7 clothing tips for smart travellers


It’s not often that I wake worrying about what I’m going to wear for the day.

The fact that I live permanently out of a kitbag helps to keep my wardrobe to an absolute minimum. Besides, we’re now staying in an isolated cabin on the edge of a rock koppie somewhere in the Western Cape; zebras and eland are our only neighbours here so dress-code is not a priority. It’s not always so simple though. Our South African road trip has carried us through some of the wildest terrain, but it’s also landed us in some of the finest lodges and hotels in the country.

We’re thrilled, on this trip, to be testing gear for Cape Union Mart, one of South Africa’s finest travel outfitters. So this morning when I slipped out of bed, I grabbed instinctively for my Old Khaki bush-shorts. And that got me thinking about clothes.

Here are seven tips for travel clothes that won’t let you down whether you’re bush-bashing through Borneo or swanking around Raffles tiffin-room.

1/ Footwear

If I’m going on a long tough trek I’ll use tough walking boots but for the average trip I prefer hybrid cross-country running shoes. They’re light enough to run in and small enough not to take up too much space in my pack (I wear flip-flops/slops/thongs the majority of the time anyway). Trekking shoes that are not excessively ‘sporty’ have the benefit that they can also be worn in more formal situations. I sometimes use slip-on elastic-sided bush-boots (Australian Blundstones are made to last). They can be ideal for jungle trekking in Asia where you frequently have to take your shoes off to enter homes and they also buff up if you need to dress to impress.

2/ Shirts

It’s extremely rare that I’m forced to wear jacket and tie (recent exceptions have been in the slightly stuffy and wilfully archaic dress-rules of several luxury trains) and normally long-sleeve shirts suffice. I normally take two that can be worn as an extra layer in the bush. The ideal shirt is casual enough for everyday wear but can be tucked into slacks so that it looks relatively smart for chic lodge meals or formal interviews. Button-down sleeves make good mosquito blocks and button-down collars cut down on the necessity for ironing. (Cape Union Mart sell a checked shirt that has become one of my all-time favourites – it’s more on the casual side but I’m less keen to get bullied into formal evening wear these days anyway so I think this shirt will be with me on a fair run of future trips).

3/ T-shirts

I love the retro style faded T-shirts that are in fashion at the moment (some of my favourite Ts are already faded and worn anyway). Unfortunately, as much as I like this style I am unlikely to allocate valuable space in my kitbag to a shirt that looks like its done 20 years of service on the day I buy it. (That effect will come along of its own accord soon enough anyway). I can make space for only 4 or 5 T-shirts versatile enough so that I can wear them whether I’m bush-basing through the wilderness alone or sipping G&Ts at a hotel cocktail party. Needless to say, they should also be built to last and made of a fabric that breathes well.

4/ Trousers

At home I’d rather wear jeans any day but they take too long to dry and are too heavy when they get wet so I rarely travel with them. Cargo pants with big pockets are the best but I also usually travel with a pair of neutral coloured (beige or brown) slacks that can be worn in slightly more formal situations too.

 5/ Shorts

Tough bush-shorts with large ‘cargo pockets’ on the thighs are the most useful item of travel clothing I carry and I wear them almost every day of my life regardless of where I am. In colder climates (or if you’re particularly sensitive to the sun) cargo pants with zip-off legs can be ideal. (These are also very useful for trekking in traditional Muslim regions where you can wear shorts on the trail but zip the legs back on before you enter villages). Bush shorts are certainly not for formal wear but the pair of Cape Union Mart’s Old Khaki bush-shorts that I’m wearing these days are among the toughest I’ve ever had. I also think that they look good enough to be worn in most places. (I hope the Durban restauranteur who barred me for infringement of dress-rules a couple of weeks ago is reading this).

6/ What colour?

Wearing bright colours is not recommended on safari and natural colours tend to mix and match easily so that at least the minimal kit in your bag will combine. (Paradoxically, some of the best lodges in East Africa encourage their Maasai guides to wear their bright red and black shuka robes while at the same time advising their guests to wear subdued natural tones at all times. Traditionally the Maasai were pastoralists so animals – especially carnivores – have developed a natural fear for the tribal outfit).

 7/ Bags

Hard suitcases are difficult to pack into a vehicle and are not allowed on many small bush-hopper flights to remoter lodges. Expedition style backpacks are absolutely the best if you’re going to be trekking long distances carrying your gear. They don’t look great in the lobby of a luxury hotel though. A well-travelled kitbag is appreciated everywhere, however, and is extremely user-friendly.


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