Travel 101: The Shirt off My Back

Antigua Steve WEB

Stephen F. Dennstedt

If you’re going to travel around the world you’re going to get wet. I learned that lesson early as a young Marine serving a combat tour in Vietnam (1967 – 1968). I was always wet in Vietnam. I was either drenched with the torrential monsoon rains or drenched with my sweat in the debilitating heat and humidity. It’s not a matter of whether you’re going to get wet but rather when and how you’re going to get wet.

On March 8, 1965 the Marines came ashore at Red Beach just north of Da Nang. Less than two years later (the first week of January 1967) I landed at the airfield in Da Nang and was then transported farther south to Chu Lai. I found that my all-cotton BDU (Battle Dress Uniform) and all-leather boots quickly mildewed and rotted off my body. Literally.

It took awhile for the military to get its shit together and issue us Jungle Utilities and Jungle Boots. The Jungle Utilities (the Army called them Fatigues) were constructed of 100% 8.5 ounce cotton santeen (strong, durable and mildew resistant). Later in the war (conflict) rip-stop was introduced and greatly improved overall field performance. The Jungle Boots replaced the all-leather variety with nylon uppers, water drainage vents and an aggressive tread (and included a steel shank to guard against punji stakes—poisoned stakes and spikes set into booby traps).

Vietnam was the first time I was wet all the time. Vietnam was also the first time I came to appreciate clothing and footwear designed for a specific purpose. It wasn’t about fashion—it was about functionality, durability and value. Whenever I buy travel clothing or footwear it must meet or exceed those criteria: it must be functional, it must be durable and it must give me a good bang for my buck. You will notice that fashion is not among the criteria. If you’re a vacationer staying in all-inclusive resorts dress to make a fashion statement. If you’re a world backpacker—beware.


Cabela’s Safari Shirt

Functionality: 10/10

Durability: 10/10

Value: 8/10

Pros: Lifetime  guarantee, comfortable, dries quickly when wet, functional pockets & epaulettes, great protection against sun and mosquitoes, good choice of sizes and colors and extremely durable.

Cons: Can be a little heavy for hot & humid tropical climates, pricey upfront but a good value when you prorate the cost over the life of the garment (I’ve had mine for six years and counting).

Shirts are an essential piece of travel gear, both for modesty and functionality. Not every country shares American sensibilities when it comes to public dress and they don’t appreciate wife-beater undershirts, t-shirts with lewd graphics or the American no-shirt option in public places—especially in religious settings. So be forewarned. Modesty is not only appreciated but often mandatory. When travelling functionality always trumps (sorry) fashion. Again, I am talking about full-time world travellers as opposed to occasional vacationers (if your home is a backpack you know what I mean).

My favorite travel shirt is: Cablea’s 65/35 Polyester/Cotton Safari Long-Sleeve Shirt for $39.99 USD. I have three of them: Blue, Brown and Olive. I’ve had them for six years. They are somewhat faded (and stained) but have no rips, tears or busted seams (they even have all of their original buttons). I almost always buy Khaki/Brown and Olive to easily mix & match on the road—plus the darker natural colors help to hide stains. I will sometimes buy a color (like blue) to make my rare fashion statement.

I suggest buying a Poly/Cotton blend when possible. Remember when I told you that you’re going to get wet? Polyester is not only strong and durable but it dries quickly, and cotton provides comfort and reduces the funk-factor. What is funk? Funk is that cheesy oder you smell when your natural body fluids and secretions embed themselves into synthetic fibres. It is not a pleasant smell. Clothing made entirely of synthetic fibres stink—and they begin to stink quickly. Blends of 60/40 or 65/35 are perfect for travel. Quick to dry, durable and they don’t stink.

I always buy long-sleeve shirts. Why? For protection against the sun and mosquitoes. The sun can burn you but mosquitos can kill you. Mosquitoes can literally kill you:

Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include: malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, filariasis, Japanese encephalitis, Saint Louis encephalitis, Western equine encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, La Crosse encephalitis and Zika fever.

For the same reason I buy long-sleeve shirts I also buy (and wear) long pants. I also wear socks with my sandals. You can always roll up your shirt sleeves, and pants today often come with zip-off legs. However, when you expose your skin in mosquito country make sure to slather on the DEET generously (and continue to apply it throughout the day). Experts recommend concentrations of 10 to 24% (DEET can melt plastic so be careful with your phone and camera).

Cautionary Tale: When I lived in Yucatan, Mexico I contracted Dengue Fever. It is not an experience I would wish on anyone. I suffered with an extremely high (104°F) on again/off again fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, bone-crushing aches, full body rash, severe loss of appetite and lethargy for over a week. I was still bedridden in my second week and suffered the aftereffects of the fever for almost three months. There are four types of Dengue Fever: I, II, III and IV. I had type II but types III and IV (Dengue Shock Syndrome and Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever) can kill. There is no vaccine for Dengue and it’s a virus so antibiotics are useless for treatment. Once you’ve had Dengue you are not immune, you can become infected again. Worldwide statistics suggest that reinfection increases your odds for contracting the more severe types.

WB IMG_3790

Typical Travel Attire – Northern Amazon River Basin, Cuyabeno, Ecuador

I hope that my cautionary tale hits home and makes you think. Most of my travels are in Asia and Latin America; these regions are usually hot, wet and home to mosquitoes. You need clothing that will protect, dry quickly and last. The shirt I am recommending fills that need. Maybe I should point out that I receive no compensation, whatsoever, for these reviews and recommendations. These are only my opinions based on my experience in the field. The photo (inset) above shows me dressed in my typical travel attire (whether it’s in the city or jungle). I hope this article has been helpful.


6 responses to “Travel 101: The Shirt off My Back

  1. Wow!! Thank you SIR for your service to our country!! You still have LOTS OF BANG IN YOUR BUCK!!! You are TOUGH!!!

  2. I love these Travel 101 posts. Great information. On another note I have to say I am glad I served in middle east and not Vietnam. I would rather deal with scorching dry heat than humidity, rain and always being wet.

    • Thanks Jesse. It’s funny, once I got home from Vietnam I promised myself I would never be dirty again, never be constantly wet and that I would take a shower once (maybe twice) everyday. Fifty years later I get dirty a lot, and am constantly getting drenched and consider myself lucky to get a hot shower every 3 to 4 days. And I’m in Hog Heaven. 🙂

      • I don’t mind being dirty or going without a shower. Hell I don’t even mind being hot or even a little sweaty but to be constantly wet and sweaty and in heavy humid air…I will pass on that.

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