think about the warm and fuzzy aspects of traveling, like the great sights weíll get to see or the awesome business deals weíll close. But the brutal truth is that your choice in travel clothing can have a huge impact on the quality of any trip. To a certain extent, you can cowboy up and make the best of it. And to a point, you can solve a great many travel clothing problems with a credit card and a shopping spree. But to advice expert packing choices and extra cash exclusively falls a bit short in my opinion.

Yes, those are valid strategies. The fact remains however, that in many parts of the world there are no shopping options within even a dayís drive. Keeping your adventures within the developed world? Fine. There will still be times when a business meeting schedule (or media itinerary for those of us that make our living in this arena) will keep you too busy or located too far away for the shopping solution to be workable during a wardrobe crisis.

1. Wrinkle Resistance:

Because even the best rolling garment bags and shirt-wrapping boards leave even some wrinkles behind, and because Iím forced to combine business travel and adventure travel on practically every trip I take, the wrinkle resistance of every piece of travel clothing I pack is a huge issue for me. Typically, Iím not in any one place for long enough to iron and when I am, thereís a tight itinerary involved. Iím not saying I never pack anything that might need touching up with an iron, but I am saying that those pieces represent a minimal amount of my travel wardrobe.

2. Pockets:

Storage is a huge issue with every piece of travel gear, which is what I consider my travel clothing to be. With airlines beginning to charge even for carry-on bags, everything Iím able to store in a jacket or cargo pants pocket potentially saves me money on baggage fees.† I recently purchased a womenís travel trench coat made by a company called Scottevest which has 18 pockets (many of them hidden) for storing everything from my passport and sunglasses to my Kindle Fire and touch-screen phone. The company also makes a variety of other technology-enabled clothing for men and women who spend a great deal of time on the road, and those who have a need for discreet storage and use of electronic equipment.

3. Reversibility:

Baggage fees can represent a significant portion of any business trip budget, yet looking chic and sophisticated is a definite must when you make your living as a road warrior. One way to travel light and still have the wardrobe options you need is to consider incorporating a few pieces of reversible travel clothing into your trip wardrobe. For example, I purchased a reversible dress belt for my husband so he can have a black or brown option, depending on what he chooses to wear or if he has to replace a pair of pants on the road and only has the option for a different color than he packed.

Dressy, reversible tank tops can be casual, but also serve you well worn under a professional suit jacket. Iíve also seen the occasional dress and skirt options that would be workable for those who donít necessarily need to look ďcorporateĒ, just professional. For fun, casual wardrobe updates, winter beanies can be purchased as reversible items, making a cold-weather getaway a little more hip.

4. Stain Resistance:

I rarely have time for an hourís worth of stain drama on any trip, let alone one where I need to meet with potential clients and advertisers. Thatís why dress clothes that have stain resistance built in to the fabric are one of the easiest ways to stay spiffy while traveling for work. Itís even more critical for white dress shirts or light-colored blouses. This is one of those things Iím willing to dish out extra for. And quite frankly, since it costs around 50 bucks for any high-quality dress shirt these days (assuming you donít have time to wait for a sale), you might as well dish it out for a shirt that has wrinkle and stain resistance built in. Paying that much money for travel clothing thatís ruined the first time you spill a bit of wine on the front or accidentally drop your bag in a puddle in Cambodia just isnít a smart financial investment.

5. Layering Ability:

Whether you plan on layering clothing to cut down on what you need to store in your luggage, want the wardrobe flexibility that comes with layered travel clothing as a way to combat temperature shifts or simply like the look, packing clothes that can be layered will preserve a multitude of fashion options for you as you do your best to function effectively on the fly. Basic leggings or biking shorts can be worn under tunics, skirts, dresses and even jeans if luggage space is tight. I prefer to wear colored camisoles of a jersey material under collared shirts that I button in the middle, but if you want to get a bit more extreme with your packing, you could layer several camisoles underneath buttoned shirts in coordinating colors with a jean jacket. You get the idea. You can pull this off to save luggage space while still looking good.

