I want to make an impassioned case that dressing well as a tourist pays off. I’m not advocating ball gowns and 5” heels, but a grungy t-shirt and ratty jeans just doesn’t cut the mustard. I say this not only as a proud American who wishes to restore our good name abroad, but as a girl who’s made this mistake herself and come to regret it.
Sophomore year of college I traveled to China for a month-long study abroad. We toured our way through the vast country: Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. We climbed the Great Wall, took a rickshaw ride through a hutong, even went to Hong Kong Disney (another deep regret). But, being still immersed in the college lifestyle, I stupidly chose to wear sweatshirts, jeans, and Uggs for the majority of this trip, my hair loosely pulled back in a messy ponytail.
It makes sense. Traveling is tough. You’re tired. You stay up late and get up early. Who has the energy to do their hair and makeup? And you certainly can’t bring your entire wardrobe in a carry-on bag. A daily uniform is just easier.
But the moral of this story: I look rough! All of those wonderful memories of my adventures to the land unknown include me standing there, looking haggard and bulky, obscuring the beautiful scenery behind me. That is what I have to show for my time in China. I will always regret this. And I’ve vowed never to make the same mistake again.
So now, I pack differently. I bring a couple pairs of pants that go with many different tops. I also pack two versatile dresses, which can layer easily with a light jacket or a cute pair of tights. And I choose comfortable yet stylish walking shoes that go with everything. (If it’s anytime but the heat of summer, I highly recommend boots. They go with everything.) I don’t bring a ton of cosmetics, but the essentials are a must. And I religiously get up just five minutes earlier to dab on mascara and apply a basic powder. It’s worth the effort.
But here is my number one tip: master the updo! Hair can make or break a photo. And while long, flowing locks look lovely when you start the day, they might photograph very differently after you’ve hiked your way up Mt. Fuji, trod the entire distance of the Louvre, or admired Berlin’s modernist architecture via walking tour. Not to mention the damage of wind and rain.
Updos allow you to put your hair where you want it and keep it there all day! (Aqua Net, folks! We use it in the theatre because it works!) You don’t have to look like you’re walking down the aisle, but an easy braid or chignon allows you to get your hair up off your neck (great in summer) and have confidence that you appear presentable the whole day.
If you’re not yet adept at updos, let me give you the same advice one of my teenage students gave to me: YouTube. Seriously. You can search YouTube for how-to videos that give detailed step-by-step instructions for nearly any look. Pinterest, too, helps to find updos that might work for your hair type. And you can save them for future reference, when inspiration doesn’t hit.
So when you travel, please take the extra five minutes to present the real you, verses the just-woke-up version that only close friends and family need to see. Not only will you feel better throughout the day, but you’ll get better service, you’ll be a better ambassador for yourself and your country, and your pictures most certainly will thank you!