Hello to you all from sunny Italy! I’ve been on the road for a couple of weeks now, heartily enjoying off season travel in March and April. The sites are empty and the locals are energized, happy to see the first visitors of the year. The weather is a mixed bag. If you don’t like the weather here just wait 5 minutes and it will change completely. This poses a challenge when dressing for the day, but luckily my packing strategy on this trip has worked out. And what strategy is that, you ask? Layers. Lots of them.
My off-season packing strategy is similar to my strategy during the summer. Bring whatever you need, but stick to a carry-on sized bag and to carry-on weight restrictions.
Packing is a little different game in the off season. Rather than trying to pack many lightweight items, I’m looking to pack warmth. Secondary to warmth, I want enough things to keep me prepared for different situations. Last but not least, I also pack for a bit of variety in my wardrobe. I don’t tend to be gone long in March, only 4 weeks, so these things should be manageable.
One thing to keep in mind for early or late season travel- pack for colder weather than you are expecting. Tourists tend to be outdoors much more often while traveling than they are at home. 55 degrees is great if you’re outside for an hour, but it’s freezing for a whole day. Big stone palaces, museums and hotels are often much colder in the winter/early spring and there is nothing they can do about it. Even when the weather begins to warm up, the buildings can remain cold for weeks. Over-prepare for cold weather in the off-season. I’ve learned it the hard way so that you won’t have to.
Let’s see how it all worked out.
Pants are the heaviest thing to pack. It is simply unavoidable. One must wear pants. In summer, I tend to take a nice variety of skirts, pants, shirts and capris. That doesn’t make sense in March. Rather than choose several pairs, I had to pick very few, all of them long pants.
My first choice was the obvious one, jeans. As I’ve lamented before, nothing feels or looks better than a great pair of jeans, but they just weigh so much! I chose my favorite skinny jeans for this trip. They work well with tall boots and also have zippers at the ankle in case I need impromptu Capri pants. That was a dumb thing to even think about, there is absolutely no situation at this time of year that requires short pants! Way too cold.
I found a nice pair of black pants from Old Navy, which I’m pretty happy with except that I’d never get black brushed cotton again. That soft surface feels nice but is a magnet for lint and hair. By the end of the day my legs look like the lint trap from my dryer.
My third pair are gray knit pants. I hesitated about bringing them, they are a little too sporty and informal. But sooooooo comfy and warm. I only brought them because the drape in the leg makes them less obviously yoga pants (which they are) and with a nice sweater it works. Or I’d like to think it does, but I am honestly feeling self-conscious in the cities because they are a little too sloppy.
I also have black leggings with me. I don’t personally believe in wearing leggings as pants, that should probably be illegal, but they are a travel requirement for me as a nice under layer for dresses or pants on a cold day and are great PJs in cold hotels.
If you’re keeping score, that’s 3.5 pairs. Not much.
The layering strategy is really a top layer thing. As I don’t know how temps will fluctuate in the day, I use several layers. I start with a tank top or camisole, then a short or long sleeved top, then a cardigan over that. Add in the jacket and scarf and you can take on any temperature.
This time I’ve brought four tank tops, purple, gray, black and coral. I wish I’d have brought one that is either white or tan, one that wouldn’t show under sheer sweaters.
I have two short sleeved tops, two long sleeved, and one three quarter sleeve, just to cover my bases. The short sleeves have been little used so far, but it’s supposed to heat up next week so I’m not counting them out yet. One of them is my “Keep on Travelin'” shirt from Rick Steves, I’ve had fun wearing that in famous places and taking pictures to post to my Instagram page.
I’ve brought four lightweight sweaters. Three are cashmere- one black cardigan, one cream cowl neck and one pink pullover. I don’t wear pink. Really. I accidentally ordered this at Christmas but I liked the fit so much I kept it. Makes me feel a little too…Barbie-like. Even so, I’ve worn these sweaters more than anything else in my bag. They don’t weigh much and are very warm. I’m happy with them.
The fourth sweater is a strange one I found at Eddie Bauer. It’s called the “Seven Days Seven Ways” sweater. It is a drapery cardigan that has snaps in strategic places and can change looks. I am having a great time with this and have found way more than seven ways to wear it. Although I really like it, I think it will be more useful in the summer as it is not nearly as cozy as my cashmere sweaters. Hopefully I’ll do a little post soon with the many options, but here is the basic idea….
As for socks, undies and PJs, I’ve brought three pairs of ankle socks, one pair of wool socks, 8 pairs undies, 3 bras and a silky negligee to sleep in. I’d have been happier with one more pair of warm socks and warmer PJs, but I’ve been using a T-shirt and leggings in hotels with chilly rooms and I’ve been just fine.
For shoes, I’ve brought three pairs. My Asics Metrolyte athletic shoes, which have Superfeet insoles, are still great and haven’t worn out. They are super light and look good even after a full season on the road. I’ve brought my favorite knee high black boots and, even if they are a little bulky, I’m really glad I did. They add a nice layer of warmth. My newest pair is from Clarks Shoes, called Sillian Jetay Cloudsteppers. What a find these are! I do like my Skechers with the ultralight sole, but I wanted something slightly less sporty. These shoes look like leather but aren’t, and they are possibly the lightest pair I’ve ever found, even if they don’t look it. Very comfortable for long days on my feet, no blisters or breaking in required.
What I’m Missing
I’m relatively happy with my choices. I do wish I’d have brought my titanium mug and water heater. On cold days I would enjoy hot tea in my room in the evenings, especially when I’m working on the guidebooks. I regret that I left that behind. I should have brought a pair of brown pants rather than black. I already have the black leggings and boots, so it’s overkill to have more. Another pair of warm socks, but maybe lighter weight than my wool ones, would be nice. Also, speaking of cold feet, a little pair of slippers would have been nice for wandering around a cold room.
The weather is starting to turn, I’m looking forward to travel in the warmer season. I’m already dreaming about the travel dresses I’ll make when I go home. The lessons from my travels this time? Pack layers and pack warmly.