Certain things are always agonizing to choose for a trip abroad. Shoes for sure are a tough one. Finding the perfect travel coat or jacket is the other. I spent several weeks searching for a great travel coat for off-season, which I wrote about here. That, however, was just for the early spring season. I did two more trips spanning cold weather and intense heat. In the end, I took three different things and they all worked well. Here is the round-up from my search for the perfect travel coat, each for a different season.
When I began my season, I could not find the perfect thing at the beginning. I was headed to Sicily and to Venice, Florence and Rome, which could have almost any temperature. Sicily in March can be warm, warm for a Seattleite at least. It can also snow. Even if Italy seems tropical, it’s much further north than you may realize. I wanted a jacket that would easily span temperatures, but soft, warm, lightweight, and (gasp!) attractive.
The perfect cold weather travel coat ended up being the first one that I saw. It was at REI, where I was looking for end-of-season deals. I didn’t see much I liked until….I found a down parka by Arcteryx on the rack with security ropes attached to it. Of course. The only one that fits and looks good on my 6’2″ frame is the one that is $400. No way.
I ended up ordering two different coats from Eddie Bauer, since they specialize in tall sizes. Both were perfectly workable and much less expensive, I’ve typically had great luck with their outerwear. One had a cool collar and asymmetric zipper and felt stylish, but it was heavy and odd fitting. I knew from the moment I tried it that, while it would be fine, I would never love wearing it. The other was a very lightweight jacket that claimed to be warm, but was way too thin. I was shivering on my test run outdoors. But the greatest sin of this other jacket was that it literally looked like black garbage bags sewn together. I’m not really that vain, but I do have some standards and I’d like to be a cut above Oscar the Grouch.
Longing for the mythical perfect travel coat, I decided to admire it from afar and look at it on the internet. I found it on Amazon for about half the price of REI, and after much anguish, I decided to just buy it and return the others.
The result? I LOVE that coat. It is my favorite in my closet. I was buying it solely for travel, but I am wearing it daily here in Seattle as well. It is well made and looks just like new, even after the abuse it took on the road. The cut suits my hourglass figure, a real feat, and has sleeves that work with my ape-like arms. Yay! On the airplane, the long parka length and snug cut made me feel all cozy, like being in a sleeping bag. This will be my go-to for travel coat until it falls off of my body in a heap.
Late Spring-Mid Summer
I came home in mid April and went out again at the end of May. By that time, the weather was much warmer and a big coat was not on my list. Somehow, it’s hard to remember all of the jackets I’ve bought over time. I was certain that I had a nice summer jacket somewhere in my closet, but it would just not turn up.
I eventually settled on a simple black fleece zip-up from Eddie Bauer. I had bought it on sale the previous year but hadn’t worn it much because it wasn’t a tall size. Sleeves that are slightly short really irritate me. I didn’t want to buy anything else, so I brought it along with a nice scarf to dress it up and add warmth. For alpine days, I brought a cashmere sweater along to layer underneath.
As a summer coat, the black fleece was just fine. It wasn’t cute and it wasn’t ugly. It did the trick, although I find fleece to be a bit too informal in European cities. My biggest gripe with fleece is that it’s relatively heavy and bulky. It doesn’t pack down easily, so I couldn’t just stuff it in my day bag in case I needed it.
In any case, the fleece did an acceptable tour of duty, may it rest in peace. Yes, it has now passed on to the promised land….Goodwill. While in Athens, I dropped off my laundry at a local laundromat. As I always do, I told them to just wash it all together to save money. The water must have been straight from the river Styx, because the jacket came back with little bits of lint from my linen scarf fused to it. I picked and picked at the fleece to try and clean it up, just to make it presentable enough for the remaining month. The fleece itself had become rough and scratchy, so it’s out of here.
I went home at the beginning of July, when the weather was not too hot. When I returned in August, I wasn’t sure what to do. I needed to bridge a big swing in temperatures.
Rome was about 90 degrees when I arrived, but could easily be 60 degrees or less by mid-October. The fleece was gone and the down parka was too much. In a panic before leaving, I went to North Face and Eddie Bauer looking for a solution. North Face had some nice jackets, but I couldn’t stomach buying another $200 coat this year. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted or what would work.
At Eddie Bauer, I tried on everything and nothing looked right. But then! A rack of cheapie down jackets! $99, plus a 30% discount that day. None of the women’s fit my arms, though, and I was about to give up and just bring a sweatshirt when I had an idea.
A men’s coat! The men’s coats fit my shoulders and arms perfectly. Only problem was that they were so puffy and boxy, I looked like a black snowman. I bought the jacket anyway and took it home to my sewing machine.
Standing in front of a mirror with pins, I took the jacket in at the side seams in an hourglass shape, to give the coat a waist. The coat was so light that it wasn’t even necessary to cut out the extra fabric at the side seams, so I left it. Voila! Inexpensive, ultralight, warm down travel coat with long sleeves and a fitted waist. I still look a little puffy, but we can’t have it all, can we?
I am very pleased with the Eddie Bauer down jacket. It came with a little pouch to stuff it in and is compact enough to live in my daybag every day. I wore it on the plane and in the alps. It was not nearly as stylish as my winter coat, but it did the trick.
I am sold on down for the perfect travel coat. It is warm, soft, lightweight, and can be used as a cushy pillow in a pinch. Down jackets can come with a hood and flattering stitching if you like. I found that a down jacket works well even in weather that isn’t super cold, it seems to regulate temperature perfectly. Just be sure that you pick a good color, you know, any color as long as it’s black.