What Should I Wear? – General Travel Clothing Tips

Last updated on April 13th, 2020

Shawls are easy to carry and very useful on planes, trains and buses. I’ve managed to be comfy in Detroit in the winter without a bulky winter coat because I have boots, gloves and a nice big shawl. And shawls are a nice thing to buy on the road. They are good souvenirs, a lovely way to remember a place you really enjoyed (hand-stencilling in Czechoslovakia, tapestry-like weaving in Bruges). I also have two other general tips: (1) a silk scarf is always convenient as a cover for coarse pillowslips in a hotel or hostel. (2) And, most important of all, I advise against white nightclothes because it is easy not to see them in your bed in a poorly lit hotel room. That means you can easily forget to pack them when you are moving on.
Sue, Oakland, USA

I don’t dress as casually as I do at home and try to be sensitive to appropriate attire (local dress). I would bring a pashmina or some form of a shawl or cover if travelling in areas where you may want more covering – or just to dress up an outfit. I tend to dress conservatively and have never had any problems with unwanted attention when travelling alone (at least, not in a very long time!)
Susan, Glen Ellyn, UK

In order to avoid looking gaudy/being a target for thieves, many people will advise you to wear old clothing and no jewelry. But it is important to remember that you are a guest in another country. Your appearance is a reflection of the respect you feel for that country and culture. While diamond rings and designer duds should be avoided, remember that it is rude to parade around a country in clothing that you would never wear at home.
Sarah, Nashville, TN, USA

Be sure to pack extra insoles for your shoes. Bring extra cushy ones, especially if you are hiking on marble (like in Greece) or stone (like in Egypt). Try them out at home in the shoes that you are planning to wear on your trip. Your feet will be happy and so will you. A nice, extra item to pack is a small bottle of peppermint foot lotion from the Body Shop. This soothes frayed nerves and tired feet!
Jackie, Nanaimo, Canada

A great packing tip for backpackers is to roll each item of clothing, then keep them rolled up with the help of an elastic band. When you open your backpack and have to rummage around for an item at the bottom, you may still create a mess, but your clothes will still be rolled. This prevents the need to refold/reroll your clothes each time you open your pack. It saves me a lot of time and aggravation.
Carmen, Vancouver, Canada

I travelled in Europe/Morocco/East Africa/Caribbean. I believe in honouring a country’s culture so attempt to dress respectfully; also, I want to be an honoured representative of the USA. I find that long, no-iron, dresses (with sleeves – very important) work wonders; they’re easy/cool to wear, cover uninteresting walking shoes, pack well, and fit in everywhere; they can be dressed up or down; a black one takes you to the finest places and the most strict places of worship; just hold it up to climb stairs; it’s the coolest thing to wear in hot countries and a 3/4 warm sweater coat over it looks nice and keeps you warm. I also take a long scarf (lost best one in Morocco, darn it!); it was pure, soft, black cotton; actually, it’s what the men wear wound around their heads); it, or something like it, keeps the hot sun off your head and cool breezes from shoulders; covers head where necessary, as in religious buildings and Muslim countries; let me correct – it isn’t necessary, as a traveller, to cover your head (except in the religious buildings) but it shows respect, gets help easier when you need it, it’s fun, keeps head cool, and, I confess, I like to plunge into a culture as much as I can to make a trip even more interesting. The scarf can be made w/black, sheer cotton or cotton blend material; mine was about 10 feet long and 2-1/2 feet wide; fringe the ends by pulling threads… voila! you’re right in style; happy travelling and keep in mind, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” by Robert Louis Stevenson”
Elaine, Phoenix, USA

I travelled for years and found a sure-fire way to ascertain that I always carried everything I need. I keep a spreadsheet in Excel (packing list.xls). I print out a copy before I pack and check off items as I pack them or as I decide I don’t really need them this trip. When most of the list is checked off (you always have last-minute items like eyeglasses, brush, etc.), I circle the last few items so I don’t overlook them on the, by now, very marked-up page.
Linda, Rockport, USA

Always carry a bandana for head covering when visiting religious sites. Catholic and Muslim sites frown on uncovered female heads. Rule of thumb, when in doubt, cover yourself. A lightweight long-sleeved shirt can always be removed later and is good sun protection anytime.
Ginny, Denver, USA

