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The Shirt on Your Back – Clothing for Travelers

One of the great things about modern travel is the diversity of clothing available for trips to just about any environment on earth. Fifty or a hundred years ago the choice was not nearly so great, and anyone with an inclination to explore the further flung parts of the globe would either have to drag a huge trunk of clothing around with him, or else go under-prepared. Today, with the explosion in availability of relatively cheap, hardwearing, multi-functional travel garments, things are much, much easier. It should be quite possible to travel around a continent such as Europe with little more than a large rucksack.

Below are some suggested articles of clothing for any committed traveler. Note that these are intended for general use in temperate climates, such as you might find in the popular tourist destinations of North American or Europe. If you’re headed to someplace where the climate is likely to be a little more extreme, it’s probably a good idea to do some research or check the guidebooks to see what kind of clothing is recommended.

A hat is one of the most useful pieces of kit for any traveler. A good, semi-stiff, wide brimmed hat serves an endless number of uses. It will keep the sun off your head better than any baseball cap; it will roll up and store easily in a bag or suitcase. If you get one that has a water resistant coating it will keep your head dry – and, if you’re a hiker, you can even use it to drink from mountain streams on a hot day!

Lightweight waterproof jackets are pretty easy to come by these days. If you’re traveling to an area with a very predictable climate (say, one of the Atlantic islands) then you might consider leaving this item of clothing at home. If you’re going anywhere else, it should be in your luggage! You don’t need to spend a fortune on a high-level mountain jacket: these tend to be quite expensive and a little bulkier than necessary. A lightweight, waterproof, windproof outer garment of reasonably quality can be had for around a couple of hundred dollars or less, and will be worth every cent. For this amount you should certainly be getting a ‘breathable’ fabric like Gore-Tex that allows the sweat to evaporate off your skin and out through the membrane without letting water in.

Whether you’re going to be hiking the high sierra or wandering the medieval streets of a European city, good footwear is a must. These days it’s very easy to get hold of comfortable footwear that’s halfway between a hiking boot and a sneaker or training shoe. Footwear like this has a good grip – the stones of ancient monuments can be surprisingly slippery – and should offer good support to your ankle in case you take a fall and twist it. Likewise, improvements in leisure footwear technology mean that you should have next to no problems with blisters. If you are prone to blistery feet, ‘break in’ your new shoes a little by wearing them around your home for a few days before you travel.

When you’re choosing shirts, shorts and pants, one of the most important decisions to make is how far you’re going to trade off between comfort and practicality. In warm climates, pure cotton clothing is much more comfortable than anything made out of synthetic fibers. But once you get cotton damp it’ll stay that way all day, and get smelly and uncomfortable into the bargain. Think carefully about your destination and make the clothing decisions accordingly.

Remember, the best way to control you body temperature is to wear several layers, adding or removing more as necessary – this is a much more efficient, and usually cheaper, way of staying warm than buying really thick, heavyweight clothes. It also allows you to adjust your clothing to suit the environment. Despite what many authorities on the matter will say, it’s generally quite all right to make a couple of these layers cotton t shirts. If you’re going to be traveling in cool climates and spending a lot of time outdoors, you might consider wearing a specially designed ‘base layer’. Made by companies like Helly Hansen and Lowe Alpine these offer great insulation – they will also offer ‘wickability’, the valuable ability to draw water away from your skin in case you get wet.

Take a little time to plan what you’re going to wear, spend your dollars wisely, and you should have few clothing problems during your vacation!

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