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

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By Christopher Elliott

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.

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

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✓ 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. (Related: When you hear these words, run!)

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. (Here’s how to find the best hotel at the most affordable rate.)

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?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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