Life as a travel writer may look glamorous and exciting on paper (or you know, Instagram). And in many ways, it is. But during particularly busy bursts of travel, it can also lead to packing nightmares. That has never been truer than last summer. Within a five-week period this past August and September, I went to Las Vegas for a travel industry conference, Alaska to report a story for this website, and Egypt for a vacation with three friends from college.
That meant I had to pack business casual clothes that could stand up to the air-conditioning inside Las Vegas hotel conference rooms, outdoor wear for camping on an off-the-grid island in Alaska’s Kachemak Bay, and lightweight but modest dresses that would be comfortable to wear in Egypt’s 110-degree heat. Thankfully, I was able to go back home to New York to swap out my suitcase between each trip. But that didn’t solve a key issue: I didn’t have appropriate clothing for any of those situations.
As I started adding items to shopping carts online, I realized how much money I’d blow making sure I had everything I needed for these trips. So out of curiosity, I opened a new tab and went to Rent the Runway. I had used the clothing rental service to borrow black-tie worthy dresses for weddings over the years, but had never seriously considered signing up for its monthly subscription service.
With Rent the Runway Unlimited, as it is called, you can rent four items at once and swap them out as many times as you want per month for $159. At first glance, it seemed like another expensive monthly addition to my credit card bill. After doing the math, though, I realized I’d spend way more than $159 to dress for my hectic month of travel and broke out my credit card.
Subscribe Now: Rent the Runway Unlimited, $159 per month, renttherunway.com
Now that I’ve used Rent the Runway Unlimited for a little more than four months, I can say with confidence that it has completely changed the way I pack. Not only has it drastically reduced my need to purchase new clothes, but it has also led me to discover new favorite designers and experiment with colors and styles that I probably wouldn’t have bothered with before. The other bonus? Since Rent the Runway handles all dry cleaning on its end, my pile of laundry is smaller when I return home. While a few items I rented didn’t quite fit the way I imagined, I found that the reviews other users leave generally make it easy to select the right size most of the time.
Here’s how I used Rent the Runway Unlimited for four very different packing scenarios:
Las Vegas work conference
For my first experiment with Rent the Runway Unlimited, I needed to pack my carry-on with professional-looking pieces for a travel conference in Las Vegas. Since AFAR’s New York office veers more toward the jeans and tennis shoes end of the dress code spectrum, I don’t own anything I would necessarily call business casual. My Las Vegas rentals included an embroidered Temperley London dress that got me tons of compliments, a Tory Burch star-print skirt that didn’t wrinkle in my bag, a little black dress from Rebecca Taylor, and a Clare V. clutch to throw my essentials into for dinners after long days of meetings.
Rent Now: Temperley London Black Saturn dress, renttherunway.com
Rent Now: Clare V. Fifi mini woven top handle bag, renttherunway.com
Alaska camping trip
As soon as I got back to New York, I popped all four items into the Rent the Runway garment bag and dropped it off at the UPS in my neighborhood. Two days later, another garment bag arrived with a colorful (and reversible!) blanket coat from Mara Hoffman, a thick wool sweater from Theory, along with a few other layers that made the last few days of summer in Alaska nice and cozy. Despite being known for weddings and event-worthy dresses, Rent the Runway has an extensive section of winter coats and sweaters that are great for traveling to colder environments.
Rent Now: Mara Hoffman check willow jacket, renttherunway.com
Rent Now: Theory cream crewneck pullover, renttherunway.com
End of summer in Egypt
By the time I had to pack for my trip to Egypt the first week of September, I had created an entire list of long cotton dresses that would be comfortable to wear in the desert heat but also were modest enough to travel in a Muslim country while protecting my fair skin from sunburns at the same time. Although a few of my favorites had been snapped up in my size before my trip arrived, I was able to secure dresses from Marni, Sea New York, and M.i.h. Jeans, and another from Tory Burch, who I, by then, realized makes clothes that fit me to a T.
Rent Now: Marni green floral shift, renttherunway.com
Rent Now: Tory Burch printed smocked dress, renttherunway.com
Park City ski trip
As fall went on and my travel schedule calmed down, I considered pausing my subscription since I stick to a pretty basic uniform in New York of black pants and sweaters when the weather cools off. But then Rent the Runway started to offer ski gear (and athleisure fit for après-ski) from select brands like Spyder, Bogner, and Aztech Mountain in sizes extra small to large (for other types of clothing, the range goes from size 0 to 22).
Because I only ski about once a year, my on-mountain wardrobe consists of a $20 pair of ski pants from Amazon that don’t quite fit properly and a Land’s End ski jacket I picked up on sale a few years back. But before heading to ski the opening weekend at Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, this year, I scanned the newest offerings from Rent the Runway and realized I wouldn’t have to let those $20 pants take up room in my closet anymore.
While it has basic black snow pants to rent, I went for the rainbow-striped one-piece ski suit and a red star-print turtleneck from the French brand Perfect Moment. Typically, that ski suit retails for $840, but for less than $10 a day, it was all mine. And if you were wondering, rainbow racing stripes are infinitely easier to spot on the slopes—and way more fun to wear—than a boring black and white ensemble.
Rent Now: Perfect Moment black rainbow ski suit, renttherunway.com
Rent Now: Perfect Moment star dust sweater, renttherunway.com
Rent the Runway Unlimited alternatives
If you don’t want to commit to the full month of Rent the Runway Unlimited, you have several other options if you need specific items before your next big trip—skiing or otherwise. The Rent the Runway Update program allows you to borrow four items at a time and swap them out once a month for $89. There’s also still the option to rent individual items for four- or eight-day periods (pricing varies by item).
I’ve found that the Unlimited subscription is most worth my money when I have several trips booked in one month or one that requires very specific outfits that I don’t already own in my closet. For quieter months that I spend more at home and in the office rather than bouncing my way across the globe, I can hit pause on my subscription and tuck away $159 a month into my savings account for future travels.
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Lyndsey Matthews Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.