It’s a cruel twist of traveler fate that the hottest countries around the world are often the most conservative (at least when it comes to fashion). Last summer I backpacked from Albania to Estonia, along the way passing through predominantly-Muslim areas and other cities with fascinating Orthodox churches that beckoned me inside. When you’re backpacking you usually get around on foot or by public transit, so popping back to a hotel to change your clothes isn’t an easy task. A few simple adjustments to your packing list can ensure that you beat the heat, look stylish AND respect local customs.
Personally, I love wearing knee-length skirts while I travel. Sure, short shorts are cute and all, but I’d rather not let my upper thigh touch the hot plastic seat on a Balkan city bus, thanks. By pairing a high-waisted knee-length skirt with a tucked-in t-shirt or tank you can create a cute, dress-like look that is unlikely to be frowned upon in most situations. This summer the high-low skirt look is very trendy, and while this trend is unlikely to have much longevity it is another slightly-more-proper alternative to a mini-anything. Adding a pair of earrings and bejeweled flats takes your wardrobe from “sloppy backpacker” to “fabulous femme”.
The real key, though, is what you pack in your purse. Make sure your purse zips closed (keep those pick-pocking hands at bay), and inside stuff a scarf and/or cropped cardigan (I prefer the latter). Throw this on to go into a church or into a seedy bar full of men to cover bare shoulders and follow house rules. I would say that this outfit was appropriate for 99% of places I have visited, and only the most conservative and religious parts of the world will expect you to cover more.