Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to travel with a variety of different people covering a range of ages and generational norms. These insights have put me on a bit of a personal quest. Whilst we Brits aren’t currently held in high esteem for of travel dress, it seems that once upon at time we had it right and some-when, somewhere it all went awfully wrong!
First I think a caveat is appropriate; note I don’t say sense of fashion, let’s be honest high fashion is not always practical for travel. I’m more known for side stepping fashion than following it. My aim is not to change what we wear, but help fellow travellers be more adaptable and therefore comfortable when travelling.
First let’s see how it all started. If we cast our minds back to when we Brits first started properly travelling in the 18C we had travel dress right. Yes we were less tourists and more ‘cultural terrorists’ and yes we did lots of very bad things which horrify us by today’s standards. However, let’s put all that to one side for a moment, I’m not excusing it but this is not an article about political correct history; we are only concerned with how we dressed.
Back when we weren’t busy stealing other nations cultural heritage, we not only looked dapper but what we wore showed intelligence of choice and could be adjusted to suit the climate we were in. Travel clothes of yesteryear seemed to embrace the Scout moto to ‘be prepared’. They were normal clothes for the day, we still wore shirts and trousers and dresses; but they were adapted for the climates, using thin material in hot climates allowing us to add layers in the cool evenings. Today we talk of capsule packing but seem to have forgotten the art of layers and accessorising. I once spent a week with retired military personnel in the Netherlands and was astounded by the one laptop bag they had. Yet they never wore the same outfit twice, it was all down to combinations. Instead of refining this art we seem to transpose our climate to where we are travelling, wearing thick woollen hoodies to travel to hot countries. How many of us have seen our fellow countrymen at baggage reclaim sweating in a hot country because their dressed for London in December whilst at the other end they are freezing at Heathrow because they woke up in 30 degree heat and put on t-shirt and shorts.
There is method in my madness. As a seasoned hospitality professional and travel writer I’ve seen it play out a thousand times. In Amsterdam we used to sit in the cafe’s and play spot the tourist. Brits were easily recognisable by their sports wear, trainers and sports bags. This isn’t just a sartorial pendant talking, it may well help protect you, follow my logic; if you look like a tourist it screams “I’m new and I don’t know what is going on” so you become a target. At best unscrupulous taxi drivers, bell boys etc will take advantage of you and increase their prices at worst you might as well put a sign above your head to pick pockets and muggers that hang around transport hubs.
There are also other, nicer benefits to dressing less like you are going to the gym when travelling. Take it from an industry insider, you’re more likely to get better service.
In a recent survey of flight crew 61% said they would upgrade people that were dressed smartly. The rational behind this is simple, airlines want their expensive seats to look popular. If you look the part, you stand a better chance of getting that upgrade; just don’t try and shove everything in your hand luggage. I once arrived at a Spanish hotel in the middle of summer in a Panama, short sleeve shirt, blazer, tailored shorts and deck shoes. I hasten to add that this was really comfortable travel wear and you’ll note nothing in that list is too far removed from what most of us will wear to watch TV in on a Sunday, heck I wasn’t even wearing socks! Yet despite the queue of people to check-in, I was taken over to a separate desk and checked in first. Why you may ask? The answer is simple, I was polite and looked smart.
If you break the monotony of the staffs day by looking like you deserve good service and couple it with good manners it’s a killer combo to those of us in the hospitality trade. Think about it for a moment, people are quick to complain in our industry and generally tourists relax when travelling so they look scruffy. You turn up looking like a dandy and being nice to us, it’s a positive cycle. We’re nice to you!
Essentially we just need to give some consideration to what we are doing when we’re travelling. It’s not rocket science, dress like a poor student and you get treated like one. As a rule of thumb if the staff are smarter than you, you’ve got it wrong.
So here are my tips on travel dress essentials:
- A plain, loose fitting, long sleeve shirt with button cuff of light material. This way you can adjust to the temperature you find yourself in, roll selves up or down.
- Comfy shoes, airports involve lots of walking, something breathable and kind to your feet, think boat shoes or canvas shoes. Avoid boots or anything with a thick sole if you don’t want to be standing in your socks at security
- Don’t forget planes get chilly loose fitting, light weight trousers are a good to keep you warm but unless you want to be practically strip search at security ditch the belt.
- Finally, a jacket /blazer. I know, I know you probably wear one all week and you don’t want to on holiday. However, if we’re honest a jacket is rarely uncomfortable and it’s effectively a wearable briefcase! A standard blazer or sports jacket will have 3 exterior pockets and three interior pockets. Plenty of space for vital documents like passports, wallets and phones which can all be kept safe next to you by just doing up a button so you can focus on departure gates. Also, when you arrive at your destination and have no idea what you are doing you look like an experienced business traveller and the pick pockets look for easier pray.
Keep space in your hand luggage. I know this sounds odd but think of the layers principle. You want to be comfortable when you go from one country to another. If you’re on holiday you’re most likely going from cold Blighty to somewhere hot. You don’t want to shiver at Standstead so wear a t-shirt under your shirt. However neither do you want to bake when you land in Barbados, so before the plane begins its decent nip to the loo and take your t-shirt off. Similarly if you have a pair of shorts or light jumper in your hand luggage you can adapt to be comfortable in climates and situations.
Finally there is one really good reason to dress smartly when travelling. If the worst happens and your luggage goes to Canada whilst you’re in Cyprus then you can still dress a smart wardrobe down to suit any situation. You’d be hard pushed to dress up tracksuit bottoms and a football shirt to take your partner to a restaurant.
Feature Image – by Bruce Mars from Pexels