Is travel clothing worth it?
August 19, 2005 1:55 PM   Subscribe

The family and I are trying to equip ourselves with clothing for our year-long travels to mostly hot places. Is travel clothing worth it?

The quick-dry no wrinkle synthetics I have looked at have been ugly and expensive. I have a coolmax golf shirt that looks great but after a while it smells terrible. Is cotton that much of a pain to wash. We won't be taking jeans but can't we take cotton Tshirts and underwear?
posted by Hash to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: One more detail: We will be carrying packs. We would like to travel light.
posted by Hash at 1:56 PM on August 19, 2005

For lightweight, small packing and ease of washing (& then drying) I'd go for silk: undies and shirts.

Not very hard wearing but you'd be able to replace most items fairly cheaply I'd guess assuming your travels aren't very remote.
posted by selton at 2:11 PM on August 19, 2005

Cotton isn't any more of a pain to wash, but it takes significantly longer to dry. In hot and humid places, without a clothes dryer, it can take several days for cotton to dry, which can be a hassle if you need to pack up and move on to the next place. The super-wicking, quick dry travel clothes can dry in a matter of hours.

We just got back from a three-week long trip to hot places. We limited ourselves to a carry-on daypack. I packed for five days, mostly the coolmax or other quick-drying nylon stuff. My husband packed regular cotton clothes. His bag was heavier, he was hotter, and his clothes had to go out to the hotel laundry because they wouldn't dry in time otherwise. I did a bit of hand-washing before going to bed, and my clothes would be dry the next morning.

I'm never travelling with cotton again.
posted by ambrosia at 2:12 PM on August 19, 2005

I highly endorse Ex Officio. I've bought both the pants (thin material that's comfortable and dries quickly) and shirts (mostly long-sleeved, with straps to hold them up after rolling). You want long sleeves if you're in mosquito areas. They worked out great for trekking in SE Asia. They don't take up much suitcase space, and they're easy to wash in a sink and dry for wearing the next morning.

You don't have to pay full price. Look for Ex Officio, Patagonia, Royal Robbins and REI brands on Ebay. I buy a lot of high-quality travel clothes cheap at Sierra Trading Post.
posted by nancoix at 2:13 PM on August 19, 2005

If you're wearing heavy packs in hot weather, seams in regular shirts will turn your shoulders to hamburger. Flat seams, or better still, no seams are your friend.
posted by scruss at 2:26 PM on August 19, 2005

When I took off hiking through China and Europe, I carried regular old cotton underwear and t-shirts. I had about 8 basics that I could mix and match (including one skirt that I could walk in and wear sandals with). I handwashed things in sinks if I would be staying in one place for more than a day. Worked fine.

My t-shirts were not the most expensive kind either. I picked a few pieces of replacement clothing in the countries I traveled to (easier in Europe than China!) when I needed a break and discarded 2-3 things during the trip if they became very, very awful. (Ripped beyond repair or obviously stained.) In China, I had to lug around a down coat (ugh) because, although I began in steamy Hong Kong, I eventually ended up in frigid Beijing. I used a "compression stuff sack" and it worked beautifully.

I did splurge on two pairs of Gramicci cotton travel pants for women (with a ladder lock belt) which were absolutely fantastic, but I'm having a hard time finding a link for these exact ones online.

I also got through both trips with only one pair of shoes...these Born sandals (worn with socks for cold weather, without for warm.)

posted by jeanmari at 2:29 PM on August 19, 2005

Silk may be light weight, but in my experience, it's very hot. I've got some great looking silk shirts, but I rarely wear them cuz they're just too damn hot. I live in FL.
posted by wsg at 2:53 PM on August 19, 2005

nancoix has got it. Ex officio at least for the underwear. I carried cotton and my wife carried Ex Officio and I was jealous every time we did laundry. Otherwise most travel outerwear just makes you an easy mark so stick with with cheap stuff that dries fairly fast because after 6 months, you will have to toss it and buy new stuff on the road. T-shirts along the way work well.
posted by arruns at 3:00 PM on August 19, 2005

Screw travel clothing. Bring your normal clothes. Or bring T-shirts and polo shirts. Travel clothing is so incredibly dorky. Do yourself a favor and avoid that stuff. If you don't want things to get wrinkled then there is a magical way to straighten out anything.

Check this out. Get a small spray bottle. Like a tiny one that just makes a fine mist. Fill it with ordinary water and spray your clothes either right before you put it on or while you're wearing it. Ta daa! In just a couple of minutes, your clothes will be wrinkle-free! My whole life while travelling changed after hearing about that.

