15 Ways to Maintain Modesty Abroad

by Elsa Thomasma

When you step outside the borders of your country, you must keep one word in mind at all times. Modesty. Clothing, spending, physical closeness, money, conversation. Every part of your being must remember that you are not in your homeland, not necessarily surrounded by people who have been educated, socialized, or experienced the same things as you. It is one of the easiest ways to avoid cultural misunderstandings, respect the locals, and fluidly immerse yourself into a completely new lifestyle. Locals will be more open to accepting you, if you learn to consider them, respect them, and recognize their expectations of you. Keep yourself fully modest whenever possible.

A woman in a forest

1. No Low Cut Shirts

Pay attention to the clothing you are wearing. Compare yourself to others your age, or to those of your gender. If they aren’t wearing something, it is probably for a good reason, and if they are wearing something, it is probably culturally acceptable for you to wear it too. Avoid low cut shirts that could possibly reveal too much. It’s better to have more coverage than not enough.

2. Carry a Scarf

These multifaceted clothing items can be handy in nearly every country. Scarves are easy to add or take off when the weather changes or modesty needs change.

3. Follow The Bend Over Rule

If you bend over and you are worried about anything hanging out, put on more clothes. It is a fool-proof rule. Try it before you leave your room every day.

4. Be Carefree on Breezy Days

Flowy skirts and dresses are great in tropical climates or locations where it is not appropriate for females to wear pants or shorts. But don’t defeat the purpose every time you are outside on a breezy day. Wear briefs or shorts under all skirts and dresses. A breeze may sweep your skirt up, a child may pull your skirt up, or you may find yourself mounting a motorcycle or climbing a revealing staircase. You never know what situation you will confront in a foreign land, so be prepared from all angles.

A girl wearing a hanging dress and a skimpy skirt

5. Bring Layers

A sudden cold front, an unexpected rainstorm, steamy weather, surprising dress code? Any event or situation could pop up in front of you when you are in a country for the very first time. Bring clothes that work well with layering, so you can always remain prepared for anything.

6. Bring Small Amounts Of Money With You Whenever Possible

Larger bills will usually be harder to break and you’ll draw attention to yourself as the clerk clearly counts back your handful of change, or you try to find a way to swiftly stuff the money in your wallet.

7. Who Wears Short-Shorts?

You shouldn’t. In almost any circumstance abroad, interning, teaching, volunteering, studying, short-shorts are not needed. In general, short-shorts are not something anyone has to wear to survive and the cultural acceptance of them varies quite greatly. You are representing your homeland, your family, and the organization or university you are attending. Just leave the short-shorts at home, wearing something longer will never hurt.

8. Prepare For Climate Adjustment

Staying someplace for an extended period, then plan ahead for your body’s healthful adjustment to the local climate. You should expect to be freezing or sweating, but you may not stay that way forever, so bring a little bit of clothing for a variety of temperatures. The season might change too, if you are staying for a longer duration. You’d rather have a sweater than freeze on a chilly night, and have some shorts than sweat when the sun finally comes out.

9. Carry A Wallet With Many Compartments

Being able to distribute your money throughout a wallet, instead of opening up a pouch full of bills and coins, can help you stay modest and safe when it comes to carrying money.


10. No Flashy Jewelry

The flash shows cash more than class, when you are trying to blend in. When traveling, the risk of losing jewelry or getting it stolen is much higher, eliminate the hassle and leave it out of your suitcase.

11. Dress Like the Locals

Why not immerse yourself in the culture to the fullest extent? Buy traditional clothing or wear what the locals are weating, and become one in the crowd. Avoid name brands if they avoid name brands. Wear a sari if that’s what the women wear.

12. If in Doubt, Ask a Local

Prevent embarrassment and seek advice from the locals. Presenting at a local school? Attending a wedding? Visiting a famous beach? Don’t arrive feeling awkward, just ask a local what is appropriate in any particular situation.

13. Don’t Buy Too Much All At Once

Walking around town with bags on both arms or strolling in to a village with bags full of groceries, won’t show your modesty well. Buy a little at a time, and avoid disrespecting the locals who might not be able to afford as much or predators looking for someone with plenty to spend, and therefore, plenty to steal.

Slippers and shoes left outside the door
Be mindful of your shoes. Photo by Elsa Thomasma

14. If in Doubt, Take Off your Shoes

When entering someone’s house for the first time in a country you’ve never been, read the nonverbal signs and gauge what is expected. In the end if you are unsure, err on the safe side, take them off. It is better to be told to put them back on than risk disrespecting the home owners by wearing them in.

15. Talking Quieter is Always Better

This may be the most important component of modesty in a new place. Keeping your voice low will prevent disrupting the cultural or social peace of any situation. The content of your speech should also be attended to, although adjusting the volume will always give you more freedom to say what you need to say. Avoid outbursts and boasting in every unfamiliar situation.