A trip hot, humid South East Asia with the wrong clothes will automatically give you an entry into a wet t-shirt competition.
The shirts you are packing for a trip could be too hot, with no air circulation, could take forever to dry or could tear easily.
Apart from comfort and cultural appropriateness, there are several factors that will affect your choice of clothing on any travel – business or pleasure.
Is technical clothing made from polyester the right choice for you?
How about a super-lightweight merino wool shirt? Or a nylon and cotton blend that has been treated for mosquitoes?
The quality and versatility of your travel shirts is of utmost importance.
How do you pick the best travel shirt? By checking if it meets the following 13 criteria.
Getting the right fit is usually a matter of finding a brand and a style that fits right on you.
A tight collar, a short sleeve, incorrect length… these factors are going to affect your confidence while wearing the shirt.
You need something that fits snug in the right places. Brands vary in their sizing and styles.
Travel clothing offers far fewer fit options than regular clothing. Trial and error is required to find the fit that suits your travel needs.
A work trip will require a more classic, fitted look while a looser fit would be appropriate for a safari.
#2 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Comfort
An uncomfortable shirt is going to cause you to sweat more. The wet spots are going to be a distraction and will affect your confidence.
Fabrics that are breathable, easy to care for and moisture wicking make smart choices for travel shirts.
Ventilating fabrics are important in warm climates. They offer additional levels of breathability – moving moisture away from the body so you stay sweat free.
Synthetic fabrics are often used for travel clothing and can be uncomfortable because they are not breathable.
Cotton shirts are comfortable but the only caveat with them is that they tend to absorb and retain your sweat. If you are expecting to face hot and humid conditions – choose a lightweight cotton shirt.
Merino wool is soft and comfortable next to the skin – making it the ideal choice for people with sensitive skin.
#3 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Durability
Your choice of travel shirt needs to withstand the rigors of travel and frequent washing.
Performance clothing looks normal but is constructed using technically advanced fabrics. The best natural fabric is merino wool. There are various synthetic fiber options – rayon, polyester, nylon, quick-dry tech fabric.
Most of these high-tech fabrics are durable and have stretch, hence increasing your range of motion.
Polyster shirts are going to be the strongest. The durability of merino wool shirts is comparable to high-quality cotton shirts.
The fibers in merino wool can be bent 20,000 times before they break. Regular cotton fibers lose shape if bent more than 3,000 times and silk is resistant up to 2,000 bends. Clothes made from merino wool are going to last longer and retain their shape for a longer period than cotton.
#4 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Quick Drying
Quick-drying shirts are essential when you’re on the move. Whether you're caught in a downpour or you haven't got time for a round of laundry – you need a shirt that is able to easily evaporate away moisture.
Clothes that can be hand-washed and hang-dried in a matter of hours are essential. More often than not that means synthetic-fiber clothing. Synthetic shirts typically dry quicker than those made from wool or cotton.
Polyester and merino wool shirts soak up less water than cotton, and so they dry quickly. A merino wool shirt performs well when wet for a certain time period without causing discomfort. Cotton soaks up and holds moisture – drying much slower than polyester, wool and other synthetic fabrics.
#5 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Lightweight
Traveling light means packing with minimum weight and bulk. When packing – select shirts that are made of lightweight fabrics. If you are traveling to a cold climate – you can stay warm by layering.
Travel involves constant motion. The last thing you want is a shirt fabric trapping your body’s moisture. Choose a lightweight fabric that allows regulation of your body temperature.
There is plenty of choice available in polyester, linen, merino wool and cotton of a higher thread count. Merino wool is not the hot, coarse and heavy wool of the past. It is light enough to be worn all year round.
#6 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Versatility
A versatile travel shirt can be worn across a wide range of temperatures and conditions. In the course of a few hours – a traveler can experience the cool of an airplane cabin and the heat of a sun-blazed beach.
Merino wool is renowned for its ability to regulate body temperature. Famous for its warmth, it has also been worn for centuries by desert tribes in the Middle East in extreme heat. It keeps you warm when you’re cold, and cool when you’re hot.
A synthetic fabric shirt does not breathe as well and when the weather gets hot you will start feeling like you're in a sauna.
Mixing business with pleasure? A shirt that can transition from an office boardroom to a casual evening out on town will shrink the contents of your carry-on drastically.
Usually, that requires paying attention to the cut and colors of the shirt – to ensure appropriateness wherever you travel.
#7 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Style
You will notice in your travel experience that the locals are always dressed smart. Tourists... you can spot them from a mile off with their uniform of cargo shirts, cotton t-shirt and flip-flops.
It's time to stop compromising style for comfort. Also avoid purchasing shirts with logos and weird pockets. Simplicity is best suited for travel shirts.
A safari shirt worn in the middle of London city will draw comparisons to Crocodile Dundee.
Consider the culture you are visiting. Neutral clothing is always preferred. A full-sleeve shirt in a dark color with a collar and limited pockets will always be appropriate.
Merino wool benefits from what designers call excellent handle and drape. To the wearer this means sleek and elegant clothes that effortlessly follow the form of the body.
In contrast – the shiny look of a polyster shirt will broadcast poor quality even across a crowded room.
#8 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Color
Coordination is a key factor in packing light. Leave the bright colors at home and pack neutral colors – variations of blue, grey white and black.
These solid, basic colors are versatile and will give you more combinations when paired with the rest of your clothing and shoes.
When Merino wool clothing is dyed it is colourfast – so you won't have to worry about the color bleeding on to your lighter colored clothing.
Travel tip when choosing colors – check to see if the shirts get wet when you sweat. Avoid packing shirts if their fabric becomes see through or produces dark patches as a result of perspiration.
#9 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Stain Resistant
Travelers who rejoice at the affordability of coconut water in Asian countries are also aware that a tiny spill of this healthy drink on a cotton shirt is near impossible to remove. Finding a shirt that resists staining is a top priority for anyone who is fond of travel adventures.
Synthetic and merino wool are fairly stain-resistant fabrics. Spill wine or sweat profusely on a cotton shirt and you will most likely have to discard it. It's not easy to clean a stained cotton shirt.
Merino fibers have a natural protective outer layer that prevents stains from being absorbed. The thin waxy coating on Merino wool fibers makes wool water resistant. This allows time for liquid spills to be wiped from a Merino fabric before they can cause permanent staining.
And because Merino wool tends not to generate static – it attracts less dust and lint.
Polyester fabrics are treated with stain repellents and are less absorbing than cotton. Over time, the fabric treatment wears out and pollster is not resistant to oil stains.
No iron styles mean you can wear your shirt straight from your backpack or suitcase without worrying about it looking crumpled and creased.
Polyester and merino wool fibers resist wrinkling.
Each merino wool fiber is like a spring that returns to its original shape after being bent. This gives merino wool shirts a natural resistance to wrinkles.
The strength and tenacity of polyester or lyocell (semi-synthetic form of rayon) fabrics allow shirts made from these fabrics to hold on to their original shape and resist wrinkles.
Cotton and rayon shirts will require regular ironing to maintain shape. Linen is the worst to maintain – so avoid unless you have a generous budget for laundry and are relaxed for time.
How do you know how much your shirt is going to wrinkle in transit?
Hold a part of the shirt and squeeze the fabric tightly in your fist and let go. If it wrinkles easily and the wrinkles don't fall out quickly – leave it at home. You have better things to do on your holiday than worrying about ironing shirts.
#11 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Odor Free
A shirt that doesn't stink?
Can't be true, right? Merino wool doesn’t give odor-causing bacteria a chance to grow. No chemical treatments necessary. That's great news if for some reason a traveler has to skip showering for a few days.
If you're faced with a string of long flights and stopovers or embarking on a camping or hiking expedition, a merino wool shirt is a good bet.
Polyester on the other hand starts to smell quickly and getting the odors out can be rather difficult. Same with cotton shirts – they absorb bad odors and require regular cleaning to keep them odor-free.
#12 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Function
A travel shirt needs to have a fold-down collar, long sleeves and small details like a sleeve tab that make it functional for a man who can run into extreme rain or extreme radiant sun.
A collar that can be rolled up to protect your neck from the sun or chilly evening weather is a bonus feature.
A shirt with long sleeves is most versatile – the sleeves provide protection from the sun and insects. They can always be rolled up if you’re too hot. A button fastener to secure the sleeves is a bonus.
Polyester and nylon blends are better at deflecting the sun. Most natural fibers require added treatments to be more protective. Shirt companies will specify if their shirts have been reinforced with SPF (sun protection factor).
Merino wool is much better at protecting from UV radiation than most synthetics and cotton. It is also flame-resistant.
#13 Quality Of The Perfect Travel Shirt – Price
After considering the above 12 qualities of the perfect travel shirt – you are probably wondering why merino wool shirts are not more popular than synthetic and cotton shirts.
The drawback with merino wool shirts is the price. They are not as affordable as shirts made from synthetic or cotton fabrics.
Starting around the $70 mark, you could easily purchase several cheaper shirts and use them solely for the purpose of your travel.
Cotton shirts tend to be the cheapest option. If you find yourself anywhere in Asia – you will notice that it makes better economic sense to purchase several cotton shirts during your travels.
However, cost should be the least of your worries. The quality and versatility of a shirt should be a higher priority.
Considering what goes into making an ideal shirt for globe-trotting adventure, I would like to recommend two companies that epitomize the perfect travel shirt.
Where Can I Buy The Perfect Travel Shirt?
Try Libertad Apparel – they sent me the most stylish travel shirt I ever owned.
They unveiled the Perfect Travel Shirt on Kickstarter. This classic lightweight merino wool dress shirt will withstand prolonged periods of travel without wrinkling or smelling.
Check out their story and read what men have to say after wearing these shirts for five straight days in tropical Asia.
For more advice from a seasoned traveler click here to discover my top 25 tips on how to be an organized traveler.