I always pack fast-drying underwear. While these are not the most attractive briefs, they will dry in an hour. Especially while travelling in hot, humid countries, drying cotton underwear can take days. Mine can be towelled dried and hung up or even put on very slightly damp and will dry on the body. Barbara, Kitchener, Canada
Travelling in developing countries and not sure what is appropriate to wear? My advice is to try to find two or three different very motherly looking women and ask them what they think is best…and ask several times in several ways as many cultures will not give a direct answer to a direct question because they believe it is not courteous. Norma, Santa Maria
In most of the European cities, we went to, people dressed fairly well — casually elegant. I often felt underdressed in my t-shirts or sundresses. Next time, I will take nicer clothes, so I won’t look like such a tourist! Sonia, Victoria, Canada
When planning your travel wardrobe, bring and wear only what you are comfortable in. On a recent trip to Scotland, I brought only slacks because they were significantly lighter than my customary jeans. I ended up borrowing my friend’s pair of jeans as often as I could. For me, the little extra weight in my suitcase is worth the comfort. Fiona, Melbourne, Australia
The first and best thing a woman should buy when travelling in hot climates is a sarong. They’re cheap, versatile and beautiful. I use mine to lie on at the beach, use as a table-cloth, sheet, towel, skirt, dress, bag, scarf, headgear and pillow/cushion! Anna Leger, San Francisco, USA
If you are travelling light and there is the possibility of having to hand wash clothing — avoid cotton — it will NEVER dry (with hand wringing) and will be a sodden mess in the bottom of your suitcase, backpack, pannier, etc. Instead invest in shirts, socks, underwear, etc made of “wickable” materials, such as polypropylene, “Drylene”, or other common brand names — these materials absorb perspiration, wash easily and dry very quicky. Pants, shorts, and even some shirts made of nylon fabrics can also be easily washed and dried, without wrinkling. Cotton is great when you have access to laundry facilities — otherwise, leave it at home. I recently travelled by bicycle in Ireland for 3 weeks, and didn’t need to be hauling around any extra weight — this was the best tip given to me. Patti Maguire, Anchorage, Alaska.
I only travel with what I can carry on to the plane with me. I pack three changes of underwear and try to have all inner layers made of Cool Max or some other fibre that dries quickly. By the time I get home from the trip, I am sick to death of what I have been wearing but other than needing heavier sweaters which I buy wherever I am, this system works for me. Eno, Philadelphia, USA
Always pack a T-shirt type dress – short sleeves are fine – which you can wear anywhere. Carry a kerchief (borrow one from your Mom if you don’t have one) to cover your head when necessary.This advice serves anywhere in Europe if you plan to visit a religious site that requires covering up. My experience is that one dress is sufficient – but then I’d advise packing lightly no matter how long or where you’re going. A carry-on pack is all I take even for a month in Europe. Pack on the assumption that if you’re invited to lunch with royalty or a head of state, you’ll buy something new to wear anyway! Linda, Toronto, Canada
Damp socks eliminate jet-lag. I know that this sounds strange, but trust me – it works! Wear damp socks on a long flight. Your feet won’t feel cold neither will they swell. And for some unknown reason, you won’t suffer jet-lag when you reach your destination. Amanda St-George London, England
Ed. note: I can just hear my mother saying, “But my dear you’re sure to catch your death of cold!”
When travelling solo, dress as simply and conservatively as possible. Avoid loud colours. I pack lots of grays and blacks. They don’t show the dirt and they don’t attract attention. If I carry a camera, I usually carry it in a plastic shopping bag that I pick up at the local supermarket. Sometimes, just seeing a familiar logo on a bag you’re carrying makes people think you belong and that you know exactly where you’re going. You don’t appear vulnerable and no one suspects that you’re carrying your expensive camera and film in a regular grocery bag. Evelyn Hannon, JW Editor
Your clothes should be colour coordinated, mix and match, wash and wear. For moderate climates, I take one pair of slacks with pockets, one wrap skirt with pockets, 3-4 drip dry blouses, and a light raincoat jacket with big pockets. For evening, one thin crushproof dress that goes with the jacket. Shoes are walking sandals that can double for evening and Nikes. Need more? Buy it there. Sandy Huff, Travel journalist. USA
When going on a long trip, the practice of carrying about 20 changes of undergarments has proved a boon – they occupy minimal space & leave you free for a long long time before you need to do the washing! Anjana Gehani, Mumbai, India
Be sensitive in Europe. Don’t be so insensitive as to wear shorts and tank tops into churches and cathedrals. These buildings are in daily use by locals — try not to offend them. Jane, Highland, USA
Black clothing! This helps you to blend into the crowd and suddenly you aren’t the target of the machismo men that seem to prey on American women. Maxine, Fort Nelson, Canada
The most useful item I always pack is a long, natural fibre lightweight broomstick skirt. It is nice and cool in warmer climes, can be very nice with a pair of nylons and leggings under it in colder areas, and it doesn’t matter if it gets wrinkled since it’s supposed to be anyway. It keeps you conservative without looking bad or getting too hot or cold. Also, a large scarf is ever essential in Eastern Europe for entering churches. Liz, Sonoma, USA
When travelling in hot climates I always try and take a couple of sarongs with me. They pack down small and can be used for just about anything, skirts, dresses, beach towels, or even a blanket if necessary. Sandra Tooley, Boulder, USA
Don’t forget even in the warmer southern European countries to bring a long skirt and a shawl or sarong to cover shoulders before entering churches. A crinkly skirt can be rolled up in your daypack and slipped on over shorts for modesty. Molly, Seattle, WA., USA
In addition to a comfortable pair of walking shoes, I suggest taking along a pair of the “Chinese shoes” found in import stores and funky clothing shops. They are made of canvas or velvet(dressier) in a “Maryjane” style with hard rubber soles. Though not comfortable for walking distances, these shoes are very lightweight, cheap (around $12US), take up very little space in your pack, and can be used as dress shoes or as slippers. They can be stuck in a daypack, purse or fanny pack in case you happen on a restaurant or religious site where sandals, sneakers and the like are discouraged or banned. To make them more comfortable, buy a neoprene mouse pad at an office supply store (around $3US), and cut out insoles to fit your shoe. Very cushy, especially at the end of the day when your feet are tired. Tracy Hamilton, Tallahassee
I spent a month in Belgium and France in the summer of 1996 and my main problem was not what I took to wear, but the fact that I took too much. Also, I bought a new suitcase for the trip. A beautiful 29″ pop-up handle one with wheels. Quel horreur!!!! This is a suitcase designed for travel in the US only. The train and metro stations in Europe have stairs! Try “lugging” a beautiful piece of “luggage” around Europe for 4 weeks. You, too, will want to throw it into the Seine. Also, on trains that travel across Europe, there is only enough luggage space for each person to place an extremely small bag. These overhead luggage racks are definitely not made for U.S. sized suitcases. My advice, which I plan to follow this summer, is “if you cannot carry it up a flight of stairs, don’t take it”! I hope this saves a few women from making the same investment that I did and not be able to use the piece of luggage for what it was intended. Deborah, Stockton, California

