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Tips for Travel with Glasses and Contacts

Travel with glasses and contacts is a hassle. They are fragile. You have to clean them regularly. If you lose them or damage them, finding replacements can be a challenge. Unfortunately, it’s something that many of us travelers just have to deal with. After all, we need to see what we actually traveled all this way to see. This article outlines a few tips and tricks to make travel with glasses and contacts a bit easier and less stressful.

I’ve been wearing glasses and contacts since I was 17. I’ve traveled to over 60 countries with them. In this guide, I’ll share my experience.

Zac wearing glasses on Mt. Bromo, Indonesia
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Key Takeaways

– Bring a spare pair of glasses

– Use a hard case to protect your glasses

– Pack a glasses repair kit

– Pack cleaning cloth and cleaning solution

– Bring a copy of your prescription

– Pack your glasses and contacts in your carry-on

– Bring prescription sunglasses or use Photochromic lenses to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays

Bring a Copy of your Glasses and Contacts Prescription

Carry a copy of your glasses and contacts prescription in a folder along with your other travel documents. I recommend you also take a photo of the prescription and store it in the cloud or email it to yourself so you can print it out wherever you are in the world. Save it to your phone as well so you can easily access it if you don’t have an internet connection.

If worst comes to worst and you need to buy a new pair while you’re away, having the prescription handy makes the process much smoother. The last thing you want to do is to have to go to a non-English speaking eye doctor and try to get a new prescription without knowing the local alphabet. Having your prescription saves you money as well.

Make Sure your Prescription is Up to Date Before Leaving on your Trip

Some countries require that your prescription still be valid in order to sell you glasses or contacts. For example, in the US prescriptions for corrective lenses usually lasts 2 years. After that, you have to go back to your eye doctor for an update before you can buy new glasses or contact lenses. Corrective lenses are treated like any other medical prescription.

This rule always seemed kind of ridiculous to me, but it is what it is. Other countries are less strict. Some don’t require a prescription at all.

vision test at the eye doctor

Tip: You Can Buy Glasses and Contacts Without a Prescription Online

If your prescription expired and you don’t have the time or simply don’t want to spend the money to get a new one, you can order glasses and contacts online without a prescription. The drawback is that you’ll have to wait for shipping.

Carry a Spare Pair of Glasses and Extra Contact Lenses While Traveling

While traveling, you participate in physical activities where you could easily lose or break your glasses. For example, maybe you go on a roller coaster and your glasses fly off your head during a drop. Maybe your hostel dorm mate sits on them. If you lose or break one pair of glasses, you need a spare just in case.

The same is true with contacts. Maybes some chili sauce splashes in your eye and ruins a lens. Maybe you’re trying to remove them while on a bumpy train ride and the lens slips off your finger, lost forever. If a contact gets contaminated or lost, you need enough for backups. Pack some extras just in case.

Tip: Buy Cheap Glasses to Carry as a Spare

Glasses don’t have to be expensive. While traveling, I carry one good pair and one cheap pair. I wear my good glasses when sightseeing and on travel days. I wear my cheap backup pair when going out drinking or when doing physical activities. These are the times that glasses are most likely to get broken or lost. I’d rather lose my cheap backup pair than my good, expensive glasses. To buy cheap glasses, you have 2 options:

  1. Buy from a budget online glasses shop- You can buy a pair of glasses for most prescriptions for less than $10 online. They use cheap Chinese frames with plastic lenses. For $10, they aren’t the most stylish or durable, but they work just fine. I can see through my cheapies just as good as my primary pair.
  2. Have a pair of glasses made while traveling- In some countries, particularly in Asia, glasses are incredibly cheap. The quality might not be great, but they work fine for backups.
vision test chart

Another option is to simply pack your old glasses. Most of us glasses wearers have an old pair from an outdated prescription sitting around in a drawer at home. These make for a great backup. They may not be perfect but at least you’ll be able to see if your primary glasses are lost or broken. 

Carry your Glasses and Contact Lenses in your Carry-On Bag

Airlines lose bags all the time. You don’t want to be stranded in a foreign city without being able to see where you’re going. This happened to me on my first solo trip.

Stupidly, I packed my glasses and contact lenses in my checked bag. All I had were the pair of daily contacts that I was wearing during my flight. Of course, Air Canada lost my bag and for 3 days I wandered around London without being able to see anything. I learned my lesson though. Now I only pack a carry-on and will never fly Air Canada again.

Tip: Split up your Spare Glasses and Contact Lenses

If you have a spare pair of glasses and contact lenses, it may be a good idea to split them among two bags. Put one in your carry-on and one in your checked bag. That way, if anything happens to either of your bags, you still have a pair as a backup.

Keep your Glasses Clean While you Travel

Pack a microfiber lens cleaning cloth and some lens cleaning solution to keep your glasses clean. Give the lenses a thorough cleaning every couple of days or when needed. You want to get the full experience of the sites that you traveled all that way to see. Don’t let a fingerprint or speck of dust obscure your view.

I can’t understand how people walk around with smudges, film from pollution, and general filth all over their glasses. If so much as a speck of dust lands on my lens, I immediately need to remove it. I find it so irritating to have something obscuring my vision. This is particularly true while traveling.

