Which Watch Should You Take on Vacation?

Ahhh… The bright sun kissing your skin, sand between your toes and a mechanical timepiece ticking away on your wrist. Nothing better. If you’re planning a trip, the thought of not bringing a timepiece with you is a crazy one. So how do you decide which watch you should take on vacation? Well, first…

Why Should You Bring a Watch On Vacation?

Personally, I love the fact that watches are a wearable “journal” of all the things you’ve done, places you’ve been and of course, vacations you’ve been on.

Each scratch and blemish tells a story and got there because of your journey. Every time I look down at my Steinhart Ocean 39 I’m reminded of the time I recently went on vacation in upstate New York and had an amazing time… Going to bed by 11 pm because everything closed early. Fun! 😉  

But seriously, over time, you build a bond with these timepieces as they start to develop a sentimental value that goes beyond that of just a material object. It could be said with any material object, I’m sure, but a watch is different because it can be worn when doing just about anything. To some, a watch is just a watch. It’s a tool that tells time. And if that’s you, that’s perfectly fine. Enjoy your timepiece however you’d like. But for some, it’s more than that.

Anyway, that was kinda cheesy, but now you know why I like to bring watches on vacation, aside from telling the time, obviously. Here are my criteria to consider when choosing a watch for vacation.

Sport or Dress Watch?

The sport vs dress watch dilemma will be heavily influenced by the type of vacation you’re going on.

Sports watches tend to have better water resistance and durability, great for vacations with more active physical and aquatic activities.

If you’re going somewhere that’s more reserved, or say, on a business trip, it’s possible your ‘fun in the sun’ time will be limited, and usually, a dress watch will suffice.

Though, because of the overall durability of sports watches, I prefer them whenever traveling, just so there’s less to worry about in potential damage and maintenance while on your trip. 

Alternatively, you can consider bringing two watches. One sports watch for hanging on the beach during the day, and one dress watch for a nice evening dinner. 

Keeping it Minimal

I’d limit yourself to no more than one or two watches, though one is ideal. You can have it on you at all times and never have to worry about the second one being snatched from your hotel room while you’re away.

Regardless, you want to keep things as minimal as possible.

A watch with a stainless steel bracelet is one of the most versatile options there is. It looks great when paired with nearly any outfit, from a nice shirt and slacks to shorts and a t-shirt.

Not to mention, they’re durable and waterproof (as long as the watch itself is, too).

Another option is to bring a one watch, a spring bar tool, and a couple of different straps you can swap out.

Best Watch Straps for Vacation

Changing watch straps is an awesome way to quickly change the entire look and feel of a watch when on vacation. If you don’t want to go the stainless steel bracelet route, here are a couple of options. 

NATO and perlon straps are perfect for any vacation. They’re weaved from a fabric, usually nylon, and very breathable and comfortable on the wrist, even in the warmest of temperatures. They’re completely waterproof, dry quickly, and often times even machine washable (though this varies from brand-to-brand).

The one-piece NATO and perlons are also great for physical activity since they will keep your watch on your wrist even if one of your spring bars fail. To top it all off, as a one-piece strap, you don’t even need a spring bar tool to swap them out, and it takes all of about 10 seconds, once you know how

Rubber straps are light, comfortable and durable. They wick sweat away, are completely waterproof, and often the go-to choice for divers. 

Though it isn’t waterproof and thus not the most practical, a classy leather strap can look great for an evening dinner. Leather straps also tend to be the warmest, so best to avoid if you’re on vacation somewhere with a warm climate.

Water Resistance

One of the most important considerations when choosing a watch for vacation is water resistance. You never know what kind of spontaneous aquatic adventures you’re going to be getting yourself into. 

A watch with a water resistance rating over 100-meters is generally more than adequate for swimming, getting caught in the rain, and even showering (though you still shouldn’t shower with it, read why).

These will usually be sportier dive watches, but 100m water resistance is becoming more and more common in watches of all types.      

Keep in mind though, water resistance rating is not permanent. Over time, the seals and gaskets in a watch that keep water from getting inside will degrade, making it possible for your once waterproof watch to be damaged if submerged. 

