What to Wear When Travelling Abroad

Coco1One of the most popular questions asked when getting ready for a trip overseas is “What should I wear?”  I always suggest researching what the locals are wearing (with a few exceptions notated below).  Not solely for aesthetic reasons, but also for safety.  Most pickpockets target tourists.  Looking like you belong goes a long way.  Here are a few suggestions to help you look like a local on your travels abroad.

1.       Dress for the Country/Culture.  Each country has its own style.  Some countries are more lax (the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland) while others take their fashion seriously (France & Italy).  With the exceptions that I have noted below, you can usually get away with a nice pair of jeans/black pants/skirt and plain shirts/sweaters.  Don’t wear anything outrageous or loud (leave the catsuit at home).

  • Middle East/Egypt/Morocco (& other Islamic countries) = First and foremost, you want to respect the culture of the country you are visiting.  Which means no Daisy Dukes while visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo (and, yes, I have seen it).  Make sure you dress conservatively (covering most of your skin).  Yeah, it may be hot, but you can find breathable and dry-wick fabrics pretty easily.  Trust me; you do not want to stand out in a conservative country.  Women from western countries are viewed as being “loose”, which can invite sexual harassment from the local male population.  By keeping your goodies covered up, you take the attention off of you (and your valuables).  In Morocco, most women (and quite a few men) wear djellabas (a hooded robe).  These can be either heavy or light weight in fabric (according to season).  I didn’t wear one when I was there, but it is definitely an option which will reduce the amount of stares you get.  I tend to buy breathable tunics from Old Navy (most are 3/4 length sleeves), long flowing skirts, loose capris and convertible cargo pants.
  • France/Italy = These 2 fabulous countries are homes to the most famous fashion houses around.  This means they take their fashion seriously.  While the Italians are a bit more accepting, the French will turn their nose up if you walk past them wearing any of the items listed below in #3.
  • You can never go wrong with basic black.  It’s easy to coordinate and you can interchange with stylish accessories (like a scarf or costume jewelry).
  • The French love black, navy and brown.  I suggest using those as your base colors.  You will notice that most of the French will pair up their dark wardrobe with a colorful scarf.  Don’t have one?  Buy one when you get there…it’s a souvenir & fashion accessory all in one.
  • The Italians love color and you can get away with a lot more.  Most of all, it is attitude.
  • Quick everyday tip = Get your clothes tailored.  I noticed that many people look better in clothes that are altered to fit their shape.  I picked this tip up while visiting Paris.  Everybody there looks like a million bucks (or euros) and it really is because their clothes fit impeccably.
  • Spain = The Spanish love color & flowing maxi dresses/skirts.  I also noticed some ladies wearing cowboy boots with shorts but we will pretend like I didn’t see that because I don’t think that’s a good look personally (I like to call that seasonal dyslexia).
  • England/Ireland/Scotland/Holland/Czech Republic/Switzerland/Scandinavia = Pretty much anything goes.  I can’t say that I have seen a huge difference in what they wear vs. the U.S. (with the exception of the “don’ts” listed below).  A popular look during the summer of 2011 was shorts with tights & Chuck Taylors (*shudders*).  Don’t emulate that.  Hopefully that was a 1 season only look.LBD

2.      Dress for the Season.  Be sure to check the weather before you go.  Weather Underground is a good resource.  I have typically found that you will need to dress in layers no matter when you travel abroad.  A light jacket, colorful scarves, stylish cardigans/sweater coats are a must for spring, summer & fall.  Going in the winter?  Bring along a warm coat, some snazzy boots & a cute hat/scarf/glove combo.   I had left my puffer coat at home during a winter trip to Milan…only to realize that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was wearing one.  First and foremost, you want to be warm.  Don’t take an unlined peacoat when visiting Finland in the dead of winter.  Your health trumps fashion.  Plus, you will stand out as not knowing how to dress properly for cold weather 🙂  ExOfficio is now offering a snazzy sweater jacket that doubles as a travel pillow when folded.  This jacket is so cozy & warm!  I recently wore it during a winter trip and fell in love with it.  The jacket packs very easily, is super soft AND rain-resistant as well as keeping you warm & toasty.  This is now my go-to jacket both here and abroad!

