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Travel Clothing Sucks: What to Wear Instead

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“Indy, your dad is missing. He was last seen in Venice. I think something’s happened to him.”

“Hang on, while I go put on my travel clothes,” said Indiana Jones.

That scene never happened in any Indiana Jones movie.

Why? Because Indy hopped on a plane, with a single black satchel for his carry on, and flew to Venice, Italy, to find his father.

He didn’t stop and put on travel clothing because he was traveling. He didn’t pack his one and only bag with travel clothing.

True, he left his professor outfit of tweed jacket with elbow patches and glasses at home. He swapped them out for his more-comfortable adventure outfit of soft khakis, worn boots, and swashbuckling fedora. Tucked in a corner of his bag is his whip, right next to his problem-solving skills and appetite for adventure.

If Indy can save the world and attempt to land a plane in simple khakis and white shirt, why do we think we need clothes that are made only for travel?

As though traveling is an action that requires specific clothing, like race car driving or being an astronaut.

I don’t own a piece of “travel clothing.” Because I hate this type of clothing. Travel clothing sucks. Let me tell you why:

Travel Clothing is Embarrassingly Ugly

I swear, all the companies that make travel clothes must buy their fabric from the same horribly outdated source. Women’s travel clothing is the worst offender.

Why would I ever want to match the picnic table cloth?

Yet that’s exactly what you end up doing when you dress in travel clothing.

You’ll walk down a German cobblestone street and be mistaken for an Ikea bedspread. Or a senior citizen tour bus will drive past you, then screech to a halt, the driver thinking you’re a lost old lady, only to find you’re a healthy 30 year-old stomping around town in a dress that looks like your grandmother’s curtains.

(No, this won’t be a cute remake of the adorable scene in Sound of Music when Maria hand-makes clothes for all 7 of the von Trapp kids using her room’s curtains. Those clothes were cute and form-fitting… which brings me to the next point.)

Travel Clothing Lacks Shape

The tagline for travel clothing could be: Shape-shifter.

Or shoplifter?

The space and lack of tailoring — have they even heard of it? — makes travel clothing perfect for slipping necessities down your pant legs and under your shirt.

Don’t have a budget for buying toiletries on the road? No problemo. Just don your sack — um, sorry, travel dress, or cargo pants — and trot down to the neighborhood pharmacy where you can tuck new deodorant, shampoo, and soaps into all that extra space. And no one will be any the wiser.

When rainstorms darken the horizon, invite your buddy to join you underneath your poncho. Oh wait, that’s not a poncho… it’s actually a tunic. My bad.

Could that baggy top that drapes over your body like a burlap sack be any more unflattering?

And WHAT are those baggy khaki pants, conveniently zipping off at the knee, that are trying way too hard to look like you’re on an adventure? Indian Jones? His khaki pants, by the way, were nicely tailored to his body, leaving just enough to the imagination to attract a beautiful German blonde. Ah, Venice.

Why can’t we travelers develop wardrobes like Indy’s? Comfortable, well-broken in, flattering, and ready for any adventure.

Travel Clothing is Super Uncomfortable

Travel clothing just wasn’t made to be next to human skin.

The fabric is loud and crinkly, so the entire train hears you walk down the aisle to the bathroom and back to your seat. Which happens a lot, because you’re hydrating after last night’s adventures.

Your pants don’t move with you when you walk. Their weird cut dictates an odd stride, making you look like you spent a week on a horse.
Chalk it up to the type of fabric that travel clothing is made of: Nylon and poly blends. Sometimes these are a win, more often they’re not.

Nylon is typically used for high-performance clothing, like workout gear, to wick moisture away from your skin. Companies also add lots of extras to nylon, like 50+ SPF, magic to avoid wrinkles, quick-drying spray… you get the picture.

What that adds up to is an stiff, uncomfortable feel against your skin. It feels like you’re wearing a camping tent, instead of clothing that lets you climb Tour de Eiffel’s hundreds of stairs, scamper up the wooded hillside to Berlin’s abandoned anti-aircraft bunker, or explore England’s moody moors searching for the ruins of James Bond’s family house.

The sad part is travel clothing claims to be comfortable, but I only wear nylon-based clothing about once a week. When I go for a run and break a true sweat.

When I travel, I’m not in a constant state of breaking-a-sweat. Instead, I want clothing that’s comfortable and soft against my skin. Clothing that feels flexible, moves with my body, and lets me cat-nap on a train ride.

That’s not travel clothing.

Wearing Travel Clothing, I Don’t Feel like Myself

Who here wears travel clothing at home?

Anyone?

Nobody…?

