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The Best Style Shirts for Travel

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 [...]

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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.


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Filed under: Clothing, Travel Gear

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3706 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

8 comments… add one

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  • Caitlin June 16, 2012, 8:37 am

    You’re mostly talking about dudes, here, though. Most ladies will not stick a boxy camera in the pocket over their boob.

    I do like button up long sleeve shirts, though, slightly baggy.

    Personally, for traveling, I think the best is patterns in colors that are not too light and not too dark. This hides any dirt pretty well and makes wrinkles less noticeable. If you don’t want to go for patterns, mid-tone colors are the best. Like, not black (too hot) and not white or pastels (gets dirty far too easily)

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    • Wade Shepard June 16, 2012, 8:55 am

      Good call! Didn’t really consider that. Nope, a camera over boobs would not be a good idea.

      The mid-tone color tip is good as well. I usually go for plaid, as it really does do a good job hiding the stains.

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  • mike June 16, 2012, 9:04 am

    Is there anything a man can wear that is similar to a burka so that he can protect his face and nose and neck? I would think there would be something that the indians or arabs wear that can wrap around your face yet be ok for a guy to wear because it is not a burka?

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    • Brandon June 16, 2012, 5:00 pm

      I like using a shemagh. When you don’t have it wrapped around your head and face to protect from the dust or sun, you can wear it like a scarf and it still protects your neck.

      Here’s a funny video on how to tie one

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      • Wade Shepard June 16, 2012, 9:17 pm

        Good tip for desert, high intensity sun regions.

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    • Wade Shepard June 16, 2012, 8:39 pm

      Could try a ski mask. It may even cause some people to hand over some money to you from time to time too! Hmm . . . my next travel tip haha. Seriously, there are some “face masks” that the men of some cultures, like the Tuareg, in North Africa wear. But I think if you ever tried to use this garb out of context you’d probably look as ridiculous as if you were to wear a ski mask. What I do sometimes in regions with super intense sun or lots of airborne sand/ dust is wrap a cotton sash around my neck/ face area. This seems to work. Good planning here, as it is really not fun putting sun screen on your face every day.

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  • Nick June 16, 2012, 10:45 am

    Better still is poly/cotton. This is especially so in the tropics where 100% cotton has problems drying and can really get a mildew /mold smell. More crease resistant as well.
    I have tried nearly all the high tech shirts but they don’t breath as well and in the tropics you want as much breathability as you can get.
    I agree with the colors, no whites, blacks or camouflage / military colors.

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    • Wade Shepard June 16, 2012, 8:40 pm

      Right on, poly/cotton works great. I’ve never really liked the feel of the super synthetic fabrics in hot weather — even though many claim that they are made specifically for these climes — as they are often far hotter than natural fibers. The poly/ cotton is a good mix though, but more difficult to find.

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