Building a Travel Wardrobe, Part One

Each year for the last six years, my man and I have spent a sizable chunk of time traveling in France. Because of this, my sewing and shopping brain always has that in the back of my mind, asking myself with each purchase and project, "is this something I could, or should, take with me on our next trip?"

We are extremely light travelers, and though we go away from 4–7 weeks a year, we are strict carry-on-bag-only travelers. Each item that gets packed needs to fit the following list of rules:

  • Do I love it?
  • Can I wear it once a week or more?
  • Does it hang dry well?
  • Will it go with everything else in my bag?
  • Is it good on its own, or does it require many accessories to work?
  • Is it comfortable enough to wear all day and into the evening, while walking 2–8 miles?
  • Is is bulky to pack?

Yeah, this is a hard list of requests to fill, but somehow year after year, I mostly get it right. And as you can imagine, with each year, I get better and better at this. Below is my advice on how to do it.

My actual items coming with me this year: my cotton trench coat, cotton gauze scarf, simple Tiffany diamond earrings, ponte knit blazer, black & gray tights, and 3 pairs of Dansko shoes.

1. Start with a group of basics
I begin with a color palate of neutrals, mostly gray, brown, black, cream, and white. From there, I add in some navy and other blues, with highlights of color here and there. But France is a place I feel most comfortable wearing neutrals when out and about. I am not going to generalize and say that all French only wear black and neutrals, but yes, many more do than not. So personally, I feel more comfortable saving my lush vintage florals for when I'm in the privacy of our Paris apartment and not when we're out and about. Let me be clear though; it's not them, it's me.

This might seem incredibly boring for some people, but honestly, I find it very liberating. My holidays are exactly that; a holiday from many things, including thinking about my wardrobe. While we are away, we live a very quiet life and that translates to what I wear, which is a form of being quiet. It quiets my mind to not have to think too much about what I am putting on and if things go together. It allows me to think about other things instead, which is refreshing. Think of it as a wardrobe holiday!

2. Buy the most comfortable shoes you can walk in for miles a day
I cannot go out into the world wearing sneakers. Sorry, I just can't. So, with that in mind, I have figured out what works for me, and I can state it in one word: Dansko. I have loads of "comfortable" shoes, but that's not the same as "comfortable walking" shoes. Walking is much different than standing, sitting, small strolls, etc. Walking is walking. Like a lot. Like miles and miles a day. Or at least that's how we do it.

Two trips ago we kept track of our walking paths each day and mapped them out on Google maps to see how much we walked, and I was shocked that we averaged around 4.5 miles a day. Some days we walked 7–10 miles! Some days it was only 1–2, but many were in the 4–6 mile range, so really walk in your shoes to see if you can walk that much in them. Or plan to take cabs and public transportation a lot.

3. Pack layers
I like to have a few different types of layers with me for a wide range of options. I always take at least one cardigan for wearing under my main jacket, and then I like to have something else to layer. This year I'm taking one cashmere cardigan, my cotton trench coat, and a ponte knit unlined blazer that will serve well as an in-between item. It will fill that space between a real coat and a light cardigan nicely.

In addition, I always take a scarf, some sort of hat, which is usually my black wool beret (yep, even for June & July), and a range of leg covering options like knee socks, tights, and leggings. This gives me a lot of choices for layers. I also try to plan my clothing to have some with short sleeves, some sleeveless, and some long sleeves, so depending on the weather I will be comfortable.

More of my basics coming this year: gray cashmere cardigan, gray folding travel umbrella, large tote bag, carry on hard shell luggage, small over the body bag, and a black wool beret.

4. Plan ahead
Your shoes will need breaking in, long before you go, so that is something to think about months prior to your trip. Buy them, wear them for real, not just lightly around the house. Let your feet get used to the pressure points, and try them in all the situations you might wear them in, like with socks, with tights, and/or with bare feet.

And of course, if you plan to make anything, that takes time! Trust me, I have planned crazy amounts of things to sew before a trip, only to have no time to do it. But I do get better each year about properly judging what I can really accomplish and what is just crazy.

Join me tomorrow when I talk about what I plan to sew for my trip to accompany this collection of neutrals above! And let me know how you do it? What's your best advice for packing for traveling?