10 Things NOT to wear when traveling abroad
Traveling abroad isn’t as simple as buying a ticket and hopping on a plane. Safety should be a key consideration no matter where you travel, and part of staying safe in an unfamiliar place is dressing to blend in — or, at least, not dressing to stand out. Beyond avoiding matching T-shirts, baseball hats and white sneakers, not to mention “I Love NY” sweatshirts, keep in mind local customs and attitudes, as well as religious beliefs, when choosing your attire.
“My adventures have taken me, as a solo female traveler, through primarily Muslim countries as well as primarily Christian countries,” says frequent traveler Lisa Munniksma. “I’ve always been modest in my appearance, but after traveling and meeting so many travelers and locals from various cultures, the importance of respecting traditions in dress has been driven home.”
Before you get out your suitcase, here are 10 things to leave in your closet as you pack for your next trip abroad.
Religiously Immodest Clothing
It’s wise to dress conservatively in any country holding deeply religious views, such as those in the Middle East (if you’re not sure, your travel agent or guidebook can offer advice on local religious customs). Women in particular should avoid miniskirts, tank tops, bra tops, short-sleeved shirts, shorts and sometimes even capri pants. Revealing dresses and cleavage-bearing necklines are also huge no-nos. Men should avoid shorts and sleeveless tops in many Middle Eastern countries or when entering a church or other holy place.
Pants and long skirts are a safe bet, and women should carry a shawl in their bag or purse just in case. As a general rule, travelers should cover their shoulders and knees when entering any church or holy site to avoid unwanted stares or being denied entry. It’s also wise to keep your feet and ankles covered. When in doubt, stick to long sleeves, and men, keep that chest hair concealed.
Sneakers and Open-Toe Shoes
In Europe, in particular, sneakers are for sporting activities only. White tennis shoes, Crocs and Birkenstocks are notably frowned upon by Spaniards and Italians. Instead, wear comfortable leather walking shoes in the city, and keep them polished and in good shape. White, lace-up tennis shoes are the calling card of American tourists (and don’t even think about Velcro sneakers).
It’s also wise to stick with closed-toe shoes, which can help prevent insect bites or cuts on your toes from gravelly surfaces. “It is not sanitary to wear flip-flops and other open-toe shoes when traveling to some areas because you can get infections,” notes Talia Salem, a communications specialist at PlanetWildlife.
Yes, we Americans do love our shorts, but most other cultures don’t wear them for everyday walking around, no matter the season or how close they are to the Equator. Leave the khaki shorts for beaches, parks, tennis clubs and hiking trails. Our habit of dressing down to be comfortable is puzzling to most people overseas. Rarely will you see locals wearing shorts unless they’re off to play soccer.
Never wear expensive, flashy jewelry abroad, unless you want your diamond rings, pearls and pricey watches to be tagged for someone else’s collection. Since there’s probably no need to impress anyone that much on your trip abroad, leave the valuables at home.
Religious Imagery, Curse Words or National Flags
Avoid clothing sporting religious or military symbols, swear words, national flags and any words or symbols written in a language you cannot translate. There’s no need to unintentionally spark an emotional debate while on vacation. It’s also not a bad idea to leave religious jewelry, even cross necklaces, at home. If you must, wear them under your clothes so they’re not visible to anyone.
Stay away from bold colors, loud patterns, plaids — you get the picture. Stick with conservative hues like navy, blue, tan and grey. Look put together, opting for classic, well-fitting clothing. You want to blend in, not draw unwanted attention to yourself (and nothing does that better than a neon green tank top).
In the Western world, we may wear black to wakes and funerals, but in parts of Asia, white is the funereal color — good to keep in mind on the off chance you may be mourning someone’s passing while on holiday. Meanwhile, stay away from wearing black or blue in central Africa, the favorite colors of large, biting tsetse flies.
If a visit to a factory, rural area or even a touristy spot where the locals wear jeans is on your agenda, then, of course, jeans are acceptable. However, jeans should fit well and be wrinkle-free. It’s even better if you opt for black or dark blue jeans. Baggy, ripped, even skinny jeans are generally frowned upon outside the United States.
Planning to spend the summer backpacking across Europe? Then a large backpack is practical and probably a better bet than a rolling suitcase for lugging onto trains and traveling between destinations. But bring a secondary bag, like a small fabric tote bag, for everyday touring around cities. Any kind of backpack, big or small, will mark you as a tourist.
Snap a photo, then put your camera away. Nothing screams tourist like a camera permanently hanging from your neck. Not only do you stand out, but you may get targeted by thieves. Carry a good camera that you can fit into your small bag.
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