Drop Down MenusCSS Drop Down MenuPure CSS Dropdown Menu

Traveling Light: Ultimate Guide to Awesome Women's Travel Clothes

ultimate women travel clothes
The North Face Gore-Tex Packlite Jacket and Lululemon shorts
The key to successful travel clothes is making sure that what you are wearing is not only comfortable and functional, but also reflects your personal style. The tips and suggestions here will help you use clothes you already own into travel clothes, turn stylish finds into multi-functional pieces and buy new items to fit your needs.

The clothes you bring on your journey should be:
  • wrinkle resistant
  • stain resistant
  • fast drying
  • multi-functional
  • have secure pockets
  • be comfortable

Wayfinder Ali with bull elephant in Thailand
At an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, wearing 
Patagonia Quandry Shorts and a C9 top from Target

Why are these qualities important? 
Adventure is full of the unexpected. Laundry facilities are rarely accessible, rain storms come out of nowhere, and there are always spontaneous adventures to partake in. 

You might spend a morning hiking and the afternoon sampling wine. You'll have more time to do both if you don't have to stop by your hotel room to change clothes. 

You'll be able to wash your clothes in your sink at night and they'll be dry by morning. 

You also want clothes, underwear and socks that won't start to stink after wearing them for more than a day or two.

Raid Your Closet
Before you buy anything, its time to go through your closet.You probably already have several pieces in there that would be great for travel. Here is what to look for:

  • Polyester - 60-100% Why its awesome: It soaks up less water than cotton, and so it dries quickly. It also  continues to regulate body temperature when wet. The downside? It tends to start stinking quickly, and sometimes it is hard to get odors out. 
  • Nylon - 60-100% - It absorbs less water than polyester and dries really quickly. It is usually somewhat to totally windproof depending on the weave. The cons are that it often doesn't breathe was well and isn't as soft.
  • Merino Wool- up to 100% - This is not itchy wool. Merino is soft against the skin. It is hydrophobic and still regulates body temperature well when wet. It is anti-microbial so you can wear it for a while before it starts to smell. The only downside is it tends to be expensive.  
  • Cotton - 0-30% - Cotton feels great against the skin, but it soaks up and holds moisture, looses all temperature regulation when it is wet and starts to smell quickly. 
  • Spandex / Lycra 1-10% - A little spandex or Lycra makes clothes fit well and move with you. Keep the content low because it absorbs moisture rapidly, looses warmth when wet, dries slowly, and retains odor. 
  • Gore-Tex- A man-made waterproof breathable fabric. Breathable means that it allows the moisture from your body to escape, but doesn't let the water from the rain in, keeping you from getting wet from your own sweat. It is more breathable and more expensive than the 'treated and printed nylon' that so many companies have their own proprietary versions of. 
  • Treated and printed nylon- North Face calls it "HyVent," Patagonia calls it "H2No" but its all the same stuff. The print on the inside of the jacket helps to distribute sweat over the surface area of the fabric to help it evaporate. The treatment on the outside of the nylon makes it waterproof. 
Basic Packing List for Temperate Climate:
Wayfinder Ali on rappel
  • 2-3 Short Sleeve Shirts
  • 1-3 Tank tops
  • 1 quick dry wrinkle resistant button up shirt (long sleeve for bug + sun protection) OR a lightweight long sleeve shrug to layer over a tank or short sleeve top
  • 1-2 pair of comfortable quick dry pants you could go to dinner or hike in (I bring one pair of yoga pants and one pair of loose hiking pants)
  • 2 pairs of quick dry shorts (1 of which you can swim in)
  • 2 - 3 pairs underwear (No cotton!)
  • 3 pairs socks (No cotton!)
  • 1 rain jacket (+ rain pants if you're hiking a bunch or in a very rainy area)
  • 1 lightweight jacket or pullover
  • 1 Buff or quick drying bandanna 
  • 1 travel dress (optional)

Lay out the clothes you've found in your closet that fit these guidelines and then try everything on. Create a pile of the items that are comfortable, fit well and look decent. Now try putting together outfits. This is actually important. You don't want anything in your backpack that doesn't look good together. All your shirts should work with all your shorts and pants. If you are missing items on the list, its time to go shopping. Think outside the REI box, especially if you aren't so into that sporty style that REI so often stocks. Read labels and see what suits your style that fits the guidelines.

