8 Essential Travel Tips for Dressing Modestly
One of the most beautiful elements of travel is the opportunity to learn about, and hopefully immerse yourself, in lifestyles that are different to your own: re-learning our appreciation for colour in India, tasting the richness of simple ingredients in the Mediterranean, feeling the intricate threading of textiles from Mayan weaving practices.
An element common to each of these places is space made for conservative dress, whether it be common public practice, or confined to sacred spaces. The fashion is signatory of a connection with ancient roots, beliefs, and history. Although to some, the practice of “covering up” preserves antiquated thoughts of women’s place in society, as a traveller and visitor, local customs should be observed and respected.
Origin Travels, a badass adventure collective leading all-womxn groups through off-the-beaten-path places, was founded on a principles of travelling respectfully and authentically. Since their itineraries include a fair amount of wandering through smaller communities, one of the most pressing pre-departure questions they get is: what do I wear? To this, they quite simply respond: when in Rome…
Preparing for a trip can be a lot of work - planning all the itinerary and accommodations, researching where to eat, what to do and what to pack – it can all get a little overwhelming. An important part of traveling responsibly, and sustainably, is being respectful of and accommodating to local customs. Some countries, typically ones that are predominantly Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, have different cultural norms with expectations for modest dress in public spaces. Origin Travels has offered up their essential packing list to dressing in conservative countries, with a list of best practices to help you pack light, be prepared and enjoy your trip!
1. A simple google search on the country that you are visiting before starting to pack can get you in the right frame of mind. What is the religion or religions of practice? What are women wearing in the photos? Are their legs covered? Hair, or shoulders? This observation doesn’t mean you have to dress in ornate traditional garb, but can the best starting point to packing. The sure-fire way to making you comfortable when you are walking in the streets is not feeling like you are standing out.
2. This doesn’t have to mean you have to hit the mall in a frantic search for culturally-appropriate wear.If you are a travelling to a place that is more conservative and feel like you have nothing to wear, we recommend packing a few pieces of modest clothing (like a a long pair of pants, t-shirt and a button-down shirt); you can then visit a local market when you arrive to stock up on what you need.
Much of the clothing in North American retail stores are made with non-breathable plastic-based materials like polyester, which isn’t ideal for hot or humid climates. The clothing at markets local to the towns you will be visiting will be made of materials more suitable to the local climate, in their fashion, and most times, easier on your wallet. Plus, shopping this way helps ensure that your money is helping to support local businesses.
The photo below shows a pair of super cute sandals purchased at the Shero’s Hangout- an incredible girl-power cafe staffed by survivors of acid attacks in Agra, India - on Origin Travels's Road to Rainbows trip in March; full proceeds of the purchase went back to the development and growth of the cafe!
3. A shawl/scarf – If you’re bringing one thing, it has to be a shawl (and if you forget, you can probably find them anywhere). It’s perfect for throwing over a tank top to stay cool and modest, or wearing as a scarf or wrapped around your shoulders on cooler evenings. You’ll also need it to cover your head or shoulders as required to enter most religious sites. Oh, and did we mention you can wrap it around your waist to make your outfit bright, and colourful? In the photo below, OT travellers used them to protect their clothing from the colours being thrown around at Holi time in the village of Matthura. Hot tip: Get one that’s made out of a lightweight material, like the cotton airy wrap-up scarf, to easily fold up and keep in your bag when you don’t need it.
4. An everyday dress – The perfect dress will be made out of a breezy material, cover your shoulders and go past your knees. Get one in a light, solid colour that you can accessorize and take from day to night.
5. A short sleeve blouse or t-shirt– A solid coloured top that is loose and a little longer is great for throwing over leggings or tucking into a maxi skirt.
6. Flowy pants/maxi skirt– A pair of flowy, cotton pants or a long skirt is an absolute must. Mix and match colours and patterns to pair with a loose t-shirt and this will be your staple trip outfit.
7. Leave your short shorts at home– unless you are visiting a beach town where the local expectations for dress is a little more lax, you probably won’t get around to wearing these. Opt for a cotton skirt that falls just below your knees, instead.
8. Don’t overthink it! Fashion is secondary when it comes to travel, and you probably already have plenty of suitable items in your own closet.
Modest clothing can mean more material in your luggage, which means that you may feel like you are over packing. Origin Travels loves Encircled’s line of multiway clothing that allows fashionistas to pack light, while still having so many clothing options!
Respecting a country’s customs will help you avoid unwanted attention. Plus, when you are not worried about what you are wearing, you have a greater ability to immerse yourself in your surroundings. Pack these essentials, throw in a pair of comfortable shoes, sunglasses and a sun hat, and you’re ready for your next adventure!
Bio: Britt Kasco is an entrepreneur with a mission to increase the accessibility to off the beaten path places for self-identified women. She is the Founder of Origin Travels Inc, an all-womxn adventure retreat company offering trips curated to the budget and lifestyle of millennials. Britt lives in her hometown, Toronto, and when she is not traveling, she is scavenging around her city in search of delicious food. You can find her @origintravels on Instagram, and /origintravelstrips on Facebook.