Here's what I had for hot, humid countries:
A couple of comfortable cotton T-shirts from H&M.
A couple of comfortable polo shirts.
A short-sleeved linen shirt (wet it and hang it so that it's not so wrinkly)
An pair of old OP (Ocean Pacific) retro-style corduroy shorts
A pair of swim trunks that could pass for normal shorts.
A pair of strappy dork-sandals
A pair of ordinary flip-flops (after I realized how dorky the dork-sandals were)
Seven underwears. :)

That's it! No more than that is necessary unless you want to be more fancy and carry more things. You might want to go for a darkish colored pair of cargo shorts instead of the old-school OP's. My backpack was filled with books (like 12 or more, I was traveling library), gadgets (always w/the gadgets), toiletries (pretty bulky, actually), badminton raquets (gotta play), and some cold weather clothes. Barely any of it was my warm weather stuff. I was gone for over a year.

Hiked PLENTY. Wandered around PLENTY. Was very, very comfortable. Didn't look like a scruffy backpacker bum. Washed my clothes with detergent in the sink regularly or just paid to have it done since it was super-cheap.

I am a guy, so I can only really give guy advice to a guy. Girls have a whole different reality. They typically need secret girl things and more clothes, but not always.

Oh, and if you live in the USA, make friends with Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap.
posted by redteam at 3:03 PM on August 19, 2005

Since you want to travel light - Yes! Otherwise, there are tradeoffs.
posted by caddis at 3:26 PM on August 19, 2005

For travel to hot places, I would heartily recommend the womenfolk go with cotton panties (especially if it's humid). Cotton is breathable and is your friend against yeast infections. I'm not familiar with the Ex Officio stuff (seeing as I can't afford $15 per pair) but it claims to be very breathable too. I can't stress it enough though- you do not want to be in the tropics with a yeast infection.

For everything else, I think it's a matter of preference. I would personally go for a blend of travel/non-travel. Get a pair of pants for everyone that can be dressed up or down and that will always look great. For everything else, it's up to you. I will say that it's very hard to predict what will breathe and what won't. Many of the clothes I brought with me when I moved to Brazil now sit in my closet because they're unwearable. If you are going to humid places, things that will dry fast will definitely be to your advantage, especially if you're going to be fairly nomadic. Make sure everything will dry overnight or you risk funky smells and/or mildew.
posted by wallaby at 3:40 PM on August 19, 2005

I haven't traveled with them, but I do like Ex Officio stuff -- they don't look like "travel clothes" but have handy features (like deeper, zippered pockets) that most women's clothes don't have. And they fit nicely and actually look dressy. Plain, but dressy.

And they're SUPER comfortable in hot weather. I tend to wear mine out salsa dancing.
posted by occhiblu at 4:02 PM on August 19, 2005

A couple of other suggestions:

The only "exotic" material I had was a microfiber towel. You have to have one of these. They feel pretty towel-like (unlike those felt-like ones you typically see at outdoorsy stores). They look like they're made of terrycloth only not made of cotton and with very small loops of thread. They dry very, very quickly and are very, very absorbent.

Please, please do not get those goddamn pants where the legs zip off and you're left with shorts. Just don't do it. If you have them, throw them away. They are an abomination. They should not exist.

Recipe for looking like a total dork (on a cool evening):
A t-shirt with some dumb design on it tucked into those zip-off pants, fanny pack, Teva sandals with socks. Congrats, you are a Master of Ceremonies at a dorky travelers convention.

For a warm day:
Some button down shirt with "ethnic" looking trim clearly purchased at REI tucked into zip-off shorts with a fanny pack and Teva sandals.

Yes, you must be comfortable AND look reasonably good at all times. You can get deported for dressing badly.
posted by redteam at 4:07 PM on August 19, 2005

(OK, so after looking at their website, some of the Ex Officio pieces *do* look like travel clothing. But they also have some plain stuff that's not all zippered and frumpy, too.)
posted by occhiblu at 4:08 PM on August 19, 2005

Title 9 Sports has a lot of great clothes for women that travel well and don't look like dorky travel clothing.

I hear what redteam says about those zip-off pants.
posted by ambrosia at 4:20 PM on August 19, 2005

I've switched to Ex Officio for all of my underwear after trying it on some long hikes in mixed conditions. It washes and dries quickly, stays comfortable, breathes well and is durable.

