What is the most important travel accessory? Quality Sunglasses!

Arriving at Heathrow from JFK recently  I discovered that my prescription progressive sunglasses were missing. Simply gone without a trace and, despite follow-up with “Lost Articles”, beyond retrieval. I felt both guilty and reckless as I had no back-up.   It was tempting, as an act of penitence for losing track of an expensive item, to replace them with anything from the tourist kiosk or even go cold turkey for the duration. My most important travel accessory – quality sunglasses – were nowhere. This loss was more than a fashion thing.  It was a vision thing.

Adequate protection from harsh and deteriorating effects of the sun’s ultra violet (UV) rays, a form of radiation, is critical for healthy vision.  The effect of UV rays is cumulative, so it’s important to protect your eyes throughout your life.  Older eyes are particularly susceptible, as exposure to the sun contributes to:

Cataracts, which cloud the lens of the eye resulting in blurred vision. It’s estimated that 20% of cases are the result of extended exposure to UV rays.

Macular degeneration, resulting from UV exposure that damages the retina and in turn destroys central vision, is a primary cause of vision loss after age 60.  That UV exposure can speed up a nasty process you may be unaware of. Grab those sunglasses!

Glaucoma a serious eye disease that affects the optic nerve and can cause irreparable vision loss.  Not surprisingly, it too is associated with aging.  Sun glare can exacerbate the disorder, so quality sunglasses, with polarized lenses, are a must on sunny days and when you’re around water or in sand or snow conditions.

The thin, sensitive skin around the eye is very wrinkle-prone, so you’ll want to protect that delicate area from the sun’s harmful rays even cloudy days when UV rays still abound.

What to look for in quality sunglasses


You’ll find quality sunglasses at all price points, so don’t be drawn in by expensive non-prescription glasses being the best.  Instead, look for:

  • Sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Mirrored coatings may add some additional protection by further reducing the amount light that enters the eye.
  •  Make sure your sunglasses block out light with this simple test: with your glasses on, if you can see your eyes in front of a mirror the lenses are probably too light
  • Bigger is better, and wrap-around glasses are best for protection, especially on the water.  Boaters, fisher-people beware!
  • Polarized lenses are critical if you’re doing a lot of driving, boating, or in beach or snow conditions – or if you’re combating glaucoma. Remember, polarization is not the same as UV protection; you need both.
  • A quick quality lens check: holding the glasses at arm’s length look through them at a straight line in the distance, such as the edge of a window frame. If the straight edge distorts, curves or moves, the lens is defective. Move on.

Where to find the right sunglasses

As price is not necessarily the primary criterion for quality, there are many options when it comes time to buy.

Prescription sunglasses

If you, like me, wear prescription glasses for distance and/or reading, having progressive correction sunglasses is one of those instances where a luxury becomes a necessity.  Don’t leave home without a copy of your eyeglass prescription tucked away in your carry-on!

International travelers – be prepared!

Discovering the loss of my progressive sunglasses as I entered the U.K. was a non-life threatening travel crisis and I simply had to replace them. Boots Pharmacy was the answer.

While I had violated a cardinal rule of international travel by not carrying a copy of my eyeglass Rx, Boots’ very professional optometry staff saved the day.

In no time I was back in business at a reasonable price.


Lesson learned: Always have a copy of your eyeglass prescription on hand!

Carry a second pair…

Or even a third pair… the iconic Warby-Parker with zillions of frames, “does” prescription sunglasses starting at a reasonable price point. (affiliate link)

Their online store makes it easy; the terrific (and free) Home Try-On program lets you “borrow” up to 5 pairs of frames for 5 days, zipping them back in the prepaid box. Purchase online, uploading your prescription, and you’re done.

or carry a ‘cover’ pair of sunglasses…

Otherwise, a clever cover for your regular prescription glasses will give you the UV protection you need – and polarization – for a fraction of the cost of specialized prescription glasses.  A good idea as a back-up for travel…..

Non-prescription sunglasses

Again, choices abound.  You can buy sunglass ‘readers’ at standard magnifications up to 3x. Stylish and very price conscious, these are the best bet if you don’t need a prescribed correction.

Summer may be on the wane by the calendar however sunglasses are a year-round thing –  so check out these frames and full protection lenses as part of the segue to fall…

A few final thoughts…

  • You’ll want to wear sunglasses – even on cloudy days, and always at midday when the sun’s rays are the strongest
  • The UV light is most powerful at a higher elevation and at the equator – so always, always keep your sunglasses close at hand in the tropics as well as on the slopes

  • Keep to this rule of thumb: if you’re outside long enough to get a sunburn, wear a wide-brimmed hat in addition to sunglasses. The extra protection will help block those nasty UV rays.  Take it from this fella…if not a fashion statement, he’s got the right idea!


See you down the road; I’ll be the one hiding behind the polarized sunglasses.



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