Plus size packing tips for women

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Plus size women face many challenges during travel.  Airplane seats are too small.  There is a limited choice of great travel clothing.  It is hard to find modest clothing that doesn’t expose “the girls”.  Of course there is also the problem of packing larger clothing into your tiny carry on bag. It’s enough to make you stay home.  Don’t do it!!!!  Here are my tips for carry on travel. Of course you can do it.

Travel packing tips for plus size women

The extra material of plus size clothing is the biggest challenge for carry on travel. Shoes are the next challenge, as many plus size women need sturdy comfort shoes. Some people need to carry medication. All of this will take up more space in the carry on.  The plus size traveler, more than a smaller traveler, has to practice minimalist packing techniques to make everything fit. Fortunately, this website is dedicated to just that mission.

Consider each of these tips when packing for your trip.  You don’t have to incorporate every tip.  That said, the more tips you use the lighter the bag.

Clothing Tips

Pack a capsule wardrobe – Large clothes in a limited space means that you’ll have to do more with fewer pieces.  Make sure everything works for you by creating a capsule wardrobe. Swap separates and layer like crazy.

Watch the weight of your clothing fabric.  I always carry light weight fabrics and then layer to get the temperature control that I need. A thinner fabric packs smaller and weighs less. Consider light weight tops with a modal or silk tank top underneath. Be aware that some jersey knits are light, while others are heavy. Ironically, some of your normal knit tops may be lighter and dry faster than some so-called travel tops. Use your best judgment on this, and always test wash and dry your clothes before travel.

Use tank tops (singlets) Tank tops are small.  They are an easy way to change up the look of a garment. Wear them alone or layer them under other items of clothing, such as a cardigan, jacket, or shirt.  Pack 2-3 tanks for your trip and you’ll always have a liner for your lighter tops.

Wash underwear on the road – Laundry is always a part of long term travel.  You’ll need to wash your clothes once a week.  Consider taking less underwear and sink washing those items more often.  Just take it into the shower with you. This goes for wool socks too. Cut down on bulk and weight by packing less underwear. Take 3-5 pairs and wash every other night. Washing adds about 5-10 minutes to the shower routine. Soap up your clothes when you soap yourself.

Bring light weight unlined jackets.  Structured clothing hides so many figure flaws! Jackets are a great third piece for any capsule wardrobe.  Consider buying an unlined jacket for travel.  The lack of lining makes the jacket lighter and easier to pack.  When traveling for business wear your structured blazer on the plane and pack a second unlined jacket that goes with your wardrobe. I used to pack 1-2 unlined jackets, a single black skirt and a pair of black pants for travel. Add in a couple of jersey shells and a cardigan and you’re set for a week or longer.

unlined jackets

Unlined jackets pack easily for travel

A long tunic with leggings is your comfy friend.  Pick a tunic of light material. Wear a light singlet under your tunic.  The two layers are lighter than a thicker tunic, wash and dry more quickly, and give you more wearing options. If you buy a button down tunic you can wear it open over a singlet or tee shirt too. Bonus – a long tunic makes a great swim cover up.

One note on leggings – avoid leggings with tight waists.  You’ll be in agony after sitting in the airplane all day.  A wide waist band is most comfortable. Pay for quality!

Shorts Alternatives – Some women look good in shorts.  Some of us never will, no matter what our size.  Consider capris, skorts, skirts, and dresses as an alternative to shorts. You’ll still get cooling for your legs and ankles while keeping the other parts covered. Bonus – unlike shorts, these items are culturally acceptable away from the beach.

You don’t need technical clothes, but they can help – Travel pants, long underwear, and micro-fill jackets are usually thinner and lighter than normal clothing.  They are also a wonderful choice if your trip combines outdoor activities with urban activities. They provide a great bridge for transitional weather. Several online vendors carry cute technical clothes that work in city or country. Don’t forget quick dry athletic clothing.  Lightweight knits can fill in for the rest of your clothes. I always mix and match my technical clothes with normal clothes.

Never wear clothes for the first time on travel – That top you tried on in the store now doesn’t fit right – and you are far from home!  You only have a limited number of clothing pieces in your capsule wardrobe.  Tossing even one piece severely limits your outfit options.  Only take time tested pre-washed clothing on your trip.  No surprises.  It’s too hard to find extra plus size clothing when you are away from home.

Swimsuits take up space – Carefully consider your swimsuit.  The bra section is bulky and takes up space.  This may be fine if you are going on a cruise or to a tropical destination.  An alternative is a rash guard and swim capris over a sports bra and underpants. This will also work for lounging and light hiking.

Plus size packable swim wear

You have options! Consider swim tees and leggings as dual purpose clothing choices. These pieces come with separate bra and panties, which lets them pack smaller and dry faster.

Shoe Tips

Get good shoes – There’s no question about it – you walk more during travel.  Your regular shoes may not provide enough support for a long day of exploring.  Make sure your shoes have good support.  Break them in weeks ahead of time.  Consider orthotic inserts or shoe liners.  By all means bring a second pair of shoes so you can switch to them after a long day!  Don’t skimp on the shoes!  Consider bringing a second pair of orthotics or shoe liners. Switching things out keeps your feet happier.

Don’t forget your feet – walking around all day will put extra strain on your feet.  Consider bringing your favorite foot ointment.  Don’t forget about solid lotion bars – these are usually based in bees wax and will sooth your feet at the end of the day.

