How to dress for an enjoyable travel around the Philippines
Usually when we travel, we make a fuss over what clothes we have to pack. It seems sometimes that what we wear and how good we look is more important than our itinerary, right? At least for me it is… and I think for a lot of girls too. For men… I don’t know. I have to ask Andrew that. But he did bring his favourite blue jazz hat along, which definitely complements his hair type and colour.
Anyway, what did I bring over from Germany, you ask? I packed with this small reminder in my head: comfort over class. You might disagree or have other priorities, but what im about to shrare with you are just some basic tips, you can just pick and adjust them to your taste and needs.
Appropriate clothes for Philippine weather and customs
I think a better way of planning which clothes to pack is to think about what type of clothes fit well for the weather and the attitude of the country you’re headed to.
The Philippines is a hot and humid country. During tag-araw or summer season, the average temperature is at 28C or 83F, almost like Germany’s summer weather. Temperatures beyond 30C or 87F however are possible in certain places, particularly in city centres and valleys.
Filipinos who stay in the country all year long get plenty of sunlight, but for the other half of the year or tag-ulan or monsoon season, cloudy skies that may turn into torrential rains are frequent. In addition, rains can fall suddenly at any time of the year.
On the other hand, tag-lamig or winter are few but cherished. Tag-lamig is unlike European winters – in the Philippines, the average temperature during tag-lamig is 24C or 76F. Almost year-long tag-lamig, however, can be felt and enjoyed in towns or cities that are on elevated places, averaging at 16C or 60F. I heard that in Baguio, a city to the north, the lowest temperature recorded is reach 6C or 42F.
To those coming from colder countries, and to those who are visiting the tropics for the first time, it is not the same summer temperature we are used to in Europe, it is definitely a lot warmer. To many this is a welcome change in temperature. Once you step out of the airport in Manila, the heat hits your skin, settles on the crooks of your arms and legs, and stays there.
The sun can also be particularly strong on a European’s skin, enough to cause severe sunburn and irritation. This makes sunblock a must-have for travellers: SPF 50 that protects from both UVB and UVA rays is the best choice for those who plan to stay long in the country. I came here in part for the sun, but I know not having sunblock is dangerous.
When on the beach where sun exposure is more damaging, apply sunblock often and wear hats. I bought one in a souvenir shop in Manila, it’s a really cute native hat made of buri, a fibre that is often used in traditional handicrafts. Buri hats come in many sizes… I saw big ones that can shield the shoulders from the sun! Aside from looking exotic, the weave allows air to pass through and cool my head.
Because of the heat and the sun, it’s best to avoid thick clothing or fabrics that keep heat close to the body, like wool and polyester. Wearing clothes that do not cover up the whole body is also ideal in this type of weather, rain or shine. Most commercial establishments are air conditioned but are tolerable.
If you’re hesitating to pack those shorts and tank tops because you wonder if there are restrictions or certain dress codes, don’t. All visitors are in for a treat! The biggest town and cities in this country are not as conservative as other countries in Southeast Asia.
This means summer dresses, shorts, and tank tops are okay in public spheres. Of course, the Filipinos still have a strict code of decency, so short sleeves and skirts must hide the parts that ought to be hidden.
What clothes to bring
So far, our idea of the best clothes for travel around the Philippines is all about practicality. Remember, when choosing your clothes, go for comfort rather than style. After all, you’re the one who’s going to the wear those clothes, and how comfortable they fit you can make a world of difference in your overall experience in the country.
You can stock a few of these “standard” pieces of clothing and use them no matter what island you are on:
A. Fabric that “breathes” like cotton and linen. Light casual clothes made of natural fibres adapt well to the local climate. They promote air circulation and make the wearer feel fresh. Sweat also sticks to these fabrics better, which keeps the skin dry. Because of this, bringing a change of clothes is also a good idea for those who perspire more or if the wearer is planning to do more strenuous activities.
Many Filipinos wash their clothes by hand and hang them outdoors to dry. But cotton and linen also do well by machine wash and dry. Getting fast-drying fabrics is one way to make sure that humidity won’t hamper the drying process. Cotton is also a better choice in terms of longevity and upkeep because it can be dried and ironed with ease.
