How to dress to prevent travel woes

Whether you’re heading to the cottage, going camping or exploring a foreign country a long sleeve shirt, pants, socks and sensible shoes can be your best guard against common travel woes. Here’s why:

Protect yourself from the elements
Due to increased risks of skin cancer, today’s travellers are more sun-savvy than in the past. However, in addition to sunscreen a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and long clothing are essential. In the short term they will shield you from sunburn, but they will also minimize the cumulative effects of the sun that cause long-term damage.

While it’s common sense that a long sleeve shirt and pants provide more coverage than shorts and a t-shirt, not all fabrics provide the same level of protection. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, people should look for heavy or dark coloured fabrics that block out more light. Some fabrics like unbleached cottons, high-lustre synthetics and silk-satins offer more protection because they reflect light. A quick test: hold the fabric up to a light or window and see how much light comes through. The less light that shines through the better the protection.

Often the best fabrics for blocking out light aren’t the most practical for a hot day. One alternative is sun protective clothing that has special colourless dyes to absorb UV radiation. More information on dressing to protect yourself from the sun can be found on the Skin Cancer Foundation website.

Avoid harassment and crime
Knowing what to wear in a foreign country is more about custom than fashion, and there is no universal rule for appropriate garb. The differences among countries can be confusing, and there’s often variation between rural areas and large cites. In addition, some historic or religious sites have their own customs such as covering your shoulders or head. In short, you need to plan for the location as well as for activities in which you plan to participate.

Other than showing respect for local customs, dressing appropriately can help prevent crime, harassment and difficulties. For example, travellers are frequently cautioned to avoid wearing designer clothing and flashy jewellery that can make them targets for petty crime and armed robbery. Women are often advised to dress conservatively to avoid unwanted attention and harassment in many countries.

In some areas of the world, dress codes are legally enforced and violators can face serious penalties. For instance, travellers to Iran should be particularly careful because they could face fines or even be arrested. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office warns travellers to be aware of occasional crackdowns, especially in the summer months.

Your best defence is to learn about the culture before you travel. There are many good sources of advice including guide books, travel agents and websites such as the Canadian Centre for Cultural Learning’s Country Insights. Women in particular need to be cautious when choosing their travel wardrobe. JourneyWoman’s What Should I Wear, Where? features great tips from women travellers for destinations around the world.

That pair of pants and long-sleeved shirt is almost always appropriate, though women may need to know when to swap in a long skirt. When in doubt, take a look at what the locals are wearing and follow suit. Many travellers leave room in their budget for expanding their wardrobe on the road.

Minimize your risk for health problems
Clothing can do more than protect you from catching a chill. Experts agree that covering up is essential for preventing mosquito and tick-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus, tick-borne encephalitis, malaria, and dengue fever. Travellers should be cautious because not all of these illnesses have preventative medications or vaccines. A hat, pair of socks, boots, pair of pants and long sleeve shirt – tucked into your socks and pants respectively – are your best protection against bites, especially when paired with an insect repellent containing DEET.

Your choice of colour matters too: The Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s Traveler’s Health notes that ticks and other pests show up better on light coloured clothing – making them easier to see and remove with a quick inspection. The CDC provides detailed health information for each country, including risks and preventative measures.

Even if your itinerary does not include outdoor activities, what you wear while you travel can affect your health. Long plane, train or bus rides where you can’t get up and move around can put you at risk for blot clots, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or traveller’s thrombosis. According to the Aerospace Medical Association, wearing loose, comfortable clothing can help minimize the risk because any clothing or shoes that cut into the skin will hamper good circulation.

Protect yourself in an accident
DVT isn’t the only thing to consider before getting on board. We don’t like to think about train derailments or plane crashes, but statistically speaking more people survive accidents than are killed in them. Incidents such as the 2005 runway crash at Toronto’s Pearson Airport (where all 309 passengers and crew survived) prompted a series of articles on how to survive a plane crash, such as WebMD’s special feature. Dressing appropriately for travel is among the list of recommendations.

So what should you look for? Select items that offer protection and don’t hinder your mobility. Any article of clothing that restricts your movement will affect your ability to get out, even if it’s just for a precautionary evacuation. A tight or restricting jacket can slow you down. High heels, dresses and skirts are impractical not just for modesty’s sake but also because they can get caught on a slide or ramp.

Think of your clothing as an extra layer of protection. Pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sweater or jacket provide more defence against injury and insulation. Sandals and slip-on shoes may be comfortable and easy to take off for airport security but they are generally not recommended for a quick escape. Choose sturdy shoes with a heavy sole instead. They won’t limit your ability to run, and will shield you from debris under foot such as glass and metal.

Dressing for vacation doesn’t need to be complicated. A little pre-trip research can identify any potential issues, and allow you to travel with peace of mind knowing that you are prepared.