tropical travel heroes, and other random thoughts about packing
On the 8th day of a trip to Sri Lanka in December, I discovered that I had picked up a new habit - if I wasn't planning to shower the next morning, I would sleep in the clothes I planned to wear the next day. It was delightfully slovenly, yet time-saving, and only possible because of the nature of the clothing I tend to pack when I'm travelling, especially when I am backpacking.
I was travelling with my travel hero items: drawstring-waist trousers in some kind of soft, wrinkle-resistant, breathable material, bonus if it contains a tiny bit of stretch. If you find something in a flattering cut that can be dressed up or down (and slept in!), stock up. They're more comfortable than jeans, essential if you're travelling somewhere conservative and roll up like a dream. Mine are inexpensive viscose ones from Forever 21 and Cotton On, and while I'm often tempted to grab more pairs, these ones have been virtually indestructible, which is horrible from a landfill point of view but awesome as a wardrobe staple. I can dress them up when need be with a pretty blouse, or sit comfortably on a hot, dusty bus for six hours in them. They work for most warm or moderate climates (late spring, summer, early fall) and wash and dry easily - a godsend in the tropics when you perspire a lot on the go - and are a great screen against mosquitoes and other bugs.
It's easy to let style take a backseat when you're wilting your way through the tropics, especially if you're not lounging by the beach and being chauffeured around. But after years of backpacking - shared bathrooms, bunk beds, et al - I've come to develop a uniform built around comfort and practicality, where I still feel like I've put together a decent outfit I'm willing to wear on the streets back home. These trousers are one example - I wear them on an everyday basis too, not just for travel.
Because these trousers also sit higher on the waist, I can wear t-shirts and tanks that are boxy and slightly cropped without showing skin. You may laugh at the idea that a few inches can make such a big difference, but cropped t-shirts truly let more breeze in, and the the whole effect is also a lot less "pajama party" than with longer t-shirts. I like white but heather grey is the most practical option - when you have to scrub out rings of dirt around the neckline of a white t-shirt, you'll wonder why anyone packs white things to travel in at all...
Alternatively, I also like Uniqlo's sleeveless linen shirts for a more pulled-together look. Linen shifts are also a great option - two of my favourites are from Muji. I like them knee-length for practicality, boxy fit for comfort, and with pockets, always so handy for stuffing a handkerchief in for mopping a sweaty face.
If I'm travelling somewhere with strict rules about covering up when entering a place of worship (where simply covering the shoulders isn't enough), I bring along a men's collar-less linen shirt I bought years ago, and wear it like a jacket when need be. It's handier than wrapping a scarf around me (which gets in the way when I'm taking photos) and I like the option of being able to take it off, instead of wearing long-sleeves all day.
On the beach, I don't care what I wear over my swimmers. I have two pairs of board shorts (plain, logo-free), and any t-shirt that's become too faded or pilled to wear out on the streets become my beach cover-up of the moment. I do have a very comfortable loose-knit pullover made of viscose from Cotton On because sometimes long sleeves in a quick-dry material is comforting when the wind is strong and you're still damp from the sea. I am bratty about putting on damp swimmers in the morning, so I always pack at least three sets of bikinis so that there's always a dry set to change into.
These items pretty much add up to a formula that works for almost all occasions - if I throw in a merino wool sweater, a parka, and a pair of jeans, I'm all set for cooler climes. Shoe-wise, I get by on almost all holidays with a pair of sneakers and a pair of flip-flops. I never take anything dressy unless I specifically planned something into my itinerary.
Other little things that help:
- Packing cubes like the kind by Eagle Creek or Muji - keeps things organised tidy. I only like the small ones though, because anything bigger encourages stuffing in more things, and plus the bigger ones don't work for backpacks.
- Cotton drawstring bags for shoes and dirty laundry (plus some plastic grocery bags for the truly dirty items). I use the ones that you sometimes get when you buy shoes. Or pillow cases.
- Lots of socks and undies. When it comes to these two things, more is more.
- Flip-flops. Useful in tropical downpours, on the beach, in dirty hostel rooms and bathrooms, or at a campsite after a day of hiking.
What are your holiday heroes?