What Exactly is Travel Clothing and Why Bother Buying It?

Packing/Gear, Travel Tips
Athleta skort, Royal Robbins Noe top, Patagonia Barely sport bra, ExOfficio Give-n-Go undies, and a Love Bags Stash-It sling made a pretty cute and very functional outfit for this walk in Bali.
Athleta skort, Royal Robbins Noe top, Patagonia Barely sport bra, ExOfficio Give-n-Go undies, and a Love Bags Stash-It sling made a pretty cute and very functional outfit for this walk in Bali.
Bringing the right type of clothing can make traveling so much easier and more comfortable! Here are the best types of clothing and fabrics to use when creating your travel wardrobe.
I'm always talking about performance clothing and how important it is for comfort and usability when traveling. I can never stress enough that comfortable, lightweight, quick-dry travel fabrics make a big difference in packing and travel experience.

The right clothing will keep you cooler in hot and humid climates or keep you warm but not sweaty in cooler climates. It will be stretchy and allow you to be comfortable when trekking around, sleeping in your clothes, or climbing onto the top bunk of a train. It will pack smaller and lighter (big win!) and won't wrinkle. It won't get smelly (as quickly LOL), will wash easily and dry quickly!

So what does performance clothing mean? And where is the best place to buy it? And what am I going to look like in my Instagram photos?!
Performance clothing has certain features built in that makes it way more awesome than, say, a basic cotton t-shirt. The features are either in the design or the in the fabric itself. Key words are:
• moisture-wicking
• 4-way stretch
• UPF sun protection
• lightweight
• quick-dry
• wrinkle-resistant
• anti-microbial (for odor control - yep)
• breathable
A zippered security pocket, multi-use (convertible) or reversible (?!) clothing, and sometimes even built-in bug repellent are extra bonuses.

For the most basic example, when thinking performance clothing, think REI. Brands such as ExOfficio, Columbia, Royal Robbins, PrAna, Toad & Co, Patagonia, and the North Face have great performance features! They are expensive but will last you forever.

Where to buy it? Well typically not REI but they do have great sales, an outlet section (REI Garage), and even a yearly garage sale where I'll snatch up some extra garments for super cheap. Look for the technical brands at places like MooseJaw, Sierra Trading Post, and Backcountry. You can also check sites like GearTrade or EBay for used or seconds.

Golf clothing is usually great for hot-weather travel. It is focused on movability and regulating body temp. Maybe not as much for the type of comfort you need when curling up in a bus seat for 12 hours, but they still have some incredibly light-weight performance fabrics. Climbing gear is a good choice too. It will be stretchy and high-tech.

Outdoor outfitters and places like Lands End also have super quality performance clothing and great customer service. Look for sales though.
J Valid beach cover makes a great tunic / sundress for travel!
J Valid beach cover makes a great tunic / sundress for travel!
Island Trends
Lands End Notch dress is a quality functional travel dress.
Lands End Notch dress is a quality functional travel dress.
Land's End
Then you can take a step down from that level of quality/price and get yoga, workout, or other athletic clothing. Pretty much hands down, UnderArmour has the best quality clothing that works great for travel. I wore a pair of their joggers in Comoros in 110 degree heat and they were perfect!

Lucy has some pretty cute stuff but it's also not very rugged. I love my Get Going capris but they snagged the first trip I took them on and pilled up like crazy. But I still wear them because they are comfy and cute. Athleta is okay but sometimes the quality lacks for the price.
Nothing too exciting, but this Columbia Zero Rules shirt and Lucy Get Going capris were cool on this hike in Tanzania.
Nothing too exciting, but this Columbia Zero Rules shirt and Lucy Get Going capris were cool on this hike in Tanzania.
Royal Robbins Essential Tencel top with Uniqlo Airism hoodie. Both do great in the heat and the top has some style for this hike to the top of the pyramid in Belize.
Royal Robbins Essential Tencel top with Uniqlo Airism hoodie. Both do great in the heat and the top has some style for this hike to the top of the pyramid in Belize.
Don't want to invest in all that expensive stuff? No problem! I have had good luck shopping in the athletic department of Target! Grab some Z by Zella leggings at Nordstrom Rack and a few things from Uniqlo! The Airism line performs great in the heat and humidity and take almost zero space to pack, and Heattech can help keep you warm. It's cheap and doesn't last long, but it does the trick. I love their sports bras and lightweight hoodie. They also have regular free-shipping sales and a discount on your first order.
You'll also want to avoid clothing that shows sweat. Your best bets are black, white, or patterns.
It's true that there's a slider with "performance" on one end and "cute" on the other. The closer you get to better performance, the further from "cute" you get. I used to go strictly for function but I got sick of looking like an old-school wilderness explorer. Especially now with the internet everywhere, you are no longer off the grid when you travel.