coco3

3.       DO NOT WEAR…

  • Baseball caps!  If you want to protect your head & face from the harsh sun, opt for a stylish wide-brimmed hat (during the summer) or cloche/fedora (during the winter). Baseball caps scream tourist. Don’t bring your favorite sporting team to France unless you are actually on the team, k?
  • Baseball/Football Jerseys, High School/College T-shirts, etc.  Do I really even to explain why wearing a baseball or football jersey is a no-no? Again, you don’t want to stand out as a tourist for pickpockets. T-shirts are fine if they are plain or have a cool graphic. Bottom line, you want to look nice…not like you are getting ready to workout. If you just don’t think you can survive without wearing sporting apparel, buy a soccer/rugby jersey. You can fit in and it will be a conversation starter.
  • Fanny-packs!  Seriously…just no.  It’s not cute.  Tell your mother to leave it at home with the rest of the 80’s attire.  I don’t even know how this item became popular.  Never carry your money and valuables in a waist contraption that is easily seen.  You are begging a pickpocket to take a knife, cut the strap and steal it from you.  Use a money belt instead.  It’s similar to your beloved fanny-pack; it just goes under your shirt/waist of your pants instead so it will not be seen.  This protects your valuables from curious onlookers.
  • Expensive jewelry/bags!  A pickpocket will tackle you to steal your Rolex or Louis Vuitton.  Leave your valuables at home.
  • White sneakers???  I have actually seen quite a few locals wearing sneakers (though not usually white) around London & Paris.  My preference is to bring a pair of running shoes (as I like to workout during my trips abroad…even running races like the Paris-Versailles 10K) as well as a comfortable & stylish walking shoe (i.e. Hush Puppies, Mephisto, Clarks) that can transition into an evening shoe. I highly recommend walking shoes that have a rubber sole to minimize the impact of walking on cobblestones.  I love the Hush Puppies Sonnet flat which you can buy at Macy’s for almost half of what it retails for at other locations as well as the Makena Ballerina shoe.  Bottom line is to wear a shoe that you will be comfortable walking in for hours at a time.

Emma

4.       Must Haves.

  • Light jacket/cardigan/wrap = If you plan to wear tanks or sleeveless tops during the summer, be sure to bring something to cover your shoulders when visiting a place of worship.  You will not be allowed to enter with shoulders (and sometimes legs) exposed.  I bought Magellan’s Sun Protection Wrap for my recent trip to Morocco and fell in love.  So soft and it provides the necessary protection (both arms and head) when you enter places of worship.  I even wear it around at home.
  • Secure purse/money belt = I have been using a PacSafe purse (stylish & secure) to carry around my valuables, guidebook, umbrella & bottled water for a couple of years now and it is awesome.  Highly recommend!  The shoulder straps are reinforced with steel so it cannot be cut and the zippers lock into place.  It will take a pickpocket a few minutes to figure out how to gain access to your valuables.
  • Comfortable walking shoes = As I stated above, cobblestones can be harsh on your feet.  A stylish rubber-soled shoe will save your tootsies!
  • Dark colored pants & skirt = Use these as your base pieces.  Dark colors camouflage stains & are great to pair with funky accessories.

MM

5.     Handy resources.  Here are a few websites that focus on travel-related items:  While ExOfficio & Magellans offer stylish options, you can certainly find great travel clothing from cheaper stores (i.e. Old Navy, Target, etc.).

While these tips may not prevent you from being identified as a tourist, it will keep your bag lighter and you safer.  Hope it helps!  Safe travels.  Do you have any travel fashion tips?  If so, please comment as I’m always looking for a fresh perspective!

Also check out my posts on Nikki’s Favorite Things: Fashion Accessories and Essentials for Stress-Free Travel.

The Secret World of Pompeii

Okay, y’all ain’t ready for this.  I wasn’t ready.  As you know, I like to give you a little flavor along with the history of the sites I visit.  Well, when our tour guide gave us the background on what life was really like in Pompeii before it was destroyed, it was like I was listening to “E True Hollywood Story: Pompeii”.  There is just so much.

First, the excavation site was visually more stunning than I expected.  Second, I was amazed that so many ancient homes were still somewhat intact.  I can’t even imagine my house being around thousands of years from now.

As we are walking, the guide tells us about the people of Pompeii.  I’m listening kind of lazily while taking pictures.  I mean, I’d just hiked up a volcano so my attention span was on a downward spiral.  Anyway, the guide says a series of things that capture and hold my interest for the rest of the day.

1.            Pompeii had an open sewer.  That’s right; Pompeii’s theme song was “Funkytown”.  I know…I couldn’t really believe it either.  I had to ask for clarification because it just seemed too nasty to be real.  Feces and urine would run down the streets and they would wait for the rain to wash it away.  Sorry for you if it happened to be a dry month.  You can see in this picture that there are huge stones that the people would use to cross the street (I like to call it “Doo Doo Crossing”) so they wouldn’t have to step in that crap (you know they only wore sandals which meant if they stepped in it, then they got the full effect).  I am sure that folks inevitably fell off the stones.  Maybe that is where the saying “Oh, sh*t!” came from?

