5 Things to Take Off Your Packing List

Knowing what NOT to wear when traveling abroad can allow you to enjoy the view from your room at that perfect little boutique hotel, instead of the view from a jail cell or a hospital room. We, in the USA, are used to freedom of speech and freedom of expression in terms of what we wear. It’s a very different issue when we go abroad, especially in countries where such freedoms make you a target for violence or arrest by the local government. I’m all for enjoying your vacation, so let’s learn what NOT to pack when traveling internationally.

“Dress to blend and not offend”. One key to being safe is to not call attention to yourself. I remember visiting Turkey once and wondering how everyone seemed to know we were American tourists. Then I looked down. We were dressed in bright colors with fanny packs around our waists and bright white athletic shoes glowing at our feet. We looked nothing like the locals around us, who were all dressed modestly and in muted colors. In that environment we weren’t in any danger, but did we have to shout “American” quite so loudly? Just be aware and tone it down a bit. Always respect the local culture, and the locals will, in turn, respect you. Here are 5 things to leave at home in your closet when you are packing to go abroad:

  1. Immodest clothing. This is especially true when traveling to any country that holds deeply religious views, such as those in the Middle East. It’s also true when you will be visiting churches or cathedrals in many of the old town areas of Europe. Women in particular need to avoid short skirts, “Daisy Dukes”, tank tops, and anything revealing. If wearing a sleeveless top, always have a shawl or scarf available to cover up. A wrap skirt can cover up shorts on a really hot day. Generally, think in terms of slacks for men and capris for women and shirts with sleeves and modest necklines. You can be denied entry if you are not dressed conservatively when entering any church or holy site, especially the Vatican museums or St. Peter’s Cathedral and any of the Mosques in Istanbul.

  2. White sneakers and open-toe shoes. Nothing will single you out as an American faster than white sneakers or athletic shoes. In Europe, sneakers are for sporting activities only. Instead, go for comfortable leather walking shoes. Consider that since you will be walking on many cobblestone streets where the stones hit your feet in unusual places, you need good solid closed-toe shoes, not sandals. Also consider that drainage is not the best in some countries and flip-flops can leave you open to some very unsanitary experiences. Save the sandals for the beach.

  3. Flashy jewelry. Do not make a target of yourself by wearing expensive jewelry or even costume jewelry that looks expensive. Your tennis bracelet may be fake, but only you know that. Leave valuables at home. If you have an expensive camera, take your picture, then put it away. The same is true of cell phones. Use them and put them out of sight. Consider carrying a conservative tote bag or case for this purpose. Pickpockets run rampant through many foreign touristy cities, especially around the most popular sites. They don’t want to hurt you...they just want your money. Don’t make it easy for them!

  4. Clothing with religious symbolism, designer labels, obscene words, or political messages. Respect the culture and do not flaunt your viewpoint. You are a visitor, a guest in their country. There is no need to spark an emotional response or get arrested in countries with zero tolerance for diverse viewpoints, especially in today’s crazy political climate! Remember...”Blend and don’t offend”.

  5. Camouflage clothing. Leave anything with camouflage patterns on it at home. This is especially true of many countries in the Caribbean, Latin and South America, where you can be arrested for wearing camo print.

I hear travelers say that they want foreigners to think they are Canadian because “Europeans hate Americans” so much...even going as far as carrying a bag with the Canadian flag on it! I can testify that Europeans do NOT hate Americans. They disagree with a lot of our political viewpoints and decisions, but they realize there is a big difference between the actions of the US Government and the average American citizen. Don't be ashamed of our country -- be an example of what's good about it. Let your behavior and attitude leave a positive impression of Americans when you travel and you will help to build bridges between countries instead of perpetuating the differences.

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