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What to consider when packing for a trip abroad

August 9, 2016 No Comments

This post isn’t about what to wear, rather it is what to consider when packing in order to be as efficient as possible while still having options. The keys are to plan out all of the outfits for each day of the trip and mix-and-match as much as is feasible. This is easiest if you stick to a neutral color palette. For colder and mild climates, my color palette is generally black, white, greys, and red (I purposefully buy scarves and beanies during the year with this in mind). For warmer environments, I go with a more colorful variety.

1. Travel clothes

The foundation of your clothing packing list should be the clothes that you will wear while traveling. Obviously everyone considers being comfortable, but there are other things to think about for flight wear. I found that I am most comfortable in leggings and a loose T-shirt with a sweater/ sweatshirt or a loose fitting tank dress that goes below the knee (with a sweater). Either option allows for folding up your legs in flight. If you’re traveling with little ones or plan to do some drinking, make sure everything is spill proof!

Also consider when and where you will be landing. Your destination may have a completely different climate and it will be a different time of day when you land. If you have to walk from the train station to your hotel at night it may be more chilly than you anticipated. Or if you have some time to kill on the island before you’re allowed to check into your hotel, beach attire may be the way to go.

For shoes, I wear something that’s easy to slip off and on during the flight and I will bring a pair of socks to wear for keeping toes warm and walking around the plane. If it’s a short flight, I usually wear my heaviest shoes or boots but I don’t like to do that on long flights because they take up too much room when I take them off. Above all, make sure whatever shoes you bring are comfortable enough to walk briskly through airports and on the streets.

Last tip: I bring a change of panties on the flight or I wear a panty liner that I can easily remove towards the end of the flight. I know this is TMI, but it keeps me from feeling like I’ve been wearing the same pair of panties for too long.

2. Work/ conference clothes

If you will be attending any work-related functions while on your trip this is obviously something to which you have to give some attention. Depending on how formal you need to be for any presentations or meetings, you can try and use basic pieces that will translate to other categories on this list. I’m thinking through my options right now for an upcoming professional trip and it looks like I’m going to go with a pair of black pants that can be worn out at night or dressed down during the day for sightseeing. My favorite soft, white button-down blouse literally goes with anything and will look crisp enough under a cardigan for my talk. My walking flats will go just fine with this ensemble.

3. Formal wear

Don’t forget about something nice to wear for that date night or conference dinner. I tend to go with some sort of LBD that I can later pair with tights and a pullover sweater for a day of sightseeing. That way I don’t feel bad about getting only one use out of something I’m dragging halfway around the world. As for shoes, again I usually stick with black flats since getting to dinner may include a metro ride and some walking.

4. Specific activity clothes

Look at your itinerary and consider any special activities that will require less than casual clothing. This could be swimwear for a soak in the hotel spa or hiking gear for the trekking excursion that you booked on a port of call. Consider taking a dirty clothing bag if you anticipate getting these particularly dirty or sweaty.

5. Casual/ sightseeing clothes

At this point I generally make a list of all of these “special needs” items listed above and see what pieces will translate over into my day-to-day sightseeing activities. The flats I wear on the plane, the white button-down and black pants that I wore during my presentation will all make for an outfit for a day of walking around the city. Additionally, those can all be paired with other items for more days of use. From here, look at how many total days or outfits you will need and start building.

A pen and paper are fine for this or there are plenty of list apps out there. For those of you who are more visual and have some time on your hands, the Stylebook Closet app is pretty incredible. You incorporate photos of your clothing items or upload them from your favorite brands’ websites and you can literally build your outfits and place them on the days of the calendar for your trip. I’ve done this for a couple of trips and it worked like a charm. It really got me to stick to my “outfit of the day” and kept me from putting extra things in my suitcase that I wouldn’t use.

Last tip: Here we go with the underwear again… This one comes from my husband. If we are going on a trip and he is in need of buying new underwear or undershirts, he will purchase new ones and then wear all of the old ones on the trip, throwing them away day by day. This way you get one last use out of the old ones, you have less to bring home in your suitcase, and you have fresh new undergarments waiting for you at home. On our next trip I’m definitely going to do this for myself and our kiddo.

Happy packing!


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  • Jim Barnett May 22, 2018 at 5:30 am

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    Dr. Shiloh

    Travel has always been a part of my life and I have found the key to making it a part of my professional experience. Expect recaps of great destinations, advice on incorporating travel into your work & tips on making travel with a family easier. Cheerio!


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