The perfect style of shirt that I’ve found for travel is nothing special. You probably have a half dozen of them in your dresser right now — or maybe you already have one in your rucksack. This style shirt is worn and sold dirt cheap in just about every country on the globe. It is the button down, long sleeve, cotton shirt. The same hokey, plaid, pearl button type of shirt that your grandfather may wear. These shirts have build in attributes that a traveler can use to their advantage as they move through the world.
The benefits of button down shirts
First of all, these button down shirts have two decent sized breast pockets. I will often keep my camera in one and my compass and bus/ train tickets in the other. This allows me easy and quick access to items that I want to use regularly throughout a day of travel while also keeping them stored securely.
Secondly, these long sleeve shirts can be used to protect your skin from the sun. If you’re wearing one of these shirts with the buttons fastened, the sleeves rolled down, and the collar flipped up, the exposed areas of skin that could get sun burned are greatly reduced. If you’re also wearing pants, a hat, and sunglasses, the chances of becoming severely sun burned are incredibly slight. I advocate the use of sunscreen but I have to admit that I hate using it as it makes me feel like a greased up pig going around all day with my skin oily. Sunscreen is also expensive in many countries in the world. So I reduce the amount of times that I wear these sun repellent chemicals as much as I can by covering up under long sleeve cotton shirts when I’m outside in intense, direct sunlight for multiple hours on end.
Third, long sleeve, button down shirts are versatile. You can wear them as your only shirt, as an over-shirt, wear them buttoned up or unbuttoned, as formal or casual wear, use them as a head scarf, a towel, or even a beach blanket. If the weather is warm just roll up the sleeves and you have a t-shirt.
Those quick dry, super fabric, pocket laden, button down “adventure” shirts that you can get in fishing or travel supply shops may seem like a good option until you look at their price tags. There is no way that I’m paying $50 for a shirt when I get one that’s just as suitable for $5. The old adage “cotton kills” rings out here, but it’s irrelevant if you always go into wild areas with a good rain jacket and a synthetic base-layer shirt. Also, those high tech shirts often tend to be rather uncomfortable to wear in hot weather, as the polyester or rayon or whatever “super fabric” they’re made from tends to stick to the skin.
For any type of clothing to be good for travel it must be cheap, easy to acquire internationally, easy to clean, and have a long life expectancy. These simple, button down cotton shirts fit the bill completely: they are comfortable, durable, easy to find anywhere, and are dirt cheap. I’ve always had at least one of these shirts in my pack during the past 13 years I’ve been traveling the globe. If I had to choose only one style of shirt to travel with I would chuck all the other types by the wayside and stick to these highly versatile, highly durable, protective, and cheap long sleeve cotton button-down shirts.