Adventure travelers move from towns to the bush, from beaches to temples. Choose clothing that works for the culture, the climate, and the activity.
Imagine seeing someone wearing a bikini striding down New York’s Fifth Avenue. Travelers may not realize it, but wearing shorts and locals may view a tank top to a Bangkok temple or flip flops and a T-shirt to a Middle Eastern holy site as just as inappropriate and insulting.
Clothes shopping for adventure travel isn’t always easy. That’s because adventure travelers have the constant challenge of balancing the weight with function, as they often have to cart luggage for weeks and months at a time. What style of clothes will work for birdwatching, zip-lining, temple viewing, and beach visiting, with maybe a stop at a fine restaurant or a night at a fancy eco-resort?
Most adventure travelers already know the basics:
Stick with a single color scheme.
- Pack lightweight wicking fabrics that can be washed and dried overnight.
- Choose comfortable shoes for day and night.
Solo women travelers, in particular, will want to choose clothing that doesn’t attract the wrong sort of attention.
But some clothing requirements are destination specific. Here are a few more tips, organized by continent.
Packing for Asia and the Middle East
Beachwear belongs on beaches, not in cities. That includes shorts, tank tops, and even flip-flops and T-shirts. In many Asian cultures, city wear is somewhat formal, even when the temperature soars into triple digits Fahrenheit.
In Muslim communities, both Man and Woman must wear dresses that cover arms and knees. The rules are admittedly more relaxed in prominent tourist hot spots such as the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt or the shopping malls of Dubai but don’t be fooled. Even in tourist centers, locals are offended by what they regard as immodest clothing.
Note that temples and religious sites may have specific rules such as taking off shoes, covering the head with a scarf or shawl, wearing skirts or dresses (for women), and covering shoulders and legs (for both men and women). Guides are familiar with these requirements, which is one good reason to hire them. In some cases, appropriate clothing may be (conveniently) offered for sale just outside the temple or site.
Packing for Europe
European cities haven’t adopted the same level of informality that is common in America. Leave the sweats and sneakers at home or in the gym. The goofy American shorts-socks-and-sandals look targets a visitor not only as an American (with bad fashion sense) but as just the sort of clueless traveler to attract pickpockets and scam artists.
Trade-in a logo-emblazoned T-shirt for a more stylish polo shirt, and instead of sneakers, choose comfortable but stylish walking sandals (with arch support for museums). No, “stylist” and “arch support” are not mutually exclusive: A wide selection of stylish, comfortable shoes is available online at Zappos, as well as in outfitting stores that specialize in travel and adventure. Do tuck in a pair of flip-flops if staying at hostels with shared showers and communal bathrooms.
One place where Europeans let it all hang out: Beaches and spas. It is entirely acceptable to bathe topless in France, and in German hotels, some treatment rooms are for nude users only in Rome.
Planning for Middle and South America
Subtle, neutral outfits that don’t call attention to themselves are the ticket in Latin America. In cities, travelers will want a bit more polish: A travel skirt for women, something slightly tailored for men. But in general, tone it down. It goes double for expensive jewelry and watches. Far better to buy local hand-crafted jewelry as both ornaments and souvenirs.
In tropical climates, quick-drying fabrics that can be washed and dried overnight are essential, as is a sun hat. (The Tilly brand is the universal standard for caps for adventure travel, but if that seems a little pricey, make sure the hat has a wide brim, is light-colored, and is crushable).
Packing for Africa
African culture can be pretty conservative, especially in Muslim countries. In cities, casual slacks and a T-shirt are acceptable, except in the highest–end restaurants. As in Latin America, leave flashy jewelry at home.
In the bush, resort wear is informal, and safari clothing should be functional since travelers need protection from sun, wind, and dust. But overdoing it with the safari vest, the khakis, and the great-white-hunter hat can look a bit ridiculous.
Packing for Australia and New Zealand
It is probably the closest an American traveler will get to the American informal aesthetic, especially in adventure travel destinations. Australians pride themselves on informality, and beach and surf culture are all the rage, while in New Zealand, backpacking (locally called “tramping”) is practically the national pastime. As long as the visitor doesn’t dress like Crocodile Dundee for a night at the Sidney Opera House, almost anything goes.
In short, think of travel clothing as an introduction without words. The best travel clothing follows cultural mores regarding modesty, is functional for the activities on the itinerary, and is appropriate for the climate. Fortunately, outfitters such as EMS, L.L. Bean, REI, and a host of private outfitting shops and online retailers have a wide selection for almost any activity and destination.