It was right around this time in 1973 when my family began preparing for our first family trip to Europe. My mother and step-father traveled to Europe without us every year and stayed in budget hotels in various countries. I was just finishing up 6th grade and my sister 7th so it was decided that we were finally old enough to join them for The Grand Tour. We were to spend nearly a month in Europe visiting England, France, Holland and Italy. My mother extolled the virtues of traveling lightly and taking as few clothes as possible. She gave us detailed tutorials about washing out our clothes in the sink with Woolite before bedtime so they’d be clean the next morning. Conveniently for us it was the early 70s so finding quick-drying synthetic clothes was a cinch. I didn’t give it much thought until we got there.
Back in those days, luggage was heavy and designed for bellboys not jet-lagged 12-year olds. Backpacks were only for hikers or boy scouts and suitcases had no wheels. Although I had only packed two pairs of shoes, socks, underwear, one dress, one skirt, one pair of pants and two shirts for a month, it was still a surprising amount to carry through train stations and up flights of stairs at the pensione in Rome when the elevator was broken. Suddenly I understood my step-father’s motto of “You bring it, you carry it.”
I quickly mastered the sink-wash-towel-roll-up technique perfected by my mom and decided that it was genius. I quickly noticed which things were dry by the next morning and which required part of a second day. Since we were traveling from hotel to hotel I learned to strategize about wearing the slow-drying things on the first day so they could be washed and still be dry before we checked out of a given hotel.
Since that first trip to Europe I have never traveled with a pair of jeans (too slow-drying and stiff without a dryer) and have a special set of clothes that I buy on the basis of “could I wash that out in a sink and if so how long would it take to dry?” Our family travels so lightly that we rarely check a bag unless it’s full of quilts for business. I kind of obsess over how little I can take but still look good and be able to dress for a variety of occasions.
So when we took our daughter to Japan at age 4, I started to notice that there are no kids’ wash-and-wear travel clothes for anything other than hiking. Nothing I could dress her in to see the gardens in Kyoto or to meet my dear ikebana sensei. So I bought some synthetic t-shirts, microfiber tights and started making quick-dry travel clothes for our daughter. I found two-microfiber fabrics that worked with the shirts and fleece jacket she had. I sewed a skirt and a pair of pants with simple elastic waists that passed the overnight-dry test. The following year, I washed out those clothes in sinks in London and New York.
Before we headed to France two weeks ago to visit Bill’s sister in Normandy and later to Paris, I was once again sewing travel clothes for our daughter. I had to pack for both farm work and sightseeing around Normandy and in Paris. And who wants to look frumpy in Paris for crying out loud? There was also the added pressure of meeting my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law, a formal French woman in her 80s referred to simply as “Madame.” That had “dressy” written all over it.
I originally had planned to make a skirt and a jacket out of quick dry fabrics but when I began looking for fabric, I couldn’t find many fabrics that were right for the pattern I had in mind. The other issue is that our daughter, no surprise, loves prints so much that she is visually disappointed when she has to wear clothes made with solid fabrics. She puts Oilily to shame. The only exception are her hiking pants with the leg sections that zip off transforming the pants to shorts. They would be perfect for collecting eggs from hens and riding on the tractors with her four boy cousins but not for meeting Madame.
For more city and sightseeing clothes, she prefers at least two prints per outfit, which is challenging combination to find. I found a good knit that I thought she’d like for the skirt. The black print would hide stains yet be cheery. Then I made a huge sacrifice to my obsessive tendencies and got a super lightweight pinwale corduroy/spandex blend that isn’t quick-dry but could dry without becoming stiff. I figured that the jacket would be worn less than her shirts and skirts. And the print and weight of the fabric was so perfect with the skirt. At Target I found a poly-cotton white t-shirt and a couple of floral quick-dry shirts for her at REI, both of which dried overnight.
In the end, the predicted 60-degree temps turned to 75-80 degree temps so she needed the jacket less than I expected but the skirt got well used and dried in a flash.
I used a Burda Kids pattern #9547. Although I loved the pattern, I thought the sizing was really confusing. I took her chest measurement and went to the next size up hoping that she’d have enough room to grow into it. Even going to the next size up I found the pattern was sized so small that I ended up using a 1/4″ seam allowance instead of the recommended 5/8″ just to give her a little more room. I kept the other sizes though and will make two sizes up next time I sew this pattern. I also swapped out, at our daughter’s request, a lavender zipper for the buttons.
I’d love to hear what other parents do about travel clothes for kids. My friends all say that they only go to places with washing machines and dryers but that’s harder to find in big cities and in other countries.
So send me your kids’ travel clothes strategies please!