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When I was headed to my first Islamic country, Morocco, I found myself staring at my backpack in horror. It was completely empty, and I was leaving in just a few hours. After scouring Google, I still couldn’t find exactly the information I was looking for and I was worried that I would pack the wrong thing. I knew Morocco was hot, but could I wear a tank top? A skirt? Would I need a headscarf?
I was fortunate that Morocco is so laid back when it comes to expectations for foreign women and their clothing. Yoga pants were good, tank tops were fine, and a headscarf was optional. Egypt, on the other hand, was an entirely different story. Let’s just say that tank tops were a definite no-no, and I learned that the hard way.
Every Islamic country is different, and there is no right way to go about it. It also depends on what kind of traveler you are, how much male attention you want as a female, and the size of your suitcase. Below, I’ve put together a list that should cover most Islamic countries, but it varies. Most of Indonesia is an Islamic state, but no one would expect a foreigner to forgo shorts. In areas of the Middle East, however, it might be very different.
Yes, it might be hot. But covering yourself in certain Islamic countries is expected. I went sleeveless in Egypt and got stares, whistles, followed, and more, but it was my personal decision not to allow how men saw me to dictate what I wore. On the other hand, long sleeves can help you to avoid attention and can keep you from getting burnt by the sun if you’re spending time in the desert.
I admit it. I’m a bit obsessed with harem pants. Not only do they cover you up, but they are also nice and loose and made of material that breathes. You can also get them in some funky patterns, so you can feel a little bit stylish walking through a bazaar or riding a camel through the desert. The good thing is that they are also cheap and you can get them at most tourist shops if you find yourself looking for a pair once you reach your destination.
I recommend bringing two pairs of shoes. Tennis shoes are always a good bet, and they can be especially helpful when you are planning on walking a lot. I’m partially a fan of Converse myself, but any shoes that breathe and cover your toes are a good bet.
You’ll also want a pair of sandals. Ones that you can zip or tie on are go-to options, since you won’t have to worry about them falling off. Slip-ons can be great for swimming and hanging by the pool, but most activities are going to require that you have something a bit more solid.
The weather can be hot, but there will be times when it gets chillier than expected. In both Morocco and Egypt, the days were warm but the nights were cold in the desert, and I was glad I had a sweatshirt and a jacket with me—even if at the time I felt like I was over-packing.
Personally, I love my leather jacket I got in Fes, and I’ve worn it to almost every country I’ve visited. It’s super versatile, and it’s a special reminder of my visit to Morocco. But any leather or favorite jacket should do the trick.
Probably goes without being said, but protect your eyes! Light is stronger in many Middle Eastern countries, and you want glasses with both UVB and UVA protection.
You might not need to wear it over your head in most places, but a scarf can be especially handy in several other ways too. I used it to shield my face from flying sand and to cover my neck from getting burnt in the sun. In Morocco, it was a helpful accessory that made the desert a lot more fun.
One note about headscarves and the Islamic religion: female foreigners are not usually required to wear them (unless entering a mosque), but they can be useful. In Egypt, I used it to hide my blonde hair and I found that I received fewer stares and comments when it was on. It was not a hijab, and I saw both women who wore them and those who did not. It’s a personal choice, and not a religious one in this sense.
For me, packing the right clothing for a trip to an Islamic country is finding a balance between being respectful of the culture, and also recognizing that I am a foreigner and avoiding cultural appropriation. Of course, there’s also an element of practicality to it too.
Do you have any tips for packing when traveling to an Islamic country?