As far as the locals are concerned, it doesn't matter too much what you wear in most places (as far as fashion), but I do like feeling remotely normal sometimes. I usually bring at least one cute-ish dress and a top that doesn't look like a boy's t-shirt.

I have found PrAna and Royal Robbins to have some tops and dresses that perform well but still have some femininity.
PrAna has some pretty cute tops.
PrAna has some pretty cute tops.
Royal Robbins dresses are cool and reasonably feminine.
Royal Robbins dresses are cool and reasonably feminine.
These Zella Move-It convertible capris are cute and comfy.
These Zella Move-It convertible capris are cute and comfy.
Of course you can just bring "normal" clothes. I would stick to polyester / spandex though. It dries faster and doesn't wrinkle. Modal doesn't breathe. I have ended up stinky and sweaty in the few modal items I've tried. Smart Wool or Merino Wool is touted by many travelers. I tried a lovely Ice Breaker merino wool henley in Africa and on the days I wore it, it felt 10 degrees hotter! Some people also go on and on about cotton. Yes thin cotton exists that will dry somewhat quickly, but not usually as fast as a thin polyester. It also wrinkles, doesn't often stretch, and I find it too sweaty in humid climates. Cotton is a no-go for me.
Another inexpensive poly sundress that takes up almost no space at all but gave me a cute option to wear in Uluwatu.
Another inexpensive poly sundress that takes up almost no space at all but gave me a cute option to wear in Uluwatu.
This is a $10 cheapo polyester dress I bought but does great traveling. The low-quality fabric didn't last long after this trip to Italy though.
This is a $10 cheapo polyester dress I bought but does great traveling. The low-quality fabric didn't last long after this trip to Italy though.
With any of these, you have to make sure you buy the proper styles/fabrics based on the weather your traveling to! I guess that's pretty obvious but it's not like every single UnderArmour piece will suit a trip to Thailand. If you're going somewhere muggy, you have to buy the stuff that is meant to keep you cool!

Typically the more you spend (or at least whatever the suggested price is - if you do it right, you won't be paying full retail!), the longer it will last you. So you can decide what is worth investing in or not.

Some travelers like to buy most of their clothing once they land, or to bring clothing that they can throw away at the end of the trip. That just doesn't work for me. I work so hard at collecting just the right travel clothing pieces - I can't imagine them being disposable. Not just because they fit a need, but because they are likely not super cheap! It's fun to get a pair of $3 elephant pants to bum around in, but I would not base my wardrobe on that!

And don't forget your sports bras and travel undies, too! See The Undergarment Strategy.
It's hard to resist a $3 pair of comfy elephant pants on Khao San Road. They might not last long but it'll break the outfit monotony for a time.
It's hard to resist a $3 pair of comfy elephant pants on Khao San Road. They might not last long but it'll break the outfit monotony for a time.
Buying local clothing is always an option. It won't likely be performance or high quality. Shopping in Bangkok you can pick up some $1 pad thai while you're shopping! ;)
Buying local clothing is always an option. It won't likely be performance or high quality. Shopping in Bangkok you can pick up some $1 pad thai while you're shopping! ;)
It's hard to find larger sizes in Asian countries, but you can usually pick up some inexpensive stuff along the way in regular shops or thrift stores.
It's hard to find larger sizes in Asian countries, but you can usually pick up some inexpensive stuff along the way in regular shops or thrift stores.

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