Accessory Tips

Watch out for your jewelry – larger ladies need big jewelry to balance their outfits.  Too much jewelry increases the bulk and weight of your carry on.  Stick to one necklace of your preferred metal (pendants are nice).  Take one statement necklace.  Limit yourself to around two sets of earrings.  Consider elasticized cuff bracelets – they pack flat.

Never underestimate the big scarf – A large scarf ties into a kimono shawl, acts as a wrap, and brings the focal point up near your face.  It is a simple and light accessory that brings style to your outfit. Keep the material light – this is a large piece of fabric.

Bring a packable spare bag. You may find an amazing plus size shop. Take advantage of a great opportunity.  Pack a spare bag or mail your purchases home. Many destinations have flat rate shipping.

Comfort Tips

Beware the thigh rub – (or for that matter the underarm rub) Remember what I said about walking around all day?  That’s a set up for chafing.  Consider wearing a pair of light bike shorts, a silk shorty split slip, or chafe free underwear under your dress. All of these undergarments dry quickly after sink washing.  Bring at least 2 pairs – a sweat encrusted garment will chafe.  You might want to think about anti-chafe products like Body Glide. It is a solid so won’t count toward your liquids bag.

Consider wearing a good sports bra – sports bras pack down smaller than structured full form bras.  Look for work-to-workout styles to avoid the dreaded uniboob. I think workout bras are more comfortable than regular bras, which makes them my first choice on travel days.  Another alternative is tee shirt bras or sleeping bras.  They have less support but they are very comfortable for long trips.

When searching for travel clothes, the internet is your friend

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that most stores ignore full figure travel clothing.  Even plus size stores focus on street fashion, which means that you’ll have to go to the internet for quick dry travel clothing.  Focus on vendors that offer free shipping each way.

Order multiple sizes and styles for each item.  Sizing charts are only a “best guess”. Sizes change depending on style. You never know which size will fit, as manufacturers will change the sizing from year to year. If it is any consolation, they do this for “regular” size clothing too.

Sneaky tip: Look at the manufacturers site for plus size clothing.  Then order several sizes from Zappos or Amazon to get the free shipping.  The manufacturers still get their money and you get easy shipping.  Zappos always has free shipping both ways. Returning products that don’t fit is easy.

Plus size travel gear

The selection is smaller, but you can still find technical clothing in larger sizes. You can get merino underwear, silk underwear, rain pants, rain jackets, down and poly filled jackets, travel pants and travel shirts in plus sizes. Most of these items are only available via the internet.

Get your travel clothes tailored

I’ve pretty much given up on getting off-the-rack clothing that fits me.  I have a very tiny waist and if I don’t get my pants tailored then they will fall off me.  I need to do the same thing for my button down shirts – if it fits me in the bust then I look frumpy and sloppy at the waist. I’ve learned to add a tailoring fee to my clothes budget.  Buy the size that fits at your widest point and then let your tailor have at it. I find that I get the most benefit when I have button down shirts and classic cut pants tailored.  It’s an easy way to go from baggy to amazing. You know my go-to black travel pants?  They are tailored!

Others have done this – you can too!

Cherie Draper (The Fat Girl) has a great video on plus size packing.  I’d take a few less clothes (especially pants) and definitely take a smaller toiletry kit. That said, it’s a little freaky how similar our packing styles are.

Vendors

Yes, there are vendors that make plus size clothing for travel. A lot of it is so cute you’ll want to make it a part of your regular wardrobe:

  • Columbia – carries nice travel pants, tops, micro-fill jackets, and raincoats up to size 24W. Gert Boyle, the chair, is plus size
  • Royal Robbins – carries pants and tops up to size 18 (no womens sizes, though their regular cut fits curvy women)
  • LLBean – carries technical clothing such as packable rain coats, down jackets, travel pants and tops up to size 3X, 26W  They also carry plus size long underwear up to 3X.
  • Lands End – thermal underwear up to 26W.  They also have plus size rash guards up to 3X.
  • Minus33 – Merino wool up to 3X, including tee shirts, T-zips and panties! (and they are near Franconia Notch!)
  • Eddie Bauer – carries technical clothing such as packable rain coats, polyfill & down jackets, travel pants and tops up to size 3X, 24W
  • Dress Barn – carries unlined jackets up to size 24W. They also carry a lot of nice jersey tops.
  • J Jill – knit separates up to 4X, 28W that have a reputation as travel clothes
  • Goddess on the Go – light weight modal travel clothes up to 3X
  • Sealed With A Kiss (SWAK) – Plus size up to 36W.  Many beautiful jersey pieces that travel without wrinkles.
  • Juno Active (Junonia) – plus size workout gear up to 6X
  • Hydrochic – Packable swim tops and bottoms up to 4X.  Includes rash guards, swim skirts, swim capris.  Many tops come with a separate swim bra.
  • Exelnt Designs – Custom swimwear and cover ups. Tankini and single piece sizes to I cup
  • Chaffree – chafe free underwear
  • Her Room – plus size bras including full size workout bras that look good under street clothes
  • Zappos – This “free shipping both ways” company carries wide calf boots and good looking comfort shoes. They also carry products from several plus size vendors.
  • I’ll also mention TravelSmith and Appleseeds just because they exist.  Their clothing is marketed as travel clothing, but I find it bulky, heavy, and slow drying. I abandoned them years ago.

Get Going!

It is harder to find plus size travel clothing.  It’s a little harder to pack it.  But hard isn’t the same as impossible. You can travel with a carry on just like everyone else.  Go out and have fun.

Do you have any favorite plus-size tips or vendors? Let us know in the comments.