How To Dress Appropriately While Traveling

→ Plus tips for temples & religious sites

In This Post: How to dress in an appropriate, non-offensive manner while on the road. Plus cues on when it’s ok to wear booty shorts (basically never) and when you should cover up.

While I am of the opinion there is no reason to wear scanty clothing in a foreign country and it’s best to err on the side of modesty, experience has shown me that many do not agree. Regardless of how you prefer to dress at home in your day-to-day, it’s absolutely essential you take into consideration where you are and the local culture – and thus what you wear – when you travel.

Dressing conventions vary widely depending on where you go, and sometimes dress isn’t really something you need to worry about. In any case, the tips below can be applied universally to be appropriate and respectful.

Respect the Culture

How people dress varies around the world. Some places, people do not wear the same type of clothing we do at home. Also understand dressing can change drastically from country to country. (Take Thailand and Malaysia, for example. Right next to each other but worlds away in terms of how people dress). Often, religion dictates dress and how conservative it is. Be aware of these facts.

Look To The Locals

Observe how the locals are dressed. While it’s not usually necessary to wear the same exact type of clothing, dressing with the same level of modesty or more is always recommended. If women are only wearing pants, don’t wear shorts and a belly shirt. If men are not removing their shirt on the road, don’t remove your shirt on the road. Even if it’s hot!

Keep The City Versus Country In Mind

Most big cities are more progressive, and people are more likely to wear “modern” clothing closer to what we wear at home. Skinny pants, leggings, low cut tops etc. may be seen, even if people outside the city dress in a different or more traditional way. Keep this in mind, While it may be OK to wear a short dress in the city, when you head to smaller towns or villages ditch it for long pants and something more modest.

Err On The Side Of Modesty & Don’t Dress Like A Hooker

What you wear is ultimately our choice. But especially when you’re traveling, don’t be obscene. If people can see your underwear or private region, you should probably change. I always try to dress on the side of modesty, to be respectful and also to reduce unwanted attention.

Keep Beachwear At The Beach

Sometimes it’s OK to dress in your swimsuit or beach clothes even off the beach. However, many beaches (especially in SE Asia), are in close proximity to conservative village or community where showing your body is a no-no. If you’re going to a restaurant or store, put some clothes on. Especially if there is signage asking you to do so. Be respectful.

Think Twice (Or Just Think At All) About Leggings

Leggings are ubiquitous in the western world, and have become acceptable standard attire. In many places, though, super-tight clothes are not always acceptable or standard, so be aware. Again, looking to the locals is a good way to assess. If I’m unsure, I try to cover up my butt with a longer shirt or jacket. And whenever I’m unsure, it generally means leggings are maybe not the best choice. If everyone is wearing baggy pants, for example, I wear jeans or buy some cheap baggy pants myself.

…and Low-Cut Shirts, Too

Same deal with leggings. While this is a no-brainier at home, sometimes it is best to wear a “normal” high-neck t-shirt during travels.

Adjust At Religious & Special Sites

Be aware that entering religious sites like temples will require different, and more conservative dress. If you plan to visit these sites, be sure to dress appropriately or bring the appropriate items to cover up.

Dressing For Religious Sites [Especially in Asia]

Religious sites are generally much more strict, even if a society is casual in terms of dress. While this varies country-to-country, and by religion, there are some easy rules to follow.

  • Dress Modestly: This is always necessary in religious places.
  • Bring a Wrap or Sari: Many temples, especially Buddhist sights many tourists visit in places like Thailand or Bali, it’s required to wear a skirt or long pants to enter. A long skirt, down to your ankles. Even if I’m wearing shorts, I’ll bring it in my purse to remain prepared.
  • Cover Your Shoulders: Tank tops are most often than not prohibited. So don’t wear them. Wear a t-shirt. And one with a high next. Bring a sweater or jacket if you are wearing a tank.
  • Don’t Wear Shorts or Short Skirts: Generally a bottom that is at least past the knee is the convention, but it may be longer.
  • Don’t Wear Hats or Sunglasses: Not always a rule but in most religious places, it’s a rule.
  • Don’t Wear Black: This isn’t always true, but in some Hindu temples you are not supposed to wear black materials.
  • Remove Your Shoes: Across many religions, it’s advised to remove your shoes inside temples or places of worship. If you see shoes outside the door and everyone is barefoot, take them off!

Let’s recap! 1) Dress to the location, not to how you dress at home 2) Don’t dress too scandalously 3) Be respectful with your clothing, especially in temples.