Looking Good: How to Pack as a Woman for Islamic Countries

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

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.

Long sleeves

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.

Click to buy!

Harem pants

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.

Click to buy!
Click to buy!

Sturdy shoes

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.

Click to buy!

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.

Click to buy! 

Light jacket

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.

Click to buy!

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.

Sunglasses 

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.

Click to buy!

Scarf

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.

Click to buy!

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?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

11 thoughts on “Looking Good: How to Pack as a Woman for Islamic Countries

  1. wildeyedandwandering says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’ve only recently realized how much you *should* research, according to clothing and cultural things. This was so helpful!

    Reply
    1. Alex Schnee says:

      Hi there! I’m so glad this helps. It’s not something we have to think about when traveling to many places–it’s something I had to learn as well.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  2. Stefanie What says:

    Very helpful and practical advice. It’s a good idea to consider dressing like the locals wherever you go. When I was traveling to Europe, I was told that wearing sneakers was a dead giveaway that I was American. I opted for hiking boots instead and lo and behold, most people addressed me in German first when they spoke to me, then English!

    Reply
    1. Alex Schnee says:

      So glad this is helpful. I agree–blending in can help a lot when traveling and you want to avoid standing out. In some places, there’s nothing you can do about it, but showing that you have respect for a certain culture can go a long way. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Amy says:

    These are some great tips. I went into Qatar on a tour while I was on a layover and was a bit worried about what to wear so went for harem pants, cardigan and a scarf but pretty much everyone else on the tour with us were just wearing shorts and tank tops and stuff but no one seemed to mind either way.

    Reply
  4. What's Katie Doing? says:

    Having visited a lot of Muslim countries in the Middle East I know that some are more relaxed than others. It’s so important to honour the local culture when travelling but also good to know that you don’t need to cover your hair as a non Muslim (although I wouldn’t be testing that out in Riyadh!).

    Reply
  5. Erin says:

    This is SUCH a helpful guide! I’ve pinned it for future reference. I always aim to be respectful of other cultures while traveling, so this is just what I needed. Thank you!

    Reply
  6. mybeachaddiction says:

    This is such a useful post, Thank you for all info. I will totally use it once I am going to these countries.

    Reply
  7. Dani says:

    This is so important! I may be traveling to the Middle East next year for work, and all I can think about is how to dress!

    Reply
  8. Reem Zeyad says:

    Hi Alex as usual your blog cover important travel concern, I really like your tips for women supplies at Islamic countries which is conservatism some how on the women out look but you facilitate the issue which facilitate traveling of women to such destination whatever the trip reason for work or for a trip your tips will be good reference for them

    Reply
  9. thedishstance says:

    I have been traveling through Islamic countries for the last 5 months now, and I cannot tell you how important this is. I see so many women who I believe are very unaware of how they might be offending the culture because they didn’t read up on the place they are going. Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply

Have a comment?