Eyewear for travel to sunny places: contacts vs. glasses?
January 28, 2013 11:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm soon going on a long trip to the tropics. I wear glasses for vision correction (-2.5) and need to figure out what prescription eyewear to bring. Should I go with contact lenses or glasses? (Also considering prescription sunglasses and Transitions lenses.)

About me/the trip:
- Male, 20s
- Visiting multiple countries (Latin America)
- Trying to pack light
- Don't like to carry around much extra stuff
- Will be outdoors in the sun and beach/water, running around, being active.
- Shopping, sightseeing, etc.

Eyewear I own now:
- Ordinary prescription eyeglasses
- Non-prescription aviator sunglasses
- 1 day contact lenses (Acuvue moist)
- 2 week contact lenses (Acuvue Oasys)

Recently I have been trying to get back into wearing contacts. The main advantage I see is that rather than needing to carry around prescription sunglasses & normal glasses everywhere, I will only need sunglasses, and they don't even need to be prescription, thus giving me more options. But, I am realizing various potential problems with traveling with contact lenses:
- the lenses and fluid take up a lot of space in my bag
- they require a certain degree of conscientiousness and I'm lazy (plus might not remember to take them out at the end of a long day)
- Not sure if lenses & fluid are safe in my bags, which might get really hot (weather in 80s/90s).
- Hazards of falling asleep on airplane/bus trips while wearing contacts
- I'll be going to a lot of beaches and going in the water, which contacts are not suited for

So here's what I'm thinking of buying:
- Prescription sports sunglasses (e.g. Oakleys) for when I'm active or near water.
- Eyeglasses with Transitions lenses for evenings, indoors, etc.

Transitions seem like they would be nice & versatile -- suitable for going in & out of doors, without having to carry around a separate pair. And although transitions are not suitable for driving, I won't be doing that. But they are expensive, and I'd have to find new frames that suit me since my lenses are so small that they wouldn't block out much light. Another concern is that in previous AskMe threads like this one, people have pointed out various flaws (quality degrades, they look dorky, don't get completely dark/light).

What have your experiences been traveling to sunny places with various types of glasses and contacts? What combinations of eyewear have worked well?
posted by lunchbox to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How long is the trip? If "long" is two weeks, my answer would be very different from if "long" is six months.

I don't think it's worth buying a bunch of special eyewear you wouldn't otherwise buy for a trip of less than a few months.

I'd also consider what the real parameters of your trip will be and what your real needs are. I think that when a lot of people plan longish trips (I'm guilty of this, too), their brain immediately goes into this strange space where everything is considered in extremes, and often extremes that are nothing like the realities of the trip. So you have people going off for ten days in Europe with special cell phones so that they can get special SIM cards on the off chance that they need to make a phone call, or people going off for a month in India with a pack that resembles a pharmacy, and the like.

What do you do to shade your eyes from the sun now? What makes that not sustainable for however long your trip is? If you regularly wear contacts now, what makes it OK at home but potentially not OK on a trip?

Re some of your specific concerns:

- Will lenses and fluid really take that much room in your bag as compared to multiple pairs of prescription glasses?

- How hot do you honestly expect it to get where you're going? Are you expecting constant temperatures in the 90's? Will be realistically be a lot hotter than where you already live? Will you be staying in air conditioned hotels? AFAIK people who live in climates where temperatures are frequently in the 80's and 90's wear contact lenses all the time with no problems.

- How many days out of your trip will you likely be sleeping on buses or planes? Once or twice in a trip of two weeks? Every couple of days for several months?

- What do you normally do when going to the beach or swimming?
posted by Sara C. at 12:02 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just bring a pair of regular glasses and a pair of prescription sunglasses. The sunglasses will be better outdoors than transitions, and the regulars will be better indoors than transitions as well. If you break or lose a pair, you can use the other pair as backup. Prescription sunglasses will run you maybe $25, $30 on zenni optical or a similar website for a nice-looking pair that will more than do the job. Maybe get a pair with 50% tint rather than 80% tint so that you don't have to swap glasses all the time when going in and out of doors or when it's just starting to get dark and you're not in a convenient place to switch for whatever reason, and so that they can be better backups if your regular glasses get broken/lost.

