It’s always exciting to be travelling to an exotic destination around the planet, and with more and more transport infrastructures in place, there are more and more off-the-beaten-track places to visit, as well as the big metropolises. But the more distant we travel, we cross boundaries not just time zones, or country/state boundaries, but also cultural; boundaries. While, as tourists, we are the ones doing the sight-seeing, the people-watching, and the buying at markets and bazaars, we are also being viewed; by the local people. People whose upbringing, culture, dress, education, religion, social mores and tolerance may be very different to our own.
No-one would want to go abroad with the intention of offending the indigenous people, so just as you need to prepare your itinerary and your travel and sleeping arrangements ahead of your trip, you’ll need to consider what clothes to take. Particularly for women, it’s not just a question of looking at the average temperatures and rainfall for the area you are visiting, and choosing appropriate skirts, tops and other clothes. There’s also the issue of what to wear so as not to cause offence, embarrassment or unwillingness to help in those who live where you are visiting.
The maxim for females visiting Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or any other countries where there may not be an understanding or tolerance of the western styles of dress, is cover up. That doesn’t mean walking down the beach at Jeddah in an overcoat. It does mean thinking twice before wearing anything overtly sexual, revealing, see-through, skimpy or suggestive. Generally within the confines of your hotel and by the swimming pool you should be ok to wear swimsuits without offending local etiquette. But the most important thing to do is observe and ask. Observe what other people are wearing and if it’s causing any issues with the locals. Ask your local tour/holiday guide. He or she will almost always be a local and therefore very knowledgeable on what you can and can’t wear, and where you can or can’t wear it!
Some of it should be obvious. When visiting a holy place, such as temple, then take extra care in what you are wearing. A headscarf or other form of covering should be worn. Revealing tops showing cleavage are a no-no. You should also cover your shoulders and arms. Trousers or a dress should reach your ankles.
Another good way of blending in and not causing offence is to visit the shops and the markets and see what women’s clothes are on sale there. For example, many female travelers to Iran or other Middle-East countries will make their first purchases there amanteauand a hijab (see pictures here). Loose fitting cotton trousers are fine, as are long sleeved blouses.
If you know someone who has traveled the region you are going too recently, and then tap them for their “inside” info. In some holiday destinations locals are becoming more tolerant to non-modest forms of dress, while in others, the opposite can be true, especially if there is some political or religious turmoil in the country.
What to wear isn’t really rocket-science. Just remember that you are in someone else’s country and that you can save the dressed-to-kill flirty-skirt for when you get home! You might want to update your wardrobe before you go on vacation. The more you blend in with the culture and traditions of the place you are visiting, the more relaxed you will feel, and the more you will enjoy yourself.