Fat travel planning

When I think back on great overseas travel experiences, a lot of my memories are unfortunately regrets about clothing! I remember being hot, uncomfortable, sore, sweaty and generally discontented.

I remember red stinging chub rub in Kyoto, I remember wearing a new shirt for the first time on a 16-hour flight to London only to discover that it made me sweat profusely and made me unusually and embarrassingly stinky. I remember feeling like that was my fault.

And the point of it all?

I’m not going to be travelling any time soon, so as most of my over-analysing and stressful-overthinking goes, it’s totally academic at this point.

Through sewing I’ve learnt that even my fat body can be comfortable, can avoid chub rub, doesn’t have to end up super sweaty! That my terrible wardrobe malfunctions and getting so stinky was totally avoidable. I don’t think that I’ve got all the things in my wardrobe that I would ultimately want for travel, but I do think I have a solid idea of what my dream travel wardrobe could be, and how I could avoid some of the pitfalls from past trips!

Minimal packing?

Leila introduced me to the idea of minimal packing for international trips during our weekly Patreon Chats– of taking only a backpack for international travel, so no checked bags. I like the idea a lot, especially when my stressful mind thinks about losing my bags and how I could end up somewhere with only the clothes on my back! Of course I’ve done a lot of reading which says taking only a week of clothes, pack things that can all be mixed-and-matched with each other, and I’ve also read all the tips about choosing polyester blends so that your fabric doesn’t wrinkle…. clearly not something I’m onboard with, so here are my ideas:

Undergarments

Comfortable for all day wear, wicking, not sweat-inducing. My ideal travel undergarments are high-waisted undies, soft bralettes, some merino singlets, and maybe some chub-rub shorts.

Fabrics for undergarment success

Natural fibres are always the key for me, they keep me feeling fresh and as un-sweaty as possible. Most of my undies are already natural fibres like cotton, bamboo, and merino and some of those fabrics dry quicker than others (handy for packing light while traveling)!

If you can handle stretch mesh fabric (I can’t, it makes me super sweaty), it’d be a quick-drying option for undies and bralettes. My choice would be merino (like this one with spandex for comfort and stretch) for undies, bralettes and some singlets too, since it’s anti-bacterial, doesn’t hold smells, and wicks sweat away from the body.

And up Top?

The tops I pack never ended up being quite right- too casual, too fancy, don’t pair with my pants, sweat inducing, etc.. Of course, every top will be natural fibre since a terrible experience with a treacherous poly/cotton t-shirt made me incredible uncomfortable and stinky on a flight from NZ to London a few years ago! The fabric also needs to respond well to spot treatment since they’re going to be the garments that I slop food on the most (a busy pattern helps too)!

Knit Fabrics for tops

  • I find bamboo knit holds a stain, so choosing it in dark shades or patterns that hide marks could be good. The drape bamboo brings can be quite elevating but it can pill quickly.
  • Merino has great qualities and will be quick drying, and with spandex it can have good stretch and recovery too. It doesn’t always feel elevated/fancy to me, so I’d have to be careful with the pattern choice.
  • Cotton knit is nice but holds smells, sucks up water and it dries slowly when washed too.

Woven Fabrics for tops

  • Silk noil- my favourite fabric! Looks lovely, but not too fancy. Can be washed in a washing machine, but doesn’t get especially water-logged when washing!
  • Linen, I love linen! I’m a bit skeptical about how fast drying it is and how well it would enjoy being washed in a hand basin. It does also get quite wrinkled when packed, though I’m not sure if that would bother me!
  • Cotton lawn, thinking specifically about liberty cotton lawn, is comfortable, it’s a little bit fancy, it never seems to get wrinkled, and because it’s so lightweight I feel like it would dry relatively quickly!

I’m sure there are other fabrics that I haven’t thought of!

Pants for travel

What are the perfect travel pants? Lightweight, quick-drying, easy to dress up and down, elastic waistband, deep pockets (maybe even lots of pockets? Clearly they have to be comfortable for everyday wearing, walking about and also for sitting on flights and buses, etc.

I probably wouldn’t want to pack too many pants, maybe a couple of pairs!

