Clothing Optional…

What to Wear No Matter Where You’re Heading


I finished checking the status of our Delta flight and wandered out of my office and into our bedroom. Elaine was standing there looking down at her empty backpack and the variety of clothes strewn across the bed.

“I have no idea what clothes to wear for Amsterdam in March. Is it going to be warm or cold?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it.” I replied, “I imagine it will be a bit rainy and cool.”
“What do you mean ‘You haven’t thought about it?’ Your ‘no plan’ plan requires a little bit of planing. This is important, we need to keep our backpacks light so we can be free to wander. I need to have the right clothes.”

I though about Elaine’s words. Why don’t I worry about what to bring? It is important. Elaine thinks I’m a little strange with my cavalier attitude about what to bring on a trip. I guess I’ve been doing this journeying for too long and details such as what to pack come second nature for me. I come up with a good answer for Elaine.

“Where is you favorite place to shop for clothes?”
Elaine answers, “You know that! It’s Goodwill!”
“Because there’s such a huge variety and some really good, name brand, clothes for next to nothing?”
“Do you think there is anyplace in this world where you can’t find a Goodwill, or flea market or second hand store with plenty of clothes to choose from?”
“No, I suppose not.” A smile slowly grows on her face.
I smile back, “And, I might be wrong here but isn’t clothes shopping one of those top 10 things that women love to do?”
Elaine laughs with realization of what I’m getting at, “I hadn’t ever thought of it that way. What a great idea. We get to keep our backpacks light AND I get to go clothes shopping AND you can’t complain one bit because it’s your idea”
“Oh! Hold it!  I hadn’t thought this all the way through…?
“Too late, where’s my toothbrush?” she says as she turns toward the bathroom.

When Elaine and I travel to different destinations we try to blend in and picking up clothes “in country” is a great first step. There are several reasons to want to blend in. First, it helps us to experience the real culture, not the commercial, tourist oriented attitudes that inevitably come our way at more popular tourist destinations. When we look like the locals we are treated more like the locals. People are much more likely to open up and share their thoughts and opinions. The second reason to blend in is because it’s safer. Conspicuously identifying yourself as an outsider can be just asking for trouble at some destinations. And when I say trouble, I’m not talking about “risk of life”, I’m talking about milder annoyances, such as aggressive sales people, con-artists, beggars and pickpockets. It is easy for Americans to forget that our income can be 10 times that of the person standing behind the counter. Also, leave the expensive watches and jewelry at home. Third, it’s just politer. If you want to be accepted into a world outside our your own, it’s important to respect the culture, the customs of the area. In many places, shorts, bare shoulders, even bare heads are considered rude and unacceptable. When we first arrive to a foreign country we look at what people are wearing and we try to duplicate their attire. It’s surprising how easily this works. We’ve seen peoples attitudes change in a matter of minuted when they see us making an effort to conform to their way of life. Even if we are not very successful, they appreciate the effort and open up to us.

So, what do you need to bring?

The key is to keep it light, versatile, fast drying and in “gentle” colors. Anything else you need you can buy locally after arriving at your destination. Here is what I bring when hitting the road for an extended journey and this includes what I’m wearing:

Backpack (easy to carry, allows me to be more mobile with both hands free)
Hiking Pants, 2 pair (comfortable, many pockets)
Hiking shirt, 2 pair, long sleeve
Undershirt, 3 pair, polypropylene
Underwear, 3 pair, polypropylene
Socks, 3 pair, Smart wool (well padded)
Hiking Shoes (broken in)
Jacket, Fleece (depending on location/weather)
Jacket, Windbreaker/Waterproof (I use a reversible with a bright color on one side)
Hat, wool (it still insulates when wet)
Credit/Debit Card
Ziplock freezer bags
iPhone/iPad (loaded with travel guides, take pictures, stay in touch, journal)
Universal plug/charger
LED Headlamp