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Day 11: Packing Layers to Boost Comfort and Style

Packing Hacks is a 31-part series devoted to helping you become an expert packer! Each installment offers advice on how to get organized, pack smarter, save on bag fees, and eliminate packing stress. New to Packing Hacks? Start at the beginning.

Now that the first week of Packing Hacks has come to a close, we’re transitioning from bags to one of our favorite topics: travel clothes and accessories. Today, we’re showing you how to use versatile layers to make the most out of what you pack, so you can travel in comfort and style.

You’ll learn:

How basic items can perform multiple functions

Clothing essentials for every trip

How some fabrics can keep you warm or cool, depending on the travel situation

“When I travel, a scarf is a must,” says Jenny Adams, a Manhattan-based travel writer and photographer and author of the blog BuddhaDrinksFanta. “Usually I take a dark-blue circular one I bought years ago.” Not only can she wear it in a number of ways, “it’s more useful than a multipurpose knife. It’s great as an impromptu camera bag, a means to carry an armful of something, a beach towel in a pinch, or a strap when my purse strap decides it’s tired of being on the road.”

Not everything in your luggage needs to be the Leatherman tool of travelwear, but in general, layers will give you the best versatility and bang for your buck. Also, they’re easily stashed into carry-on bags, making it easy to grab the piece you need, when you need it. Here are some of our favorites pieces for traveling in comfort and style throughout the year.


Pashmina: Pashmina is a cashmere (goat) wool with a tight, smooth, flat weave that makes it relatively lightweight yet warm. Pashminas are one of the most versatile pieces you can pack: On a plane, you can pull one around you if the cabin is cold, then once you’ve landed and are out and about, you can fold it up tightly and stash it in your handbag until you need it. And because they’re relatively inexpensive these days and come in a rainbow of colors, consider taking two—for instance, one neutral and one “statement” color&mdashto add panache and sparkle to an outfit.

Leggings: Stretchy, comfy, and lightweight yet warm, leggings can be one of your best travel friends. On long flights especially, jeans can feel tight and constricting. Instead, try pairing a loose-fitting dress, sweater, or tunic over leggings—they’ll stretch when you do, without binding. If your final destination is a warm one, wear a lightweight dress over your leggings. You can remove them before you leave the airport (or before standing in a long, hot line at immigration control) and be comfortably cool when you step outdoors.

Cotton Sarong: Like a pashmina, a cotton sarong (or pareo) can be pressed into a number of different duties. But a sarong has even more utilitarian options, especially in warm weather. Even better, it can be quickly washed in a sink then hung over a rack or balcony and will be completely dry in an hour or two. Use a sarong as a beach cover-up, a scarf or wrap for cool evenings, a beach “blanket,” a towel … in a pinch, you can even use one as a baby sling!

Travel Dress: Warm weather or cold, the right travel dress packs easily, comes out wrinkle-free, and gives you casual-to-elegant looks depending on how you accessorize with shoes, sweaters, jackets, and jewelry. Steer clear of those “10-in-1” dresses that tout myriad looks depending on how you twist, tie, or wrap them—unless you’ve got a Boy Scout’s knack for knots. Simple is better (a wrap dress, for instance, or a faux wrap like this one from TravelSmith), and if you have room, take two—one in a neutral color and one in a print that won’t show the occasional stain.

Merino Wool: Merino wool is one of the best bets for your travel wardrobe, and it’s a good example of Mother Nature trumping technology. It comes in an array of thicknesses, from silk-weight to heavier gauges, and it’s used in everything from lightweight underwear and base layers to dresses, sweaters, and coats (Icebreaker has a great selection). Whether you’re gallery hopping or mountain biking, merino wool will keep you warm when you need it and cool when you don’t. Best of all, it wicks away moisture and doesn’t absorb odors, so you can wear it several times without having to wash it.


Let’s face it, when it comes to travel wardrobes, men can—and do—get by with less.

“Depending on where I’m going, I always like to pack something like a good lamb’s wool or merino cardigan, because it packs down small,” says Pablo O’Brien, vice president of travel at AAA Northern California. “So does a scarf. Mix it up with some Uniqlo T-shirts or a no-press button-down, and you can get through a few nights of dining. And Bluff Works pants are dressy enough from a distance to fake it.”

Dark Blazer: What’s the male version of the LBD? A dark blazer, of course. Whether its made from wool, suede, or a cotton blend, this is the piece that goes from casual cool (over a colored T-shirt) to kick-it-up-a-notch style (over a button-down shirt).

Vest: A piece that can transition from season to season, a vest is a good investment for layering over T-shirts or heavier shirts. A particular travel favorite of ours is the Scottevest, with a whopping 26 pockets for all of your valuables, including an RFID-blocking pocket that prevents identity theft.

Up next: Day 12: Travel-Wardrobe Tweaks That Deliver More Style in Less Space.

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