Don't wear contacts, they are a PITA and you will inevitably be in a situation where you don't have a good way to take them out or put them in or do the little cleansing ritual or you'll lose one or there are just so many things about contacts that make them not ideal for extended travel.
posted by Scientist at 12:04 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sorry, if it's not clear, my advice is to do whatever you normally do for sunny days at home, unless it's a very long trip (like 4+ months) or there is a specific reason you cannot do what you normally do.
posted by Sara C. at 12:06 AM on January 29, 2013

I have switched on and off between contact lens and glasses. IMO, it's much easier to travel wtih glasses. You can sleep. You don't have to worry about getting enough lens cleaning solution in your travel sized carryon kit. You don't have to worry about running out of contact lens if one accidentally falls down the drain in the sink.

Sure you can sleep once or twice in your contacts probably just fine. But the way I think about it: I only have one pair of eyes, and I'd like to do the best I can to take care of them. To me, sleeping in contacts is usually an unncessary risk.

(In fact, I only wear contacts for dress up events and when I'm doing sports that requires sports eyewear, e.g. skiing.)

I do have transition glasses. I've had them for a year, and they're great! If you're willing to spring for them, I'd definitely recommend them. I haven't noticed any dorkiness (except maybe transitioning too slowly back to regular glasses) but I've only had them for a year. They are also $900 glasses (frame included), but insurance paid for all but $50.

(I've previously also had the two pairs of glasses solution, but that didn't work for me because I'd constantly forget/be too lazy to bring the sunglasses.)
posted by ethidda at 12:14 AM on January 29, 2013

Acuvue Oasys are designed so that you can wear them 24 hours per day for two weeks, including sleeping. Are you able to do that? I realise it doesn't work for everyone. For example, I have dry eye in one eye so can't wear them overnight, but they are still OK if I have a short nap in them. If you can actually wear them all the time then they're great for travelling, because you only need to change them every couple of weeks.

Even if you're taking them in and out every day, wearing contacts in sunny places and when travelling is so much better than wearing glasses. You can wear really good sunglasses that block out all the sun properly (I've lived somewhere very sunny, you really need a big, wrap around, UV blocking, polarising, dark tinted, awesome pair), taking photos is a million times easier, any kinds of sports, particularly water sports, are a million times easier, sleeping on a bus with glasses sucks a giant amount (and is a good way to lose or break them). And the small bottle of lens solution plus the case takes up much less room than a big glasses case and are less likely to get damaged than glasses. Look online and see how available lens solution is in the places you are going to so you can buy more if you need to, otherwise take several of those small travel bottles (depending on how long you're going for).

Also, take a hat and some really good sunblock.
posted by shelleycat at 12:17 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

- I'll be going to a lot of beaches and going in the water, which contacts are not suited for

Contacts are so suited for this! Being at the beach and swimming or being on a boat is a so much more fun when you're wearing contacts and can see compared with not wearing glasses and everything being a blur. And yes, you can wear them into the water. I've even been hit right in the eye with a wave and the contact was fine. Plus they won't get scratched by the sand like your glasses will.

Honestly, I think you're all wearing the wrong contacts. Except that the OP is wearing the same contacts as me so I can only assume you haven't been educated correctly as to their awesomeness (again: they are 100% designed and safe and made specifically to be slept in).
posted by shelleycat at 12:22 AM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

I might be biased, because I wear contacts all the time (glasses can't give me the same vision correction that contacts can), but I really don't find travelling with contacts to be at all of an issue. I go to the beach and swim in them--worst case scenario, one pops out and you lost a contact. Since you use dailies anyway, it's not exactly that big of a loss. (Mine are monthlies, so I try to be pretty careful--I don't think I've ever actually had one fall out while swimming, though they've come close.)

As you've said, it makes sunglasses a lot easier. Wearing contacts with regular sunglasses in bright weather is really nice, because you can just do the face/head thing when going in and outdoors, instead of needing to fumble around switching between two pairs of glasses.

If your eyes are anything like mine, I wouldn't worry too much about remembering to take them out at the end of a long day--your eyes will remind you. They will want those babies out.

In terms of planes/buses--bring your regular glasses, and wear those on long plane or bus rides. That way you don't have to worry about falling asleep in your contacts. (FWIW, I have actually slept many a plane ride with my contacts in, and all that happens is that my eyes feel slightly dry/gluey when I wake up. Some blinking and maybe a dab of saline in each eye helps a lot. I'm not recommending this as excellent eyecare--just, don't stress too much if you accidentally fall asleep in them once or twice.)

tl;dr I would wear your contacts for convenience, but bring your regular glasses in case of emergency (and occasional eye relief).
posted by tan_coul at 12:31 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Prescription sunglasses ROCK.