Tip: Use the same cleaning cloth and solution to keep your camera lens clean. Regularly cleaning your lens improves the sharpness of your photos.

Pack a Glasses Repair Tool

If your glasses or sunglasses get loose from folding and unfolding them too many times, you can easily tighten them back up with a small glasses tool. These take practically no space in your pack but come in handy often.

Pack a Good Glasses Case

You want a hard case that completely encloses your glasses are inside. This protects your glasses from getting scratched or crushed while you’re not wearing them. With a hard case, you can toss your glasses into your backpack or suitcase without worrying about scratching the lenses or bending the frames.

Tip: Keep your lens cleaning cloth in your case so you always know where it is. The cloth also acts as additional padding to keep your glasses safe.

Pack a Neck Strap to Secure your Glasses

I know these look goofy, but they can save your glasses. While traveling, you participate in physical activities where it’s easy for your glasses to fall off. For example, maybe you go to the beach and a big wave knocks your favorite specs off of your face (this happened to my dad in Mexico). Maybe you go on a roller coaster and the wind blows your glasses away. Or maybe you go horseback riding and your glasses bounce off your head. Freak accidents like these happen. A strap can save you the hassle of having to buy a replacement pair.

Don’t Wear Your Contact Lenses All the Time

Many doctors recommend that you don’t wear your contacts for more than 14-16 hours per day. While traveling, it’s easy to overwear them. Maybe you’re on a long bus journey and can’t take them off. Maybe you got up early to catch a sunrise and you’re staying out late having some drinks. You simply spend more time out and about and less time sleeping while you’re traveling. This can lead to problems.

To avoid contact overwear, simply give your eyes a break and wear your glasses. For long flights, bus rides, and train journeys, it’s nice to be able to take a nap and not have to worry about your contacts drying out or causing damage from overuse. During these times, I always just wear glasses.

Practice Proper Contact Lens Hygiene

While traveling, sometimes you feel tempted to take your contacts out or put them in without washing your hands or using the proper lens cleaning procedure. Maybe you’re on a bus and there is no bathroom available. Maybe you’re just exhausted from a long day of travel and want to go to sleep. Avoid doing this. Bacteria can easily enter your eye and cause permanent damage if you’re not careful.

Sometimes it’s best to wear glasses for hygiene reasons. For example, while I was traveling by bus through Africa, I ended up wearing my glasses almost exclusively because finding a place to wash my hands properly was a challenge. The bathrooms at the roadside stands where we stopped to rest were filthy. I didn’t want to risk giving myself some kind of nasty eye infection by touching my contacts with dirty hands.

Girl holding a contact lens

Carry Plenty of Contact Lens Solution

I recommend you pack enough of your favorite solution to last you the duration of your trip if possible. While finding contact lens solution abroad is usually pretty easy, quality varies. I bought a cheap bottle in South America that burned my eyes so I just threw it out. Luckily, I found a higher quality bottle of solution after visiting a few pharmacies.

If you’re traveling long term, think ahead and buy enough to last you at least a month or so whenever a good brand is available. In some parts of the world where contacts aren’t popular or common, finding contact lens solution is a challenge. It may take a bit of shopping around to find one. For example, while traveling in Africa, I found that many small-town pharmacies don’t even carry contact solution. I had to wait until I reached a decent sized city so I could stock up.

Consider Buying a Pair of Prescription Sunglasses

One major drawback to wearing glasses is the fact that you can’t just buy a pair of $1 sunglasses from roadside shops unless you wear your contacts. Before my last trip, I bought a cheap pair of prescription sunglasses from an online glasses shop and have been really happy with them.

Sunglasses sitting by the pool

Tip: If you decide to buy prescription sunglasses, make sure they offer UV protection. While traveling, you spend more time outside in the sun than usual. It’s important to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Overexposure can lead to cataracts, macular degeneration, and several other serious eye problems. Take care of your eyes.

What to do if you need to replace your glasses or contacts while traveling

If worst comes to worst and both pairs of glasses get lost or destroyed and you run out of contacts, getting replacements usually isn’t that big of a deal. The difficulty depends on where in the world you are. 

In most countries, you can simply walk in to any optical shop and have a pair of glasses made using your prescription. They can also order contacts for you. If you don’t have a prescription, you can have an eye exam. Most shops accept walk-ins. You could also call before and make an appointment. You should have your new glasses by the next day. Some shops even offer same day service.

In some parts of the developing world, things can be a bit trickier. You may have to travel to the nearest capital city to find a decent glasses maker. You may be out of luck if you’re in a small town or rural area.

Another option is to have a friend or family member mail you a spare pair if you have them at home. Of course, receiving mail isn’t an option everywhere in the world but this is a possible solution in some places. 

Zac in Manila, Philippines
One of the biggest annoyances of wearing glasses is when they get wet in the rain

My Experience

I started wearing corrective lenses at 17 just before setting off on my first trip abroad. I’ve always traveled with both glasses and contacts. It’s a hassle but it’s something that that many of us have to live with. Cleaning and caring for them is still an annoyance to this day but I have gotten used to it. 

These days, I mostly wear glasses while traveling. The main reason is that I don’t have to worry as much about hygiene. When I’m wearing glasses, I can also sleep on a bus, train, or plane without having to remove contacts.

Do you travel with glasses and contacts? Share your tips in the comments below!

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