Slideshow: Souvenir Travel Clothes That Don’t Translate Back Home

We’ve all done it. Caught up in the excitement of a great trip, we find ourselves “going local,” and buying an article (or wardrobe) of indigenous clothing to show our love for a place. Sometimes, as with vintage aloha shirts, pretty kurtas, handcrafted leather sandals or Latin American peasant blouses, these looks play well back home. At their worst, however, they make the wearer resemble a clown, costume party-refugee or garden variety idiot.

I understand the urge to wear groovy clothes that scream, “I’m a world traveler!” But more often, bad sartorial choices are the result of too many margaritas, too much pakalolo or the shopping frenzy that results from visiting foreign craft fairs and artisan markets. God knows, I could stock a Goodwill with past purchases. But, like cornrows on white girls, male sarongs or anything from Hilo Hattie, most wearable souvenirs are better off left in their place of origin.

View the slideshow for a selection of frequent travel fashion violations.


Video of the Day: Japanese folding trick

Travel experts love to share tips on the best ways to pack. Heck, we’ve done tons of posts on packing tips. However, thanks to the sorcery in this video from Japan, we’ve discovered the best way to fold our clothes. Of course, first we have to understand what the hell is happening in the video. We’ve watched this thing a dozen times and still have no idea how these shirts are getting folded so perfectly. We’d love to have our clothing pack down so tightly and neatly, but we’re having a hard time following once that twist and flip move happens. Guess we’re just going to have to shove our gear in our packs, as usual, and spend our days attempting to fold the fitted sheets for our mattresses. Are there any Japanese videos for that?

Lessons from a Year of Travel Gear

Truth: Writing gear reviews is fun. I get to play around with a lot of different toys, try on clothes that are polar opposites of what passes for my personal style, and most of the people I meet in the outdoor gear industry are great fun. They’re just like you and me; they like to travel and camp and be kitted out nicely while they’re doing it.

The tough part about being a gear head is that you actually have to try the stuff out to say anything meaningful about it. This means finding the right situation for that one thing in your review pile, putting on some shoes, and heading out into the world to get dirty. I’ve ruined some stuff this way and while it’s all in the purpose of research, it makes me feel kind of bad when something doesn’t hold up. I want to like everything, but I just don’t, and sometimes, maybe I like it but it’s just not good travel gear.

Through testing and laundering and using and carrying and schlepping every single thing I review, I’ve come to a few broad conclusions about what works and what doesn’t. As this year closes and next year’s new stuff starts to appear in my review pile, I’ll share with you my lessons of this year in travel gear.

It’s got to be able to survive the washing machine. Yeah, I know it says dry clean or hand wash only. It doesn’t matter, everything I test goes into the laundry. I ruined a really nice cashmere blend sweater from Horny Toad because I washed it. I’m bummed, but if it can’t survive the laundry, it can’t survive my travels. Cashmere, you are staying home.It’s got to be wearable for the duration of a long haul flight. I don’t care how hot those boots make you look or that you can’t wear that top without that one bra. You have to be able to survive the indignities of coach in it for 10 hours without suffocating or screaming “Get it off me! Just get it off me!” Whatever it is, it can’t bind, be itchy, be too tight, cause your extremities to swell… you get the drill.

It’s got to fit in the overhead bin. If it can’t be carry on, it’s not going. Oh, I’ve checked a bag (then prayed for its safe arrival) but I want to know that if I have to carry it on, I can. I avoid any luggage that’s too big to take on the plane. Aside: I’ve got to be able to heft it up there myself, too. Sure, I can often find help, and people take pity on me because I’m short. But I need to be able to haul my own gear.

I’ve got to want to take it along. I’m looking at you, TSA approved luggage locks, weird camera mounting system, and a few other odds and ends kicking around the office in the “to be reviewed” pile. If I’m not excited about it from the get go, I’m probably never going to be.

You have to try it on in the store, then order online… mostly. Sizing is all over the place. I think I’m a pretty standard medium. Columbia Sportswear thinks I’m a large. (They’ve never ridden the bus I take downtown, clearly.) Sometimes you get lucky, other times, you hope you’ve chosen a company with a generous returns policy for their online shopping.

If I’ve totally ruined it in the test, I did my job. Turns out bug repellent totally eats the plastic those packing cubes are made of, go figure. If I broke a zipper, it means that the hardware isn’t up to snuff. Busted seams, torn fabrics, dirt stained fabrics… that’s the stuff. If I manage to really drag something through the wringer and am still packing it, I know I’ve got top notch gear in my hands.

You absolutely have to try the stuff out to know if it’s any good. I got my hands on a couple of things that I really loved this year. The Keen McKenzie hybrid sandals, a terrific roller bag from Gregory (you can carry it as a backpack and it’s tough, too), SmartWool base layers, to name a few. But I know I like this stuff because I’ve used it over and over and over again, three four trips out.

You can’t have too many pairs of really good socks. You can, however, have too much polar fleece.

I’m looking forward to see what stays in my bag for whatever adventures 2012 throws my way. And I’m curious — what’s your favorite piece of gear from 2011? Anything you think I should check out?

