Imagine: you're on vacation in a foreign country.
You don't know anyone.
You don't speak the language.
And your wallet is missing.
Or your best shirt is stained.
Or your bag's too heavy to carry on.
You might be out money. You're stressed – or panicked.
Travel raises the stakes on life's logistical problems because you have to resolve them in an unfamiliar place. That means that when you're far from home, it's doubly important to be practical and prepared.
The good news is, a few smart choices about what you bring, wear, and carry can set you up for success. The trick is to know your way around these common travel wardrobe issues.
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1. Travel Accessories Look Too Touristy
A lot of travel gear looks like it was made for a hike on Mount Everest. Adventure travel clothing is tough and easy to care for, but it's designed for the wilderness – it doesn't look or feel like the appropriate street or business wear. This is a problem both for style reasons and practical ones – looking like a tourist can make you more vulnerable to crime.
Even if you're not climbing in the Himalayas, travel can be tough on clothes. Between long hours of wear, lack of facilities for dry cleaning and other special care, and suitcase storage, even good quality items may not look their best – or last as long before wearing out as they would have left at home.
The key is to be selective about what you pack, not just in terms of only bringing what you really need (do you have to have a suit, or will a sport coat and a few pairs of durable slacks you can machine-watch work?) but also choosing items that can stand up to the rigors of travel.
Pay special attention to the fabrics your clothing is made of. Many high-end natural fibers (think your silk/wool jackets) will not hold up to hard wear–not the best clothes to bring on vacation or business trips. Look for nylon/polyester blends and merino wool instead.
2. Personal Security While Traveling
The major cities of Europe and many other common travel destinations are popular with pickpockets looking for easy targets. Your goal while traveling is to not be an easy target.
One way to do this is to blend in. If you're dressed like a tourist, you'll be pegged as a tourist. Dress sharp – like you might for a normal day at the office – and comfortably so as not to draw attention to yourself.
Be as aware of your surroundings as you can. Don't drink too much, and don't have your eyes glued to your phone as you walk. Research your directions before leaving the hotel so you don't have to look at your phone too much.
Pickpockets tend to use large crowds as cover, so try to beat the rush when moving from place to place. Research the safest times to walk and take public transport in your destination, and structure your itinerary with them in mind.
Another helpful option is to use clothes and bags with hidden or zippered pockets. Hidden pockets can keep your valuables safe and out of the way, and they can also keep them where you'll be less likely to pat them when you see the ‘beware of pickpockets' sign. Patting your wallet in your pocket is a surefire way to show potential thieves where it's stored.
All of these security measures can greatly reduce your risk, but your best bet is still to only bring what you need on any given excursion. If you're out for the night, leave the wallet at the hotel. Bring enough cash to get by, but not enough that you'll be left high and dry if all else does fail.
It's also helpful to know where pickpockets and scammers often work. Tourist destinations, ATMs and public transport are all common targets. Some pickpockets will have someone come up to you with a clipboard or asking for help as a distraction. These are situations where you'll want to be on your guard.
3. Wrinkle Free Travel Clothes?
The best way to avoid wrinkles is to pack your clothes properly. Rolling is best for this as it minimizes folds – and yes, you CAN roll everything, even suit jackets!
If rolling isn't space effective, buy some plastic garment compression bags. You can lay all of your clothes flat, then remove all the air so they take up less space. This also removes friction between garments, further preventing wrinkling.
If you end up with wrinkles and you need a quick fix without an iron, hang your clothes in the bathroom while you shower and give them a good hard snap afterward. It won't give you the crisp press of actually ironing them, but it will get rid of the worst of your wrinkles.
If you're packing for travel, consider focusing your choices on technical fabrics. Polyester and nylon blends will be much more resistant to wrinkles and easier to get wrinkles out of than their natural fiber counterparts.
4. Travel Laundry Options (or Lack Thereof)
Most clothing doesn't necessarily need to be washed every time you wear it. Take precautions like wearing undershirts and you can get 2-3 wearings from a dress shirt on a trip. Likewise, you're probably the only person who will notice if you wear the same trousers 2-3 times.
Wearing darker clothing and patterns (and avoiding white) can get you more mileage out of clothes before they start to look dirty. And don't be afraid to spot clean stains and small less-than-fresh areas.
If it's in your budget, find a local laundry service close to your hotel. Check the reviews first – you want the one with the best turn-around time to minimize schedule-related stress.
If you're really in a pinch, you have a last resort: your hotel sink. Almost any garment, even dry-clean only ones, can take a gentle one-time scrub in the sink and hang dry. Just make sure to use gentle soap – most body soaps work just fine for clothes, although they may not get them as clean as a detergent would. If you really want to be prepared, pack an all-purpose soap with you – use it to wash both yourself and your clothes.
Again for this issue, you've got an ally in those tough nylon/poly blends. They're machine and hand washable, which makes for less to carry and less fuss about finding a dry cleaner.
5. Save Space While Packing
First step? Get a small bag. This will force you to pack light and narrow it down to the essentials, and if you're flying, it can save you time and money.
When packing, determine which items of clothing are taking up the most space and try to wear those while in transit so they don't have to go in the bag. If you need to bring bulky outerwear, plan to wear it on the plane.
Make use of all the pockets on your in-transit outfit. The suitcase space filled with little odds and ends can add up.
Focus on bringing interchangeable pieces. Pack a navy suit whose jacket you can use as a blazer with odd trousers, or just three smart shirts, two jackets and two pairs of pants.
Also be smart about choosing footwear. Like your base outfits, only bring what you need. Loafers can be a fantastic choice because they're very versatile and take relatively little room to pack. Wear the largest pair of shoes you're bringing en route.
Compression bags, again, are a fantastic space-saving option for clothes. You can pack your pants and jackets flat or folded once at the bottom of your bag, compress the air out so they take up less room, and roll your underwear, shirts, and shorts on top.
Put toiletries, shoes and other items around rolled-up clothes to keep them from unrolling in the bag. You can even put rolled items in your shoes (along with small items like combs, toothbrushes, and razors).
All tricks and workarounds aside, if you want to pack to travel light you need to go through each thing you're packing and ask two questions: do I REALLY need this, and could I bring something smaller, simpler, or more compact instead? Think tablet instead of laptop, 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner instead of a bottle of each, and shirts that can dress up or down instead of a few casual shirts and a few dress shirts. Smart packing, like smart traveling, is about versatility, flexibility, and keeping it simple.
I spend a lot of time on the road and I've learned a lot over the years. To avoid making the same mistakes as me, click here to discover my top 25 travel tips.