Fabric for pants

  • I love linen, I love linen pants! Linen deals well with stain treatment, and it’s got other nice qualities.
  • Wool suiting! I’m not sure it would be a good choice, but the qualities of a nice wool suiting (quick drying, non-smelly) could be really handy if the pants didn’t end up looking too formal.
  • Cotton and denim are nice but take up a lot of room. We’ve all experienced wet jeans, right? They’re really no good if you get them wet or try to dry them in a rush.
  • I like Tencel, but very similar to the bamboo knit I find it marks easily, it especially holds onto grease marks, and it doesn’t take well to spot treatment when it’s not followed by a full wash. It also soaks up a lot of water when you give it the chance, and take a long time to dry!

Outer Layers

This one is so dependent on where you’re going, the season, the temperatures, the rain! I run hot, especially when I’m moving about, so I find I’m often too warm. Whatever I take has to be easily stow-able, I hate having to carry around a bulky layer that’s too hot to wear.

Rainwear
I’d either have a lightweight RTW rain jacket with a hood, or the me-made rain poncho which I’ve been dreaming about. Either way it would have to roll up small, but an added bonus of the ponch would be that it could also protect a backpack or any other bag I was carrying about.

Warm Vest
When I’ve been touristing in chilly places I’ve worn a Land’s End puffer vest. I’d like to make myself a version which has even more secure zipper pockets (some internal) and maybe a big back pocket or some more external pockets- I want oodles of pockets but I also want it to look not too sloppy (maybe a tall order). Of course, it needs to be easy to pack up small and stow in a backpack if I’m too hot to wear it!

Middle Layer
Bulky layers are out, so my favourite middle layers are lightweight merino sweaters. My favourite sweater is a thin-ish grey boxy merino sweater with high splits through the sides. It was an Eileen Fisher sale find and I’ve been chasing that high ever since. I don’t think I could replicate the excellence of that sweater with sewing, so I’ll remain on the hunt. I’m not into cardigans, but I suppose a thin cardigan could be good here.

And even warmer?
I suppose if I was going somewhere even chillier then a toastier outer layer with sleeves would be good.

Sleepwear

Somehow I inevitably forget about sleepwear- it’s probably the thing you’d end up wearing the most during the trip! I’d pack a silk robe (rolls up tiny and who knows when you might need it).

I generally prefer a full-length PJ bottom, but that does take up a decent amount of room. Perhaps Silk PJ bottoms so that they would roll up super small, or just accept that I need to leave room for 2 cotton PJs bottoms? For chilly places, I like to sleep with a knit turtleneck, so one of those too.

I could save a lot of room if I liked to sleep in a silk camisole and matching shorts!

A lack of a conclusion

No conclusions given, just rumination! But, I do have an idea about planning some backpack-only travel wardrobes to replace previous international travel wardrobes that were failures!

25 comments

  1. Very interesting with some great ideas. I think I’d find the merino I can get too itchy for knickers, but I’ve just ordered bamboo. Hope it will be good for summer heat.
    I’ve had to do an about-turn on bags because arthritis means my balance and strength are not brilliant; and I also find bags hard to put into overhead lockers. So I’ve bought an ultra-light, large bag with four wheels. I check it in, and wear a small rucksack through the airport with essentials.

    1. Merino undies is definitely very personal, and while I do notice it (it doesn’t feel as soft and delightful as bamboo), I can handle it and appreciate its good qualities enough to work past the different feeling they give!

      There is something to be said for a small light bag with wheels- and it’s definitely a better choice than the huge honking bags I’ve taken on other trips!

  2. Your post and Leila’s fabric workshop make me wish I had time to whip up a new travel wardrobe before vacation. Merino and linen for life! But as I fly in 4 days that won’t be happening… Thanks for sharing your musings and for inspiring equally interesting responses from others.

