Over the weekend, I was checking my Twitter feed where I found a tweet for an article from Condé Naste Traveller with the headline: “How to look good when you travel – Amanda Seyfried reveals all”.
This headline caught my eye immediately. I was interested to discover what questions this Hollywood actress was asked in order to explore the topic. Given that her looks have helped shape her acting career, the questioning seemed stock-standard and as expected – how do you look after your skin when you fly? Where do you sleep at a destination? What’s your favourite perfume? Do you have a bad hair day?
This article got me thinking even more. On the surface, Amanda’s responses were addressing the questions as they should, though the questions themselves seemed a little empty and assumably skewed to a Western standard to looking good. I was immediately reminded by some of my own travel experiences and adventures when looking good were almost always the furthest from the local custom or how I may present myself back home.
Sure, I have been known to pack my hair-straightener for those rare times I tame my lengthy dread-like locks after a week in the middle of a desert or jungle. You never know when you might be invited out to dinner or local event somewhere! Though, this article troubled me a little and made me wonder whether any of us have consciously come face to face with having to look good while we travel. When we travel to different countries, what does “looking good” even mean?
Looking good in my travels has almost always meant making sure I’m dressed respectfully to ensure local customs are being observed, brushing my hair so that I’m not sporting a bird’s nest and keeping covered from the elements so that I don’t get sunstroke or drenched from treacherous rain. Though, what looks good to me at the time may not exactly look good according to the local laws of the country I’m visiting. I’m constantly reminded of the time I was visiting Umayyad Mosque in the ancient Syrian city of Damascus. While I was convinced that I looked respectful, clean and presentable, some of the local women had other thoughts. As I wandered around the marble courtyard, groups of local women looked at me and secretly chuckled behind their held up hands and pointed at me. I was an anomaly and I stuck out like a proverbial sore thumb as any Westerner in western clothing would.
I also recall the time when I visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Again, I observed the local customs, made myself look presentable and all my clothes had been freshly laundered after a couple of weeks travelling to India by road from Nepal. Yet, even in a country where Western culture has had a presence throughout its history, I was a novelty to some of the locals. I was even asked to pose for photos and one mother planted her young children on my lap to complement the family photo moment. I hadn’t quite determined whether I looked good, or not. Instead, I was asked to pose in a photo which made me convince myself that my interpretation of “looking good” must’ve been the equivalent of looking like a clown to this family.
I’m also reminded of the overnight train journeys and hours-long bus rides I have taken in my travels when I may not, in my opinion, look that good. Sleeping on a bus with my mouth wide open, waking up in a sleeper on a train with my hair and orientation out of sorts, or even leaving my hair un-brushed until the destination are ways you can be assured you won’t ever look good. And who is to care, really? As long as I have clean, respectful clothes to wear and a brush for my mane along the way, then a shower somewhere along the journey, I can ensure that I will be looking as good as I can be. Because I now know that local social customs may just refute my interpretation, anyway.
What does looking good on the road mean to you? Have you experienced a travel moment when your interpretation of looking good contradicted the local ideals? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.