Different cultures around the world inspire travel. Our curious and inquisitive nature takes us to contrasting places across the world, away from our bubble of Western culture. When we are fortunate enough to be able to step into someone else’s culture, their world, we have a responsibility to respect the countries’ norms and ways of life. This is especially important when they differ from our own. Religious norms and cultural boundaries often ask for our Western fashions and behaviours to be left at home – in many areas of the world, this particularly applies to female travellers. To be accepted into the cultures we are so eager to explore, it is only polite and respectful to adapt to them. Let’s be part of them instead of gawking on the sidelines.
The best way to make sure you don’t make a fool of yourself and stand out like a sore thumb is to be prepared. Do your research before your trip. What are the local norms and laws? Are certain places or foods sacred? Are there any codes of conduct you should follow, like whilst visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia? Doing this kind of research will help you fit in seamlessly and avoid any embarrassing encounters or even legal complications.
Remaining sensitive to religious connotations and traditions on dress code and staying on the conservative side of the wardrobe is best to avoid causing offense. If you are travelling solo as a woman it is especially important to look after your safety and avoid unwanted attention by matching local outfits. In places where religion runs deep, it’s best to keep your shoulders covered and steer away from the mini skirts, veering towards the maxi option instead. A scarf or sarong is so multifaceted whilst travelling, wrap it around your shoulders at markets, or cover your hair in temples, and then use it as a blanket on the chilly plane home.
In some places, it’s not just a matter of offending the locals you came to visit but you also must be careful not to end up in legal troubles. This doesn’t just apply to the furthest throws of the world either. In Barcelona roaming from the beachfront in a bikini is illegal and can land you a fine; in Florida many of the beaches have bans on thongs, also landing you a fine. While many of the laws will just end up having you removed or banned from the area along with a hefty fine, in some places, it’s taken much more seriously. For example, in Thailand taking a selfie with partially exposed breast or ‘under-boob’ can end up with up to five years in prison. Ignorance of the law is no defence, so do your research, act respectfully, and if you are still unsure look around you; copy how the locals dress.
Thousands of women travel safely every year, in groups, with partners, and solo. Never be scared or put off exploring somewhere new because of your gender. By dressing appropriately and avoiding drawing too much attention to yourself with flashy clothes or even expensive jewellery, it is possible to blend in and become fully immersed in the numerous and wonderful cultures humanity has to offer.