While you always want to be comfortable during your travels, part of staying safe in an unfamiliar place is dressing to blend in—or, at least, not dressing to stand out. Keep in mind local customs and attitudes, as well as religious beliefs, when choosing what to wear while traveling, especially abroad. Whether it’s because you’ll stick out like a sore thumb overseas or you’ll be uncomfortable on a plane, here are 10 things you should avoid wearing while traveling, as well as ideas for what to wear instead.
Research your destination, opt for modest clothing in more conservative destinations, and cover up appropriately when you’re visiting religious sites. Tank tops and shorts—as well as shirts with distasteful logos or words—can be considered offensive in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries, and many churches in Europe have strict dress codes.
In some parts of the world, women should avoid miniskirts, tank tops, bra tops, and sometimes even shorts and capri pants. Revealing dresses and cleavage-bearing necklines may also make you stand out in conservative countries. Men should avoid shorts and sleeveless tops in many Middle Eastern countries, or when entering a church or other holy place.
What to wear: Pants and long skirts are a safe bet, and women may want to 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.
Never wear expensive, flashy jewelry when traveling abroad, unless you want your diamond ring, pearls, or pricey watch to be tagged for someone else’s collection. You may also be more likely to misplace your cherished jewelry while traveling. Instead, leave the valuables at home.
What to wear: If you must have a little adornment, bring one or two costume pieces that will go with your outfits. And if you choose to wear your engagement ring, turn the stone to the inside of your hand on public transportation and in large crowds.
“Impractical” covers a wide range of bad footwear choices, including flip-flops (unless you’re at the beach), high heels (unless you’re attending a formal event), and brand-new shoes (because wearing shoes that haven’t been broken in is just asking for blisters). While sneakers are supportive, it’s wise to stay away from all-white trainers that will just get dirty—and mark you as an American tourist.
What to wear: Consider the climate and the activities you’ll be doing on your trip. Generally speaking, the key is to pick comfortable, supportive shoes in neutral or darker colors—and don’t forget appropriate socks. If you’re traveling anywhere but a beach, stick with closed-toe shoes, which can help prevent insect bites or cuts on your toes from gravelly surfaces.
The Wrong Colors
We’re all for expressing yourself, but when you travel, bright colors aren’t always the way to do it. You’ll stick out more in many destinations, and if you spill your gelato, it’s going to be harder to hide that stain. You want to blend in, not draw unwanted attention to yourself (and nothing does the latter better than a neon green tank top).
Avoiding certain colors can even keep you safe. In sub-Saharan Africa, where tsetse flies transmit a potentially fatal disease known as trypanosomiasis, the CDC recommends wearing “neutral colors that blend with the background environment” because the flies are attracted to bright or very dark colors.
What to wear: Unless loud colors or bold patterns are the norm in your destination, consider sticking with conservative hues like navy, blue, tan, and gray—and you’ll rarely go wrong with classic black.
The Wrong Pants
Jeans are always a reliable choice, right? Not necessarily. If you’re traveling to a warm and/or rainy climate, consider alternatives; jeans don’t breathe well and take a long time to dry, making them impractical for many itineraries involving the outdoors. Skinny jeans can be uncomfortably tight on long flights or train rides, while baggy or ripped jeans may look disrespectful if you wear them into churches, mosques, or other holy sites.
What to wear: Research your destination’s weather and cultural norms before you start packing to make sure your choices will help you fit in and stay comfortable.
Religious Imagery, Curse Words, or National Flags
Avoid clothing with 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 or to risk being kicked off a plane for wearing something the airline doesn’t approve of.
Be wary of hand gestures, both making them and wearing clothing depicting them, because these can have different meanings depending on where you are. (In Bangladesh and other parts of the world, for example, the “thumbs up” gesture is considered obscene.) Since you may never know what certain images suggest in another country, avoid them to keep from offending anyone.
Please, we beg of you, don’t be that tourist. While we all want the perfect vacation Instagram, we don’t want to be hit in the head by your selfie stick. The same goes for tablet-sized cameras and other large tech accessories. Stick to snapping pics with your phone or an actual camera to avoid injury and inconvenience to those around you.
And unless you’re a serious photographer, reconsider walking around a busy city with a huge camera hanging around your neck. Not only will you stand out, but you may also be targeted by thieves.
What to wear: Between uses, always keep your phone or camera stored safely in a zipped purse, camera bag, or pocket.
Backpacks and Large Purses
Backpacks and large purses tend to be impractical for urban sightseeing—do you really want to lug all that weight around? They’re also appealing targets for thieves, who can easily reach into an unzipped tote or sneak something out of a backpack while you’re wearing it on a busy subway train.
We’ve all been there. You packed a dress for a wedding, only to unpack and discover it’s a wrinkled mess. Or you thought jeans would be a good idea on the plane, and now they’re cutting off your circulation mid-flight. From discomfort to wrinkles and funky odors, the fabrics you choose can make or break your travel days. Avoid silks, nylon, leather, rubber, and, more generally, clothes made from a non-performance synthetic material.
What to Wear: Check the weather at your destination and keep in mind your activities. Some foolproof fabrics for packing and travel are moisture-wicking activewear, cotton, jersey, and clothes marketed as wrinkle-free.
An Oversized Jacket
Unless you’re skiing or taking on another outdoor winter adventure, leave the oversized jacket at home. This will save you space, weight, and hassle when packing.
What to wear: Layering is your friend. When traveling to a cooler destination, pack a few longer sleeved shirts as a base, then layer sweaters and a looser, lightweight winter jacket. Luckily, many travel and outdoor recreation companies are coming up with lighter down jackets that can be compressed into a small pack, such as this option for men or this one for women.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ashley Rossi, Erin Gifford, and Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.
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