I didn’t think so. I spend my days in jeans and t-shirts, soft cotton next to my skin with a touch of spandex to aid movement. When I wear travel clothes, I feel like a stranger masquerading inside my body.

I don’t feel like myself.

I feel like a wannabe Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, only to stumble in the catacombs and fall face-down among the squeaking rats.

Never will I reach the ancient knight guarding the Holy Grail because I’ll be sorting through an identity crisis, trying to figure out why I was in Venice and who I am. And I’ll be picking rats out of my pants, cursing the myriad of pockets adorning my legs because who is carrying their entire bag on their body?

Point being: I don’t wear travel clothing when I’m at home, so why would I when I travel?

When I travel, I want to feel like myself. I want to experience life as me, not as a slick version who can emerge from rainstorms dry and shapeless.

Where’s the fun in always being dry and un-sunburned? My best stories come from mishaps, mistakes, and finding that amazing bar because an unexpected thunderstorm forced me to take cover.

I want to feel life and travel against my skin. Not let them rinse off me like water off a duck’s back.

I want to partake in travel and feel like me when I’m doing it.

What to Wear Instead

If I want to wear stylish, comfortable, flattering clothes that reflect who I am, that means tossing aside travel clothing and packing my carry on with clothes from my wardrobe at home. The clothes that I wear daily, like my favorite pair of jeans, comfortable shoes, and a shirt that makes me stand up straighter and feel prettier.

Creating a travel capsule wardrobe out of the clothing you already have in your closet, or from a few carefully chosen new pieces is simple. These will be pieces you want to wear in your real life, not special shirts infused with bug spray to make sure you’re clearly identifiable as a tourist on the savannah.

TL;DR

Travel clothing is the Bermuda triangle of awful: Ugly, shapeless, and uncomfortable.

That’s why I don’t wear it. Ever. Even (gasp) when I’m traveling. Instead, I mine my normal wardrobe for soft clothing that I wear daily and makes me feel great.

Travel doesn’t require special clothes. Build a capsule wardrobe from what you already wear every day, makes you feel great, and is comfortable.

Image credits: The Last Crusade, TravelSmith, NormThompsonThe Last Crusade

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

MichaelW May 1, 2017 at 7:02 am

Good luck finding the ruins of James Bond’s ruined family home in England, its in Scotland, or it would be if it wasn’t fictional.

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Laura Lopuch May 2, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Ah-ha, true James Bond fan! So true — you’re definitely not gonna find a fictional home in the wrong country.

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Annette Rexroad May 1, 2017 at 7:16 am

I have to disagree with this entire article. Have you ever tried any of Prana’s clothing for men and women? I highly recommend that you try the Prana Meme pants or the Kara jeans. They are staples of my wardrobe and take me through every season and can be worn rock climbing & camping as well as out to a nice dinner. Their tank tops & yoga inspired clothing is also extremely versatile and amazingly comfortable.
You should also look at companies like Patagonia, Toad & Co, Royal Robbins & Carve Designs. They have quite a number of cute AND comfortable pants, skirts, dresses & tops that also wash well & are made of materials that dry quickly (a must when traveling with a limited travel wardrobe). Also, Athleta has great options for travel pieces and a lot of their clothing has UPF ratings which is great for warmer climates.
I hope you try out some of these clothing companies not only because they offer many options for comfortable & fashionable clothing, but also because each of these companies are also environmentally-friendly and socially responsible in how and where they source & create their clothing lines.
And, yes, these clothes cost more, but you get what you pay for when it comes to environmentally sourced clothing that can handle a lot of abuse.

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Laura Lopuch May 3, 2017 at 9:12 am

Thanks for your recommendations, Annette! I haven’t tried Prana’s clothing. Seemed like they were lifestyle vs travel clothing. You know, clothing to wear to yoga classes and you needed to treat gently because they were pricey. Good to know that you use them successfully for travel clothing… and that they can handle a lot of abuse. (It’s the worst when a pair of pants rips on day 2.) I’ll check out those brands you mentioned. Maybe they’ll change my view on travel clothing 🙂

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Annette Rexroad May 3, 2017 at 9:43 am

Definitely try out the Prana Halle & Meme pants b/c they have a DWR fabric & literally repel rain. I’ve worn them in rain storms & the water literally beads up on the pants & they dry quickly too. Also, I rock climb in both and they can be covered in dirt & then I can just brush the dirt off of them. They are both stretchy too. The Halle pants also can be rolled up & turn into capris in warmer weather. These both are my go to pants along with the Kara jeans. I like the Halle & Meme pants most though b/c of their water repellency.

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