A travel uniform isn't just an outfit, it's a lifestyle. As a concept, it means packing simple pieces you can mix and match to suit a range of different vacay situations. A uniform can also make those early-morning airport dashes a little easier — because you'll already know what you're going to wear when you roll out of bed, and you already packed a solid selection of clothing for your trip. Whether you're traveling regularly for work or pleasure, learning to dress in a more organized way will allow you express your personal style without lugging around your entire wardrobe.
To break down the finer details of frequent-flyer style, we reached out to a bunch of our favorite travel editors to share their wisdom. Often spending a quarter of the year on the road, these pros have got packing down to a fine art, allowing them to easily throw together outfits that look effortlessly cool in their travel pics. Here, they let us in on their travel uniform secrets.
Some travelers are naturally drawn to the freedom of stowing a couple of key pieces in a carry-on, while others prefer the flexibility of having a decent-size suitcase full of supplies wherever they go. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but the most important thing is to decide which system works for you and develop a roster of go-to outfits that fit inside.
Anne Olivia Bauso, editor at the expert packing site What To Pack, is a carry-on devotee: "Even for over three weeks in Thailand, I stowed everything in just two small bags: My beloved Everlane backpack and a Swiss Army tote that dates back to college."
At the other end of the luggage spectrum you'll find Rhea Saran, editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East. She's based in Dubai and regularly takes advantage of Emirates's generous checked luggage allowance. "I like to have options when on the road and I simply can't go a week with what a carry-on would hold," she says. "Plus, ever since I started being good about working out while traveling, I have the additional heft of trainers and gym gear. I also have an arsenal of grooming products – the older you get, the more crucial that night cream becomes."
Christina Pérez sits somewhere in the middle, having ditched her career as a fashion editor to build a life as a travel writer who now contributes to magazines like Departures and Vogue. "It depends on where I'm going and for how long," she explains. "Checking in luggage can feel very luxurious — it's nice to be able to move through an airport without dragging around a suitcase. Plus, I like to pack extra wardrobe options and I always bring my camera tripod."
Know yourself and your style
Before you even get on the plane, it's important to know which pieces you'll actually wear and which will languish at the bottom of your suitcase. It can be tempting to pack clothes that you assume your vacation alter ego will be able to pull off, but if you don't wear it at home, chances are you won't wear it in a far-flung locale either.
"Once you've defined your style, getting dressed is so much easier," says Greaves-Gabbadon. "I express my creativity and personality through my outfits. I know that when I'm traveling (and when I'm not), I like them to be colorful and a little eccentric, yet comfy and practical." Bauso agrees: "Honing in on a few personal rules for travel style brings calm to the often-hellish transit experience."
Do as the locals do
Of course, a strict uniform isn't going to work everywhere, so you'll need to make adjustments for different climates and cultures.
As a Caribbean travel writer and on-camera host based in Miami, Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon's style is heavily influenced by the tropical destinations she regularly visits. "I keep my Rollaboard half-packed with flip-flops, my running shoes and a zippered pouch that has other trip essentials, such as a sarong," she says.
Bauso, on the other hand, travels everywhere from Sicily to Seoul, so she tries to adopt the local style wherever she is in the world without sacrificing her personal style: "I like to strike a nice balance between cute and practical, and to not stick out like a tourist by following the locals' lead."
Saran has recently visited both India and Kenya, with a trip to Singapore planned in the near future, so she's accustomed to adapting her style to different contexts. "I tend to favor monochrome tones and classic cuts," she says. "But when I'm in the Maldives, you'll find me in colorful floral maxi-dresses and floaty linen skirts."
Invest in quality, classic pieces
In addition to having durability, natural fibers, like cotton and silk, are perfect for travel, as they don't encourage perspiration and tend to resist odors over multiple wears. Bauso favors quality denim and sweaters, as well as a lot of basics by Everlane and Madewell.
Fodor's Travel Editor Teddy Minford adds Uniqlo to the list of labels offering quality travel staples. "I'm super minimalist and monochrome with my wardrobe when I travel," she says. "Almost everything is black or white and I tend to gravitate toward natural fibers and forgiving silhouettes — sort of like an Eileen Fisher vibe, but much cheaper."
