Not only did I recently complete a 10-day trip with a mere three pairs of underwear, but by the end of those 10 days, no one seemed to mind sitting next to me. The trick: None of the underwear was made of cotton.
Similarly, I have taken extensive trips with just handfuls of shirts and smatterings of socks. Again, that was possible because there was little cotton in them.
Though cotton can be a comforting and comfortable fabric at home, the right clothing — and materials — on the road can result in simpler and lighter travel, which can add up to cheaper travel when not needing to check a bag.
The underwear, for instance, made by ExOfficio, was a blend of 94 percent nylon and 6 percent spandex. It's comfortable, breathable and durable and can be washed in a hotel room sink or shower. Wring it out (gently), wrap it in a towel and step on it (to remove the excess water), then hang. In a couple of hours, your underwear is dry, soft and clean.
Another favorite is merino wool. It's a miraculous material that pulls sweat away from the body while also maintaining relative warmth. Better still, merino wool doesn't retain odor, which means that after a long day, a merino wool T-shirt (which I'll sometimes top with a merino pullover) can be draped on the back of a chair and smell fine in the morning.
Merino wool base layers can be worn sans smell 5-10 times without being washed. Even merino socks can take repeat uses, though maybe not as many as a shirt.
Such fabrics traditionally have been associated with active vacations — hiking, skiing and the like. But they are just as useful for the most mundane travel, and in recent years, manufacturers of merino clothing, such as New Zealand's Icebreaker, have introduced casual lines that include dresses and hooded sweatshirts.
"I was just in London, and I didn't wear half of the clothes I brought," said Theresa Salus, outdoor program market manager for four Midwestern REI stores. "I wore the stuff that's technical gear."
Such clothes also have become more fashionable in recent years, allowing for use in more urban settings. Salus, for instance, said she relied on one pair of black pants in London that she would take to a mountaintop for being wind and waterproof but "can also pass as nice dress-up pants."
"You're seeing a variety of different fabrics used in different ways and different companies making all sorts of different products," she said.
It is possible to outfit yourself from head to toe in merino wool and/or polyester blends, and on the road, I've found that using the right fabrics simplifies travel immeasurably. So has Salus.
"My wardrobe has a mix of both, though I tend to like a wool sock better," she said.
Such fabrics even can be used for business travel. Remember: No one has any idea what you're wearing under that suit.
The Travel Mechanic is dedicated to better, smarter, more fulfilling travel. Thoughts, comments and suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include "Travel Mechanic" in the subject line. Follow him on Twitter at @traveljosh.