Whether you’re packing for a trip to a country with conservative dress norms or you plan to visit religious sites in any country, heed our advice on what to cover, when, and where.
Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes: Body Coverage to Consider in Conservative Countries
Covering your hair can be an extremely controversial topic. Some countries require it of its female citizens while other countries have made it illegal. Become familiar with the requirements, either by custom or law. To be prepared, women should always carry a scarf, especially when visiting religious sites. In countries that require local women to cover their hair, you may receive more unwanted attention if you don't.
Men and women should cover your shoulders, even if it's hot and humid. Instead of tank tops, opt for loose-fitting t-shirts or button-down shirts. For women, wearing low-cut tops that reveal your cleavage isn't recommended. Also, be careful when wearing button-down shirts; they sometimes gape between buttons and reveal more than intended. Travel with a lightweight scarf, shawl, or wrap that you can quickly convert into a shrug to cover your shoulders if needed.
In some countries, showing your knees can be scandalous. Generally, if you can’t bare your shoulders, you shouldn't wear anything that shows your knees. But, the opposite isn’t always true. For example, in parts of Africa, you absolutely should not bare your knees but it's generally ok to wear shoulder-baring tops. So leave the short, knee-bearing skirts at home, as well as the shorts. Throughout most of the world, it's extremely unusual for men or women to wear shorts outside of a beach environment.
Sandals are a convenient choice when exploring sites that require visitors to remove their shoes, such as temples in Thailand and Burma. But beware, it's considered rude in some countries to show the soles of your feet; in others, you should never point to or touch another person with your feet. The main message: remember to research your destination's customs.
Questions & Resources
If you have questions, or if you'd like to schedule a private travel consultation, email email@example.com. You can also check out the following resources to research your destination:
- CIA: The Word Factbook
- International SOS country guides, available in the Assistance App and member portal
- GSS country snapshots
- U.S. State Department country information