This travel article discusses what clothing to take and what clothing to leave behind for the budget traveler who wants to pack light. The information is based on the author's own travel experiences.
What clothing should you pack when you must carry all of your luggage yourself and you want to travel light ? Take a "bare" minimum of clothing with you. Dress comfortably and casually. Choose your clothing for its practicality. In warm climates loose lightweight cotton clothing will feel better against your skin than sticky synthetic fabrics and tight-fitting clothing. If you plan to visit tropical regions you can protect your skin from too much exposure to strong sunlight and disease-carrying mosquitos if you resist the urge to wear as little clothing as possible. You'll be far safer with long-sleeved shirts, high necklined tops and long trousers. Just keep to light colored, lightweight natural fabrics and loose-fitting clothes to maximize the comfort of your clothing.Casual comfortable clothing, especially if you veer towards the sloppy, will also decrease your odds of being marked as a wealthy target by local thieves who work the tourist spots. If you want to look a bit more dressy for the evening, add a thin, weightless, colorful scarf to your simple neutral-colored day clothes. Leave your jewelry at home. It's heavy, bulky and could attract thieves. If you're a clothes horse, try to resist the urge to pack one set of clothing for casual daywear, a fancier set for restaurants at dinnertime and a third set for an elegant evening out. You'll just wear yourself out trying to be fashionable if you must drag all of these outfits around from locale to locale. Don't worry about being seen in the same set of clothing two days in a row. No one but your travel partner (or the hotel clerk) will see you more than once anyway and, if your partner is practical, he or she will also be wearing one set of clothing throughout the trip.As to clothing choices, in general I wear one comfortable, loose-fitting pair of casual trousers and assume that if I get caught in the rain, it won't kill me. I'll dry out soon enough. I pack no spares. Extra pairs of pants or skirts can add considerably to your luggage load. Pick something in a neutral color that will go with anything else you'll be wearing. Trousers with plenty of pocket space are a plus, especially if you might be buying small odds and ends in souvenir shops, or a little junk food, as you stroll around sightseeing each day.To travel light, I just pack one or two spare tops that are lightweight, comfortable and can easily be rolled up, as folding causes more creases than careful rolling. I pack just two pairs of underwear and socks for an entire trip. It's easy enough to wash out underwear, socks and shirts in hotel rooms and hang them up to dry for later reuse during the same trip. The choice is simple. For a two week trip you can lug fourteen pairs of underwear everywhere you go, or you can lug just two and regularly wash them out with soap and water in a hotel room sink. I suggest packing two pairs, not one, so that there is still a fresh change on hand for days when you may arrive in a place one evening and plan to move on to another town the very next morning, allowing for too little drying time. When you hit a larger city like Paris or London or Rome, where you plan to stay put for at least a couple of days, you can catch up on all your washing and know that clothing has plenty of time to dry, even if the air is damp.Pack thin, lightweight natural cotton underwear and socks that breath and won't require as much drying time as heavier cottons or other fabrics. In summer weather clothing can dry out very quickly. In cooler damper months you might be running a radiator and that can double as a heat source for drying. Just be careful not to put wet things directly against radiators or electrical appliances and be careful, too, not to let wet items of clothing drip onto hotel room carpets. Wring clothes out well and keep them hanging in the shower until they no longer drip. Don't use new brightly colored clothing items that might drip colored dyes that can stain bathroom floors, floor mats or carpets in hotels.Pack plenty of plastic bags. They take up little space, are weightless, and will be useful in a hundred different ways, from storing opened packaged foods to keeping your laundry well organized. For example, I'll use one bag for clean clothing such as underwear and socks, a separate bag for dirty ones (if I have to move on before clothing can be washed and dried), plus a third for items of clothing that have been washed, but are still damp when the time comes to vacate a hotel room and tackle the next leg of a journey. At the next stop they can be hung up to finish drying. By the way, washing clothes with ordinary soap eliminates the need to transport any additional type of cleaning agent.If you'll need some sort of warmer clothing to wear on cooler days or on cool evenings, carry one item only. It can be used whenever you need it. Keep it lightweight, nonwrinkling and non-fussy. For example, a single cozy sweater or sweatshirt in a color that does not show off dirt is a very practical, soft and warm choice, far more practical that a bulky jacket (unless you're doing some real cool weather or winter traveling). When not in use, you can tie your sweater around your waist. That way you can keep it with you while you sightsee on days when the temperature is variable. If it remains tied around your waist you'll feel it less than if you add it to the weight of your backpack and it can even double as a pillow on long, drowsy train rides.If you're traveling at a time or to a place where you'll need rain gear, a thin fold-up plastic poncho or rain coat is the least onerous thing to take with you. It can go right into your pocket and can easily be whipped out in case of a sudden shower. For city travel it's very easy to duck under awnings or into shops, making bulkier rain gear unnecessary. Sturdier rain gear or umbrellas are only needed for places where you expect serious rain or a lack of quick access to shelter. Keep sleepwear light and minimal, as well, and if you absolutely must have slippers to wear while in your hotel room buy a pair of cheap, thin, weightless fabric slippers that can be slid into your pack without adding extra bulk.Do not pack an extra pair of shoes. Shoes are the ultimate in unnecessary extra bulk and weight when considering travel clothing. In the movies the leading man and leading lady who are off on a journey appear in a different set of clothing and a new pair of shoes in every scene. Clearly, they are not carrying their own luggage around with them and, in fact, their bags never look quite large enough to even hold everything they wear. So much for the difference between movies and reality. I never pack extra shoes. I take my chances and figure that if my shoes get wet, I'll find a way to dry them out. I simply wear one pair of thoroughly broken in sneakers that offer good support in the soles. Nothing could be less practical than tight shoes or high heels, and the toll that they take on your feet may severely limit your enjoyment of a trip. How long can you walk around picturesque towns or stand around in museums when your feet hurt ? Wear low-heeled sturdy, but presentable, shoes with solid arch support. Wear shoes that have already been broken in and are comfortable enough for hours of daily walking but - beware - even shoes that you are accustomed to walking in daily can cause blisters when you're suddenly walking far more hours each day than normal. Keep a few bandaids or callous pads handy. Be sure that the shoes you choose for the trip are lightweight. Hold them in your hand and compare the various pairs of shoes that you're considering for the trip. When you expect to take thousands and thousands of steps each day of a trip, plus carry a backpack around each time you travel from one tourist destination to another, it's extremely counteractive to do it in a pair of shoes that themselves are heavy and require additional effort for every step that you take.Try out some of these tips for traveling light by packing very little clothing, and then see what you think. You may never want to pack all sorts of stylish outfits again. You and your clothing can still look nice, just focus on quality and not quantity. See your clothing more for its function than for its fashion and you'll be free to enjoy the joys of traveling light.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Artist, writer and traveler, Barbara Freedman-De Vito offers travel souvenirs and nature photography on t-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, magnets, framed ceramic tiles, throw pillows, journals and more. If you didn't have time to buy all of the travel souvenirs that you'd hoped to buy on your last trip, or if you're a fan of travel and nature photography, visit her Travel & Nature Photography shop.
By: Barbara Freedman-De Vito