2.            The rich folks in Pompeii were pompous.  Apparently, the good citizens of Funkytown liked to show off their wealth.  When you went over to Titus’s house, he had his treasure chest open on the front table so you could see how rich he was.  Also, they had a tiled mosaic of a big dog with “beware of dog” (in Latin) in the foyer.  So, basically, they invited you over and said, “Hey, look at all my money…but don’t try to take it because Fido will kill you.  More wine?”  This was well before the time of Occupy Pompeii Street.

  

3.            Pompeii was full of freaks.  Apparently, Pompeii was where the party was at.  They had 80 bars and 25 brothels.  With the open sewer.  I am not able to get past the open sewer so let’s just address that now.  It’s gonna come up…often.  Anyway, the freaks did come out at night and they were doing things that Rick James couldn’t even dream of.  Modern Pompeii is full of people selling erotic calendars, statues, playing cards, etc (see below).  Now, I originally thought these sexual position scenes may have been their version of “art” back then.  But, the guide pointed out that they posted these scenes in the bedrooms of the whorehouses as a “menu of services” (just like McDonald’s).  You know I was looking to see what the “goings on” were (purely for research purposes only).  You ain’t ready for that.  A menu of sexual services.  Seriously.  After getting your drank on at one of the 80 bars then crossing and falling into the open sewer, you go over to Octavia’s and ask for a #3.  Love it.

 

4.            Funk is a theme.  Now, the good people of Pompeii didn’t have bath tissue back then so they had to make do.  The lower caste folks would just wipe their booty with the left hand and eat with the right (they didn’t have forks or spoons back then which means they really needed both hands).  The rich folks would use a communal sea sponge for the family.  I’m gonna let that marinate for a minute.  Imagine you and your family all using the same sponge to wipe after doing #2.  I guess if they can deal with the open sewers, they can deal with a communal sponge.  They also used urine to bleach their clothes.  Really?  My dog would love that.

5.            They had cafes!  We found these bars with counters.  People would come in during the day and have bread and wine.  They paid their money and would sit at tables to socialize.  I never imagined an ancient civilization with marble counters!

 

It broke my heart to see the castes of the human & canine remains that were preserved from the lava and ash.  You can see the remains below of a man, dog and slave.

  

Overall, Pompeii was fascinating!  I highly recommend a visit if you ever plan to be in the Naples or Sorrento area.

        

Hiking Mt. Vesuvius

If you have never been to Mt. Vesuvius or Pompeii, I highly suggest you go!  These 2 places are AMAZING!  Mt. Vesuvius is about 5 1/2 miles east of Naples, Italy.  My brother and I decided to take a hiking tour up Mount Vesuvius.  That sucker is brutal!  It’s a steep incline but the views are absolutely amazing.

          

It was surreal hiking to the top of a live volcano and seeing something up close that caused such mass destruction thousands of years ago.  As a refresher, Mt. Vesuvius is the volcano that destroyed the ancient city of Pompeii in 79AD.  According to the tour guide, the volcano (which has been dormant since 1944) is due to erupt again soon and will probably be as devastating as it was in 79AD.  They have tons of monitoring devices which they say can alert them 3-4 days before an eruption and they can enact the evacuation plan.  CNN was there filming a documentary about the volcano.  The further up the volcano we hiked, the darker it got as we were well into the clouds.

You can see smoke rising up from inside the crater in this picture.

Overall, it was a great experience and really helped to put some context around our subsequent visit to Pompeii.

Roaming Thru Rome

[This is the post that started it all…my very first trip overseas!  I sent this email to friends & family in June 2007.  It still cracks me up.]

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Hello, everybody!  I have been in Rome less than 48 hours and so far, my trip has been like a Greek tragedy.