  3. I love all these musings. At 19 yo I traveled for 8 weeks with 2 pants and two shorts. Worked for my then, but I wouldn’t do that now!!! Big I still like the idea of one bag for trips with lots of little travel. If I’m going one place and staying out, a bigger bag is fine, bit if I’m catching multiple buses, trains, etc, a small bag is a must. My grandmother traveled all over the world for decades, very cheaply (think hostels, as an 80 year old), and silk shirts were her favorite. They show too much sweat for my glandular makeup, but I like a really thin cotton voile for hot climates. They dry so fast!! If you don’t like cardigans, a button up can serve a similar purpose (depending on the climate). I totally agree that many cellulose fibers (tencel, modal, bamboo) stain so easily, and take forever to dry– not good options. Wool crepe might be good for something kind of formal, that also dries fast and could be something like glebes. My comment has turned pretty rambling… 🙈

    1. Do you think that you wouldn’t travel with just a small bag anymore because you’d want more options or because you have extra people to take with you?

      I love the idea of your grandmother traveling and I feel like if she was recommending silk shirts, she’s a likely candidate for having a silk robe as part of her travel wardrobe!

      I think you’re right that different kinds of wools and silks could be perfect (I feel like silk noil doesn’t show sweat), and maybe there’s more wool I need to try sewing with too!

  4. I have to agree with you on most of the natural fibre notes! I’m working on my packing list for a wedding and a week with family, and though I do prefer hiking material bottoms (I’d be so scared I’d walk through any linen), I will bring a couple rayon or linen blouses, a rayon crepe dress, and a couple merino tees. Everything else still TBD. Also, one bag packing is awesome, whether you do carry on or check the bag. So much easier to deal with!

    1. I hear you on the linen! I’ve had really good luck with my wide-leg Glebe Pants being pretty good wearing, so long as the fabric is high quality (often I’m not certain it is until it starts to wear in though)! Maybe wool suiting pants for for you too?

      1. Wool suiting chafes when out hiking in humid weather… I tried, and wow that was a terrible experience. They’re great for work, just not the amount of walking and hiking I do outside of work!

        1. That’s handy to know! I wonder if I should make some and test it out with some walking about town before committing to it being my perfect travel fabric!

  5. Hey Jess,
    I think you have some excellent info for consideration in here. As always, very thoughtful. Definitely taking natural fibres that wash and dry easily.
    From my experience of 3 months travelling out of carryon, it’s a challenge and one I think that is rewarding, if you can manage it.
    I packed a silk robe and was glad I did – I used it as an extra layer to sleep in on chilly nights and it definitely was needed on a couple of occasions for modesty in the mornings – shared accommodation here and there!! I wish I’d had some silky long PJ pants.
    Also – a thin, light grey knit sweater with deep slits is something I took, too and it was SOOO useful.
    And – for outer layers, something to consider which I chose to make was the same, unlined jacket once in Olive Green knit merino(which was like a long cardigan) and again in a Navy linen, that I could wear together or separately – so kind of like 3 jackets out of 2.
    Hope that is helpful!🌸✨

    1. I’m very intrigued by light layering outers! Perhaps I could replicate that with an oversized shirt in a hefty-ish fabric so that it could also be an outer layer? More thinking needed!

  6. Who knows when I’ll get on a plane again, but right before it all kicked off *gestures at world*, I found my favourite pair of flying trousers. They’re a cotton/synthetic blend of cropped wide leg cargo pants. The best bit is the pocket had a zip at the front, which became the top when you sat down. The right size for a passport, snot rag and credit card.

    1. I have spotted a few cargo pants popping up in high-fashion places- I have a pin of a very stylish European woman wearing great pants which has cargo pockets on the side! Perhaps it’s time to get experimenting?

      1. I have this saved as inspiration: https://www.burdastyle.de/produkt/magazin-schnitt/cargohose-11-2020-115_2031831020990std
        The pattern is not size inclusive at all sadly, but all you’d need to do is add a zipper at the top of the pockets and probably additional slash pockets at the waistband for some chic cargo pants.
        One thing to keep in mind though is that when using a more flowy fabric (which is what makes these pants so stylish imo) you can’t put anything heavy in the leg pockets or it will bang against your leg with every step. You can mitigate that a little by putting the leg pockets high on the upper thigh, but having your keys in there would still suck 😄

        1. Interestingly, that pocket design is basically the same as a RTW inspo that Leila and I looked at yesterday for a possible Glebe hack!

