When flying from the US, there is quite a difference when flying to Europe as opposed to flying to the Asia/Pacific region (including Australia and New Zealand). The difference is that flights to London from the East Coast of the U.S. are only about 7 hours long, where a flight from L.A. to Tokyo can be around 12. And flying to Asia from the East Coast (I usually fly from IAD or JFK, though also from Chicago or Dallas) can be up to 15 hours for that one leg. So the matter of in-flight comfort is always important. This question recently came up when someone asked “What do you wear to be comfortable when flying to Asia and only taking a carry-on?”
That’s not an easy question to ask, and really depends on your activity once you get there. So lets frame this with the following assumptions:
- Total travel time is 24 hours or less (My trips are typically 22 to 24 hours, but depending on routing you could spend upwards of 2 days traveling).
- You are working when you get there, but are not necessarily going to Business Suit Only meetings.
I typically do not need a suit when I travel, even when meeting clients, as I generally deal with engineers and lower to middle management and even when I do dress down, they are usually dressed even more casually than I am. That’s a nice thing about the tech industry. But when I do think I’ll need a suit, I do bring one along and check my other bag so I can meet the carry on rules of two items only: my backpack w/ camera, laptop and a change of clothing, suit bag carried on.
So what do I tend to wear? I have a few dedicated travel outfits that I can mix and match.
To start with, pants. I usually wear either a pair of Cubavera black linen pants that feature a drawstring, or a pair of Columbia Gobal Adventure II pants. The black linens are baggy and very breathable, making them comfy in most climates excepting for winter and windy fall where they can be a bit drafty. They have typical pockets, no security pockets but that’s usually fine for being on the plane. More importantly, they’re dark so spills don’t show, and they air-dry pretty quickly.
The Columbia Global Adventure pants are made from Columbia’s Omni-Shield polyester blend, so they stretch easily, fit loosely and provide UV protection while also being water repellant and stain resistant. I have three pairs of these in khaki and dark grey. The Global Adventure II features belt loops (no drawstring on these) and button secured rear pockets, as well as a zipper-secured thigh pocket that is internal, not external so it doesn’t scream Tourist Cargo Pants. The Global Adventure III pants are similar, but move the thigh pocket up to the front side pocket, making it much easier to access and eliminating my one complaint: when you put something heavy like a phone in the thigh pocket, it would swish a LOT while walking and that’s just annoying.
For underwear, I tend to wear comfy things. I personally prefer Uniqlo Airism boxer briefs as they are snug, but stretchy and comfortable, don’t pinch the skin after wearing them for 24 hours, and like the pants, air dry quickly. If it’s going to be cooler where I’m headed, I’ll wear heavier cotton boxers, but for most things, the Airisms or Ex Officio Give-N-Go boxers.
For shirts, I wear the Uniqlo Airism tops underneath some sort of pullover. The Airism tops can be found in loose or tight fitting, and all are light weight and quick drying and very comfortable after wearing them for long periods of travel. If I’m really dressed down, I’ll just wear a regular t-shirt of some sort, but usually for flying I do prefer the undershirt/pullover combo because it allows for more warmth at altitude when it’s 80 below zero outside and chilly in the cabin.
My favorite pullover is the SCOTTeVEST QZip Pullover which is long sleeve but thin and breathable, but doesn’t lose warmth on a chilly plane. It’s also quick-dry (Are you seeing a pattern here?) and provides several pockets to put things like your phone, earphones, passport, wallet, etc. If I’m not wearing that, then perhaps a button-down like a Columbia Hiking long-sleeve, or in the winter time, a nice, soft but thick sweater.
I don’t wear hoodies, which some prefer for travel. I personally don’t like the feeling of the hood dangling behind me like a cape. And that’s my preference any time, not just when traveling. I just can’t stand hoodies, personally.
For socks, I like to wear a pair of Sockwell Goodhew Compression Socks that I picked up ages ago and wear on all long-haul flights. They’re knee length and help a bit with circulation. They’re not the warmest but they’re thin and lightweight and quick-drying. They also don’t sag after wearing for so long and walking airports from end to end.
Shoes are always some sort of slip on, be it a comfortable leather slip-on walking shoe, or a pair of OluKai Nohea Mesh shoes. Those I like for most things as they’re comfortable for walking all day and the heel is made to fold down so you can wear them like slippers (makes it so much easier to put them on while seated in a cramped airline seat) to get up and do whatever you’re doing in-flight. The OluKai’s are also nice enough that I can wear them with a polo and slacks and casual enough I can wear them with shorts and a t-shirt. And, of course, they are quick-dry and breath nicely so your feet don’t get sticky and sweaty from hours of wearing.
So that’s what I typically wear when flying. If you’ve noticed, as I mentioned, everything is quick-dry and wrinkle-resistant. That means they can all be washed in the sink, and dried in a few hours after I arrive. I can wear them out to dinner, to meetings, in flight and when just out and about being a tourist in the amazing places I visit around the world. More importantly, they also help reduce the clothing I need to pack, and are very comfortable on those long flights and days spend wandering airports trying to make your next connection or killing time on that dreaded long layover. Also, everything I mention is light and packable enough that you can put a full change of clothes in your laptop bag or backpack if you check your other luggage.
Best of all, I don’t look like this guy: