These Clothes Don’t Owe Me Nothin’

If you happened to be on an Antarctic cruise or wandering around Patagonia and you notice someone — six feet tall, short hair and dressed like a vagrant in threadbare duds — that would be me. I’m the guy whose jeans have giant holes in the knees (“Very 1980s,” I’m told), holey t-shirts (we’ve all loved many of those) and a gaping breach in the sole of his right sandal.

Holey Jeans En Route to Antarctica
Wearing my Sunday best for a slideshow presentation aboard the MS Expedition to Antarctica

And one rather reluctant word about my underwear: transparent.

So how did I get here — to this sorry state of slovenly dress?

Not the First Time: Back in 2000, when we married and traveled around Europe, a good friend was kind enough to give us a U.S. Airways buddy pass to return home to the U.S. in time for Christmas. The only catch: we had to dress appropriately since were technically representing the airline. So all the worn-in (and worn-out) clothes that had taken us from Andorra to Estonia to Turkey and everywhere in between: in the trash. Off we went to pick up one new outfit each. As travelers, we never looked so good. Upon collecting us from JFK airport, my father remarked: “Wow, you guys look well. How do you do it?”

More than three years on the road and the same ten or so articles of clothing making their way through the wear cycle, continually being exposed to chicken buses, deserts, jungles, and cargo boats. This is a sure recipe for destroying one’s wardrobe, even if it is made up of special action and travel gear advertised to be indestructible.

I’m telling you, there must be something about the washing machines and water in Latin America. Absolutely unforgiving.

Add to this that laundromats sometimes lose items and the already limited selection dwindles even more. (I’m still sore about the lavanderia in Buenos Aires that lost a pair of my Ex Officio boxers – something impossible to find in Argentina!)

Dan's Clothes and Shoes Are Officially Worn Out
Holey shoes. I wasn’t joking.

There’s a certain satisfaction of wearing something out rather than tiring of it. Worn out travel and adventure gear is evidence of collective experience. It stands as a testament to the sort of life you’ve lived.

But why the resistance to buying new clothes? Simple: time and effort that I’d rather spend elsewhere. I keep thinking, “If I can hold off for just a few more months until we return to the U.S., I know where to easily replace almost everything — at lower cost and higher quality.” But it’s really gotten so bad I’m not sure I can hold off much longer.

You could say I’m hanging by a thread.

So to all the adventure and travel clothing retailers out there, I have a challenge for you: allow me to test your line of clothing and we’ll see how well and how long it holds up in the real world of long-term adventure travel.

I really don’t need a lot. After all, there’s not that much room in my backpack.

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Comments

  1. says

    @Paul: The Eagle Creek packs that we are carrying have lasted us almost four years so far. No major holes but buckles have taken a beating. Audrey’s previous Eagle Creek pack lasted 10 years before one of the outer zippers gave out.

  2. says

    Ha, so funny! I have a t-shirt that I have had since high school with holes so large that it looks like I have three neck holes in it. It is only used for sleeping now but it is the comfiest shirt I own and hate to give it up. And, I know exactly what you mean about not wanting to buy clothes when you are traveling because of quality and price — the exception being New Zealand where we found good quality gear to be way cheaper and better quality than what we find in the US. So, maybe your next stop needs to be New Zealand so you can replace clothes?

  3. says

    Love it! I’ve totally been in the same situation more often than I can count these days, and I haven’t been traveling nearly as long as you guys. Those damn chicken buses and third-world washing machines.

    Strange that I didn’t really wear t-shirts until I started traveling, and now they are more or less all I wear. I think the 80′s look is kind of a uniform for the long-term traveler. Hard to avoid.

  4. says

    I finally just tossed my timberland sandals which I had worn pretty much every single day over the past three and a half years. They looked a lot like your photo above as the sole had been reduced from a solid, thick sole to something that resembled a paper towel.

    And you’re right about the lavanderias here in Latin America…in San Salvador I sent all of my clothes to be cleaned one day and received one shirt and one pair of shorts back in return. All the rest had been accidentally given to someone else…

    At least my backpack was nearly empty for a few days.

    Great post Daniel.

  5. says

    Great post!
    I didn’t travel as long as you, but cloth related situation happened.
    I had sort of my ‘praveling pants’ i worn pretty much for every travel.
    had many pockets, small volume, very light. but after too much outdoorsey stuff, I just had to through away. Hole in the butt, knee, tore apart everywhere.
    I felt good and sad. He was my ‘traveling pants’! :D
    thanks for inspiring always :)’

    Juno.

  6. says

    Not only is there the time and convenience factor of not wanting to replace your old duds but I also find I get very attached to the clothes that see me through my world travels. The joy of realizing my favorite shirt (of three) is still clean is a pretty great feeling.

    On another note I had a backpack zipper bust on me in Thailand a few weeks ago and I had to get the zipper replaced. It is obviously not the same. Eagle Creek packs are available in the fancy malls here but they are twice as much as at home. Guess I’ll be seeing what this zipper can take!

  7. says

    My last few pairs of jeans were so worn through that three different people bought me new pairs of jeans… now I have plenty of hole-free jeans. The worst part about jeans, tshirts, and sandals is that they are most comfortable just before they finally give out completely.

  8. Pete De Ritter says

    There is a certain comfort to old clothes. I’ve got a belt that is probably older than you. I love it event though it is all scuffed up.
    If you don’t mind, I’m going to try to scrub the image of the transparent underwear from my mind.

  9. says

    Ex Officio is the way to go, sorry that you lost a pair. I think I would start crying.

    As for the wear and tear of clothes in central and south america, it’s because they wash the shit out of things. It’s a seriously brutal process where clothes get scrubbed so hard that the dye jumps out of them in pain.

  10. says

    Good news! The 80′s are back in. So in, I have teenage flashbacks. I won’t be packing jelly shoes though. But tights – amazing pieces of cotton that cover legs up and circulate air. :) You should place a clothing countdown on the sidebar to chart how long they will actually last! :)

  11. says

    I hand-wash my clothes – the one time I didn’t – Sihanoukville in Cambodia – my khakis came back with yellow splotches. Fortunately it was my last stop. Wouldn’t help with the chicken buses, but avoids the killer washing machines (or having your clothes beaten to death on rocks).

  12. says

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Again, I love the different directions of discussion on this post.

    @Akila: Those are the best shirts…the ones that last until they fall off your back. I didn’t realize that New Zealand was the place for low cost, high quality travel gear. Thanks for the tip. I guess we’ll just have to move it up in our ever-changing itinerary. Perhaps after Africa — something tells me that our travels there might leave a mark or two on our clothes.
    @Colin: T-shirts are the ultimate item in travel wear. Thank you for verifying that my 80s-on-the-move style is still, um, in style.
    @Earl: Thanks…and thanks for your story. Totally disheartening and we can totally empathize and sympathize. I like how you’ve looked to the positive side: reduced weight in your backpack. There’s something to be said for a clean slate.
    @Juno: Sounds like my Columbia zip-off travel pants. They’ve served me well, but they are coming apart in some odd places. Thank you for the empathy!
    @Briana: There was a time when I became attached to items of clothing (particularly for their functionality, but also for the fact that they’ve seen me through), but stuff disappears and disintegrates so quickly these days that I’ve had to mentally accommodate this reality. Regarding getting your zipper replaced, I find Asia in general (and SE Asia in particular) an exceptional place for repairs. I’m fond of cultures that offer the option to repair before the option of replacement. Good luck with the zipper — we have found that they are the weakest link in the wardrobe (bags and pants/trousers).
    @Brian: And I thought the solution was to replace my jeans. Maybe it’s time to find friends that will buy me new jeans. So true: the older they are, the more comfort they deliver…right up until they give out.
    @lisa: Thanks! Ex Officio: super tough, but not disappearance-proof, unfortunately. Next up: underwear with radio frequency identification tags so they can be tracked down in case they get lost.
    @Pete: I love old clothes and old leather. It used to be that you could buy a pair of leather shoes and they’d last a lifetime, so long as you properly replaced the soles. But cheap goods being what they are (cheap, inexpensive, and too easy to just replace), we have entered a new era.

    My apologies for the transparent underwear image. I had to choose my words carefully and accurately, regardless of what emotional scars they’d leave our readers with.
    @Kyle: I almost did. The laundry place gave me money to replace them, but it’s just not the same. I’m glad to know that others have had the same laundry destruction experience in Central and South America that we’ve had. Drives me a little crazy.
    @NomadicChick: The 80s are always in. Ooh, jelly shoes. That sounds like a travel no-no. Stick to the hiking boots, Crocs and Tevas. I don’t have “tights” per se, but I have a pair of 15-year old Patagonian liners that I have been (blush) wearing for the past 4 weeks straight. I don’t know how long they will last, but I wonder after how many days of straight wearing, they will get up and walk away.
    @Kathy: When we can, we hand wash as well. But when time and outdoor temperatures are an issue, then we go for the machine. The strange thing is that we didn’t encounter the same destruction and disappearance in our clothes during our 18 months in Asia. Not to mention, laundry was much, much cheaper and just as effective. Oy, yellow splotches. A friend of mine would say “tie dye.”

  13. Don says

    Dan: Time to bronze those sandals and collage those well worn duds for posterity. I know just the place to restock your wardrobe with the broken in type cotton shirts, jeans et al. Right price, good quality and some are sitting right now in my closet. When in the US we can take a trip to the local Sally (Army). I’ll go with you so that you don’t overindulge. Your wear em out philosophy reminds me a bit of your post about stuff versus travel. Now that you and Audrey have learned how simple our true needs can be, how about a post about the process of unburdening ourselves of much of the unnecessary stuff that we find ourselves drowning in each day. You could label it the process of unstuffing. We have been trying and it is not easy. Yikes. Even decades old magazines seem to cling to my hand at the recycle bin. Help.

  14. says

    @Don: After taking a whiff, some have suggested I burn those worn-out duds. As for replacements, I think I’m going to enjoy my lightweight backpack for a spell before acquiring anything else. And with that attitude, I just might be on my way to “unstuffing.”

  15. says

    @Johnny: I’m definitely not worried about it. We’ve been on the road so long, the backpacker mystique has worn off — I’m in a full embrace of “practical” these days.

  16. says

    Dave has the same levis shirt that he has been wearing since 2000! He didn’t bring it on this trip and deeply regrets it. We are stopping at home before heading to Paris and he is definitely going to dig it out of storage. It is his favorite soft and worn shirt for travel. Hand it to Levis (especially back then) It has held up extremely well! Hope you get some gear to test!

  17. says

    Haha, I just read your blurb about the US Airway buddy pass. We have a flight with Air France next month on their Premium Voyageur Class and we have to dress appropriate for that too. Gotta do some shopping ourselves:)

  18. says

    @Dave and Deb: One advantage Dave has of leaving his favorite Levi’s shirt behind is that it won’t die a threadbare death from continuous travel. Happy shopping for the buddy pass flight.

  19. says

    @Madhu: It’s funny…when we first published this, we jokingly suggested we’d make this a travel clothing competition. I think you’ve found our other posts that address this.

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