Monday, June 8, 2009

Travel Wear, or How to Not Look Like an American Abroad

While the problem of screaming “Je sui american” with your clothes is seen around the world, it does not have to be this way.  In honor of Ellen and my upcoming jet-setting, I feel that Travel Wear should really be addressed. As mentioned on a variety of occasions, I do not camp or backpack in the traditional “I just accomplished something, now I should sleep outside and pee in a hole” sort of way. (Frankly, that doesn’t sound like much of a celebration to me, more of a punishment.) Therefore, the following commentary will obviously not apply to such situations.  As I am now very pro-outdoors, however, I will take the more outdoorsy folk into account to the best of my JAP-y ability. I have traveled more than the average bear, so I know of what I speak. Let me just say this, before I begin: Traveling is about having fun and experiencing new places and cultures. Your focus should be on that, not on your wardrobe. To this end, packing appropriately is key, so you don’t even have to think about your outfit before you head off to the top of the Eiffel Tower or Machu Picchu.

Lets start from the top down, shall we? Very Nixonian, but bear with me.

1. Hats and visors are fine, within reason. Baseball caps that have stupid sayings or curse words or anything other than a simple team logo need not apply. Honestly, baseball caps really shouldn’t make the trip with you at all, but summer travel gets hot and sunny, so as long as its toned down it can be done. Be careful with the visors, floppy sun hats, and those stupid annoying little bike hats- if you think it draws a lot of attention state-side, it draws even more on the other side of the border.  Sunglasses are a must, obviously, and I am all about having fun sunglasses.

2. Shirts: please, for the sake of our foreign relations and the eyes of passers-by worldwide DO NOT WEAR SHIRTS WITH THE FOLLOWING: any Simpsons character, any cartoon character period, American flags, slogans about America, Che Guevara (if I see you, I will smack you, take your shirt, and start a tomato fight with you in the middle faster than you can say Ayudame por favor!), state slogans (that goes extra for Texans- no one cares how big things from Texas are, I guarantee it), or Obama (don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely Pro-bama, but the election is over now, so put the shirt away).

3. More on the shirt front. Ladies (and Gents!), keep the boobs covered. And the bras.  And the bellies. In most countries (yeah yeah, I’m not talking about tribes in African countries, so stop looking at me like that), its considered gross and rude to show a lot of skin. Especially when you might be visiting religious places and holy sites. Plus, its just tacky no matter where you are. Sleeveless is ok, but bring a sweater just in case.

4. Shorts/skirts: Just like with shirts, a lot of skin is a no-no. The world already thinks we are slutty, easy, sex-addled people, let's not prove them right until they buy us dinner, ok? Bermuda length shorts are a new favorite of mine, and they are flattering and cover your ass, which is good for everyone.  Cargo shorts are a dead tourist give away, especially if you store stuff in the pockets.  Pockets, FYI, aren’t really meant to replace bags unless they are camo colored and you are in a very sandy country that rhymes with Shaq or Shmafghanistan.  Skirts should be respectable as well- clearly. It all boils down to the probability that your ass/crotch will be seen by doing normal daily tourist activities. Unless you WANT to have sketchy people seeking greencards approaching you, proceed with caution. If it's too hot for jeans, please don’t show me your undies or plumber 's crack.

5. Dresses. I have recently become mildly obsessed with dresses. I am all for bringing a dress or two, for a concert or a nice daytime outing.  Again, cover the boobs and butt, don’t make it too tight, and you are golden.  Dresses also have the added benefit of being TRES European, if that’s where you are going- or even if it's not! European women tend to be very well dressed, especially in the big cites, so take notes, and try not to allow them more reasons to gloat.

6. Shoes. OH DEAR. Travel footwear is not easy to deal with. I am going to have to side with Ellen on this when I say: no crocs, and avoid flip-flops when you aren’t at the beach. Big cities are dirty, so its just not a good plan.  And if you are in a rural area, you should be wearing something closer to sneakers anyway.  

Speaking of sneakers, those are the fastest way to identify an American.  Big white sneakers. Basketball shoes. High tops. UGH and EW. People outside the US just don’t wear those when they aren’t specifically exercising, and actually, I’m not sure they wear them even when they ARE. Pumas and addidas make some great comfy shoes that will be less conspicuous. Those ugly ass shoes that are sandals but not and hiking shoes but not are HIDEOUS. If you wear them in the woods, I obviously won’t see you, but in a city they are simply unacceptable. Don’t do it. DON’T DO IT. For dresses and skirts, nice sandals are the way to go, and they are easy to pack. The same pedicure rules still apply. The Brits may have stereotypically unfortunate teeth, but they don’t have crusty heels.  Also, wear discrete socks.  Tall white athletic socks are ugly no matter what country you are in.

7. Bags. I have been trying to learn how to “pack lightly” as long as I can remember. I’m terrible at it. TERRIBLE. Ellen is much better, actually (shockingly!). I am always paranoid that I won’t be prepared, and I also don’t want to be the smelly kid.  The rest of the world is less concerned with this than I am, which is good for you, and perhaps less great for the person next to you in the subway.  For my trip, I will be taking a large suitcase, a backpack to carry on with me, and a day bag of some sort that is big enough and sturdy enough for going around Rome all day and cute enough to take to a café at night (yeah, I’ll let you know when I find one of those!).  Fanny packs are absolutely, without a doubt, unacceptable. In any circumstance. There is ALWAYS another option.  Also, be careful of bags without top zippers as well as backpacks, because those are easier to steal stuff out of. (Trust me, I know.) Cross-body bags are safest, as are purses that go over your shoulder and close under your arm. Guys- don’t fear man-bags.  Since you hopefully won’t have cargo pockets as an option, man-bags are awesome.  Backpacks and messenger bags are great too. Don’t ask the women you are with to carry your stuff- that’s just lame.

8. Make-up: don’t wear a lot of it! Its summer. You’re traveling. Loosen up on the morning routine. The less time you spend on this, the more time to shop, see art, meet cool people, and eat tasty food. DO wear sunscreen! You know how I feel about this. Plus, being lobster red is another tourist give away. (The Brits look RIDICULOUS in Spain when they walk around like freshly boiled lobsters in pain. Some of them are fluent in Spanish and know the country well, but they still don’t get taken seriously by the Spaniards because of their sunburns. HA!)

9. Accessories- this includes maps and guide books. Tone it down. You can still have fun and personality without gaudy and over the top. Particularly in Europe, though maybe not in “I’m stuck in the 80s Spain,” big bold jewelry is just not classy.  Plus, it takes up valuable luggage space to haul around lots of baubles for every outfit (and I DO advocate packing in outfits, not in numbers of shirts you need). When you bust out a map or guide book, don’t hold it up and shout as though no one else is around. Not only is this obnoxious, but you are making yourself a target for thieves and ridicule. Don’t douse yourself in tons of perfume either. I am sick to my stomach on the El almost every time because of that, or smokers, and its got to end now!

10. Photo equipment. Be careful. Keep it small (unless you are professional). You don’t really need a photo of EVERYTHING. Be respectful. DO take pics of fabulous or heinous outfits and send them to us!!!

The moral of the story is this: just because you are on a field trip doesn’t mean you get to look like ass. We need to improve our relationships with other countries, and dressing badly doesn’t help. Also, wouldn’t it be awesome to have someone ask you for directions as though you’re a native!? Oh, and its way easier to find a beautiful native of wherever you are to show you around if you don’t look like a crazy American pig. Right? Right! Bon Voyage!

-Andrea S.

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