If you’re on the road 365 days a year, heed this travel packing advice

What should you pack for your next trip?

Well, I’m not a fashion writer, but I do know what kind of clothes travel well. And you’ll want to heed my travel packing tips.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb. Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Why? I’m on the road 365 days a year for a project called Away is Home, a family travel blog (our motto: “Adventure runs in the family”). We spend a month here, a month there, and we live out of a suitcase.

Like most kids, mine are particular about their attire. Very particular. With two boys (13 and 15) and a girl (11), it’s a never-ending struggle to balance form with function. That’s a polite way of putting it, actually. It’s pretty much a catfight.

Figuring this out starts with knowing what not to wear. And from there, it gets a little complicated. But stay with me; I’ll get you through it.

What not to pack

Here are a few lessons learned the hard way. Avoid packing the following items:

✓ Denim

✓ 100 percent cotton shirts

✓ Cotton underpants

✓ Heavy fleece

✓ Dress shirts that require ironing

✓ Blazers or formal wear that wrinkles easily

Now, if you’re just going somewhere for a weekend and need to look good, feel free to skip my list of verboten items. But if you’re on the road for a little longer, you might want to scroll up and read that list again. Nothing bulks up your luggage like a pair of your favorite jeans. Also, if you’re out for longer than a week and start doing laundry, and don’t get cottons or denim completely dry, things start to head south very quickly. The smell!!

Think small

You’ll want to squeeze everything into your carry-on bag with ease, and I’m not even talking about flying, my friends. Unless you rent an SUV, your trunk space will be limited. Plus, you’ll have to share it with your other passengers, not to mention a large stuffed animal or two. I’m not making that up. When we stayed at the El Dorado in Reno, Nev., my daughter won a very large stuffed bear, and it joined us for part of the journey. Let’s just say I took care of Mr. Big Bear, eventually.

I’ve tested a lot of pants, but I’m partial to Prana’s Zion Stretch line, which rolls up into a small space. It’s also wrinkle resistant, quick drying, water-repellent and holds up incredibly well to the rigors of travel. I visited Prana’s main store in Boulder, Colo., last week and found out that if something goes wrong, they’ll either repair or replace any pair of pants you buy, which is Nordstrom-level customer service.

So far, my oldest son and I are wearing Prana pants exclusively. My middle son, Iden, is in Wrangler slacks made from a similar stretch fabric. Only my daughter is still in cotton pants, but it’s a yoga pant made from a fabric blend we bought at Target. Close enough.

The touch, the feel … oh, never mind

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet: Anything made from 100 percent cotton is the enemy. That’s especially true of underwear and T-shirts. If you’re traveling through the Southeast in the summer, you’ll definitely want to heed my advice. No cotton!

San Antonio, Texas, will be forever known as the Cotton Apocalypse in my family. I’m not sure if it was my jeans, which I never should have brought on my trip, or the kids’ cotton shirts, but something really started to smell bad in that triple-digit summer heat. I’m surprised they let us past the front desk at the Hotel Emma. Fortunately, I found a laundromat. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much good. The smell stayed with us until we got to the desert, where mildew has no real chance of survival.

For shirts, I also highly recommend switching to a synthetic blend. My favorite is Tasc’s bamboo shirts, which are super comfortable and don’t pick up any of the funky smells that cotton tends to absorb. The company is, appropriately enough, based in New Orleans, one of the most humid places on earth. Over the last few months, we’ve slowly shifted to their organic cotton-bamboo-lycra blend shirts, and we’ve never looked back. I travel with three Carrollton Performance Crew shirts, and they’re versatile enough for almost any occasion, plus they fold into a tiny space.

For underwear, there’s only one real option. Ex Officio’s line of undergarments, which are synthetic, breathable and so light, you’ll almost think you forgot to pack your underpants. (Don’t worry, you didn’t.)

Don’t wrinkle

And how about those formal occasions? When we’re out on the road, they are few and far between, but they do happen. Such was the case when I had to make a speech at a big travel agency conference in San Diego last summer. We were staying at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina, and although irons and dry cleaning service were available, who has the time for that with three kids running around? Also, I had to practice my speech, because offending more than a thousand travel agents at a time is hard work.

Fortunately, I had a Gramercy Blazer from Bluffworks, which, try as I might, could not wrinkle. It looked freshly pressed when I was up on stage delivering my sermon, and although no one liked what I had to say, at least I looked presentable.

So, to recap: If you’re traveling a lot, consider downsizing, going with a synthetic blend and picking stretchy, wrinkle-free products. You’ll look good and perhaps more importantly; you’ll smell good. And that can take you a long way, especially if you’re traveling with kids.

What are your best packing tips? Have you made the switch to synthetic fibers, or are you all-natural when you’re on the road?

26 thoughts on “If you’re on the road 365 days a year, heed this travel packing advice

  1. When you go hiking on a trip, you have to bring denim, and many cruises have formal nights, so there may be no way to avoid packing at least one of these items. You may look funny wearing your tux with your jeans on a flight to meet an Alaska cruise, but that’s the way the world works today.

    1. I occasionally travel with jeans but many times don’t. The newer travel pants (especially rayon based ones) can handle hiking to dining. I prefer Columbia and Royal Robbins myself. Prana has a straight cut that doesn’t work for curvy fit.
      A straight fit usually has a 5” difference between waist and hip. A curvy fit has a 10” difference between waist and hip.

        1. I do, and it can be rough, but I’ve had really good luck with a pair of kevlar-reinforced “tactical” pants that I got either at REI or from Amazon years ago. I can’t read the brand name anymore, but they’re my favorite hiking pants all over. They’re more lightweight than denim, and have held up well, especially around the ankles where my pants tend to shred. And, no spines embedded in my shins 🙂

    2. If you’re on a cruise, limited space is usually not a problem. And you can fit a lot into a medium-to-large suitcase. Also, cruise lines have rental formal wear. Actually, though, formal nights nowadays seem to be either nonexistent or “anything goes,” unfortunately. If you want to bring jeans, wear them rather than pack them.

