The Consummate Traveler: Packing for the Tropics

July 2, 2013 Updated: July 31, 2019

Imagine what it would feel like wearing a fur coat in a sauna for several hours. My colleagues and I agreed that this was an appropriate description for the way we felt this past weekend during our sightseeing around Bangkok. Never have I experienced such humidity, nor have I sweated so profusely in all my life. Although it’s hard to come up with any list of clothing suggestions for a trip to the steamy and sultry tropics, I have learned a few lessons I think are worth sharing.

Double Up: Bring twice as many clothes and undergarments as you normally would. You will be showering a few times a day and changing clothes just as often. You will return to your hotel soaking wet. I would budget having two to three different outfits for each day, depending on how much time you expect to spend outdoors.

Men’s summer fashion and clothes with accessories. (Shutterstock)

Lightweight Pants, Not Shorts: Believe it or not, loose or baggy full-length pants make more sense to pack than shorts. Pants shield your skin from sun, mosquitoes (and other critters), and make it easier to sightsee. Several temples and national monuments in Southeast Asia have dress codes banning men and women from wearing shorts or even ankle-length capri pants. Forget denim fabrics—you will wilt and maybe pass out from heat exhaustion in them. Think lightweight khakis instead. Try to find the most paper-thin fabrics possible in light colors.

Loose and Light Tops: My male colleagues this weekend were all wearing typical cotton polo shirts with collars. The amount of sweat pouring from their faces made me nervous for them. Although they look polished, these types of shirts are

loose and light top

way too clingy and thick for the tropics. Instead, opt for very lightweight fabric, button-down shirts with sleeves in linen or paper-thin cotton. I myself had on a very lightweight gauze shirt that was loose-fitting and had sleeves. I felt it was the best option I could have worn, although I still found myself dripping buckets of sweat. Sleeves are preferred also, because of strict dress codes in temples and monuments.

Flip-Flops: Visiting temples and other monuments in Southeast Asia often requires you to remove your shoes before entering, in a show of respect. To spare yourself having to deal with sneakers or shoes with laces, bring comfortable slide-in shoes, such as flip-flops, to make things easier. Keep a pair of socks in your purse or backpack to slip on so you don’t take your tour in bare feet.

packing to travel
Packing to travel. (Shutterstock)

Hats and Umbrellas: The heat was so bad at one point that I had to take out my umbrella to help protect me from the sun. Large-brim hats are also an option if you don’t want to carry umbrellas around.

Face Towels: If I had to go out sightseeing in the oppressive heat again, I would bring a few terry cloth towels with me. Not only can you use them to wipe away sweat, but you can also soak them in cold water from a water fountain or bathroom sink to place around your neck. This can help cool you down quickly if you are beginning to feel overheated.

As always, I wish you all the happiest of travels!