  7. Love these musings. So helpful to think strategically about one’s wardrobe- something I never quite manage but really want to try harder on.

  8. It is entirely possible to travel for an indefinite amount of time with just a carryon, all you need is to be disciplined around laundry, never let an occasion go by, and never go to bed without a quick underwear swish 😁. I’m not the least bit worried about you coming up with things that go well enough together, as your color schemes are already the envy of the internet. And luckily you have really good access to merinos of all kinds, so you’re pretty set for 3 seasons of the year most places. I usually go by the ‘3’ formula: one on your body, one clean, one drying. It’s good if you can extend that a bit to say 4 panties to allow for period accidents and such, and you want some judicious layering to extend your temperature range in both directions, but basically 3 tops and 3 bottoms are mostly what you need. Remember too that shampoo is a fine thing to do hand laundry with.
    But a few notes. Bamboo knits feel good but really require several days to dry without a dryer, even in my hot dry climate, so you should skip them entirely. You might want to check out your nearby mountaineering shop and get advice about technical fabrics with good wicking and recovery to make undies and undershirts, or at least be sure to have enough in cotton. Likewise, many linens while comfortable will leave you looking like a horrific wrinkled mess on a trip (and I say that as a person who embraces ‘rumpled’ as a style goal). Consider substituting quilting cottons, not ideal drape but better behavior on the road. You should definitely consider wool pants, eyeing menswear suiting as it’s the toughest. Tropical wool is an indestructible weave that’s lightweight enough for most climates, and dries overnight. Give a thought also to silk broadcloth, wears like iron and feels like nothing, it’s been my staple for humid heat for decades.
    I would reconsider your aversion to cardigans, which are a lot more versatile than any sweaters. A LOT. In fact, the pink boiled wool jacket that you adore and wear constantly is a lot closer to a cardigan than a jacket, so that’s all I’m going to say about that 😉. Also your sleepwear ideas seem terribly overambitious. A merino turtleneck should definitely do double duty as a daytime underlayer if the weather calls for it, and any bottoms should also be able to double up as emergency pants. In short, wear some loose ordinary clothes if possible. Also, bathrobes are for people who sleep naked, if you are considering a whole extra wardrobe for sleeping you really should forget about a bathrobe, or wear your raincoat if an extra layer is absolutely necessary.
    Finally, some advice from my misadventures. Never take anything that you haven’t really worn at least a couple times, and if possible handwashed in your own sink and tried to air dry. But conversely don’t take anything that’s a bit iffy on wear, thinking you’ll just finish it off, the end might be a lot sooner than you think. Travel is a lot harder on clothes than regular life..

    1. I like the idea of sleepwear which can also be daywear, and your rule of 3s about clean and drying!

      I’ve been considering making some Spinifex PJ bottoms which are daywear appropriate, so perhaps plain coloured PJ bottoms is the way to go!

      Sounds to me like I need to get cracking on some wool pants to give them a go- I do sometimes do a half lining or pack pettipants for them, but I’m thinking that my new chub rub shorts (pattern coming soon) might be enough to stop most of me itching!

      1. I usually make pettipants in rayon lining for wool pants, find them a lot more versatile than actual linings as you can wash them separately at a faster clip. They also double as warmer/wind cutting layers so your pants are good for a wider temperature range. And/or leggings of silk jersey are divine and give you a good 20o more range. I don’t think I could buy them to fit me any more, but they’re easy to make. And they can be layered with pettipants for a blizzard. As to wool chafing, I have some Italian worsted wool that’s slicker than cotton so it’s all in the weave.
        I know plain colored pajamas seem like an oxymoron 😂 but with the right pattern you’re right, they could be a useful 24/7 wardrobe extension. They could be formal zoom attire at home later 😉

  9. we have a trip planned, so great to read your thoughts, re sleepwear I normally don’t sleep in anything sp really have to remeber to pack something for travel! Merino, and layers is my plan for the rest, I got a rtw raincoat that packs into,a bag so that is on my list.

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