I swear these people liked me
I will be back in Nepal in less than a month. I’m actually in Thailand for about two weeks beforehand, and then in Bhutan for a week after, so I will have to pack accordingly. While I’m usually quite confident with what to pack, for some reason I keep humming and hawing about what to bring on this particular trip, perhaps because I’ll be in various climates (from the sunny beaches of Thailand to the chilly temperatures of the Himalayas) and because, well, I’m not backpacking. That’s right, I’m bringing a – wait for it – suitcase. This means don’t have to worry as much about trying to fit everything into a smaller space or wrinkled clothing.
That being said, when I started to think about what to wear in Nepal, and what to bring on this trip, I still thought back to the backpacking trip I took around Southeast Asia and the Subcontinent in 2011. I can’t help it – the clothes I wore then and the outfits I put together were some of my favourites ever. I favoured loose, comfortable clothing in bright colours, with lots and lots of local jewellery. In fact, I ditched almost all of the clothes I had initially brought with me from Canada and replaced my wardrobe with local purchases. The problem is, a lot of that clothing is now in storage in Canada. As I moved to London with only two suitcases, I couldn’t bring that much of it with me.
Lots of layers in April in Nepal
For this trip, then, I finally stopped worrying about what to pack and instead started to get excited about what I could potentially buy. Instead of shelling out a lot of money for clothing here in London – trousers for trekking, for example, or a beach cover-up… all that stuff I left behind in Canada – I decided to bring a few clothes I already own and then buy the rest of it while I’m there. I always budget for shopping while I travel, and I prefer to support the local communities of the places I visit anyway, so this seems like a win-win situation: my travel wardrobe will be cheap, local, and stylish.
Because yes: I believe that buying locally and taking your cues from the local customs can make for the greatest possible travel wardrobe, especially if, like me, you care about and enjoy fashion. I also believe that you don’t have to purchase clothes specifically for travelling; I think that what you wear at home can almost always be worn abroad, too, and that you’ll be most comfortable in your favourite clothes/style. I already posted about what to wear in India, and in that post I wrote:
“At the end of the day, only you will know what you feel most comfortable in. What I found was, by dressing in the local clothing and jewellery, I felt both physically and mentally comfortable. I did draw attention to myself… but so did the other people I was travelling with, and they were wearing jeans and t-shirts. In my month in India I only received positive responses from Indian people regarding the way I was dressed. Many women came up to talk to me, or vendors in the market would compliment my style. I believe that dressing in the local fashion shows appreciation and respect for the culture and its people.”
I felt the same way in Nepal. Keep in mind I was completely on my own in Nepal, and so I didn’t get very many photos of myself; I also didn’t do any serious trekking or hiking, but I will cover a few points on that anyway. What I love most about my wardrobe for those weeks was that almost all of it was bought from markets in Thailand, India, or Nepal… and I never spent more than approximately $10 CAD on anything, including the jewellery.
What to wear in Nepal:
Yep – I’m pretty sure I list this on every single “what to wear” or “what to pack” list I’ve ever written. The reason I do so is simple: a scarf is the most versatile and useful item in your travel wardrobe. I have converted scarves and sarongs into shirts, dresses, wraps, skirts, and head coverings. For Nepal, especially in the colder months, it’s essential to have warmer clothing that you can layer. As soon as I arrived in Kathmandu I bought a few yak wool scarves; they were very cheap, and very warm. One actually was warm enough to use as a wrap when I went hiking through the foothills of the Himalaya (in spring, mind you).
2. Trousers/Long Skirts
I saw a mix of attire on women in Nepal; some wore more traditional clothing, while others wore t-shirts and jeans. In both cases, women tend to dress quite conservatively, and I personally prefer to abide by cultural norms when I travel. As mentioned a lot on this blog, I hate trousers (I can just never find ones that fit me correctly, and I’m too cheap to get some tailored when I love skirts so much), but I was able to purchase some really comfortable and practical genie/harem pants around Asia. While they may not be the most flattering trousers, I love them, especially the more colourful ones.
Long skirts are also very useful in Nepal, and I would sometimes layer leggings under them for extra coverage and/or warmth (I did that with a pair of loose trousers when paragliding).
If you are planning on doing some serious trekking, I would definitely recommend buying trousers that are made specifically for the activity.
A warm jumper or sweater is essential if you’ll be in Nepal, especially in the colder months (click here to see the average temperatures for Kathmandu). Again, what I recommend doing is going shopping as soon as you arrive; trust me, the wool sweaters you’ll find in the markets of Nepal are much cooler (and will mean so much more to you) than one you buy from a department store back home. As most tourists will arrive to Nepal by way of Kathmandu, I’d spend at least a day in the city to do some shopping before moving on anywhere else.
I combined a long warm cardigan with a local scarf for maximum warmth in the cold mornings. That purse was from a local market in Kathmandu.