I carry thick, unscented baby wipes on every trip I go on. I prefer the Huggies brand. Great for washing hands, wiping off surfaces, freshening up, and washing your face!
Annette, Alexandria, USA

Remember that you are a guest where ever you go so dress like one. Be modest, elegant and comfortable. The locals have had generations to develop a typical dress that suits the climate and the culture of their country. Take your cue from them. A smile and an open mind should be your constant accessories.
Kathy, Toronto, Canada

I purchased a black vest at the local Good Will Store, (important that it be ambly cut) then I sewed pockets to the inside lining (for glasses, small change purse, pen, etc.). This vest goes with everything from skirts and pants. I also have one for hot weather in a lovely soft floral. I then wear a money belt made from a folded in half handkerchief with a tie ribbon belt. This holds my credit card, passport and extra money. This lets me be free from a purse or backpack and also gives me an extra sense of security knowing that no pockets are visible.
Sabrina, San Luis Obispo, USADress comfortably in clothes that you can take care of yourself. I prefer travelling in the warmer months: less weight and clothes that are washable. I travel in one pants/jacket/tee shirt outfit wearing my bulkiest shoes. I take a swimsuit, sari-type wrap/ 1 pr of shorts/3 tees that go with all the bottoms/1 pr of pants that can have the bottom unzipped to make another pr of shorts/ a crushable skirt that will go with the jacket, and the tee-shirt/ a long-sleeved gauzy shirt that will also go with the tee (pants, skirt) One pair water shoes, one lightweight pair of sandals. Undies — including one sports bra that can double as a swim top, socks if appropriate. If I need a warm top, I take a vest or jacket made of fleece. That’s it.
Lynn, Traverse City, USA

