The Scott Shaw Guide to International Travel: PART I

By Scott Shaw

As I spend a lot of time out there on, “The Hard Road,” as I like to refer to it, I am often asked questions in regard to how to best travel internationally. To answer, here is, Part One…

One of the main things that I have to say, before I go into particulars is, look nice—dress nice. Westerners are commonly looked down upon, across the world, because they do not respect customs and dress so shabby. This being said, what you wear at home, should not necessarily be your fashion choice for international travel. This is to say, if you dress shabby at home, because that is your style, don’t do it internationally. So, forget about the tee-shirts, no matter how accepted they are where you live or how much they cost. Pack a polo shirt instead. They are just as comfortable and they look so much nicer.

The reason for this is simple; there are a lot of restaurants, religious shrines, and even museums that will not let you in if you are not wearing a collared shirt. It is fine to be overdressed but you should never be undressed.

This is the same with shorts. I never recommend wearing shorts. First of all, you will not be admitted into many places if you are wearing shorts. So, save yourself the embarrassment of being turned away. But, more importantly, they do not protect you from the sun, the elements, or even scrapes and scratches. When you are traveling you want to be able to experience all the sights and the sounds as best as possible. So, you do not want to damage your body in any way, shape, or form. Wear pants!

This brings me to jeans. No!

Again, though you may wear them at home, you will not be let into many restaurants and higher end establishments if that is what you are wearing on the international circuit. This is true, no matter how much they cost. And, we all know, some jeans can be very expensive.

Why bother holding back your options, simply to embrace your style? There are a lot of very comfortable pants out there that are very functional, while being fashionable, (if that is what you are after). This, while still being acceptable in all establishments.

Shoes… Since I was a teenager and throughout my adult years, tennis shoes have been my mainstay. I wear them with suits, tuxes, everything… Why? It is simple. They are comfortable.

Here in the States, culture and fashion is very different from many other countries. We, in many cases, allow room for the artist and the fashionista. Other cultures do not. They find it disrespectful if you show up in casual attire, like tennis shoes. For this reason, though I highly recommend you bring a comfortable pair for walking, have a back up.

Long ago I realized if you want to wear tennis shoes to do all of your walking, and you do not want to weight your luggage down with a traditional pair of hard shoes, there is a great alternative, dance shoes. Companies like Capezio make black dance shoes that literally squish down to almost nothing in your suitcase. When you need to go out to a nice establishment, they look as good as any dress shoe.

The other style of shoes I recommend for international travel is, walking shoes. In the mid 1980s a company called Rockport and later Dexter began to make these shoes that were designed externally to look like dress shoes but internally they are like tennis shoes. In more recent years, companies like Sketchers have followed a similar path but made their shoes much more fashion friendly. If you have limited space and want to travel light, go for a pair of shoes like these. Then, you can have comfortable feet while walking and still look good when you go out to dinner.

The main thing is, wear shoes that have a rubber style sole. You never want to wear shoes with a slick sole. And, for women, do not wear high heels. I can tell you from personal experiences, as I have been attacked a few times out there on the hard road, if you have to fight and kick someone in the groin, the head, or run, you do not want to be wearing shoes with slick soles or you may fall. You need to always be wearing sturdy shoes that you can maneuver in, and if necessary kick ass.

This leads me to the case of sandals and flip-flops. No! Do not wear them. They are not good for long walks. They do not look nice, and you will not be allowed to enter many establishments if you are wearing them. But, more importantly, they offer your feet no protection. If your feet are damaged, much of your trip may be ruined.

Also, always make sure your shoes are well broken-in before you bring them on a journey. A funny, (well not that funny), story happened to me in regard to this situation. Since they were introduced, I loved Nike hiking shoes. Every pair I had were very comfortable and durable. In fact, on one occasion, just before I was on my way to East Asia, I purchased a new pair, assuming that they would be like all of the other pairs I had. I arrived and begin to walk. But, this pair destroyed my feet so bad that it was painful to even take a few steps. As high-end tennis shoes were very expensive where I was and I couldn’t even find a pair of tennis shoes that was big enough, my journey really suffered. So, break-in your shoes!

