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What to Wear When Traveling Internationally

a bag with a red circle around it

This is probably one of the most frequent questions I get from friends and family, and my response may not be what you’d think.

Wear what you normally wear!
(with the exclusion of ill-fitting shorts that don’t button or torn tshirts)

Most of us will find it hard to look like a local in foreign locations no matter how hard we try. I speak as someone who acquired a wardrobe of mostly black pants and coats and drip dry shirts for my semester abroad in England years ago. I didn’t stick out as a tourist, but I didn’t fit in either.

a woman standing on one leg on a beach

A decade later I found myself again in Ireland, tripping along in my dress and boots and bright purple trench coat. Sticking out a bit, but feeling comfortable and confident, much more so than on my previous visits. You’ll be much less  conspicuous and much more at ease wearing the clothes and styles you’re used to!

But if you were hoping for a little more advice on how not to look like a tourist, here are my tips (skewed slightly by my own preferences) for packing comfortably and looking normal:

  • Avoid white sneakers or clunky hiking sandals. A thin soled sneaker, like those made by Sketchers or Puma, or a lightweight sandal like my favorite Teva Zirra, are just as comfortable, but less utilitarian looking and pair with slightly nicer outfits.
  • Bring at least two pairs of every day shoes. That’s the one area you shouldn’t try to save luggage space. The best way to avoid blisters, sore feet, and fatigue is to avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row.
  • Bring a pair of dressier shoes just in case. When I was in England, it didn’t matter what you were wearing, as long a bag with a red circle around itas you had black shoes. Otherwise, many bars and jazz clubs were off limits.
  • Unless it’s part of your daily outfit, skip the fanny pack and go with your usual purse or messenger bag. If you’re not used to wearing back packs, don’t start now! (Unless you’re backpacking across your location.) And if you favor the passport pouch around the neck, try to keep it discretely hidden underneath a jacket or shirt.
  • Forgo the “made for travel” clothes. There’s a lot of great options out there that are wrinkle resistant, stain resistant, and easy to wash in a sink. Unfortunately they usually look like it. Which isn’t a problem if you’re ok looking like “a traveller.”
  • Bring modest clothes but don’t go overboard. All my reading before my first trip to China warned against looking flashy and being denied entrance to temples because of immodest attire. So I brought a selection of almost dowdy clothing to be safe. Totally unnecessary, as everyone else was trendily dressed.
  • Jeans are perfectly fine almost everywhere, just check the dress code if you plan to visit nicer restaurants or religious locations.

Do you have a set of guidelines you use when determining what to wear siteseeing internationally?


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