6. Flexibility:

Multipurpose functionality is critical to consider when shopping for your go-to travel clothing items. A great pashmina scarf for example, can serve as a dressy wrap, neck warmer or head covering when touring churches or mosques. Another favorite, flexible item I always take with me is a sarong. Good for a bathing suit cover-up, shower towel, picnic blanket and even a skirt, sarongs make great vacation gear. I even pack a more masculine-colored one for my husband to use at the beach and after showering. They take up lots less room than a full towel, and dry quickly. Another flexible clothing choice that is often overlooked is denim. While a burden to wear in hot, tropical climates, it certainly gets the job done in more moderate climes. It easily dresses up with a nice shirt, jacket and dressy footwear, but can be as casual as you need it to be for a day on the train. It also doesnít wrinkle or show the dirt, and can go several wearings between laundry sessions. Gotta love that.

7. Packability:

If an item can be packed in a small amount of space, then you are definitely ahead of the game as far as travel clothing is concerned. †Wrinkle-free, jersey dresses and skirts are usually a safe bet, as are ExOfficioís conversion pants. Thin, knit camisoles and light-weight dress socks also make our familyís short list when weíre on the road. Another item thatís recently made it on to our radar is the Scottevest pack windbreaker. Itís a unisex travel jacket with multiple hidden and exterior pockets, comes in a variety of colors and stores compactly into its own neat little package, making it one of the few lighter jackets that easy to bring along when you are forced to wear a bulkier business dress coat on the plane to save on baggage fees.

8. Color:

I like to have a fun scarf or bright top and crisp white shirt thrown into the mix as much as the next girl, but the truth is that weighting your travel clothing wardrobe more heavily with darker colors helps ensure less of the dirt will show while youíre on the road between laundry opportunities. Personally, I pack a great deal of black, but you can also include a dark denim piece, deep browns and even the occasional olive green and navy items. The point is to go easy on the lighter colored items and save them for those times when you have access to washing machine amenities.

9. Classics:

Leaning on classics for your travel clothing purchases is a smart move for several reasons. First, it enables you to select your basic clothing items and know that youíll always be able to find replacement clothing for years to come. A v-neck cashmere sweater, lined black dress pants, an iconic pair of jeans. You get the idea. Thereís no need to stress about shifting styles when you go with the classics, and if you have to replace an item in an out-of-the-way location, that wild local-print scarf will match with all of the basic black and brown dresses you have in your bag. I also feel a little better about dishing out for a classic clothing item in a good brand. Since it will be in style indefinitely, I might as well purchase something that will go the distance with regards to durability.

10. Knits:

Whatís not to love about knits? They resist wrinkles, pack easily and can be worn out of the dryer for on-the-fly adventure. They also layer easily and can be stored in a smaller amount of space, especially when rolled with other similar wardrobe pieces. Active-wear tee shirts, one-piece dresses and the basic ankle-length black touring skirt are great choices to start with, but other items can go the distance as well. Men, for example, might want to include some dressier collared polo shirts or performance tees to pair with compression shorts for workout gear that doesnít take valuable space away from electronic equipment.

11. Fabric Weight:

Generally speaking, the thinner the fabric, the less space you need in order to bring it along. For hiking socks, I pack the double-thick smart wool but limit myself to one pair. Otherwise, I use nylons or those thin, Merona socks from Target that come in knee-high, active and ballet slipper styles. I buy them in black and make them my go-to choice for non-sport socks on the road. They can easily be replaced without a great cost outlay, and allow me to travel light. Several of the other features I mentioned above also fit into this category. For example, layering tees are typically made of a thinner material, as are wrinkle-resistant knits and multi-purpose sarongs. If you simply must have something heavier, consider purchasing a sweater from a local artisan. Granted, this is much more affordable in the mountains of Ecuador than in downtown London, but considering baggage fees these days, you might be better off to do that and wear it home. At least youíll have a wearable souvenir for your cash instead of a useless receipt.

12. Laundering Instructions:

While you may occasionally have access to dry cleaning services on the road, itís better to pack items that mandate it as your only laundering option. Iíve been numerous places where even a washer and dryer werenít available, making hand washing and the village laundry woman my only alternatives. The more forgiving the fabric, the better off youíll be. Also, the longer you can go between launderings the better. This is much easier with jeans and dress pants than it is with tank tops and undergarments. In those cases, packing a drain stopper and a soft-bristled, hand-sized scrub brush with shampoo are your best bets. Itís one of the reasons I always travel with a compact adventure clothesline, even for business trips.

Clearly, when it comes to shopping for travel clothing, thereís much more to consider than with a basic at-home wardrobe. These 12 features are ones that I consider as Iím making purchases, particularly for pieces that cost a bit more. Do you have a favorite fabric, brand or multi-purpose garment you endorse for travelers? By all means, share in the comment section below.

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