Traveling With Eyeglasses

Me in Indonesia sporting the sunglasses I had made in Hong Kong
Me in Indonesia sporting the sunglasses I had made in Hong Kong
Recently, for the fourth time in the last five years since I started traveling, I had to get new glasses. My most recent glasses disaster was last January when I broke my glasses the very first morning onboard the ship to Antarctica. The ship was tossing so much that they flew off the nightstand on to the floor. My first step out of bed in the morning broke the frame. Great way to start a trip.

Many people wear glasses, but it isn’t something which is given a lot of thought or consideration when getting ready to travel. Yet if you should lose or break your glasses, it can ruin your trip.

Here are several tips I’ve learned from my five years of traveling around the world with glasses.

1) Carry an extra pair.

Before I started traveling I got a new pair of glasses. I took my old pair, put them in a hard sided case and put them at the bottom of my bag. On several occasions I’ve had to revert to the old pair. Having the extra pair means that losing or damaging your glasses isn’t going to make everything grind to a halt. If I didn’t have my spare glasses when I went to Antarctia, the entire trip would have been ruined. I’ve been using those spare glasses for the last 5 months. If you don’t have a spare pair that work with your current prescription, consider getting a second pair made. It is that important.

2) Have access to your prescription

In the event of an emergency, you might have to get new glasses made on the road. If you have access to your prescription, this process will be much easier. In addition to carrying a physical copy of your prescription in your wallet, you should consider keeping a copy online. I sent a copy of the prescription data to myself in the form of an email. Anywhere in the world I can log on to Gmail, I can get access to the data.

Some places (particularly in the US) require a recent prescription to make new glasses. In addition to your prescription information, have a phone number for the eye doctor who performed the exam. Many places which sell glasses require a recent prescription (something which is usually used just to make more money).

3) Consider buying glasses overseas

The process of making glasses has become highly automated. If you are in a country with a lower cost of living, looking into getting glasses made there. I have found great deals on glasses in Bangkok and Hong Kong. They usually just put your current glasses in a machine to get your current prescription and then create a new pair from that. The cost of frames can be dramatically cheaper. Even if you don’t need a new pair immediately, if your prescription is relatively stable, consider getting a pair just to save money when you do need them.

4) Get prescription sunglasses

There is a good chance that when you travel you will be going some where sunny, near water, in the mountains or in snow. All of those locations are good candiates for wearing sunglasses. I lost my prescription sunglasses last October and I’ve been going without ever since. My recent photo tour through the Southwestern United States had me squinting for two weeks. I would have enjoyed being out in the sun much more if I had some protection for my eyes. While not ideal, prescription sunglasses can even be used as a backup pair in a pinch.

5) Bring along a tiny screwdriver and lens cloth

Somewhere in your bag you should consider carrying a tiny screwdriver you can use on your glasses. The screwdriver can be used to tighten your glasses and make basic repairs. Likewise, if you carry a lens cloth you can not only use it to clean your glasses, you can use it to clean your camera lenses as well. (Tip: most current models of Scottevest jackets and vests have a special pocket for glasses with a built in lens cloth attached via an alligator clip.) The added weight of a small screwdriver and lens cloth is minimal and are well worth having it in your bag.