      1. Space on the cruise is not the problem, but airline luggage capacity. Rental of formal wear does seem like good option.

    3. I’ve hiked many a trail in columbia poly convertible pants (the bottom half of the leg conveniently zips off). And if not wearing those, I’ve got some cotton/poly blends I wear. Never any denim for me. It’s just too heavy/bulky and uncomfortbale, imo. Of course, to each his/her own 🙂

  2. I almost never spend this amount of money on clothes (and I am going to guess that you are ethical enough to decline any discounts or giveaways offered, although I don’t think it unethical if they eventually show up as advertisers), but I may at least try the pants. And I could certainly use a wrinkle-free blazer, but oh, $300?

    To name another, I have had some success with Duluth Trading, and they always have some sale or other.

    1. You’d be surprised at the discounts you can find online. I should have included that in the story. My favorite was Prana, where they gave us 25 percent off just for asking. (And no, I didn’t pull my press card.)

      1. I didn’t think for a moment that you pulled the press card; that’s not how you roll. I think I will get the blazer, especially if I can find a discount.

      2. I really like Prana, too. thanks for reminding me, Chris. Will check ’em out again for some other pieces. btw, I forget, I know we’ve chatted for years, but have you ever tried out PortaPocket, yourself? Since you travel so much, I know you’d find ’em exceptionally useful. It’s like having a money belt, leg wallet, neck safe, and arm band (etc) all in one. Massive versatility/ convertibility is key. (the PP Essentials kit will fit your press card, too. assuming it’s the size of a ID/credit card 😉

  3. Husband & I have travelled independently to 30 US states, including Alaskan cruise, and 35 foreign countries, all with carry-ons only. My hints: wear the denim on board, pack lighter-weight slacks. Ex Offico is the best for both ladies and mens undergarments. No matter where you go, even Hawaii, pack silk long johns and long-sleeve shirts. (It can be 40 degrees with 40 mph winds at top of mountains.) Wash out underwear in hotel room sink using shampoo (never soap) because it rinses out better. After showering, towels can be used to wrap up washed-out undies, removing lots of moisture. Then, undies, especially Ex Officio, will dry in 3 to 4 hours. Remember, unless you are going to the Amazon or doing something strenous, clothes don’t really get dirty or smelly. Americans wash clothes way too much. Europeans don’t, and they usually don’t smell. (If they do smell, it’s BO, not dirty clothing.) Pack less. Leave room for take-home gifts. Who cares that you are wearing the same outfit on multiple days. If travelling in US, you can always FedEx a box home. Overseas shipping very expensive.

  4. I’m with you. Synthetics or cotton blends help avoid wrinkles. And dry faster. Chico’s makes some nice looking travel clothing I’ve used for years. Always roll clothes. Use lightweight scarves for color; no jewelry. And I’ll never leave the house without PortaPocket. Gives me functional pockets(s) for ANY outfit. I use ’em daily. Haven’t relied on a purse to carry my valuables since 2008. Much safer that way.

  5. Some of the clothes that always go with us when we travel are lightweight synthetic pants with built-in nylon web belts (so they don’t set off any TSA alarms) that convert to shorts. We also pack very lightweight synthetic long-sleeve T-shirts for wearing alone or underneath for layering. For cruises, we pack microfiber jackets (his from Norm Thompson; mine from Dillard’s) and 1 pair each lightweight dress pants (LeChutes from Bonworth for me) We also wear hands-free 14-pocket travel vests from Travelsmith. And sometimes we include hubby’s Clothing Arts Pick Pocket Proof pants (which we first learned about from the Elliott website). We now leave the heavy-duty cargo pants at home.

  6. I just never go anywhere that requires me to wear a blazer or unwrinkled clothing. I can look nice just by hanging my cotton shirts in the bathroom while I take a hot shower. And if you’re staying for a month, surely an iron can be found somewhere.

    It sure is easier when your life doesn’t depend on impressing other people.

  7. For a dressier option (dinner out, cruise formal night), I recommend the J.Jill Wearever pants and jacket–lightweight, wrinkle resistant, comfy. Take a couple of tank tops in different colors and you’re set! BTW, they’re much lighter in weight than the Chico’s Travelers. And for plane travel I like cotton knit. I have knit elastic-waist slacks and matching jacket bought years ago from LLBean, I wear them for every plane ride–comfortable, versatile, and still look great.

    1. thanks for your perspective on J.Jill vs Chicos pants, @joycexyz:disqus. That’s good to know. I have some clothing from both outfits, but had not tried the Wearever line before. Now I think I might do just that! Re: cross body wearing of purses: an experienced emergency room nurse (27 yrs in the ER) shared with me about how women who wear purses like this are at risk for broken shoulders/ clavicles since they get thrown down when perpetrators try to snag their valuables. I had not thought that this was happening out there, but apparently she sees the results, often ;/

  8. I like Ex Officio as well.

    For clothing: I prefer chino-style pants and collared shirts, so for travel-ready clothes, I have used Rail Riders and Tilley. Most people think of Tilley for their hats–but they do make clothing.

    A few years ago, Backpacker magazine claimed that Rail Riders’ backcountry khakis were tough enough for the trail but civil enough for the town. I find them comfortable.

    Like other travel clothes, these companys’ products are expensive but waiting for sales or signing up for their e-mails help.

    I like Travelsmith’s Great Escape shirts–but it looks like they have updated it and changed its name; I have not tried the updated style.

Leave a Reply

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

%d bloggers like this: