Photo by llinddsayy.

In a lot of places, we’re judged on how we look. It’s not necessarily fair, but many bars, clubs, and even restaurants will turn away would-be patrons because they’re not dressed the part.

Now maybe you don’t care…because maybe you wouldn’t want to frequent any kind of venue that was so judgmental or superficial in the first place. But here’s the thing: you never know who you’ll meet when traveling, or where you might get invited (I’ve known travelers who’ve been invited to attend local weddings). You also don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity because you’re not dressed right. I was once upgraded on a flight during a backpacking trip and the airline staff politely asked that I change out of my hiking clothes and into something nicer – which fortunately I was able to do.

At home – where we have large closets of clothes to choose from – we can easily dress to impress. But looking good when traveling is not so straightforward. Luggage space is limited and nobody wants to haul around a ton of dressy garments during a casual vacation just to impress bouncers or to accommodate “what if” scenarios.

The good news is, you don’t have to. All it takes is packing a couple of items that’ll instantly upgrade your look so you never have to be turned away from a venue or opportunity again. Here are ten items that I think help open doors for you during your travels. You don’t have to pack all of them – choose whatever you think will get the most wear on your particular trip.

Clothing For Men

A collared shirt. Bars and clubs in many parts of the world require your shirt to have a collar, so if you’re mostly dressing in t-shirts during your vacation, pack a polo shirt or a dress shirt for these scenarios.

A sport coat. There are few situations where you really need a suit, so a sport coat is a great alternative for those times when you need to dress up. A sport coat can even look great thrown over dark jeans and a tee shirt or polo shirt. The weight and fabric of your jacket will depend on your destination and its climate, but even in tropical destinations, a lightweight linen jacket can really jazz up your look.

A tie. If you don’t want to carry a blazer or sport coat, a tie can be a lightweight packing solution for those occasions where you have to dress up. Obviously, you’ll need a dress shirt to go with the tie.

Dark colored jeans. Dark jeans can get you through many situations while ripped or faded jeans are harder to pull off. So if you’re going to travel with jeans, make it a dark pair. As an added bonus, they don’t show dirt nearly as quickly as lighter pants.

Dress boots. A pair of dressy lace-up or Chelsea boots can get you through a lot of situations. If you manage to find a comfortable enough pair, you might even be able to do away with the sneakers and make this your primary walking shoe as well.

Clothing For Women

A little black dress. An LBD is super versatile and can be worn multiple times without it being obvious that you’re wearing the same thing. It’s also easy to mix up the look with accessories. Ideally, you want a dress that’s not too long, but not too short, not too skimpy but not too conservative either. Essentially, you want to be able to wear the dress anywhere – be it a wedding, restaurant, bar or elsewhere – and have it be appropriate. It’s a good idea to pick a dress in a matte fabric since shiny materials can seem out of place if you need to wear the dress during the day.

A black blazer. A blazer is easy to throw over just about any outfit to make the look more formal. In general, anything black looks sleeker and more upscale, and it’s easy to match with other colors.

Black ballet flats. If you don’t want to carry heels with you, ballet flats are great, versatile shoes (even packable flats could do the job) since you could conceivably wear them for more than just the dressy event. While they’re not as formal as heels, as long as the rest of you is well-groomed and presentable, it’s unlikely you’ll be turned away from someplace because of these shoes.

A wrap in a pretty color or fabric. Drape one around your shoulders and pin it with a brooch for instant elegance. Wraps are really easy to pick up on your travels since they’re sold at most markets.

A small purse or clutch. Carrying around a satchel or backpack is going to instantly make you look dressed down and mark you as a traveler. Pack a simple purse or clutch in a neutral color (black is always good, but silver or gold work great with many outfits) so your overall look has more polish.

What do you think? Do you pack dressy clothes when you travel? What other pieces would you recommend to travelers wanting to upgrade their look? 

email