Before heading to Portland, my first visit, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I kept reading the famous slogan, “Keep Portland Weird,” and it added many layers of confusion to my pre-departure planning, especially when it came to packing. I got the sense it wasn’t a super ‘fancy’ place, but I couldn’t quite grasp what I should pack. Would it be cold? Would it be hot? Will I need warm layers or are jeans and t-shirts enough?! It was a confusing time and I started panic packing all kinds of weird things. Turned out, as usual, I didn’t need half of it! So, now I’ve been, seen and experienced, here are my tips on what you should pack for a trip to Portland, Oregon.
A quick note – I visited Portland as part of a work trip for Mitsubishi Motors so if any of the photos in this post seem a bit weird, that’s why.
What should I pack for my trip to Portland?
For me, Portland has a distinctly outdoors feel to it – there are a lot of people wearing Kathmandu and North Face style clothing. Lots of functional outfits that add warmth and are waterproof, as Portland is notoriously rainy at certain times of the year. Outside of this, most people were dressed with a bit of a cool, hipster edge. Lots of great thrift stores gave me the impression vintage fashion is cool as is laid-back street style – lots of pulled up socks, cool caps, worn-out t-shirts etc. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable getting totally dolled up in Portland, it just didn’t have the vibe about it. Instead, I found myself most comfortable in my favourite jeans with a baggy t-shirt and Converse and, at night, a skirt and shirt.
Warm clothing – If you’re visiting in the cold months, you should pack a fleece jacket, woollen sweaters, chunky knitwear and other warm items you can layer, like scarves and singlets/vest tops. Warm legwear is important too so you may like to think about packing thick stockings to layer under jeans. It’s important to pack good quality, warm socks as well as gloves and a beanie. These are especially important to have for outdoor activities and days spent walking around sightseeing. I would also recommend packing at least one very thick, very warm coat that is waterproof and most definitely windproof.
Cool clothing – If you’re visiting in the warm months you should pack a mix of cool clothing options like t-shirts and singlet/vest tops, skirts and shorts, dresses and jeans. I experienced a few cooler evenings and was grateful to have a warm wrap to put around my shoulders. I visiting in August and tended to wear either a skirt and t-shirt or jeans, t-shirt and long-sleeve overshirt. There were a few cool mornings, due to early sunrise starts, where I needed a puffer jacket for a few hours until the sun came up properly. For me, the focus was on clothing that was cool and comfortable.
Smart clothing – You’re most welcome to pack a fancy outfit but it’s really not necessary – Portland is so laid back you can get away with a nice pair of jeans and a top with smart sandals or if you want, a dress and flats.
Comfortable footwear – You’ll most likely be doing a LOT of walking so it’s important you wear sensible shoes that are very comfortable. Your shoes should be closed in to keep your feet warm if you’re visiting in winter, I’d recommend packing a pair of boots, sneakers/Converse and one other pair of nice closed in shoes (maybe ballet flats). Because your shoes can get wet quite easily, it might be a good idea to look at waterproof shoes of some sort, especially if you’re visiting during the more rainy times of the year. If you find yourself visiting in the warmer months, a couple of pairs of flats/sandals and one pair of sneakers/Converse ought to do it.
Refillable water bottle I’ve started travelling with one of these now as I’m trying to reduce the number of plastic bottles I use. Not only will you stay hydrated, but the refillable bottle will also help the environment and keep your travel costs down. Very Portland!
SunSmart gear – You’ll need sunglasses, as it gets quite sunny in summer, and you should pack a hat and sunscreen with high SPF. I always recommend the Cancer Council’s sunscreen. Remember, sunscreen is only as good as its user and it’s up to you to reapply during the day to ensure you don’t get burned. It may sound odd, but it’s important to be sun smart and just because you can’t see the sun doesn’t mean UV rays aren’t getting through the clouds.
Medicine bag – Pack a small medicine bag with all your prescription medicines and essentials, just in case you become ill late at night or can’t find a pharmacy. My kit always includes paracetamol, ibuprofen, antihistamine, cold and flu medicine, travel-sickness tablets, Imodium, hydralyte, pocket tissues, band-aids, hand sanitizer and wet wipes.
Day bag – Pack a smaller backpack or day bag you can throw all your gear into for day trips. I used a canvas bag to carry my wallet, camera gear and a bottle of water each day. You could also use a comfortable backpack.
Beauty products – I found my skin really dried out and had to use a lot of moisturiser on my face and body, as well as lots of lip balm too. I wouldn’t worry about over-packing with the beauty products as you can get your hands on some really lovely, locally made, organic beauty products in Portland.
My packing tips and travel hacks
Power board – As freelancers, we travel with a lot of electronics so we can work on the road. If this sounds like you too, then you’re going to need more than one power point. Buy one power point converter (for international trips) and take a power-board with multiple plug-ins on it, like this one. It makes life so much easier! It means when you find that one, coveted power point at the airport, you can charge EVERYTHING at once and maybe even share with others too.
Keep luggage smelling fresh – Put dryer sheets, an air freshener or tissues sprayed with air freshener in your suitcase to keep your clothes smelling good throughout the whole trip, easy! No more musty smelling clothes for you, my friend.
Room spray This one is great– I’ve been travelling as part of a couple for a very long time now and one of the most important things I’ve learned is how important it is to have a room spray with you. A hotel room can be a very small space and you don’t always have the luxury of allowing the, ahem, ‘air to clear,’ while getting ready and sharing a bathroom (or after a dodgy vindaloo). I always put a small bottle of air freshener in my luggage, just to make life more bearable for everyone involved. as it’s non-aerosol and very strong.
Plastic bags – Stash some large plastic grocery bags and small sandwich bags in your luggage, they come in so very handy for storing dirty shoes and clothes as well as bars of soap, wet swimwear or leaky toothpaste tubes! That said, I am trying to cut down on the amount of plastic bags I use (and plastic in general) so only use these in emergencies. It’s definitely a better option to rely on reusable bags wherever possible.
Laundry bag – Stay organised and put an end to the horrible misfortune of mixing up your clean and used undies by using a laundry bag. It’s a great way to keep your smelly clothes away from your fresh ones and keep an eye on how much laundry you have to do and which clean clothes you have left. I also put all my clean underwear in one of these, just so there’s no horrible moment where all my unmentionables go flying across an airport floor.
Tupperware – I use Tupperware or similar clear, hard plastic containers to organise my luggage. I use a separate small container, each, for toiletries, jewellery and electronics like adapters, cords and chargers. It keeps me organised and stops me from losing things! This also ensures no leaks will destroy my clean clothes and makes it really easy for me to grab it in one easy swoop, keep things together in the hotel and makes re-packing easier too.