Pack as little as possible — I learned this the hard way! I have found that browsing the “used” clothing stores in my area yields great clothes at inexpensive prices. That way, if something is lost or ruined, I don’t have to worry. Pack things that will go together. Don’t bring anything that doesn’t go with another piece of clothing. Walking shoes and sandals are perfect for any trip during the summer. I use a “healthy back” bag (Ameribag) as a day bag and it is wonderful. I bring a small, cheap bag for evening wear and I purchase cheap jewelry at discount stores. My $5 watch from Walmart looks great and if lost/stolen, who cares. Just remember that you have to carry whatever you bring so don’t pack a huge bag. I have recently converted to carry-on only and I will never bring a large suitcase again. Try it — you’ll love the freedom.
Phyllis, St. Louis, USA

Long skirts everywhere; long sleeves, hair up and covered with a hat or scarf in the Muslim world. I dress conservatively and pack very light (three skirts, four tops, a sweater, and a bottle of Woolite will do me for a month). A London Fog raincoat with a removable lining is great for spring/fall travel. In one respect, I disagree with the standard advice — I don’t leave my good jewelry at home. When I travel, I aim to look like a respectable local woman of my age and social class; if she wears her rings and gold necklace on the street, so should I.
Suzanne, NYC, USA

Ed. Note: Anyone who is a “practiced” thief generally can spot a tourist a mile away. Wearing good jewelry in some poorer countries is an instant ticket to trouble. Want to wear jewelry? Choose something pretty that clearly has no value.

I travel internationally a good percentage of the time. Trying to find a coat that works for a semi-dressy situation, at a mill work site, and in the city can be a problem. You need warmth, water resistance, wind resistance and if you are me, style. Style can be very important because this is the outermost garment people see and judge you by. This is important in countries like Italy or Japan where style is more important than it might be under similar circumstances in the US. I have found that good quality leather coats tend to be the best option. These are not “biker” style jackets by any means. My favourite is a 3/4 length that goes well with pants suits and is just long enough to look OK with a skirted suit with a coordinating colour. The best part is that they don’t get dirty when I have to climb around a building site or when I am stuck on a train. A spill can be usually cleaned up.
Linda. St. Charles, USA

