Any experienced traveler will tell you that the best part about visiting another country is the chance to soak in a new culture and way of life. You get exposed to different languages, wonderful cuisines, fascinating histories, and traditions.
However, one of the biggest faux pas you can commit while traveling abroad is to inadvertently offend people in your destination country. Different cultures have different norms about what is acceptable and what isn’t. As travelers, it’s important to understand these rules to avoid distasteful stares and embarrassing confrontations.
Even before you reach your destination, inappropriate clothing can cause problems. In the past, a Southwest Airlines passenger was nearly deboarded for wearing “inappropriate and lewd” clothing. You could land yourself in trouble for violating written or unwritten rules about attire. Likewise, something may be straight-up impractical to wear for traveling.
Here are 10 types of clothing you should avoid if you want to stay comfortable and prevent cultural clashes on your foreign trip.
1. Offensive T-Shirts
Imagine walking through a historical site that bears great significance for the people of the country you’re visiting. Now, if you’re wearing a loud T-shirt with something offensive printed on it, you are sure to draw some angry looks. Remember, as a traveler, your aim should be to blend in with the local population, rather than stick out like a sore thumb.
Avoid any embarrassing T-shirts with swear words, bold slogans, or hand gestures. Some hand gestures, like the “thumbs up” sign, are considered offensive in some parts of the world. Stay away from such prints.
2. Revealing Clothing
Some cultures are more conservative than others. If you visit the Middle East or some Asian countries like Bangladesh or India, you should ditch those shorts, tank tops, and bikinis. This is an unsaid norm if you are simply walking around the city or exploring a tourist attraction. However, it is enforced strictly at many religious sites and historical monuments.
Women wearing revealing clothes like miniskirts, crop tops, or low necklines, and men wearing shorts or flip flops can be denied entry into mosques and churches. Stick to the dress code, and pick up a few pieces of conservative clothing.
What should you wear instead? Go for long sleeves and pants, or long skirts. Women should carry a scarf or shawl to make quick revisions to their outfits if required.
3. Impractical Footwear
Traveling abroad on holiday means a lot of walking. You could spend hours of your day exploring the city, hiking, and participating in activities. The one thing that can ruin this experience for you is the wrong footwear.
Avoid brand-new shoes, as they can leave your feet blistered and bruised. Also, stay away from flip-flops, because they could be deemed inappropriate to enter religious or official places. Ditch those heels unless you plan to attend a formal event.
We recommend opting for a pair of sturdy and comfortable sneakers in a neutral color. Not only will they keep you comfortable, but they will also go with almost any outfit you wear.
4. Jeans (sometimes)
While jeans are a universal go-to for most travelers, you should consider your destination’s climate before donning your denim. Visiting a humid region like the Amazon? Then forget about ever getting your heavy jeans dry after a wash.
Ditch those skinny jeans for long-haul flights – they are far too constricting and uncomfortable to wear for hours on end.
Go for cargo pants in a light, breathable fabric. Women should choose cotton pants or long skirts to stay comfortable throughout the trip.
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5. Certain Colors
Yes, the color of your clothing matters. For example, if you travel to Europe in the winter, you will find a sea of grays, blacks, and navy. Wearing a bright, flashy coat might make you stand out too much in the crowd. Avid neon and metallic shades while visiting a somber site, such as a cemetery or memorial.
Some colors could even keep you safe. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the deadly tsetse fly is attracted to dark colors. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the USA’s health protection agency) recommends wearing light and neutral shades to blend in with your surroundings.
Similarly, wearing black or dark clothes in the Middle Eastern summer can quickly turn into a hot and uncomfortable affair. Choose light pastel colors that reflect heat efficiently.
6. Expensive Jewelry
While you may love to bling it up, wearing expensive jewelry on vacation could be quite dangerous. Gold chains, big earrings, diamond rings, or gemstones can make you a target for thieves and criminals.
We suggest switching out your valuables for faux jewelry or costume pieces. Even if you misplace them, they will not burn a hole in your pocket. Pick out light jewelry that is comfortable to wear in any type of climate.
7. Religious Wearables
Do you sport any religious garb or symbols like a headscarf, bindi, turban, etc.? You should not feel pressured to change your faith’s norms simply because you are traveling abroad. Just remember that you should be respectful to other cultures while being true to yours.
If there are legal mandates against wearing a particular clothing type, make sure that you follow those restrictions.
8. Wearable Cultural and Religious Symbols
Each country has hundreds of clothing items, ornaments, and symbols that have a lot of importance to the members of that culture. When you travel to that country, you are partaking in a bit of that diversity. You can celebrate it by learning more about it, and tastefully donning some of the symbols.
However, don’t treat them as props for a photo-op. Respect the items and the history behind them. Not everything is Instagram-worthy, and you certainly don’t want to appropriate a community’s culture by posting casual pictures.
9. Clothes That Insult the Locals’ Culture
Every region has a distinct sense of style and presentation. For instance, you will find most Europeans dressed in muted but tasteful clothing. They prefer clean silhouettes and a professional look. So, if you are invited to a dinner party, your hosts might not appreciate you showing up in athleisure wear.
On the other hand, if you travel to Latin America, you may see the locals dressed in leisure clothing and streetwear in many situations.
Hence, you should adapt your style to blend in with your environment. It is one of the best ways to enjoy an authentic experience at your holiday destination.
10. Clothes Bearing Political statements
Your clothing and fashion choices reflect your personality, culture, and political opinions. However, a foreign trip is not an ideal time to make bold political statements. Avoid wearing accessories and clothes with overtly political slogans. Most private establishments like airlines, hotels, cruises, etc. do not take kindly to offensive language and political messaging on clothing.
In August 2020, American Airlines refused to let a passenger wearing a facemask with a bold political slogan board the plane. Company policy can be tough, and most times, there’s little you can do about it.
So, play it safe, and steer away from displaying your politics on your vacation.
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Final thoughts – Research Well
Preparing for a foreign trip is so much more than booking airline tickets and hotels. You need to know basic information about the do’s and don’ts of the country you plan to visit. Read up on the demography, religions, and geography of your destination.
We recommend spending some time understanding what you should expect in terms of a culture shock on your trip. Refer to travel information blogs to equip yourself with all the knowledge you need to enjoy your time abroad without any hassles or slip-ups.
Finally, be sure you have travel insurance or travel medical insurance in place before you depart. An insurance plan specifically designed for international travel can provide valuable financial protection and peace of mind for the uncertainties of traveling abroad.
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