Okay, so your needs are a bit different to mine, because the only contacts I can wear are specially-made RGP ones that cost upwards of $1000 a pair (yes, really), and last for around 18 months. Losing those bad boys is not an option. Thus, I rely heavily on my prescription sunglasses in summer.

Prescription sunglasses do not dry your eyes out, do not get sand stuck under them, and do not wash out. They are a million times more comfortable than contacts with normal sunglasses over them, in my opinion. This goes triple if you will be spending time on beaches with blowing sand.

My prescription sunglasses can be worn inside, and I can still see just fine. (Probably look like a wanker, but too bad.)

Get a quality pair of prescription sunglasses that cover your face well and have a high sun-protection rating (dunno how it works in the States; in Aus, Category 3 is the highest, so I don't buy sunnies that are not Category 3). Polarized lenses are well-worth the extra spend.

Tl;dr: get presciption sunglasses!
posted by Salamander at 12:54 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Already from the comments you can tell that it's going to come down to personal preference. I think glasses are a bigger hassle when I only have 1 pair of glasses with me anyway. I worry about what happens if they break, get lost, stepped on, etc. Contacts are pretty easy to carry around, don't take up that much room, and are a lot more convenient for active activities. I used to lifeguard, an I alway wore contacts. Through two rescues I never had a problem- I did lose a pair once when someone said there was someone at the bottom of the lake and I had to swim down to check it out, but I think that's because my eyes were bugging out . As for the solution, if you use dailies, you would be bringing much and with my monthlies I still haven't quite finished my bottle from 4 months ago.
posted by raccoon409 at 1:15 AM on January 29, 2013

I just spent 3 months in central america. I brought a single pair of designer glasses and no contacts. I wish I had brought some glasses more suitable for activity, but I don't wish I had brought contacts. I spent a lot of time in fairly rustic areas and staying in fairly gross hostels and there were a lot of places where i stayed where i wouldn't have been super happy about washing my hands in the water and then touching my eyes, and I lost a bunch of small stuff in my bag on the way. It would have just been one more thing for me to keep track of or lose.

The one time glasses were really a problem was when I went canyoning in Nicaragua and had to jump off a cliff into a river, and I couldn't figure out what to do with my glasses.

Bring a copy of your prescription, though. There are eyeglass places all over the place, even in fairly isolated areas, so you should be able to get an emergency replacement, if necessary.
posted by empath at 1:31 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You've got enough helpful answers, so I will just note that contact lens fluid is perfectly fine in 80-90F: people do wear contacts in hot countries, all the time. Maybe don't leave your bag in direct sunlight for hours and then immediately use the fluid, but that's just common sense.

Carrying around big bottles will require checking in your bag on planes, however, so I'd also see if you can buy your preferred brand of contact lens solution where you're at. This means you won't have to carry enough to last you your entire trip.
posted by Xany at 2:23 AM on January 29, 2013

Just a note to say that I live in a sunny country and sunglasses are a must.
Transition lenses don't work as well, people tell me.
I curse myself when I forget my sunglasses and transform into the squinting monster.
posted by mkdirusername at 2:38 AM on January 29, 2013

I had transitions lenses for the last 25 or so years and just switched to prescription sunglasses and regular classes a couple years ago. If you have big enough lenses transitions are great except for driving and really bright, glare-y conditions. You have young eyes - I found as I got older I needed better sun protection than I did in my 20s. I would go with a pair of transitions glasses and a back-up pair. Always travel with a spare pair - it's a pain to have to replace glasses while traveling if you lose or break a pair! I can't wear contacts though so can't really address that part.
posted by leslies at 3:42 AM on January 29, 2013

If it's hot and you are exposed to substandard hygienical conditions, then you might more easily get infections that then permit wearing contacts. That was my experience when I went to do ecological field-work in the tropics.
posted by Okapi at 4:06 AM on January 29, 2013

I'd avoid wearing contacts. Why be forced to stick your fingers in your eyes when you're not certain about water quality? Regular glasses and sun glasses, and if you really feel like it, sporty glasses.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:48 AM on January 29, 2013

I live in South America. My eyes are -4.0ish. When I go to the beach, I wear my contacts and sunglasses but always bring a case with my prescription sunglasses. Wearing contacts at the beach is wonderful but a stray grain of sand can ruin your day, so I like to have backup. Having one extra pair along with me is no big whoop. When I travel, I take my glasses with me but no extra contacts. My case is big enough that it will hold both my prescription sunglasses and glasses.