Since 9/11 the rules about what you can and cannot take on airplanes, in regard to shampoos, shaving creams, sunscreen lotions, and the like are continually changing. So, you will need to check that out with your particular airline before you travel. I can tell you about one experience I had. I was flying into Shanghai for an extended stay in the mid 1980s. When I unpacked, I discovered that my shaving cream had exploded. Now, this was not my first trip to Shanghai and I knew everywhere to go to buy necessary items. But, nobody had any shaving cream. What I ended up doing was that each day, in the shower, I would soap my face up and in association with the water and the steam I was able to get a pretty good shave. The point is, while traveling, you will forget things, lose things, or things will explode and you will not have all of the amenities that you have at home. What you need to do is not shut down but explore your options and make new things work for you.

Many people either over pack or under pack when they are preparing for an international journey. Both can cause you to not have an ideal travel experience. Following is my normal packing list. I have used this for journeys that have lasted one week, onto trips that have gone on for as long as two months. Though this clothing segment is designed mainly for men, (as obviously, I am a man), it can, however, be easily adapted for women. And, this list includes what I am wearing while I travel.

Here it is:
One suit (matching pants and a coat)
One sport coat
Two pairs of pants
Five shirts
Fire underpants
Five tee-shirts
Five pairs of socks
One pair of tennis shoes (running or cross training)
One pair of dress shoes
Two neckties
One belt, black
One pair of sweatpants
One pair of swim trunks

Here are the particulars of this list:

Sport coats or suit coats are great for men (and women) because they allow you to look nice while carry necessary items in your pockets.

Two pairs of pants (in addition to the one pair that is associated with your suit). You can intermingle them as necessary.

Choose five shirts that you can intermingle and match with your pants and jackets. This way you will always be able to present a fresh look.

One thing to keep in mind when choosing your clothing for travel is that dark colors and prints hide stains much better. As we all periodically spill things, and when you’re traveling you may not have the opportunity to change right away, it is best to wear clothing that conceals stains. This is why solid whites and light colors are not ideal travel colors.

Five underpants. Wear either briefs or boxer-brief style. As you will probably be walking a lot, you really need the absorption of sweat provided by this style of underwear. Boxers just will not do it and you can easily develop a rash.

Five under or tee-shirts. Wearing an undershirt is something that I discovered in India many years ago. If you only wear a shirt, all of your sweat soaks through the shirt and your shirt looks very bad. If you wear an undershirt, however, all of the sweat is absorbed before it gets to your shirt. I personally wear tank tops. But, whatever style works best for you. It is your choice.

Five pairs of socks. Ideally, I recommend black workout socks, because they are absorbent, comfortable, and they look fine if you are wearing a suit. But whatever color or style you choose, it is best if they are all the same color. In this way, if you lose one, (as socks always seem to get lost), you can easily intermingle your remaining pairs.

The reason I bring one pair of sweatpants is that they serve two functions. One, you can sleep in them in association with a tee shirt. Two, you can work out in them with a polo shirt.

The swim trunks are obviously for swimming. They can also be used to work out in. And, if it is warm where you are, you can also sleep in them.

When packing all of your stuff there is an endless choice in suitcases. Choose what works best for you. One thing to not pack your items in, however, is a backpack. Across the world, everyone associates backpacks with hippies. And, nobody likes hippies.

A word of warning… Women do not carry a purse, particularly a designer handbag. There is a lot of thievery across the globe and if your purse is loose in your hand or on your arm, you are just inviting a purse-snatcher to steal it. If you must carry a purse, carry a small one with a long strap that you can wear over your shoulder and across your body.

There are also a lot of pickpockets out there. And, they are very good. You will never know that your wallet or your passport was stolen until it is too late. So for both men and women, if you are carrying things in your pocket, either keep them in deep front pockets or use the button to latch down your back pockets. This is the same with sport coats. Many sport coats have a button on at least one of the inner pockets. If you need to carry your wallet or passport with you, put it in that pocket and button it. Even if it is a bit of hassle to open and close it, it is worth the trouble to keep your items safe.

Okay, there you have it. The first installment of the Scott Shaw Guide to International Travel. Hope it helps and gives you some food for thought.

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