TRAVELING LIGHT is more than just stuffing everything in a carryon and stoically living with the consequences. One terribly heavy bag does not make good one-bag travel, and — by definition – does not make for light travel. Successful one-bag travel means traveling with minimal weight and bulk; it also means traveling comfortably and well. Therefore, the utility and quality of what is packed in that one bag is of utmost importance.
Clothes are mostly what fill our luggage. Their quantity and weight determine how lightly we travel. So light travel depends, first of all, on the clothing we choose. The light traveler cannot take eight pairs of pants, eight shirts, eight pairs of underclothing, four pieces of outerwear, and three pairs of shoes for an eight-day excursion. To take make do with less clothing requires that we take a few pieces of the right clothing and that we wash it as we go.
Choice of clothing
Simply put, travel clothing should be versatile, comfortable, and fast-drying. Versatility means adaptable to a reasonably wide range of temperatures and conditions. Three-season clothing is usually what the traveler needs. In few hours time the traveler can experience a cold airplane cabin, un-air conditioned bus or subway, sweltering asphalt street, sun-blazed beach, or blustery hilltop. Well-ventilated clothing that also provides protection from sun and wind, as well as from sudden drops in temperature is a must. Versatility also extends to appearance. Good travel clothing looks appropriate and smart in a variety of settings.
Travel clothing must also be comfortable or our whole travel experience will suffer. Focusing fully on the work or play at hand is impossible when wearing clothing that hinders and irritates. Synthetic fabrics, so often used for travel clothing, can be more curse than blessing if poorly made or thoughtlessly constructed. Natural-fiber clothing may not adapt well to fast-paced modern travel. Personal research and testing is the only way to ensure the perfect travel wardrobe.
The only way to take less is to wash more. The fast-moving light traveler cannot count on laundry facilities and equipment. Washing in the hotel room, hostel lavatory, or nearest stream may be the only option at the end of a long day followed by an early morning departure. Clothes that can be hand-washed and hang-dried in a matter of hours are essential. More often than not that means synthetic-fiber clothing.
Sources for travel clothing
The travel clothing industry has exploded in the last several years. High-end travel clothing manufacturers include ExOfficio, Columbia, Patagonia, Royal Robbins, The North Face, and Mountain Hardwear. Companies like Orvis, TravelSmith, and Magellan’s have their own lines as well. The common denominator is price: None of it is cheap. There are some shortcuts to affordable travel clothing, but nearly every light traveler should avail himself of a few of the best items offered by the high-end manufacturers. When packing light, good quality goes a long way.
The most important items to spend good money on are those that bear the brunt of travel’s exertions, shirts or blouses and underclothes. You’ll love a high-quality travel shirt, and unless you use my magic laundry formula, you must have the high-tech anti-microbial underwear (yeah, I said hi-tech underwear – sorry). Disposable underwear is also an option.
Here are some excellent sources for travel-appropriate clothing: