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The Pros and Cons of “Disposable Clothing”

Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada: This is the awesome red coat that I bought in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada in November and ditched in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in March. It cost $40 from Walmart.

The following is a guest post by Kelly Dunning. Featured image – Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada: This is the awesome red coat that I bought in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada in November and ditched in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in March. It cost $40 from Walmart.

I am a digital nomad who travels for long term stretches of several months or years at a time, living out of a small backpack.

Over the years I have started seeing my travel wardrobe as temporary “disposable clothing.” Basically, I buy cheap and cheerful clothes, wear them out and then replace them a few months later.

While I am traveling I try to always buy clothes in cheap locations or buy them on sale. I don’t think there is anything in my backpack right now which cost me more than $20-30 and most of my clothing is around the $2-10 price range.

This has a number of advantages while I am traveling long term, but it also has its disadvantages as well.

Koh Phi Phi Thailand: This is me working in my bikini, which I bought for $7 at Wet Seal in Virginia, USA.
Koh Phi Phi Thailand: This is me working in my bikini, which I bought for $7 at Wet Seal in Virginia, USA.

The Advantages of Disposable Clothing

I Don’t Get Bored

When you live out of a backpack for several months on the road it can drive you crazy only having the same few items to choose from. Whenever I get bored I can buy a cheap new shirt or pair of pants to replace one of my oldest ones. Over the course of 6 months or a year, a large percentage of my small backpack wardrobe will have been rotated out for new items.

Easy Come, Easy Go

When my backpack starts to hurt my shoulders or doesn’t meet the baggage regulations anymore I go through my clothes and give away the ones I love the least. I never feel bad when I have to lighten my load by leaving a few clothes behind because I have only paid a few dollars for them anyway. Even if my entire backpack was stolen or lost, I wouldn’t be that devastated because I could easily replace everything inside it.

Adapting to Different Climates

This strategy also allows me to swap out items easily when I am traveling in different climates. For example, I bought a cheap coat while we were traveling across Canada in the winter then swapped it for summer tank tops before heading to Thailand.

Koh Phi Phi Thailand: I bought this navy blue tank top for $3 at Ardene in Newfoundland, Canada.
Koh Phi Phi Thailand: I bought this navy blue tank top for $3 at Ardene in Newfoundland, Canada.

Adapting to Different Cultures

I spent a year in England filled with weddings, parties and nights out on the town and accumulated a collection of sexy little going out dresses. None of these dresses would have been appropriate in the off-the-beaten track locations I am now visiting in Southeast Asia. I said goodbye to them and stocked up on long pants and tops which covered my shoulders so that I could be respectful when visiting temples.

The Nomadic Life is Tough on Clothes

You will wear each item of clothing much more often because you have less to choose from. Think about it, if you get 200 days of wear out of a t-shirt and you only wear it once per week it will last you 3.8 years. However, if it is part of a small wardrobe and you wear it three times per week it will only last you 1.2 years.

Also, wearing it more means that it will be washed more frequently. You also might do more walking and be more active than you would at home, wearing out the soles of your shoes and the inseams of your pants.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: The red polo shirt was purchased in Bangkok, Thailand for 200 baht ($6.40). The green pants are the ones that I mention in the post, which fell apart not long after.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: The red polo shirt was purchased in Bangkok, Thailand for 200 baht ($6.40). The green pants are the ones that I mention in the post, which fell apart not long after.

The Disadvantages of Disposable Clothing

There are a few drawbacks to my clothing strategy, such as:

You’ll Never Be a Fashionista

Sometimes when all is said and done, I wish that I could have that beautiful fuzzy cashmere sweater or that totally impractical silk blouse that my backpack would destroy. Buying cheap and practical travel clothes means that you will never feel that glamorous or chic.

While I think I manage to look OK in my cheap and simple travel clothes, I can sometimes feel somewhat scruffy compared to the chic and stylish local girls.

They Can Fail You at Any Moment

Before I left for Southeast Asia I bought a great pair of army green, lightweight three-quarter-length pants that were super cute and comfortable. They were just perfect, long enough to be respectful, short enough to keep me cool, easy to wash and they even had a button-up pocket to discourage pickpockets. Best of all, they only cost me $12.99.

Unfortunately, sometimes you get what you pay for. Two months into my Southeast Asia trip these pants had completely disintegrated, the inseam coming unraveled and large holes forming in the fabric. I couldn’t even sew them up, they were simply threadbare. Oh wonderful pants, we had such a short time together!

Sometimes going too cheap and crappy with your clothes is not the most economical, because they fall apart before you get your money’s worth from them.

London, England: This entire outfit is from Primark. The dress was around 15 pounds, the leggings were 2 pounds and the boots were 10 pounds.
London, England: This entire outfit is from Primark. The dress was around 15 pounds, the leggings were 2 pounds and the boots were 10 pounds.

Finding Cheaper Clothes Takes Effort

In order for this strategy to work the best you need to be able to find cute clothing that looks decent on you for a very cheap price. However, finding something to wear that only costs a few dollars but isn’t hideous can sometimes be a lot of work, especially in high priced locations such as Europe and North America. If you are traveling through an expensive destination, you might find yourself with very few options if you need to buy new clothes. I’ve learn to have a great eye for the sale rack and spot the best deals, but it can take some time.

The disposable clothing strategy might not work for everyone, but it certainly works for my lifestyle of almost constant long term travel.

What about you? Do you wear cheap clothing while on the road, or invest in high quality travel clothes?

About the author: Kelly Dunning is a Canadian freelance travel writer. She and her partner Lee Carter are living the digital nomad lifestyle and traveling around the world with only the possessions that they can fit in their backpacks. Global Goose is a chronicle of their lifestyle as perpetual wanderers as they migrate around the globe together. It offers an insight into the lifestyle of full time travel as well as destination guides, practical tips and interviews with inspiring travelers. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Christine says

    One of the reasons I don’t like to buy “disposable” clothing is the negative impact on the environment and its support of cheap labor. If I need something throwaway, I’d rather buy secondhand–much better for the earth and economy!

    • Julie - The Fairy Trails says

      My thoughts exactly! I feel terrible buying anything disposable – whether it’s a coffee cup or a pair of shoes.

      That being said, I am the most forgetful person ever; regardless of the quality of my clothing, I leave everything behind everywhere! Maybe I would be better off to save my money and buy cheap! 🙂

  2. Kelly says

    Sorry not to explain properly, the clothes are almost always given away, only if they are in really bad condition will they go in the trash. As for cheap labor, a higher price does not mean it is not being made in the same factory as the cheap stuff.

  3. Mothra says

    I keep my clothes through out the year and go through them twice a year . Instead of giving them away ,I use them for my trips and leave them behind (not underwear) . I come home with a small amount of laundry .

  4. Xenia says

    This sounds like a great idea, except for one thing – I can’t stand shopping! This would necessitate shopping so often, I honestly wouldn’t be ae to tolerate it. Before anyone decides to go this route, be honest with yourself about how often you really want to shop – if it’s as rarely as I do (maybe once every couple of years), don’t be tempted! You’d be much happier bringing better clothes and putting up with any disadvantages of your strategy 🙂

  5. Faraday says

    I totally agree with Christine and Julie about being an environmentally responsible traveller. I wish Kelly would’ve thought twice before mentioning /promoting those cheap & irresistible department stores in her blog! A great pity!

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