I spent several years here without contacts and hated it. Glasses get hot and sweaty and I hate switching between glasses and sunglasses.
posted by wallaby at 5:34 AM on January 29, 2013

I have been in Latin America for the last 5 months travelling. I wear contacts.

Contacts are great, unless/until you get an eye infection from inadequate washing areas. You really really should not bring contacts alone without a backup option. Your options (to me) seem to be:

1. Contacts for daily wear, backup glasses, cheapo sunglasses you can afford to lose
2. Daily glasses, prescription sunglasses
3. Daily glasses with transitions lenses

#1, as you surmised, is fairly heavy. I probably have 2lbs in my pack dedicated to solution, since it can be impossible to find and very expensive here. It really sounds like you're leaning toward #2 or #3, which is probably the best for extended travel. One thing you should absolutely do is get a really good case for both pairs of lenses that can withstand being stepped on etc.
posted by zug at 5:52 AM on January 29, 2013

I will occasionally wear contact lenses, but for traveling, I stick to my regular glasses, and I take along a pair of inexpensive, plastic-frame prescription sunglasses (as opposed to my pricey designer aviator prescription sunglass frames). I don't have to worry about the morning and evening rituals of putting in and taking off my contacts, and if my sunglasses should get broken or lost, it is no big deal. Since I am usually wearing a jacket with extra pockets or carrying around a bag, it is no big deal to be carrying around two pairs of glasses.
posted by deanc at 6:35 AM on January 29, 2013

When I travel I bring glasses, daily contacts (up to a pair a day, depending on how fancy/active I'm planning on being), and cheap sunglasses. I love traveling with the dailies because you don't have to carry a lot of solution (in fact, I don't carry any solution - you have to get pretty far off the beaten track before you can't find a small bottle of saline, which is all I would want with the dailies). Obviously, a month or two's worth of dailies can take up a significant amount of space (maybe the size of a large book?), but it's very lightweight at least. If you're going to be gone months and months, I guess that becomes increasingly unsustainable, although if you're staying in one place most of the time it wouldn't be so bad.

To me, contacts and a pair of sunglasses you can flip up onto your head when you walk indoors is the best option in bright sunny weather, and dailies make it no-hassle.

Oh, I also have a couple of hideous clip-on sunglass things that I wear when I need sunglasses and can't/don't want to wear contacts. I have prescription sunglasses but I don't like them, because when I walk indoors I have to take them off and put on my regular glasses. I guess prescription sunglasses work better if you're outside all day.
posted by mskyle at 6:41 AM on January 29, 2013

I live in Qatar, which is pretty tropical. I wear Oasys Accuvue and sleep in them. I fly a fair bit and wear the contacts for that as well. The big problem for me would be infections. Dust in the air is enough, and if you don't have a way of dealing with the consequences it can get awkward. Infections are something of a problem here, but at least you have clean water, pharmacies and doctors available. If all the places you are going have reliable clean water I would have no hesitation about contacts. Otherwise, at the very least make sure you have glasses and prescription sunglasses with you--and if you are trying to minimise bulk and weight that pretty much rules out the contacts.
posted by Logophiliac at 6:51 AM on January 29, 2013

I think the answer to this question depends on whether and what you can see without any contacts or glasses on. Because I have a feeling that's what the answers are varying by.

For example, you say that contacts aren't suited to water sports and the beach. I suspect that is because you can see without glasses or contacts on, at least well enough to do the activities. My prescription is -8.0 and I am blind without my glasses or contacts. To me, contacts are clearly better for the beach because you cannot wear glasses into the water, and your glasses lenses can get splashed with water. You can wear contacts with goggles for swimming or snorkeling or scuba, but not glasses.

In terms of prescription sunglasses, the drawback I've found with them is that if you go inside, you can't take them off. So if you stop into a restaurant or go into a store to get a soda or something like that, you look silly because you're wearing sunglasses, and everything looks dark. Again, it's more of a problem for me because I am blind without the glasses.

I have taken contacts to Africa on all my African trips and never had a problem. The water quality wasn't an issue because I did not use the water with the contacts. I only used lens solution and washed my hands with hand sanitizer, and if I needed to I would have a backup bottle of store-bought water to use (we didn't have running water at all). Usually it takes me years to get through one bottle of contact solution, and I don't sweat it if I leave them in overnight sometimes because the kind I have is fine for that. So if it were me, I'd bring the contacts, small bottle of solution, regular glasses as backup and the regular sunglasses.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:09 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I wear transitions lenses on a daily basis and have additionally bought prescription sunglasses this year for driving. I live in central Texas and it's very sunny here. My prescription sunglasses are much darker than transitions lenses and they make my driving easier.

