There’s an old joke among travelers that goes something like this: “In your regular life, you wear a few shirts a week; when you pack for a trip, however, you bring everything you own.”
Whether you’re exploring a new city’s delights for eight hours or visiting the beach for well-deserved rest and relaxation, you want to be comfortable and look good.
For many of us, that often means overpacking. However, if you’re smart about what you put inside your suitcase, you don’t have to lug heavy baggage on vacation.
For a five-day trip, you should pack:
- Two short-sleeved shirts
- One or two long-sleeved shirts (depending on the climate)
- Two bottoms (slacks, a skirt, shorts—pick your poison)
- A light jacket that can double as a dinner-appropriate cardigan or similar cover-up
- 3-5 pairs of underwear (depending on if you don’t mind hand-washing them in the sink)
- Two pairs of socks (depending on what shoes you’re bringing)
- One to two pairs of shoes (though one is preferable, sometimes you need to bring a pair of flip-flops for the beach)
Again, you’ll also be packing miscellany dependent on where and at what time of the year you’ll be vacationing, such as a bathing suit or even a scarf and a midweight jacket.
To make life easier, here are a few tips to optimize your travel wardrobe.
Consider who you are and where you’re going.
Ask yourself the following questions before purchasing anything:
- Would I wear this in my everyday life?
- What activities do I have planned for this vacation?
- What is the weather going to be like?
- What is the culture like? (i.e., Do I need to cover up?)
Sensibly assembling your wardrobe based on these few questions and researching deals to save on purchases will set you up for a lightweight, comfortable, and stylish vacation.
Once you do that, you’re ready to start building your travel wardrobe. Here’s what else you should look for.
Here's the cardinal rule of putting together a travel wardrobe: Make sure what you pack is versatile. That means buying clothes and accessories you can wear in several climates, seasons, and situations.
Rather than packing shirts and bottoms for every day of your vacation, and several dresses or dress shirts and slacks to experience nightlife, strategic packing allows you to utilize outfits for various occasions and times of the day. For example, your travel wardrobe should be appropriate for day and night, and comfortable for museum tours and hikes along a mountain path, allowing you to recycle clothes before retiring them to your dirty laundry bag.
- Convertible clothing that you can wear day or night, such as beach cover-ups that can double as casual dresses; slacks that are nice enough to wear out to dinner but built for hiking; and even shorts that can be styled for evening wear
- Reversible clothes, like this Toad & Co. skirt or this Penguin plaid shirt
- Comfortable but stylish shoes you can wear for an all-day walking tour then rock at a Michelin-star restaurant without turning heads. These include Birkenstock wedges or Clark’s desert boots
- Smart accessories, like blanket scarves with pockets so you can hide your passport or even use your scarf as a blanket in a pinch
The materials you choose go hand-in-hand with multifunctionality. You want to pack soft, comfortable fabrics with a high UPF rating for sun protection. Ideally, you’re also looking for quick-drying, odor-control fabrics, though this is only absolutely necessary if you plan on being active—especially in a warmer climate.
Look for breathable natural fabrics. For example:
- Linen: Durable, made with a light weave for extra breathability
- Silk: Soft, light, and breathable, but very expensive, shows sweat stains, and wrinkles easily
- Cotton: Durable and breathable but absorbs moisture easily, making it uncomfortable for people who sweat a lot
- Merino wool: Moisture-wicking and usually used for winter layering, light enough for summer breathability, but it can be itchy
For synthetic materials, consider:
- Rayon: Quick-drying and lightweight, but doesn’t wick moisture well
- Nylon: Lightweight, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking, but it gets smelly very easily
- Spandex: Very stretchy, moisture-wicking, and prevents chafing, but can retain heat, making it a poor fit for very hot climates
- Polyester: Non-absorbent and UV ray-repellent, but it holds onto odors
If you’re going to a destination that has different weather needs (e.g., hot during the day, cool at night, or moving between the mountains and the beach), layering well can make all the difference between overpacking and bringing just the right amount of clothing.
Here are some tips:
- Use the cardinal rule of hiking: base layer (wick sweat), mid-layer (insulate), outer layer (shields from wind and rain)
- Go for lightweight knits that can insulate when layered but are cool enough to stand the heat on their own
- Layer in such a way that your heaviest layer is on top and your lightest layer is closest to your body, so you can modulate your temperature by adding or taking away layers as needed
- Stick to a color palette so you can mix and match your entire wardrobe
- Pay attention to details like necklines and length so you can ensure your layers work well together, aesthetically speaking
Tourism generates a significant amount of money for cities and regions worldwide, and some local economics are built entirely around the travel industry. While that makes these areas tremendously hospitable to guests, you'll often find salespeople and others intentionally targeting visitors they may presume to be easily persuaded. Also, a certain uniform makes you stand out to pickpockets and other petty criminals. To make yourself appear less conspicuous, avoid dressing like you’re about to embark on a five-day trek in the woods when you’re actually in a densely populated city, stay away from anything flashy, such as designer bags or nice watches when you’re in a lower income area, and perhaps leave the white New Balance dad shoes at home.
You can be both stylish and comfortable, wearing breathable, fast-drying, UPF material without sticking out like a sore thumb. Those athletic-wear buzzwords have moved beyond running and hiking circles and into the world of, well, style.
One way to achieve this is by shopping at athletic clothing companies. With the rise of athleisure, it’s easier than ever to find stylish, comfortable clothes that are also moisture-wicking, odor-fighting, and well-insulated for both warm and cold weather. Take, for example, slacks made by Athleta, which are lightweight and built for sweating and all-day movement, but can be combined with a nice blouse and worn at dinner. Even the company's jeans, which come in a variety of styles, were built with rock-climbing and hiking in mind.