“What are your must-have travel items?” is one of the most common questions we get asked. So we created a WHOLE page dedicated to packing! (I am thrilled that my fashion design degree is finally coming in handy, mostly to wax poetic about the technical properties of merino wool.)
When I travel, every item of clothing in my pack needs to justify its existence. It needs to coordinate with multiple other items, not be prone to wrinkles, and be lightweight and quick-drying, and I wanted as many high-performance textiles as possible. Plus there’s all the other stuff you need to make travel safe and comfortable, so I cover that too. Ready to get packing?!
What to Pack
Backpack vs. Suitcase: which is better?
Honestly, this decision really has to do with where you are going and your travel style. We tend to bring suitcases on domestic trips, but we typically bring a backpack on international trips.
If you need to schlep your belongings around on cobblestones or unpaved streets, up stairs, on public transit, or between multiple countries and don’t want to be hauling a big suitcase, a backpack is incredibly travel-friendly. We recommend:
If you are traveling to one destination and staying in the same place for longer periods of time, then a suitcase is the perfect choice. We recommend:
Do you have any packing tips? (Packing cubes, roll vs. fold…?)
Packing a suitcase or backpack is an art. Or maybe it’s a science. Either way, it’s not easy and it’s a skill that we’re forever mastering!
We try to keep everything as organized as possible. Here are our top packing tips:
- We swear by packing cubes! They keep your clothing organized and neat, so it’s easy to find what you need and repacking is a breeze. Crucial for multi-destination trips!
- Roll, don’t fold, your clothing! You’ll be able to see what you packed more easily, you’ll get less wrinkles in your clothing, and you’ll be able to fit things in more easily.
- Don’t forget a shoe bag & a laundry bag. We always bring along little lightweight drawstring bags to use for dirty laundry as well as to separate our shoes (and all the dirt and gross stuff caked on them).
- Pack your toiletries in a hanging toiletry organizer. This hanging toiletry case keeps all of our travel-sized toiletries organized and neat, and it’s easy to hang it up in the bathroom wherever we go. It rolls up into a cube that’s easy to fit into our suitcases. We keep ours permanently packed so we can grab it and go!
What’s the best textile for travel?
Oooh, this is my favorite question. Ahem *dusts off fashion designer degree.*
For travel, you want durable fabrics that can dry quickly, resist wrinkles, and repel odor! I highly recommend natural textiles like breezy cotton, linen, hemp and merino wool. They have natural properties that make them travel friendly:
- Performance merino wool is something of a miracle travel fabric: it keeps you cool when it’s hot out and warm when it’s cold out; when it gets wet, it stays warm while it dries. It naturally resists the growth of fungus and bacteria, so it never gets smelly — crucial for re-wearing clothes to save on laundry costs. It’s even flame retardant! For hot destinations, we always pack a merino t-shirt (his, hers) as well as undies (his, hers), ankle socks, and a merino sports bra. a In cold weather, we wear a full merino under-layer underneath our clothing, with merino leggings (his, hers) and a long-sleeved top (his, hers).
- Hemp is another miracle textile: it’s temperature regulating (keeping you cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather), fungus and bacteria resistant, quick-drying, highly durable, and even offers UV protection. Plus, it’s both vegan and environmentally friendly: hemp actually cleans up the soil as it grows, and it requires little water or pesticides! But because it’s not quite as popular, it’s a little harder to find than merino wool clothing, but we’re seeing more options recently. One of our favorite eco-friendly clothing brands, prAna, makes a fantastic hemp line – browse women’s and men’s.
- Cotton & Linen: These are a top choice for hot weather because they’re naturally super breezy and lightweight! But there are two major downsides: they wrinkle easily, and they don’t dry very quickly. To improve wrinkling & drying time, look for cotton & linen blends with nylon, polyester, or something stretchy like spandex or elastane. You can find cotton clothing in most stores, and we have great luck with reasonably priced linen clothing at Old Navy – take a look!
- Nylon & Polyester: Two of the most popular textiles, you’ll find plenty of high-tech nylon and polyester clothing for travel. They’re extremely durable (they won’t rip or tear easily) and can be very quick-dry, but on the flip side, they’re not the most breathable and can get smelly easily. But for certain clothes, it’s the perfect choice, like our high-performance hiking pants (his, hers) and our beloved cozy travel lounge pants (his, hers).
- Rayon & Tencel: These may SOUND like they’re man-made fibers, but they’re actually only semi-synthetic: Rayon is made from bamboo, and Tencel is made from eucalyptus. You’ll typically find them blended in with other fabrics. They’re both a great choice for travel, although I prefer Tencel because it’s more sustainable.
Here’s the bottom line: merino wool and hemp are the best overall textiles for travel, cotton/linen are fantastic for hot destinations, and nylon/polyester blends are great for high-performance travel clothes. I’ll get off my nerd soapbox now!
What are your favorite shoes for travel?
After trying on, returning, trying on again, and field-testing like crazy, I’ve found SIX absolutely amazing pairs of travel shoes for women. And what’s more, they’re all lightweight and easy to cram into your luggage without taking up a ton of room!
- Best Walking Shoes: Allbirds Tree Skippers
- Best Travel Boots: VivoBarefoot Gobi Hi-Top
- Best Winter Boots: Vivobarefoot Tracker FG
- Best Lightweight Hiking Shoe: my Altra Lone Peak Trail Runners
- Best Walking Sandals: Teva Sandals
- Best Flats: Ollio Ballet Flats
What are your favorite travel pants?
After trying on, returning, trying on again, and field-testing like crazy, I’ve found 5 absolutely amazing pairs of travel pants for women!
- Best Travel Jeans: Aviator USA
- Best Hiking Pants: prAna Halle Pants
- Best Winter Pant: prAna Briann pant
- Best Leggings: Royal Robbins Lucerne Ponte Pant
- Best Lounge Pant: the Outdoor Voices CloudKnit Sweatpants
What do you bring on a flight?
Start with some good carry on luggage like Away Carry-On Suitcase. Then add;
- Re-Usable Water Bottle
- Silk hair scrunchie
- Entertainment: book, Kindle, podcasts or audio books
- Portable Charger
- Travel pillow
- Silk eye mask
- Bluetooth SleepPhones
- Baby Wipes
- Lip Balm & Moisturizer
- Cuticle Scissors & a Nail File
- Snacks, like Clif Bar protein bar
- Collapsible Travel Cup (to cut down on plastic waste)
For more tips, check out our Long Haul Flight Essentials post.
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