The key to packing light is knowing how to dress like a transformer.
This doesn’t mean adapting an alternate lifestyle or repurposing a Halloween costume. Repurposing is the point, though, and while you won’t be able to turn your clothes into a concept car or get Megan Fox to fix your wardrobe if it malfunctions (unless your last name is Green), you’ll find herein some road-tested ways to get multiple uses out of almost every article of clothing you bring on your next trip.
Men have the luxury of letting their swim trunks transform into walking shorts, especially if they have a pocket or two, and likewise, “men’s lightweight nylon or Supplex shorts can work as a swimsuit,” suggests Susan Foster, author of “Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler.”
For women, a one-piece swimsuit can become a top if paired with pants or shorts, Foster adds. Longtime flight attendant Toni Vitanza has a “plain black one-piece swimsuit that I can wear under a slinky black skirt. Add a sheer black blouse and it's appropriate for a dressy evening, especially with a metallic scarf, flashy [costume] jewelry, and nice shoes.”
Vitanza avoids bringing an umbrella not just because it takes up a free hand, but “talk about the ultimate in single-use items,” she observes. She prefers wearing an anorak “that folds into its own pocket and becomes a pillow for the plane. It has a drawstring waist and a hood to keep the rain off me.” For added utility she puts a sleep mask, earplugs, a couple pain relievers, and a booklight in the pocket before she zips it up “and it's my sleepy pack for a trans-Atlantic flight and it's my raincoat.”
Strenuously avoid bringing a heavy-duty winter coat unless you’re heading to the Ukraine . As Foster points out, “even silk or high-tech-fiber long underwear can be layered under clothing for daytime warmth or worn as sleepwear or layered under a long sleeve shirt – and you’re ready for the Arctic .”
One sport coat should do the trick as long as it matches your pants, notes frequent business traveler Ken Walker. “One navy blue blazer can be worn at least three times, and it can be carried over the shoulder and hung up in a meeting room without being worn at all,” he suggests.
“I have a couple of what I call tee-shirt dresses,” Vitanza says. “I got them at a Salvation Army, thinking that I could use them to both sleep in and to run down the hall for ice or whatever on layovers. Turns out, they are really nice enough to wear ‘out,’ especially with a jacket or with a sweater tied around the neck and a cute little hat or scarf.”
For tour leader Ann Lombardi, “the most multi-purpose item of clothing for women -- and something I always pack in the spring and summer months -- is a sari.” Aside from its primary use as a lightweight, wrap-around outer garment, Lombardi has used a sari as “a makeshift blanket or sheet, a picnic cloth, a ‘bathrobe’ for the pool or beach, a beach towel – a cotton sari works better than silk in this case – and as a ‘curtain’ to block out window light in a hotel room.”
Dark pants for women or men can be dressed up or down, “depending on the cut and fabric,” Foster says. “Lots of jean details such as topstitching in a contrasting color or cargo pocketing look casual, while a classic simple side slant pocket with a waistband -- no elastic or ties at the waist -- is most flexible.”
For a typical five-day “business casual” trip, Walker will pack “two pairs of dark trousers and a pair of black denim jeans. Darker colors hide stains well, so you can spill coffee on them and still wear them again without issue. Changing out of the trousers and into the jeans right after work saves some wear on your trousers and if you wear black jeans to an after work event, nobody will really notice.”
Long-sleeve tee-shirts are handy for layering and can easily be tied around your neck, Vitanza says. In general she favors packing washable, wrinkle-resistant blouses “ that can be worn over that slinky black skirt or the tailored neutral one I wore on the plane. This is what polyester was invented for.”
Walker notes that on business trips you seldom hear people say of a man, "Didn't he wear that white shirt yesterday?" He packs “three casual lightweight shirts for work, plus one conservative pull-over shirt for after-work wear. If a necktie’s required, he’ll “heavily starch three good-quality button-down cotton dress shirts. The starch helps them stand up better to the rigors of packing and wearing more than once. Two good conservative solid color ties will allow you alternate without anyone knowing.”
Foster suggests that if you’re not a white shirt type of guy “a light blue Oxford or Tattersall dress shirt is more flexible than a plain white shirt, and can be dressed up with a tie or dressed down when worn under a sweater or untucked over a casual tee-shirt. She adds that “a denim shirt can work with a tie and sport coat, over a turtleneck, or as a light jacket over another shirt or tee-shirt.”
Vitanza has learned to plan her “whole wardrobe around one pair of shoes -- the ones I wear on the plane. This spring I found a pair of closed-toe [shoes] that can be worn on the beach, walking around town, and in first class.”
Travel writer and former flight attendant Beth Blair, co-founder of The Vacation Gals, notes that “there are several brands of ladies shoes that have one ‘base’ with various choices of interchangeable clips. These are ideal for traveling since a woman doesn't have to pack a separate suitcase for shoes -- much to her husband’s delight.”
If you’d like to transform your vacation wardrobe into a charitable donation, consider an experiment undertaken by Walker ’s buddy Pete, who bet himself that buying his clothes in his destination would be cheaper than packing any, given that some airlines wanted to charge him upwards of $100 in round-trip baggage fees.
Walker recounts that Pete flew “from Minneapolis to Nashville with a small carry-on, and then drove straight to Walmart where he spent exactly $68.72 on three dress shirts, two pair of pants, and some travel-sized toiletries. At the end of his trip, he put his original clothes back on, dropped off his ‘new’ clothes at a local thrift store and came home with a tax receipt for [his] donation. There's one way to repurpose your clothes!”