What NOT to Wear When You’re Traveling in Another Country
Be aware of things that might offend our foreign hosts.
Knowing what NOT to wear when traveling abroad can allow you to enjoy closer connections with the locals, and help you avoid uncomfortable situations. We in the United States are used to freedom of speech and freedom of expression in terms of what we wear. It can be a very different climate when we go abroad, especially in countries where such freedoms can sometimes make you a target for reproval by the local government. I want you to have the best experience on your much-anticipated vacation, so let’s discuss what NOT to pack when traveling internationally.
Dress to Blend and Not Offend
One key to being safe is to not call attention to yourself. I remember visiting Turkey once and wondering how everyone seemed to know we were American tourists. Then I looked down. We were dressed in vibrant colors with camera bags on our shoulders, and bright white athletic shoes on our feet. We looked nothing like the locals around us, who were all dressed modestly and in muted colors. In that environment we weren’t in any danger, but did we have to shout “American” quite so loudly? Just be aware and tone it down a bit. Always respect the local culture, and the locals will, in turn, respect you.
Here are 5 things to leave at home when you’re packing to go abroad:
1. Immodest Clothing
This is especially true when traveling to any country that holds deeply religious views, such as those in the Middle East. It’s also true when you will be visiting churches or cathedrals in many of the old town areas of Europe. Women in particular need to avoid short skirts, Daisy Dukes, low-cut tank tops, and anything revealing. If wearing a sleeveless top, always have a shawl or scarf available to cover up. A wrap skirt can cover up shorts on a really hot day. Generally, think in terms of slacks for men, modest skirts or capris for women, and shirts with sleeves and discreet necklines. You can be denied entry if you are not dressed conservatively when entering any church or holy site, especially the Vatican museums or St. Peter’s Cathedral, as well as any of the Mosques in Istanbul, or other locations with Islamic populations.
2. White Sneakers and Open-Toed Shoes
Nothing will single you out as an American faster than white sneakers or athletic shoes. In Europe, sneakers are for sporting activities only. Instead, go for comfortable leather walking shoes. Consider that since you will be walking on many cobblestoned streets where the stones hit your feet in unusual places, you need low-healed, solid, closed-toed shoes, not sandals. Also consider that drainage is not the best in some countries, and flip-flops can leave you open to some very unsanitary experiences. Save the sandals for the beach.
3. Flashy Jewelry
Do not make a target of yourself by wearing expensive jewelry or even costume jewelry that looks expensive. Your tennis bracelet may be fake, but only you know that. Leave valuables at home. If you have an expensive camera, take your picture, then put it away. The same is true of cell phones. Use them and put them out of sight. Consider carrying a conservative tote bag or case for this purpose. Pickpockets run rampant through many foreign touristy cities, especially around the most popular sites. They don’t want to hurt you…they just want your money. Don’t make it easy for them.
4. Clothing with Political Messages, Designer Labels, Obscene Words, or Religious Symbolism
Respect the culture and do not flaunt your viewpoint. You are a visitor, a guest in their country. There is no need to spark an emotional response or get arrested in countries with zero tolerance for diverse viewpoints, especially in today’s divisive political climate. Remember…try to blend and don’t offend.
5. Camouflage Clothing
Leave anything with camouflage patterns on it at home. This is especially true of many countries in the Caribbean, Latin and South America, where you can be arrested for wearing camo print. Look on the bright side: At least you know you won’t be sharing your pool cabana with the Duck Dynasty gang!
I’ve had clients tell me that they want foreigners to think they’re Canadian, because, as they say, “Europeans hate Americans.” One has even gone as far as carrying a bag with the Canadian flag on it! I can testify that Europeans do NOT hate Americans. They may disagree with many of our political viewpoints and decisions, but they realize there is a big difference between the actions of the US Government and the average American citizen. Don’t be ashamed to be an American. Instead, be an example of what’s good about our country, by showing thoughtfulness and interest about the culture in which you’ve immersed yourself.