One cleaning tip for fabrics is to wash them often. Soaking our clothes through with sweat makes them stinky. Filipinos are also of the habit to change every bit of their clothes every day. Keep your clothes clean and neutral-smelling to avoid leaving a negative impression.
B. Avoid too much black. Black-coloured of clothes are heat absorbers. Keep away from black caps and black umbrellas too, as these can trap the heat and keep it close to your head, which is dangerous. Dehydration, prickly heat and heat stroke are genuine concerns for those who have never before tried to stay long in the tropics.
Black is also the colour of the dead and signifies bad luck here in the country. Many superstitious beliefs surround that colour – beliefs that are still held true in the most rural places. In the realm of business, take care to know and respect the belief systems of whom you deal with. There are a number of Filipino-Chinese, for example, who find black a no-no. In contrast, white, neutral and festive colours are very welcome sights.
C. Short sleeves and skirts. Short articles of clothing are a common sight in the cities. But beware of wearing too short sleeves and skirts, particularly if visiting rural areas. Entering communities reserved for religious minorities also means having to respect their laws. For example, wearing shorts in Manila is okay, but try pass through the city’s Muslim-dominant community and you may be banned from certain establishments. Communities like theirs with customs on clothing must be respected.
Also, for those who have very light skin and features that are visibly foreign to the locals, be ready to shoulder a few eyes when walking in public. Be prepared for unwanted attention, so make sure you’re wearing clothes you’re very prepared to be seen in. Plus, formal occasions like going to the church means wearing something smarter that covers more skin.
D. Sturdy footwear. Closed shoes are noticeably reserved to special occasions and venues in the Philippines. The choice of footwear is usually flip-flops, sandals, and open-toed shoes. Of course, the type of footwear depends entirely on the wearer, but whatever it is it must be sturdy. If you aren’t planning to rent a car, you should be prepared to walk to the stations and bus stops to commute from one place to another.
Special clothes and other essentials
A. Pack a few formal clothes. Bringing along with you at least one formal ensemble will be enough to cover any special occasion you have to go to. The need to wear formal clothes is rare, unless you’re specifically visiting for a business, but it doesn’t hurt to have one ready.
B. Swim wear. Most of us have one goal when visiting the country: to have a taste of the pristine, tropical beach experience. Bring your swimsuit along for this occasion. While people can get away with wearing shirts to the beach, a lot of private pools strictly follow a swimsuits-only dress code. One pair or piece is enough for those sudden trips to the sea side or pools.
A great swim wear tip for women is to get a sarong. These are big, thin shawls that can be used as a scarf, skirt, dress and headgear. The sarong also has more practical uses like a picnic blanket, bag and a pillow or cushion.
C. Thick garments for colder seasons and destinations. Thick clothes or pieces you can layer are helpful when visiting places that are colder. One or two articles can just about cover your needs. Coats, thick socks, gloves and warmers are almost unusable when in the country.
D. Clothes that will protect you from rain. Do not forget to bring clothes that will protect you from the onslaught common during the other half of the year. The Philippines lies along a typhoon belt in the Pacific ocean, which can pull more monsoon rains to the country. Bring waterproof but breathable jackets with hoods and long sleeves to keep the water off your body.
In case you’re travelling alone and can only carry so much in your bag, plan your clothes thoroughly and cover all possible conditions in the country. There’s always the prospect of buying more clothes once you get here. The country mostly follows the US letter sizing systems (XS, S, M, L and XL). To get the equivalents of shirt size, you can check online for converters such as this one.
Finally, don’t think of packing as a chore… actually, packing clothes is one of the best parts of preparing for a trip to other countries. Why? Because I get to rummage through my wardrobe, revive old pieces and make use of them at last. Packing is also like solving a puzzle piece as I make my way through my clothes without wasting space inside my luggage.
Packing finally forces me to be more flexible in my choices and preferences for clothes. We may realise that we do not need to bring everything we want to, and that’s a valuable insight that travellers can have even without stepping onboard their planes yet.
How about you? Do you have any dressing tips for those who are visiting the Philippines for the first time? advice on what to bring and what to leave behind? Share your thoughts with us in the box below!