I’ve travelled to many countries. My advice is: long, wrinkled “broomstick” skirts are ideal in almost any situation, including those where pants/shorts are not appropriate. They can be cool in hot climates, or layered with leggings in colder places. Secondly, it’s a good idea to wear a light jacket or sweater wrapped around your waist in case you want to enter a church where bare arms are not allowed, or you visit unexpectedly cool places (catacombs, wine caves, over-air-conditioned restaurants). Sally, Fort Worth, Texas
I have a plus-size shopping tip for London. For large size clothing try, Evans Outsize shops. Not cheap, but they have a wide variety and you can get good buys on sales. I have a wool/angora sweater in beautiful shades of blues/greens/purples that is at least 10 years old, washes well and still looks like new. Susan, Isreal
I pack very little—no more than three to four changes of clothing. However, they’re all mix and match, and mostly dark colours to blend in with European locals more. I love fabrics that are relatively wrinkle-free like Supplex and microfibres, and try and take garments that will get me everywhere. For instance, lightweight knit pants and a tunic top with a scarf will be perfectly comfortable for a day of sightseeing, but will also get you into St. Peter’s Basilica (most churches in Italy require arms and knees to be covered), and take you out for dinner in a nice place. I have one pair of good walking shoes, and a dressier (but still comfortable) pair of flats for evenings. But definitely pack light! I bring one carry-on bag and a small day pack—even when I’m gone for a month. It makes such a difference, especially since I travel solo; I’m the one who has to schlep the luggage around Mardee, West Chester, USA
While travelling on vacation in Europe, I usually wear slacks, jackets, blouses and sweaters and I take along several scarves and costume jewelry pins to liven things up a bit. A rain jacket with a hood that will fit over a heavy sweater or blazer is more useful than a raincoat and umbrella. Stick with two or three main colours; wear elastic waist pants on the plane and always bring a sweater or jacket on the plane. Give up style for comfort with your shoes, especially with all the walking, marble floors in museums, cobblestones. You’ll be on your feet much more often than at home. Trisha, Atlanta, USA
I travelled in the US, Europe and Mexico. My advice to other travelling women is: Wear a flowing skirt just below the knee. Tops shouldn’t be tight and revealing. Definitely stay away from bright, gaudy colours so that you will blend in with the locals (and not be susceptible to thieves and touts). Denise, Jackson, USA
When packing, roll clothes and secure with rubber bands. This keeps your clothes from wrinkling, packs tighter so you can fit more in your suitcase, and the rubber bands come in handy for lots of things – not the least of which tie up your hair on a hot August day! Melissa Combs, LA, USA
Always wear a wedding ring when you are travelling alone. If you are not interested in meeting men, it will keep some away. If you are interested, a lot of men will assume you are on a “footloose” holiday away from hubby, or are a grieving widow that needs consolation and will “hit on you”. Either way, you win!!! Davida Marantz, Edmonton, Alberta
Ed. Note: But please be wary! Especially if you are travelling solo, be just a little cautious about any one–man or woman who approaches you. It means that they have singled you out for attention and their motivation may not always be positive.
I took a week to rest and refuel at Rancho La Puerta, a spa in Tecate, Mexico. It was great! What to pack for a week? Heavy on the exercise gear. Bring your hiking boots and a bathing suit. Then add a bit of very casual clothing and you’re all set. P.S. It could be a little cool for your 6 am hike in the desert mountains. Pack a windbreaker and a sweatshirt. You never know when you’re going to need them. Erica Ehm, Real Life, The Life Channel, Canada
Here is a helpful hint for journey women: One thing that I always pack is a long opaque sarong. This can do in a pinch to cover your legs and is small and easy to take along for unexpected situations. I’d also like to add that dressing as respectful as possible can only add to your experience and bring you closer to the people of the country. Shelly Nyholt, Edmonton, Canada
If you’re biking in a foreign country, don’t forget to pack your helmet. Write your name, address, phone number, name of a contact person at home and your BLOOD TYPE inside your helmet. In case of an accident, this information will be seen as soon as your helmet is removed even if you are injured or unconscious. Karen Major, Waterdown, Canada
To avoid having to pack 14 pairs of panties for a two-week trip, I bring about six pairs and a box of pantyliners. Ms. Schemer, Las Vegas, USA
When travelling abroad and trying to conserve space in your luggage, take clothes that can be used in a variety of situations. For example, I have a skirt that is made from wrinkle-resistant fabric and has a drawstring waist so it is super comfy! It can pass as a casual skirt and be worn with a tank top or T-shirt and regular shoes or sandals, or if worn with a blouse it passes for something you could wear out in the evening. It doesn’t show wrinkles if you roll it instead of folding it when packing and comes in a number of colours that can usually be found at any travel/outdoor type store. One of the best purchases I ever made. Adele McGuey, Bracebridge, Canada
Being trendy could give you away as a tourist. Low cut tops and short skirts are a no no in some countries. Do your research and see what is appropriate apparel for the places you are going to visit. My advice would be to dress on the conservative side. Sharon, Rohnert Park, USA
Large Size Clothing. I lived in Europe for three years. In many countries, clothes up to size 48 or 50 (European) are available but tend to be matronly, and accessories can be hard to find. You’re better off bringing extras of “basic” items such as underwear. Helpful hint: buy a tape measure in centimetres, measure yourself before you leave, and bring your dimensions with you. Very useful if you’re in a drugstore trying to buy pantyhose and the size is listed in centimetres! Paula, Santa Fe, USA
The best shoes for Europe on the offseason are sturdy, comfortable, black leather walking shoes. If you can tolerate wool, wear them with black wool socks. (Wool continues to insulate even if it gets wet.) With black slacks, and a nice sweater or jacket, you’ll look much more polished than you would in jogging shoes, jeans, and sweatshirts. And you’ll even be more comfortable because your feet will stay warm. Martha, Cahors, France
I have noticed that travelling women who wear nice, conservative clothing with maybe one or two daring items will receive the most respect. For instance, nice slacks, a short-sleeved shirt, and sandals can be dressed up or down, and a tank top can be your “daring” item, without looking provocative. At the same time, you can also be comfortable. Lindsay, USA
On a recent trip to Europe, I travelled in an acceptable, but no longer desirable outfit and after all those hours of wearing it on the plane, I left it in my first hotel room with a note saying I had left it on purpose. On a more intimate note, I also saved my old underpants and socks and discarded one pair per day, leaving a trail and no dirty laundry in my suitcase. Trisha, Atlanta, USA

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