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Dress for Travel Success

by Dave Marx, Author of PassPorter Travel Guidebooks

"Oh dear, what shall I wear?" Readers frequently ask what to wear once they reach their destination, and we're happy to oblige, with suitable packing lists for Walt Disney World, Disney cruises, and soon, Disneyland and southern California. But this time, rather than expound on resort wear, I'm going to set my sights on something a bit different, "traveling clothes."

Traveling clothes have long had a special cachet. The veteran voyager has been expected to wear lots of rumpled linen, desert boots (or huarache sandals), and a Panama hat - in short, the spitting image of a foreign correspondent. Modified safari gear is also stylish, especially those heavily-pocketed vests favored by photojournalists. It's as if the sun never set on the British Empire. The image persists, especially since so many travel writers are former or wannabe foreign correspondents themselves. (If you could choose between war, starvation or natural disaster and resort travel, which would you pick?)

Yes, I'm talking about fashions from the bygone days of Banana Republic (before The Gap morphed it into an upscale-casual emporium), the even farther bygone days of the original Abercrombie and Fitch, and the kind of high-priced goodies you can still find in the J. Peterman catalog. These days, TravelSmith is one of the better sources for these fashions, but you'll most likely find me shopping at Land's End, even though it's now part of Sears Roebuck. I have a soft spot in my heart for all these retailers, plus more down-to-earth travel outfitters like the REI Co-op. But as much as I like Windows and (catalog) shopping, when I actually pull out my wallet, I get very cheap. Bless all those online retailers who have closeout departments!

Not everyone is a slave to travel fashion. Most folks at the airport are dressed in their favorite Saturday casuals--everything from jeans and football jerseys to country club attire. Yes, almost anything can work in the air conditioned comfort of modern air travel, but once you've reached your destination you may find far less comfort than you bargained for. If you dress right you'll be ready to vacation as soon as you exit the plane (even if your hotel room isn't ready yet).

My travels often begin in the frigid pre-dawn of a Michigan winter and deposit me in the sun-drenched humidity of a Florida midmorning. Even though I might be tempted to wear flannel-lined pants and a turtleneck, I learned a long time ago to dress comfortably for the warm weather, and to add layers over that for the cold. This works whether I'm heading to the warmth, or will be flying home to the cold.

The night before I head South (or Southwest) I set out loose-fitting shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Over these, I'll wear pull-over pants (wind pants, sweats, warm-ups, whatever works for you), and a cozy polyester fleece top. This is more than enough to keep me comfy in the terminal and on the plane, and they're easy to remove in public whenever I begin to feel too warm. It used to be I'd wear all this stuff on the plane and remove it as soon as I reached my destination. Lately, I'm down to my warm weather wardrobe soon after I board - it seems the airlines are keeping cabins warmer than they used to.

If a friend or family member is dropping you off (and picking you up) at a cold weather airport, leave your winter coats in the car. As long as you're wearing a sweater you'll survive the short walk to the terminal entrance, and the coat will be waiting for you when you return. If you're leaving your car in long-term parking, you may prefer to stuff your coat into your checked luggage as soon as you enter the terminal. Either way, this is the last time you'll need it until you return home. The ritual of "stashing the winter coat" is a great warm-up for the balmy days ahead. Don't even think of carrying your coat on the plane with you. You'll have to send it through x-ray, and it's one more item to carry and keep track of. As an alternative to the heavy winter coat, think about layering a lighter jacket plus several pullovers. Winters in Florida and California can get chill enough to make all those items useful.

I may need light boots when I leave home, but when the temperature's above 60, you can't pry me away from cool, airy sandals. At six-foot one tall, I can also use all the airline foot room I can get. Once on board the plane those trim sandals have big, clunky shoes beat, hands, er, feet down. I pack my sandals right on top of my check-through and swap my footwear before I check my luggage.

If I'm going to be spending long hours in an airline seat (or in a car, for that matter), I want to be as comfy as I can be. Tight pants do not make me a happy traveler. And I know only guys are dumb enough to do this, but don't keep your wallet in your back pocket, especially if you plan to buy an adult beverage on your flight. Your butt is going to get sore enough anyway in those broken-down economy class seats, and your neighbor won't appreciate your elbow in his/her ribs while you struggle to free your billfold. I make sure my pullover top has at least one wallet-sized, zippered pocket.

A lot of what I've said goes for long drives in the car, too. Comfy pants, nothing in my back pockets, and a comfy pullover under my coat. It's remarkable how many people drive long distances in a heavy overcoat. As soon as the car's heater has done its work (pre-heating the car before you leave is a good strategy) I'm out of that bulky, restrictive parka. My pullover is enough to keep me warm until I can don my overcoat to pump gas or visit a rest stop. In shorts-and-short sleeved shirt weather we wear something a bit unexpected - sunscreen. Jennifer's skin is especially sensitive, but we've both found that our exposed arms and thighs can get roasted by the sunshine pouring through the windshield.

Lately, I've added one more item to my air travel wardrobe - a PassHolder Pouch. With all the ID cards and papers you need to keep readily available these days, it's great to have them all hanging around your neck in plain view. No fumbling in pockets (or purses) for wallets and boarding passes, and with its transparent front pocket, your photo ID can stay right where it is, in plain view. On International trips, its zippered inner pocket is perfect for passports, too. More than one airport security guard has thanked me for being so well prepared. And lest this seem like a commercial plug, you'll find similar items from sources including TravelSmith and most luggage stores, and they're appearing at many airport giftshops and newsstands, too.

So, I've been going on and on about what I wear on my way to the warm weather, so I should spend a minute on what I wear when I get to the "tropics."

Yes, I do have a generous supply of linen shorts and trousers. They really are superior to cotton in hot, humid environments. But I only buy them on sale. One of these days I'm going to buy a pair of convertible trousers - the kind with zip-off legs. It's an easy way to go from long pants to shorts with a minimum of fuss and bulk. Let me know when you see a good sale! I recently bought a safari-style hat with a crown made of breezy mesh, after I got one too many sunburns on my thinning scalp. Shirts? You can't separate me from my collection of cotton pique polo shirts (if you can, my daughter Allie will be forever grateful - she thinks they're much too boring). Those polos are just so plain versatile; although I must admit I'm a creature of habit in this regard. Cotton is not the coolest fabric, although pique works far better than jersey knits. (Wear white and light colored tops, not navy blue - you'll bake!) When the weather heats up I'm usually more comfy in loose-fitting tropical shirts and my cotton seersucker buttondowns. I'll probably be getting more of these as time goes by.

So, I apologize if I've focused entirely on traveling from freezer to oven, but I'm confident you can fill in the less extreme blanks. Happy comfortable travels to you all!

This article originally appeared in our August 7, 2003 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

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Updated 10/05/07 

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