What you absolutely should splurge on:
Before we begin, let me say, there are some things to absolutely spend money on. You won't find a decent rain jacket for less than $100 retail (look for end of season sales). Hiking and travel shorts and pants for women are nearly impossible to find in off-brands or at Target (Boys are so lucky!). The North Face, Columbia and Patagonia all make nice, stylish, quick drying travel shorts for between $40 and $50. The pant versions usually run $10 to $20 more than the shorts. Underwear and socks are two other items that you absolutely should not skimp on. Fit and fabric quality are very important  because they touch such sensitive areas. Secondly, these items will begin to stink first and you'll be washing them more frequently that everything else. Scroll down past the outfits for my sock and underwear suggestions.

cute quick dry travel dress

A great looking, wrinkle resistant travel dress is a fantastic piece to add to your travel bag. My favorite is the Marakesh Maven dress by Columbia because it drapes well, is super comfortable and has pockets.
Budget Style
Shopping for travel clothes on a budget is getting easier and easier. Target, Forever 21, Wal-Mart, and REI all have great clothes that won't empty your wallet. Sierra Trading and REI Outlet are fantastic websites to find both off-brand gear and end of season sales on the good stuff. If you are eligible for a pro-deal, or think you might be, check out my post on how to get a pro-deal.

Budget Jackets
From left to right:
*The North Face Women's Venture Rain Jacket $99 (My mom's is still kicking after 6 years)
Women's Puffer Front Jacket by C9 @ Target $34 (an alternative to The North Face Zephyrus, not as light or pack-able)
*Tarramar Grid Fleece Pullover  $29.95 (Compare to Patagonia R1 $129) I have this and like it. The arms and shoulders are smaller and tighter than the Patagonia original and not as warm

Fantastic Jackets 
From the left:
Marmot Minimalist Jacket $140 - Gore Tex is super light and super breathable
*Patagonia Nanopuff Jacket $160 (my favorite windproof, super light insulated jackets. It packs into its own pocket)
*Patagonia R1 Full Zip Fleece Jacket $160 My favorite pullover, mine is 7 years old. Grid fleece pattern reduces bulk and increases breath-ability.
Smartwool PhD SmartLoft Divide Full Zip $200 An insulated nylon shell torso keeps your core warm while merino wool sleeves reduce bulk under jackets. 

Budget Tops
From the left:
Active T-Shirt Pink $12
*C9 by Champion Performance Tee $12.99 @ Target (I have several and love them!)
The Wanderer Flowy Tee $20 (100% modal)

Great Tops
From the left:
Arc'Teryx A2B Top $78 Beautiful top that's dressy enough for work, but travels well
*Icebreaker Siren Short Sleeve Sweeheart $70 (cute, soft wool top that dresses up or goes hiking)

Budget Tanks

Wanderer Tank Top $20 100% modal

Favorite Tanks

*Lululemon Ebb to Street Tank $58 - I have this and I absolutely love it, built in bra

Travel Bottoms
Finding great travel pants and shorts is easy if your budget is between $40 and $80 per item. You'll easily find great shorts, pants and skirts in a wide variety of styles at that price point. One of my favorite things, and something I really suggest, is buying a pair of yoga pants with large side pockets. They are comfy on long flights and I can slide my phone, boarding pass and passport into the pockets.  Avoid butt pockets with buttons or snaps because they'll be uncomfortable if you're sitting on hard surfaces or for any length of time.
With a budget below $40 per piece, things get trickier, especially if you want (or need, in most cases) pockets. It's easy to find shorts and pants that are comfortable, look good and dry quickly for less than $40, but they'll be very sporty running style shorts you find in the active wear sections of Target and Wal-Mart. With persistent hunting, you can find name brand shorts and pants in out of season colors online and in REI stores.

