Dressing appropriately and respectfully when travelling

I’m a kiwi, summer attire for me is a summer dress, a hat, sunscreen and potentially some jandals (flip flops for the non-kiwi readers). So travelling through hot countries where I need to be mindful of religious an cultural norms can be a bit tricky. Here’s my go to list of essential, modest travel gear from my holiday in North Africa and the Middle East.

1. Planning is the key

I read widely on what was ok and what wasn’t prior to our trip through Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Turkey. Not suprsinginly, what I wore to Vanuatu want going to cut it. However, none of these countries were very strict on foreigners so I knew that with a dose of common sense, I would be OK. I used my wardrobe planning app (Stylebook) to help me out.

2. Longer sleeves, longer skirts, and trousers were my new staples
I took a maxi skirt, maxi dress, leggings, trousers. jeans, tunics, long sleeve light weight tops (muslin), cardigans, and scarves. I had a moment at the Pyramids where I looked a fright as was wearing what was clean and it definity didn’t match. Aside from that I didn’t feel overdressed or dowdy. Below are some snaps (including the terrible ensemble day forever immortalised in my Sphinx photo); I was pleased that I still felt like me but I was respectful with higher necklines and longer sleeves than I would normally have on a summery holiday.  I did take tank tops, singlets and shorts and enjoyed wearing these in our more resorty stops – Sharm el Sik and the Dead Sea. 

3. Buxom ladies beware

Big boobs are a pain. I wore round neck tops and tried my best to hide these bad boys but I had a few moments where I clearly got things wrong and caused high levels of embarrassment for me.

  • Having a waiter put an extra few layers of napkins on my chest in a restaurant in Egpyt, my husband and I were the only ones dining there. Sheesh. I was wearing a high cut singlet and button up over the top. I guess I can’t hide nature.
  • Stares from Tunisian men on the train (I later figure out that my muslin top was slightly see through and a patterned bra underneath didn’t help).
  • Uncomfortable stares on the ferry between Egypt and Jordan. I walked on my my long dress and cardigan but later covered my décolletage  up with a scarf too. Turns out that my husband and I were in the section where men sat. The captain came down and moved us to “first class” where all of my fellow female passengers were. 

4. Scarves

Scarves were a must have (and actually are for all of my holidays). I could throw one on to enter a church or mosque, cover up the décolletage if required, wear one as a cardigan or cover up to avoid the sun. I always had one with me. Except for the day I didn’t. Darryl and I were on a walking tour of Jerusalem, I really, really, really, wanted to go to the Dome of the Rock. Darryl didn’t. We separated. I took my camera, some cash and my phone, Darryl took the bag. I ran through the labrythine streets to get to the entrance while they were still letting non-Muslims up. Only to realise that I didn’t lay have the appropriate covering and that my scarf was in Darryl’s bag. I was quickly assured that I could get something up the top. I secretly wished that this would be a loan but alack, I had to buy what I could only describe as a floral tablecloth. And I don’t think that I fully go it open before the young man who sold it put it over my exposed arms – I spent half of my time there marvelling at the domes and half making sure that my arms were covered whilst taking photos.

5. Footwear

I hate sneakers and jeans. And proper running sneakers of any sort. But I knew that days on end of walking would do my feet in (voice of experience not wisdom here). I took my purple Nikes, black lace Toms, grey Havianas (jandals), silver leather moccasin slip ons, and my black, leather sandals. Even though I often wear poor quality stylish shoes at home, I know my feet need to be well shod when travelling. I’m not the Teva or Birkenstock kind of traveller. One day, if I have to, but that day has not yet arrived. I did have a few days of sneakers and jeans though. Photos on those days were from the ankles up. 


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