Act 1 “Getting to Rome”

I was booked on an US Air flight (from now on, I’ll be referring to them as Beelzebub Airlines, i.e. the Devil, or just B for short because it’s easier).  Anyway, I had a B flight from Atlanta to Philly with just 1 hour for a layover before my connecting flight to Rome.  Now, I knew it would be cutting it close should there be a delay but there wasn’t anything I could do.  So, the flight from Atlanta gets delayed because there was too much “air traffic” in Philly.  How long is the delay?  One hour.  Yes, I said 1 hour.  The exact time I had between connections.  So, the B pilot (I’m just gonna call him “Cooter”) tells us that B always pads the flight duration times so we will arrive at 5:15pm.  I had a 6:05pm connecting flight.  As Cooter is flying the plane he starts talking about altitude and the sunshine and other things I don’t really care about.  I care about him increasing the speed on that jet so I could catch my flight.  A 7-year-old girl looks at her watch (apparently the watch that Cooter doesn’t own) and announces that it is 5:25pm and we haven’t even begun to descend from the sky.  I ask the flight attendant about options to hold my connecting flight by a few minutes.  Of course, they can’t promise that but did say they would have an electric cart waiting to drive me over to the next concourse.

We finally land and I get off the plane around 5:45pm.  Was there an electric cart waiting?  I think you know the answer.  My Mom calls to let me know that they’ve already boarded the flight and I need to get there now because they are about to close the door.  So, I’m running like OJ thru the airport (without the knife or a Bronco) because there was no electric cart.  I get to the gate and the less-than-friendly gate agent says, “We gave your seat away.”  I responded with “Oh, so I’m flying first class now, right?”  She said, “As of right now, you don’t even have a seat on the plane.”  I just looked at her and thought to myself “Hmm, I’m gonna be on this flight if I have to sit with the pilot” and then wondered what kind of in-flight service he received because I’m sure he’s eating better than coach.  She eventually finds a seat for me and I am able to board.

Act II “Arrival to Rome”

I arrive in Rome and guess who doesn’t have their bags?  If you guessed me, then you are correct.  I don’t have one article of clothing because I packed everything except for toiletries.  I report my luggage as lost and started with my day.  Rome is BEAUTIFUL.  The experience of being here is hard to explain.  However, I will share with you a few tidbits on the craziness that’s happened to me.

Since I don’t have any clothes, I had to go shopping.  Now, something I didn’t know about Rome is that they apparently hate fat people.  And, by fat people, that would be anybody that wears a U.S. size 6 and above.  I go to a store and pull a couple of dresses off the rack to try on.  I select a medium and a large (thinking that they might run a little small).  A saleswoman (I’m calling her “Nunya” because she was all in my business without needing to be) walks up and looks over my shoulder at the sizes I picked up and says loudly (because apparently fat people are deaf too) “Jeeww need an EXTRA EXTRA LARGE”.  I looked around thinking that maybe she was talking to someone else but she was all up in my face.  So, I was like, “Um, I don’t wear that large of a size.  This will be fine.” and go about my business of browsing the new “Crack/Smack” summer collection (because wasn’t nobody gonna fit them clothes unless they hit the pipe).  So, Nunya disappears to what I thought was to mind her business.  I was wrong.  She comes out of the back room with an XXL size dress (I guess they leave the fat clothes in a special “Baby Got Back Room” or something) and then announces to the entire store “NOOO, JEEWWW NEED DIS EXTRA EXTRA LARGE.  IT STRETCHES SO IT HELPS YO HIPS!”  Um, what?  My mind is screaming, “I know she ain’t talking to me.”  I refuse to buy a size that I spent a year of hard dieting to leave behind.  I wish I would by an XXL!  I wear small and medium.  I don’t care if America is lying to me about my size.  Lie to me, America.  I don’t want to know the truth.  Clearly, I can’t handle the truth.  So, I take the Jabba-the-Hut-sized dress and decided to try it on to prove to her that it was too big.  Game on, sister!  Well, to my surprise…that sucker barely fit.  So, um…game off.  My face was TIGHT!  I was like, “oh hecks naw.”  When did I become an XXL?   Oh my God.  I’m the light-skinned Precious!  As I’m having my meltdown, Nunya says, “See, the fab-er-ic stret-chas fo jeww.”  I just had to leave the store because my nerves were shot.

As I left the store and fumed all the way up the street, I started wishing I had some gelato to ease the pain of being called fat.  Eventually, I find another store, and pick out a couple of outfits.  But since the clothes are sized different, I wasn’t sure which size was appropriate.  The sales guy (let’s call him “Antonio”) told me that I wear a 2.  I was like “Is that a fat girl size?  Because I ain’t buying a fat girl size.”  At this point, my Mom is just looking away and laughing because other people in the store are looking at me like I’m crazy.  Whatever.  I was serious.  NO FAT GIRL CLOTHES!  My experience with Nunya had scarred me and I needed someone to talk me down and it was Antonio’s job to do it.  He turned on the Italian charm and I finally found an outfit that fit then paid an astronomical amount because everything is expensive.  If any of you are looking to do an outreach ministry, consider donating to me.  Thanks!