Fast Drying Outdoor Pants
quick dry travel pants

Left to right:
Lululemon Studio Pant II Unlined $108
The North Face Alamatta Pant $65
*Patagonia Happy Hike Pant $59 - I have the shorts and love them.
Columbia Anytime Outdoor Pant $49
C9 by Champion Women's Woven Pant originally $30, on sale for $15 @ Target

Yoga Pants, Capris and Tights
Athleta Sly Drifter Tight $84 - with two zip pockets on each leg
*Lucy Pocket Capri $79 -  with side stretch pockets big enough for a passport!
C9 by Champion Premium Fitted Pant $39.99 @ Target
Forever 21 Crossover waist yoga pants  $21 (these won't dry very quickly)
Forever 21 Side Pocket Tights $20

Travel Shorts / Skorts
Travel skirts and shorts
From the left:
*Patagonia Happy Hike Shorts $49 - fit great and dry super fast
The North Face Alamatta Short $45
Columbia Anytime Casual Skort $39.95 (on sale currently)
Columbia Women's Anytime Outdoor Short $35 (on sale currently)

Underwear and Socks
With underwear and socks, fabric and fit is so important, especially for ladies. Wearing synthetic underwear can sometimes cause yeast infections, so its important that fabric breathes and isn't too tight. When buying a synthetic blend, I stay away from nylon blends because I feel they don't breathe as well as polyester. Keep the spandex/lycra content under 10% so your underwear won't hang on to your sweat long after your body has stopped sweating. One of the best options for underwear is merino wool because it breathes well, dries fast and is anti-microbial. The latest versions of merino socks and underwear can be machine dried, so you don't have to worry about shrinking.
Fabulous Underwear
travel underwear panties
From the left:

Budget Undies
budget travel underwear panties
From the left:
Gilligan & O'Malley Women's Modal Hipster  $5 at Target (95% Modal, 5% Spandex)
Hanes Women's Comfort Cool Microfiber Bikini  - $15 / 8 pack at WalMart (92% Polyester, 8% spandex)
Blissful Benefits by Warner's Women's No Muffin Top Lace Hipster - $4 at Wal-Mart (88% Polyester, 12% spandex)

For socks, I beg you to do yourself a favor and fork out the cash for Smartwool socks. You only need three pairs, they last forever and they are so comfortable. Merino wool helps prevent blisters, stinky feet and they hold up to abuse. For me, the "light" level of cushion is perfect. It is just enough to protect my feet on long days but not so much that my feet overheat. I recommend staying away from the "ultralight" Smartwool socks because I feel they aren't as comfortable, don't offer enough cushion for all-day walking, and you are more likely to get blisters than with the "light" level of cushion. 

Putting it all together- Outfits for Travel

Budget Outfits

Women's Budget Travel Clothes

Women's Budget Travel Clothes by wayfinderali 
In this set, not linked to previously:
Abercrombie Strappy Triangle Top $22 (or OP Junior Classic Triangle Top for $5!!)
Hurley Grid Lock Tie Side Bikini Bottom $18 (or OP Classic String Bottom Black Print $5!)
FOREVER 21 Ruched Tennis Skort $15 (no pockets, won't dry quickly but its cute)

The Good Stuff 

Awesome Women's Travel Clothes
In this set not linked to previously:
Top row from right:
*The North Face Zephyrus Pullover $129 (my favorite windproof, super light insulated jacket)
Second row from Right
Bottom Row from Right
Lululemon What the Sport Short (with side pockets, I'm obsessed with these) $58
*Columbia Marakesh Maven Travel Dress $48-58 (my all time favorite travel piece)
A plain, simple shrug, crucial for Southeast Asia and the Middle East