Photo: By Smath. via Flickr (Creative Commons)

SkyMall Monday: Travel Hangers

Wrinkles are for Shar Peis and old people. They have no place on your clothing. If you show up to a meeting, formal function or even just a casual date looking like you slept in your clothes, people will think that you’re homeless. Here at SkyMall Monday headquarters, we steam the clothes that we’re wearing every hour. It keeps us looking fresh and professional throughout the day (and does wonders for our skin). Travel, however, can wreak havoc on your wardrobe and leave everything in your luggage looking like elephant skin. Beyond that, if you like to unpack your bags once you arrive at your destination, you’ll need a way to hang up your clothes. All of this might make travel seem impossible, but that’s just because you’re easily overwhelmed. All you need to do is look to SkyMall for solutions. The next time you travel with clothing, be sure to also pack some Inflatable Hangers and Bumps Be-gone Travel Hangers.Let’s take a look at each product, shall we?

Inflatable Hangers

As always, I’ll defer to the product description:

So if you like to wash out your clothes and have them dry without hanger creases, take along these smooth, durable vinyl hangers. They fold into the tiniest corner of your luggage and inflate with just a couple breaths to let your drip-dry blouses, shirts and sweaters dry crease-free.

What better way to avoid hanger creases than by using hangers! That sure beats drying things on the backs of chairs, in the shower or by wearing them in the sun.

Bumps Be-gone Travel Hangers

Let’s go right to the product description again:

These bendable folding hangers eliminate unsightly shoulder lumps caused by wire and plastic hangers. Hand laundry is a necessity for self-sufficient travelers, but cheap hotel room hangers and wet clothes aren’t a good mix. Lightweight Bumps B Gone Travel Hangers offer a simple alternative. Made of soft, padded foam and sturdy plastic, they are completely bendable so shirts drip-dry without bumpy bulges at the shoulders, and thin-strapped garments stay firmly in place.

Are the hotel rooms cheap or are the hangers inside the hotel rooms cheap? Are both cheap? Are people’s home hangers expensive? Am I the only person who doesn’t buy hangers and just uses whatever my dry cleaner gives me?

Look, I have to be honest here and say that I think that traveling with hangers is idiotic. Unless you’re putting clothing into a garment bag on the hangers that you use at home, I see no need to pack hangers in your luggage, inflatable, travel or otherwise. Does anyone pack hangers? I really need to know.

Please help me understand what people are doing by voting in this poll:

Share your thoughts on travel hangers in the comments. Please. I’m baffled!

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Seven Days in a SmartWool Sweater

Here’s the thing: When I review gear, I actually use the stuff, I don’t just scribble a few words about how fluffy it is out of the box, and how the tag says it’s good in all kinds of weather or water resistant or… Nope, I trim the tags, throw everything that’s wearable into the wash (and sometimes, in complete disregard of the instructions, the dryer). And then, I go out into the world in pants that are not quite the right size or a sweater that’s a color I didn’t pick out myself. That’s how I roll.

I’ve just spent the last week in a SmartWool TML Light Sport Zip sweater. I’ve been in this sweater for not quite 24 hours a day, but I have been in it rather a lot, in fact, I’m wearing it as I type this review. I put in on when I headed to the airport a week ago, wore it for most of a long haul flight, wore it over dress clothes for a fancy-ish dinner at a spa hotel, wore it in my mother-in-law’s garden with shorts, in fact, I’ve worn it everywhere I needed a warm, not too sloppy outer layer.

At the risk of sounding like I’ve been paid to say so, I’ll tell you the truth. I loves me some SmartWool. I love this sweater.

I’m not a recent convert to the joys of SmartWool — several years back I wrote gear reviews for a snowshoeing magazine, and I couldn’t get enough of SmartWool then. I traded all my base layers for merino wool. Not a cheap move, but worth it as my SmartWool gear has outlasted all my synthetics, and, lasted a crazy long time through years of tough wear. Plus, anyone who’s spent any time in synthetics knows about the smell, it’s weird. Natural fibers just don’t get that odd smell from the combination of human heat and artificial materials.The sweater I won’t stop wearing is a little long in the sleeves and the body for a short person, but I don’t mind that so much, it gives me extra length to pull over the back of my hands when I’m using the thumb loops. There are zippered pockets on both sides — one has come un-anchored over the week of wear (too short a time!) but it’s a minor repair. The zipper goes up into a crew neck collar and there’s a little tab that covers the metal bit of the zip so it doesn’t scratch your neck or chin; that’s a nice detail. There’s ribbing on the sides and the underside of the sleeves giving the sweater a nice variety in texture and some thoughtful styling. It looks nice; I got compliments on it whenever I wore it (which, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is every day for the last seven days.

This particular sweater goes up on the SmartWool site in August. It comes in teal, claret, and black and will retail for $170. Yes, there will be a similar model for guys. It’s expensive, but you’ll have it for a very long time, trust me on this. I’ve got the gear in my kit to prove it.