Start with footwear
As any seasoned traveler knows, you always end up walking way more than you expect in an unfamiliar place. "Good walking shoes are key. I've sprinted to enough airport gates to know that much," says Bauso. "I'll choose my Novesta tennis shoes or Nike Roshe Ones over slip-ons any day. I wore my greatest fashion discovery (so far) of 2019 — the Comfortive Blossom sandals — eight days out of the 10 I was in Sicily."
Greaves-Gabbadon can almost always be found with sneakers on her feet, customized with Hickies, which convert any lace-up into a slip-on, or fringed loafers from Fringe You. Saran keeps it simple with Converse, Vans or her Tory Burch ballet flats. If you're not a fan of sneakers, Minford suggests comfy heeled sandals, mules or booties from labels like Sofft and Dansko.
Then work upwards
Once you've chosen a couple of pairs of shoes to take with you, select those jeans, maxi skirts or culottes that go with everything. While traveling, you're probably going to want to wear a different top each day, but a good pair of jeans can get you through multiple combinations (without compromising your Instagram grid with noticeable outfit repeating). "I love a hotel with laundry service included in the price, but I also try and pack clothes that can be worn more than once, especially pants," explains Minford.
Greaves-Gabbadon keeps the lower half of her outfit simple while adding interest up top. "My uniform is jeans — my faves are boyfriend jeans from G-Star Raw — a graphic T-shirt, and I always wear a jacket, usually a colorful track jacket from Adidas," she says. "I especially like their collabs with Brazilian brand Farm Rio."
Wear it on the plane
Even professional travelers like to be comfortable on a departure. Pérez sticks to leggings, a T-shirt, a hoodie and running shoes or slides with big fluffy socks, while Saran usually wears a monochrome maxi skirt, which allows a little more freedom than pants, and a T-shirt. She'll also layer a pashmina and a light jacket or cardigan for the (often chilly) plane ride.
To keep her carry-on luggage to a minimum, Bauso makes sure to wear items that would otherwise take up too much space. "I prefer to fly in jeans rather than leggings or anything jersey, which I find too slippy on the plane seat," she says. "I'm a huge fan of Comrad compression socks and Organic Basics underwear, which are well-made with antibacterial silver threads and can withstand a 16-hour flight without feeling the least bit icky."
She also usually wears or carries a giant, multipurpose hoodie from sustainable brand Prairie Underground on the plane, too. "It keeps me toasty and its enormous hood can easily cover my eyes when I'm ready to nap," she says.
And don't forget the essentials
Traveling with a uniform doesn't mean you need to be super minimalist if that’s not your style. An overseas trip is a great excuse to have fun with your fashion. If you like wearing scrunchies or statement jewelry at home, don't forget pack your favorite accessories to give your outfits an extra lift once you arrive at your destination. Bauso cites a bikini as her travel must-have, no matter the destination: "I've been burned by enough surprise opportunities for a swim to now know never to hop on a plane without a bathing suit."
When it comes to in-transit essentials, Greaves-Gabbadon swears by her Ostrich Pillow Loop eye mask. "It makes me look like a hostage but it blocks out every bit of light, doesn't leave marks on my face and, if I un-loop it, it can double as an avant-garde statement necklace," she says. She also loves her travel case from The Daily Edited, which boasts a transparent window so she can breeze through security.
Minford describes her airplane ritual as "extra," as she never travels without a silk eye mask, noise-canceling headphones, Tata Harper's Aromatic Stress Treatment, a toothbrush and toothpaste, Weleda's Skin Food, a tinted lip balm from Innisfree, a blanket or shawl and this weird plane pillow.
Pérez also uses a silk eye mask and Eight Faces Boundless solid oil to combat dryness while up in the air. "I use it on my face, hair, hands, lips, everything," she admits. On long-haul flights, Saran keeps it old school with a good book, plus La Prairie under-eye concealer, chapstick, YSL gold-flecked lip gloss and waterproof Dolce & Gabbana liquid eyeliner to put on before landing. "I'll always throw some dresses and heels into my luggage, too," says Saran. "I told you, I always check in."