I have both for medical reasons (mild photosensitivity). I wish I'd bought the sunglasses years ago.
posted by immlass at 7:57 AM on January 29, 2013

I prefer to wear one-month contacts (Air Optix Night & Day) when traveling with non-prescription sunglasses. I just feel less encumbered without frames around my face. However, I always carry a pair of prescription glasses just in case. Had too many instances of stupidly rubbing my eyes and losing a contact lens.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:49 AM on January 29, 2013

Don't start wearing contacts while you're on a trip! Get prescription sunglasses and maybe even prescription approximating swim goggles (I like the TYR ones) and some Croakies and you're good to go without having to invest $$ or time in a new routine.

I swim in sunglasses all the time, and it's awesome. If you're renting snorkel gear most largish shops will have some vision-correcting masks in their stock, or you can wear prescription swim goggles under a plain mask.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:18 AM on January 29, 2013

I've travelled around the world -- Asia, South America, Mexico, Europe, South Africa -- and never had a problem with contacts. I've been on a backback trip for weeks, and never had a problem. Snorkeling, scuba, surfing, swimming, tanning, biking, skiing, hiking, etc. No problems. You couldn't pay me to wear glasses and sunglasses 24/7 on trips. I can't see as well, I hate fogging up, I hate changing glasses while wandering in and out of buildings, and transitions are useless in sunny spots.

It sounds like you've already used contacts, so I'm really wondering why you think it'll be a problem on the trip, especially with daily contacts. Bring glasses as a backup. Scan your prescriptions and upload them to the cloud, in case you need to access them while travelling.
posted by barnone at 9:53 AM on January 29, 2013

I primarily wear contacts, and rarely glasses (sometimes vice versa). My boyfriend primarily wears Transitions lens glasses and rarely contacts. We went on a trip to Florida a couple of months ago. I wore my contacts the entire time, except on the plane (I slept in them a few times because this doesn't cause me much problem, and I'm lazy.) He wore his glasses the entire time. It was fine for both of us. We did all the requisite things one does on and off the water and neither of us had any discomfort, problems, or regrets regarding our eyewear.

So in short, I'm with Sara C. in wondering why you can't do what you normally would do in terms of your eyewear? It sounds like you normally wear glasses, so why not just take a couple of pairs of contacts, a travel bottle of lens cleaner, and wear your glasses? (You should be carrying your glasses anyway.) None of your potential problems with contacts have ever occurred to me, but if you are more comfortable wearing glasses, there's no reason NOT to, IMO.
posted by sm1tten at 5:20 PM on January 29, 2013

Oh, one other thing: make sure you carry your glasses prescription (or a copy of it anyhow). That way if something happens to your glasses you can get a new pair made. Unless you're totally away from cities.
posted by mskyle at 5:30 AM on January 30, 2013

Personal experience:
i wear lenses that i can sleep in and change once a month. they are not expensive £15 p/month. For my recent 2 week trip to India i bought one small bottle of solution (under 250ml so smaller and less heavy than a can of coke) for about £4 - this allowed for me taking out and cleaning maybe once a week for a break, occasional drops after each plane ride (4) cos i find flying makes my eyes dry. i also rinsed out some sand with it too (i was underwater a lot in that rough sea!) and put a few drops in after i swam in a pool. i still have loads of solution left.

travelled in SE asia before i got these continuous wear - carried a lot of solution and spare pairs of lenses, broke one pair of glasses and lost a pair of prescription sunglasses on my third time in the sea. lived in NE asia and took a whole years supply with me because i wouldnt possibly be able to get stuff out there/in a country where i wasnt able to speak the language, which turned out to not be true.

try to get longer continuous wear and start practising to get your eyes used to them.
take a couple of small bottles of solution if its a v long trip/think you'll be in a rural backwater for maybe a month at a time.
you will be able to get stuff in the places you're visiting if you need more (there are opticians even outside of cities).
take some glasses too for when you want to rest your eyes
take your prescription (i also email this type of info to myself in case i lose the paperwork, bag gets stolen etc)
take a pair of swimming goggles if you're worried about sand/sea water at the beach or germs/chlorine in swimming pools.
posted by moreteaplease at 7:44 AM on January 30, 2013

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