Long-sleeved tee and awkward early morning selfie with my guide in Chitwan National Park
Yeah, I know… duh. But once again, it’s great to have an assortment of cotton t-shirts (both short and long-sleeved) to layer. This is one item I usually bring from home, but you can easily purchase t-shirts and cotton blouses in markets in Nepal.
5. A Jacket
Depending on what time of year you’ll visit Nepal, I’d definitely recommend bringing a warm jacket, whether or not you’ll be hiking. If you’re not hiking, a regular winter coat that you might wear in the UK or Canada will do; if you are planning on spending some time in the mountains, or doing some hiking, I’d recommend something catered more for that activity. I’m actually taking a jacket like this on my trip, as I’ll be spending some time in the Himalayas of Bhutan (but more on that in another post).
With my homestay family in the foothills of the Himalayas
6. Hats/Mittens/Warm socks
Aside from your trusty scarf, if you go during the colder months it is essential to have other warm accessories. Again, I’d recommend trying to buy these locally; many markets sell hand-knitted accessories that are very warm.
Shoes are the bane of my existence, I swear (OK, my travel packing existence). I feel like I am always searching for the perfect shoe – one that looks stylish and is super comfortable to walk in for a whole day. In the past, I’ve sworn by Keds, and I do still stand by them wholeheartedly. I even trekked in the foothills of the Himalayas wearing them!
If you’re not trekking when visiting Nepal, I’d recommend taking a least one pair of very comfortable, flat walking shoes. I have not been to Nepal since the earthquake but when I visited in 2011, the sidewalks and roads were often uneven. You can definitely get away with sandals in the warmer months.
If you are indeed hiking… well yeah, buy hiking boots. I am not even going to pretend to be an authority on this but after reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I’d say make sure you buy ones that fit you properly and ones that you know you can walk in for days and days. I found this article on the best new hiking boots around, so check it out if you want to read reviews and tips for purchasing your perfect pair. You probably shouldn’t listen to the girl who wore Keds in the Himalayas, after all.
Check out those bracelets… airport security hates me
This post was not going to end without me mentioning jewellery. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know Mr. T is pretty much my style icon, so I was like a kid in the candy store at Nepali markets in 2011. There is TONS of amazing, well-crafted jewellery for sale in Nepal, and, unless you’re purchasing real silver, you can find a lot of it for quite cheap. I loaded up on beaded necklaces – I even found women making them in the street while you waited, so you can choose all the colours you’d like – and tons of pewter rings and bracelets.
Henna from India
As mentioned in other posts, I know that a lot of websites and blogs advise you not to wear jewellery when you travel in developing nations, as you’ll draw attention to yourself. For the record, I felt completely safe for my entire trip in Nepal as a solo female traveller, even when travelling by back roads on buses and cycling around the outskirts of Pokhara. I would indeed avoid wearing expensive jewellery, moreso because I’d hate to lose it than any other reason. Wearing local jewellery, however, should not be an issue at all. In fact, I would argue that it opens up the chance for communication with others; this has happened to me countless times, as someone will chat to me about where I bought a specific piece or that she has a similar bracelet, for example.
If you’re worried that wearing jewellery will make you look like you have money… you’re a tourist. Even if you’re a broke-ass backpacker, you still had the money to get to Nepal in the first place, automatically making you one of the richest people in the world. If you can travel for leisure and you have a camera in your hand, yeah, people are going to think you have money regardless of whether or not you wear a couple of rings.
Pretty much wearing all of the above in this one outfit
What I didn’t address in the opening of this post was why I’m really going back to Nepal. Yes – the fashion is fun and the shopping is terrific. The main reason I’m going back to Kathmandu, however, is that I met some of the kindest, most helpful people in all of my travels when I was in Nepal. Since the tragedy of the recent earthquake, I want to return in order to support their tourism industry and, in some teeny tiny way, to give back to those who gave so wholeheartedly to me. In my few weeks of solo travel through the country in 2011, I fell in love with Nepal despite the personal tragedy that was going on in my own life. The country helped me with the grief of losing my grandmother; now this entire country is grieving the horrific loss of life only a few months ago. While I know that I’m not going to change that by spending a few days in Kathmandu, I do think it’s important to visit and to spread the word that Nepal is still an amazing place to travel to, and a perfectly safe one at that. Nepal relies heavily on tourism, and I for one want to prove that I am very much happy to support that industry.
Part of what I’ll be doing in Kathmandu, then, is speaking to local businesses and families and seeing how they are dealing in the aftermath of the earthquake. I’ll also be posting more on how you can help beyond being a tourist, including charities and local businesses that sell their products online.
To read about my time hiking in the foothills, and how that trip helped me with the loss of my grandmother, click here.
Regarding other travel fashion posts, I have also written What to Wear in India, What to Wear in Thailand, What to Wear in Bhutan, What to Wear in Cuba, What to Wear in Colombia, and What to Wear in Russia. Here are some tips for feeling fashionable while you travel and also a post on my ever-changing travel fashion.
Have you ever been to Nepal, or are you planning to go? What would you add to this list?