How to Pack the Best Travel Clothes for Women

Written by: Deb German

Wrinkle-Free-Three-Quarter-Sleeved Shirt
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Packing the best travel clothing is as much about dressing in layers as it is about the specific women’s travel wardrobe you choose.

This is a cautionary tale of sorts, a manifesto for the woman with wanderlust. I’ve had occasion to travel alone for lengthy visits to New York City several times in recent years, but did not possess a stitch of women’s travel clothing, unseasoned as I was. In my defense, I got smarter each time, but also broke a few cardinal travel rules: I packed a mountain of clothing in an enormous, unwieldy bag; almost everything I brought needed pressing when I arrived; and I stupidly purchased stylish, new shoes for my first trip. That last bit was possibly the most poorly conceived decision of all. My feet suffered needlessly for days because of it, even after I abandoned the offending shoes.

Would that I knew then what I know now: travel clothing for women comes in pretty colors, patterns, and smart, travel-ready fabrics made to go where the road takes you. Compact and portable—let those two words guide you when you’re packing. And keep them in mind when you select your travel wardrobe, along with a few others: wrinkle-free, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying. Featherweight and roadworthy, you’ll be ready for anything, planned or spontaneous. (And you’ll look and feel great doing it.)


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Women’s Lightweight Travel Clothing: Packing Layers Gives You Options

A few thoughtfully chosen clothing layers yield many more options than a multitude of single-purpose pieces. (With practice, you may even discover that fewer than ten garments can create three weeks’ worth of outfits.) You already knew layers could change the look of an outfit—to dress it up or down, or to give you other-styled possibilities. But layers also step up to the plate when you demand more of them. And while specific travel situations certainly insist on a parka or coat, why travel with one if you don’t have to? Multiple lightweight layers can be enough. The best fabric for travel clothing is durable and high quality, lightweight, compact, opaque, wrinkle-free, and coordinates well with the rest of your wardrobe.

Significantly, you don’t need more than about a week’s worth of clothing when you travel, even if you plan to be away for much longer. Do the math and then do the laundry: quick-drying women’s travel clothing is a thing of beauty. Even if you have no access to laundry facilities, many garments made for travel can be hand washed in the sink and will dry completely overnight, ready to do your bidding by morning.

Packing List: Layer More, Pack Less

You can get your entire travel wardrobe into just one backpack or bag. Here are the basics, synthesized, and adaptable to varied itineraries:

  • 2 to 4 long- or short-sleeved wrinkle-free shirts (long sleeves are easier to dress up)
  • 2 pairs of wrinkle-free bottoms: you could pack a pair each of pants and shorts, or a single pair of zippered convertibles, keeping in mind they are very casual. Choose lightweight travel pants ; avoid denims, which are heavy and slow-drying.
  • A travel skirt or dress, or one of each
  • A pair of black leggings
  • A dark-colored cardigan or lightweight fleece that can be dressed up
  • A wrinkle-free travel blazer
  • A swimsuit with a lightweight cover-up that doubles as a bathrobe
  • Lightweight sleepwear; athletic clothing can also serve this purpose (think yoga pants)
  • About five complete sets of poly-blend socks and underwear, and an extra bra for good measure; microfiber material is the quickest to dry, but silk and lace work well, too.
  • A pretty scarf, a hat, and a belt
  • A lightweight, hooded, water- and wind-resistant jacket, or an umbrella for a very hot destination
  • 2 to 3 pairs of shoes: at least one pair should serve as comfortable walking shoes, but also include sandals or ballet flats, or boots for a chilly destination. Whatever configuration you choose, stick with shoes you know: don’t wait for your trip to break in a new pair, as I did so foolishly in the Big Apple.

Fine tune your travel wardrobe for the weather. For a warm, sunny destination, choose lightweight, looser-fitting clothing in natural fibers, and lighter neutrals and colors that reflect the sun. You’ll want a broad-brimmed hat, better still if it’s ventilated and packable. For cold-weather travel, build your wardrobe around three layers: the base or wicking layer (think silk or merino wool as a ‘second skin’), the presentation or insulating layer—for example a hoodie or lightweight fleece in a synthetic or performance fabric—and the outer or protecting layer: a jacket or coat with a high warmth-to-weight ratio. Cold-weather destinations demand protection in the extremities: a winter hat, good gloves, and sturdy winter boots.


Floral-Trimmed Fleece Pullover
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Travel Tip for Women: Don’t Dress Like a Tourist

A huge piece of bulky luggage on a busy urban sidewalk (or even a cobbled village street) says it in spades: I’m an unseasoned tourist. So does sloppy clothing. Shouting it from the rooftops makes you vulnerable, especially when you are a woman traveling alone. Being well dressed and unfettered is the ticket. The mark of a seasoned traveler is how light she travels; wrinkle-free travel clothes for women make this part of the equation so simple.

And people will indeed judge a book by its cover: when you are neatly groomed and well dressed, you’ll get better service and treatment in travel situations—at the airport, on the ground, at the hotel, and even in restaurants. Instead of sloppy shorts and too-casual sandals, choose a kicky travel skirt or trousers with a wrinkle-free blouse and a blazer or cardigan; add pretty flats and a colorful scarf. If you’re bound for a fly-fishing trip or outdoor adventure travel, you can switch gears when you reach your destination. But for now you look seasoned, a smart woman traveling with purpose and intent.

A word of caution: plan for your destination and be sensible when in Rome. Women’s travel clothing comes in adaptable cuts, styles, and colors to suit your specific travel needs. When you consider details—long or short sleeves, shorts or pants, the hem length of your skirt or dress—remember where you’re going. Think not only of climate in terms of weather, but also of culture: in some parts of the world women are expected to dress modestly.

Put smart travel clothing for women in your bag: layer more, pack less, and above all enjoy the journey.

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