Act III “Fat Brownie does Rome”

I thought my bags would arrive the next day…they didn’t.  Thanks, Beelzebub Airlines!  So, I had to go thru the shopping process all over again but decided to check out a different area.  During my second sojourn into the trials and tribulations of being a big girl, I noticed something else…they don’t sell underwear.  Well, they sell it sparingly and for a small fortune…like it is illegal or something.  I asked at least 3 or 4 women where I could find underwear.  At one store (I’ll call it “Skelewear” because you had to be a skeleton to fit the clothes), nobody spoke English.  I know very limited Italian and used it up ordering a sandwich (big girls gotta eat).  So, the lady says “yesa, I speaka a leetle englese.”  I ask if she knew of anyplace that sold underwear.  Her response?  “Yes.  No.  No.  Grazie” and she walks away.  Yes, no, no, grazie?  The hell?  After walking around to a few stores, I finally found a pair of underwear.  One pair costs $25 euro (since it wasn’t Spanx and that is apparently what I need to wear some clothes around here, I just passed)!  I thought about finding Fabrizio on the corner and asking him if he could get me some Hanes off the black market for $5 euro.  Somebody has to have the hook-up around here.  I tried on more clothes, of which nothing fit.  By now, my nerves are shot, I’m joining Weight Watchers online and looking for an Italian Lane Bryant.  I end up borrowing clothes from my mother and other people on the tour.  Because I’m too fat for Rome and have no luggage.  How about that?

Act IV “My Daddy”

We went to see the Trevi Fountain and there was a guy that was dressed up kind of like the Statue of Liberty — faced painted gray with a gray robe holding a torch.  I then realized it was an actual person…not a statue.  So, I say discreetly to my father, “Dad, watch your step because you are about to back up on that guy.”  He looks around and says loudly to the entire group of 37 people “HEY!!!  THAT’S AN ACTUAL GUY.  I THOUGHT IT WAS A STATUE!  BRENDA, GET ME THE CAMERA SO I CAN TAKE A PICTURE.”  All up in the man’s face.  I was like, “What didn’t you understand about me being discreet?”

All in all, Italy really has been an amazing experience — 10,000 Miles by Air, 700 Miles by Bus, and 100 Miles by Foot (well, that may be a slight exaggeration).  Seeing the ruins up close is something I really can’t describe.

Here are my favorites:

The Roman Forum — All Roads Lead to Rome

    

The Fonatana di Trevi was created by Nicola Salvi in 1762 and is Rome’s largest and most famous fountain.  You can see the central figure is Neptune and he is flanked by two Tritons (one trying to master an unruly seahorse and the other leading a quieter beast).  This is supposed to symbolize the contrasting moods of the sea.  It’s estimated that each day 22 million gallons of water flow thru the fountain.  This is the original site of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct built by Agrippa in 19 BC to channel water to Rome’s new bath complexes.  It may have been named for a girl named, Trivia, who is said to have first shown the spring to thirsty Roman soldiers.  Legend has it that if you toss a coin into the fountain, you are guaranteed to return to Rome.  I’ve been back to Rome twice since that time.

 

The Spanish Steps (aka Piazza di Spagna) is the most famous square in Rome and takes its name from the Palazzo di Spagna, built in the 17th century to house the Spanish embassy to the Holy See.

The Colosseum is known as Rome’s greatest amphitheater.  It was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72.  In this theater, up to 55,000 spectators could watch gladiators fight each other or wild animals.  During the inaugural games in AD 80, approximately 9,000 wild animals were killed.  Slaves could gain their freedom by fighting men or wild animals to the death.  I guess you fight for freedom or die trying.

  

The Pantheon is also known as the Roman “temple of all the gods.  It’s the best preserved ancient building in Rome.  It was built (and possibly designed) by Emperor Hadrian in AD 118.  It’s interesting in that during the 7th century, permission was granted to turn the temple into a church when Christians claimed by be plagued by demons as they passed by the building.  Today, it’s lined with tombs and holds the bodies of Italian monarchs.

 

Other than the clothing situation, things have been wonderful.  The men are absolutely gorgeous and I’ve had several people say that I look like I’m 18.  Which is great since I’m just a couple of years older than that 🙂  Please pray for me that I receive my luggage soon.  Otherwise, no telling what you might see on CNN.  I might be in the studio with Sir Mix-a-lot working on the Italian version of “Baby Got Back”!  Ha!  Until then…ciao!