It’s very important to take a watch to a watchmaker to have its water resistance pressure tested before going on vacation, just to be safe. This is a quick process and shouldn’t cost you more than a few bucks if they do charge you at all. 

Alternatively, you can get a cheap dive watch like the Casio MDV Duro that has a 200m water resistance rating right out of the box, and costs less than the price of a new video game. And of course, if you’re someone who plans on not getting your watch wet at all during your entire trip, you can ignore this advice entirely. 

Avoid Flashy Watches

When traveling, especially to unknown parts or a busy area, tourists are often the main target for theft. Because of this, it’s best to put away your finest Rolex, or any other luxury watch that is easily recognizable.

Always be aware of your surroundings, and tuck your watch under your sleeve when possible, especially in crowded cities.

On vacation, I typically wear a Seiko SKX, but really any watch that isn’t too flashy will be fine.

Vacation isn’t the time to bring out your rare, vintage pieces or a family heirloom that has been passed onto you. Don’t bring anything that isn’t replaceable or draws too much attention.

Complications

There are a few complications that are very useful to have on a watch when traveling. A watch with a GMT function can track another timezone, helpful when you’re traveling internationally.

A world-time watch can keep track of many time zones at once, though they can get very expensive. If you just want a cheap world time watch, but don’t care about the mechanical aspect, the Casio World Time is one of the cheapest GMT you can get, though it’s very polarizing in its appearance.

A chronograph or a dive bezel is useful to have in any situation, as you can use them to time just about anything. 

Cheap digital watches with an alarm clock, while not the prettiest, are very functional and affordable. Great if you just want a backup, or a watch with a ton of features and won’t break the bank.

Low Maintenance

Ideally, you want a watch that is as low-maintenance and as durable as possible. Whether this is a cheap beater watch that you don’t mind getting dinged up or a tool watch with a brushed stainless steel case and a scratch resistant sapphire crystal, that’s up to you.

Things happen when traveling. Sand and rock can be very tough on watches. You might have a spring-bar failure while playing ping-pong and drop it (unless you were wearing a one-piece perlon or NATO strap as I suggested. 😉). 


The key is: you want to have to worry about it as little as possible. Vacation shouldn’t be a stressful time, and your watch should only add to the enjoyment of your trip, not take away. 

Which Watch is Right for Which Vacation?

So, we’ve broken down some criteria to help you choose a watch for vacation, but your choice will vary depending on what type of vacation you’re going on.

The best watch for a beach vacation, for example, is most likely a dive watch, for their water resistance and overall durability.

If you don’t care much for horology and just want a cheap travel watch, a digital watch is always a good option, as they’re affordable and have tons of useful features and complications. They’re also some of the best affordable world time watches you can buy. 

If you’re traveling internationally, a watch with a GMT function is always a great option.

How to Travel With Your watch & Get it Through Airport Security

When you’ve finally decided which watch you’re going to bring on your adventures, here are a few key tips when traveling.

  • Do not ever keep your watch in your checked bag. Always wear it, or keep it in your carry-on, with you at all times. Airlines lose checked luggage all the time, and the last thing you want to be doing on your trip is making phone calls trying to track down your beloved watch.
  • Always bring some sort of watch case or watch roll with you. Even if you’re only bringing just one watch, there may be times you want to put it away. Sometimes airport security will ask you to take it off. Having your watch case handy gives you a safe place to put it, in the meanwhile. 
  • As soon as you go through security, put the watch back on. In an ideal world, nothing would ever get stolen, and it’s sad to say you need to be cautious, but you do. 
  • Consider a luggage lock for the section of luggage or backpack you’ll be keeping your watch case, or other watch in.

2 thoughts on “Which Watch Should You Take on Vacation?”

  1. Consider de-magnetizing them upon return as well since less expensive watches won t be resistant to evil magnets. Thankfully Amazon sells cheap Chinese demagnetizers, they’re like $12USD

    Reply
    • That’s a good point, I hadn’t thought of that. Heck, my Seiko SARB got magnetized just sitting on top of my phone for a night. A handy little inexpensive tool to have for any collector, really.

      Reply

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