If all you knew about traveling was what you saw on dedicated travel gear sites such as Magellans.com or TravelSmith.com, you might think that you could never take a trip without a wardrobe purpose-built for globetrotting. Think shirts and pants made out of wrinkle-free, waterproof, bug-repellent, UV-protective microfibers, equipped with dozens of hidden thief-proof pockets. But do you really need to buy expensive, specialized travel clothes just to explore the world?
For those of you who’d rather wear the clothes you already have instead of blowing half your travel budget on a new wardrobe before every trip, there’s hope. We took a look at some of the most common types of travel clothes to determine whether they’re actually worth the money.
Commonly produced by outdoor outfitters, these pants, shirts, jackets and boots are meant to protect you from damp weather.
Worth It? If you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in a changeable climate (think kayaking in New Zealand, fishing in Alaska or hiking in the Scottish Highlands), waterproof clothing is worth its weight in gold. We’re not as fond of water-resistant clothes, which don’t stand up to prolonged or heavy downpours.
Buy It: Amazon offers a wide variety of waterproof clothes.
Instead of packing both shorts and long pants, buy convertible pants, and you’ll get both in one garment. (The pant legs zip off to create shorts.) They’re usually lightweight and made of quick-drying material.
Worth It? These pants won’t win you any style points, and you’ll look out of place wearing them on city streets or in quaint European villages. But if you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, you value practicality over fashion and you have limited space in your suitcase or backpack, they’re worth a buy.
Buy It: Check out Columbia’s convertible pants for men and women.
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Many travelers seek to avoid insect-borne illnesses such as Zika, malaria and dengue not only by packing bug spray but also by purchasing clothes that have been treated with permethrin, an insect repellent designed for fabric, not skin.
Worth It? If you don’t want to shell out money for new clothing, you can pick up a bottle of permethrin and spray your existing wardrobe. While this can save you money in the short term, keep in mind that clothes you’ve treated yourself are typically only protected for about six weeks or six washings, while some factory-treated clothes will keep you bug-free for up to 70 washings. (Read the details from the manufacturer before purchasing.) If you travel regularly to places where insects are a problem, factory-treated clothes are worth the investment.
Buy It: You can buy permethrin spray to treat your own clothes or shop the full line of ExOfficio insect repellent clothing.
These clever garments have tons of pockets where you can stow just about anything — cell phones, passports, wallets, cameras, keys, tablets and more. This can save you valuable space in your carry-on, as well as keep you from having to put valuables in easily accessible places such as a purse or pants pocket.
Worth It? Maybe, if you don’t feel that your usual jacket has enough storage. These garments tend to be pricey, but wearing them regularly at home, not just on the road, can justify the cost. They’re particularly well suited for photographers (who can stow things like extra lenses, memory cards and lens cloths), people who travel with lots of gadgets or women who don’t want to carry a purse.
Buy It: The industry leader for travel vests and jackets is SCOTTeVEST, which offers a range of options for both men and women.
When you’re on vacation, who has time to iron? There’s an array of clothing in wrinkle-free (or at least wrinkle-resistant) fabrics that will come out of your suitcase looking as fresh as they did when they went in.
Worth It? Honestly, you probably already own a few wrinkle-resistant clothes — just take a look at your wardrobe and pick out the garments that don’t look like a disaster after they’ve been sitting in a drawer for a few weeks. Rolling clothes or separating them with layers of plastic in your suitcase can help reduce wrinkles too. In a pinch, hang rumpled clothes in your hotel bathroom while you shower (the steam will ease out most creases) or use a wrinkle-releasing spray.
Buy It: Our favorite product for zapping wrinkles is Downy Wrinkle Releaser.
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For travelers hitting the beach, going on safari or otherwise spending a lot of time outdoors, a wide-brimmed hat is vital to protect your face and eyes from the sun.
Worth It? Some travel hats have extra-long back brims and mesh in bizarre places, making them look a little goofy. Just go for a simple option that can be folded or rolled without losing its shape, whether or not it’s marketed as a “travel hat.” We recommend buying one with a chin strap to keep it from blowing off your head.
Buy It: Here’s one unisex, foldable hat from Tuga Sunwear.
These garments aim to thwart casual thieves by offering hidden pockets secured by multiple fastenings (a zipper covered by a button, for instance).
Worth It? A little extra security is never a bad thing, especially if you regularly ride public transportation, walk around busy city streets or visit crowded tourist attractions when you travel. The clothes may be worth the expense if you like them enough to wear them at home too. That said, it’s cheaper to buy a money pouch or belt that you can wear under your clothes to conceal valuables.
Buy It: The leader in pickpocket-proof clothing is Clothing Arts. If you’d prefer a money pouch, consider this one from Lewis N. Clark.
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You might not realize it, but it’s possible to get sunburned even through a T-shirt. That’s why some companies now make special clothing that blocks ultraviolet light from the sun, including shirts, pants, rash guards and swim tights.
Worth It? Most people probably get enough protection from their normal clothing, but fair-skinned travelers spending a lot of time outdoors might find these products useful. If you’ll be snorkeling or swimming for prolonged periods on your trip, even travelers less sensitive to sun might want to pack a rash guard for protection (since sunblock washes off fairly quickly).
Buy It: Coolibar is a respected name in sun-protective clothing.
What are your favorite travel clothes?
–written by Sarah Schlichter
As seen On Independent traveler