For tropical outerwear, I tend towards extremely lightweight linen shirts and cotton pants. If I'm going to be doing something that is particularly hard on clothing, then I switch to my workout clothing (ugly man-made wicking fabrics).
posted by mosch at 6:37 PM on August 19, 2005

go to REI. I bought some wonderful shirts from them (REI name-brand) that unzip to reveal mesh - excellent for hot weather. I also agree with the persons endorsing Ex-Officio they make terrific clothing as well.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:25 PM on August 19, 2005

I liked my sunblock shirt from MEC (note, this is a Canadian store but I think they can ship most articles outside of Canada if you want), but otherwise I pretty much bought stuff there, figuring that the most comfortable tropical clothing would be produced in the tropics. Of course, that might not be the best strategy if you are back-packing.

Not exactly clothing (and excuse me for mentioning an unmentionable), but The Keeper is the travelling woman's friend. Definitely worth the $35.
posted by carmen at 6:08 AM on August 20, 2005

I thought about travel clothing for my own year-long trip to mostly hot climes, but decided against it for reasons the OP mentioned: the smell, ugliness, and expense factors.

For me, bringing a very few items of cotton clothing I didn't mind losing was the right choice, because:

--Laundry ran less than forty cents a pound and almost always came back dry and clean in less than 24 hours. Some places used the soap-and-a-rock method, which prematurely aged my clothes and made me glad they were cheap.
--I liked being able to buy stuff at markets and get rid of other things along the way.

A note about jeans: after seven months on the road, I bought at pair of Wranglers at a market in Laos, even though the heat and weight of jeans make them supremely impractical for travelling. But the pleasure I got out of them made it all worthwhile.
posted by pessoa at 9:50 AM on August 20, 2005

Pessoa brings up a good point- in many countries, dropping your stuff off to be laundered is very inexpensive. Definitely something to consider.
posted by wallaby at 11:15 AM on August 20, 2005

Based on my own experience during a year on the road I agree with Pessoa. Just start off with your own basics and replace them as needed - especially if you are traveling to countries with a low cost of living. Laundry services are cheap, clothes are easily available and you can ditch the old ones when they get worn out. It's fun to buy as you go.

Also, don't bring anything you absolutely can't stand to wreck.
posted by Cuke at 4:43 PM on August 20, 2005

Oh, and I should add that the SO and I did the year long trip through hot climates with a 30L backpack each (airplane carry-on size in North America). It's totally doable and you will bless the light load every time you have to squeeze onto a bus.
posted by Cuke at 4:46 PM on August 20, 2005

IMO, travel clothes are not worth the cost. I also feel silly in something so very unlike what I would normally wear. I found lightweight "normal" clothes suited me just fine. (I second the cotton undies. Look for very thin very cheap stuff at discount stores.)

Second the recommendation of the travel towel, though.

Check OneBag for many travel tips for travelling light.
posted by desuetude at 5:27 PM on August 20, 2005

Definitely nix the pants with the legs that come off with a zipper (yuck). Same goes for jeans, sneakers (unless you plan on running for exercise), fanny packs (eew) and t-shirts with big logos all over them. When I first traveled abroad, my European pals nixed all of these things as screaming, "I am not from this country! I am a tourist!!"

Cotton is awesome, there is a reason why it is used so frequently in warm AND cold weather. Breathable, comfortable, and easy to wash. (Yes, it takes a little longer to dry than fancy microfibers, so if you are only going to stay in any one place for 24 hours, this might not be a good idea. But if you are traveling for a year and only staying in one place for 24 hours ever, I have to ask, why the heck are you traveling? Unless you are in a race.)

If any women are traveling, they might want to splurge for a microfiber skirt or dress, like this one. It's nice to put on something a little less "hiker-like" at night and these things really don't wrinkle. They are fantastic. I was able to wear mine to a candlelight Mozart Concert at the Fortress in Salzburg and dug it out for an impromptu garden evening dinner party at the estate of an eccentric Englishman on the west coast of Costa Rica (after I had spent 2 weeks digging trenches for Habitat for Humanity in the mountains). I didn't feel unprepared or out of place.

Shoes are critical. And, because they are heavy, taking as few as possible is also critical. Leather and comfortable don't HAVE to equal dorky (these are FAR from dorky. And Mephisto makes great traveling shoes.), and your feet will thank you.
posted by jeanmari at 10:34 AM on August 21, 2005

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