Long Term Travel – Glasses or Contact Lenses

One of my biggest packing dilemmas before leaving home was the question: glasses or contact lenses?

Being incredibly short sighted (-6.5), and unable to see more than a few inches from my face without corrective lenses, I did worry about how I was (literally) going to see the the world.

I have both glasses and contact lenses, but could find very little information from other travellers as to what was best to take on a long trip.

My trip to was to be 10 months long, and my contact lenses were dailies. So bringing them all with me was a no go. I toyed with the idea of monthly lenses, but decided it would be too hard to keep them clean. I have also had problems with my eyes in the past, from contact lenses damaging them, so was wary about wearing them all the time anyway.

In the end I decided to predominately wear glasses, and have a few contact lenses handy for activities that required them (e.g. Sky dive and white water rafting). I also invested in some good prescription sunglasses.

Prescription sunglasses – these are possibly one of the best purchases I have ever made. Before now I’ve only ever had normal sunglasses, which I wore with contacts. So it’s a relief just to slip one pair off and another one on (no eye poking required). I’d say they’re much better than transition lenses, and cheaper too!

Points to add:
▪️It is very cheap and easy to pick up contact lenses in countries such as India. It is my understanding you can just go in tell them your prescription and they hand them over. Therefore, if you do wear dailies, it is possible to pick them up enroute. Western countries are more likely to insist on eye exam first.
▪️If you don’t have a spare pair of glasses, and are heading to India at the start of your trip, get some made there. It’s incredibly cheap to get glasses made (around $15), and they also do prescription sunglasses.
▪️It’s good to have a pair of glasses to wear now and then, even if you do predominately wear contacts. This gives your eyes a break and is necessary in countries which are very dusty (e.g. India).
▪️It can be hard to keep weekly/monthlies clean while travelling. Even in “clean” western countries, such as New Zealand, I would have struggled (I was living in car!)
▪️Consider trying the contact lens you can sleep in. These only require being taken out once a week for cleaning (rather than everyday) – you will need a trial before leaving as they are not suitable for everyone. So get to the opticians ASAP.

It was easy for me to decide to go it with glasses, as for the 2 years preceding my travels I had been wearing glasses everyday at home. I had previously damaged my eyes with contact lens use, and had to take a break for them to recover. It’s likely if I had been a contact lens user just before leaving home, I would have found glasses while travelling more of a nuisance. My advice is do what you do predominately at home while travelling.

Final thoughts – if you have the time, money and guts to do it, consider laser eye surgery before leaving for long term travel. I really think this would have been the best option, and am seriously considering getting it done when I get home. Make sure you leave enough time for the all the check ups before leaving (although some companies have clinics worldwide). To wake up and to be able to see straight away – wouldn’t that be nice.


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