From Burkas to Bikinis: Reflecting On Our Recent Travels

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

It’s the middle of the night in Iran and I have to go to the bathroom, which happens to be down the hallway.


Where’s my long-sleeved shirt, pants and shoes?

Fumbling around in the dark I try to get dressed without waking up Nick. I search for my headscarf and wrap it around my hair to ensure that no strands are showing. By this point, I’ve practically burst by the time I make it to the toilet!

Fast forward to Belize, four months later…

It’s the middle of the night and I have to go to the bathroom, which happens to be outside.


I get out of bed wearing my teeny tiny bedtime shorts, tight tank top and no shoes. I open the door and leave. I’ve made it to the bathroom easily, quietly and without bursting at the seams!

What a difference.

iran clothing
I’m definitely going to need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night after this big drink

We had a realization the other day. During our four years of travelling, Nick and I have mainly spent our time in conservative regions: Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Sub-Continent, and we’ve (I’ve) had to travel around being conscious of how we (I) act and dress.

In Southeast and Northern Asia, some women wear short shorts, sleeveless tops and tight-fitting clothing, but they typically don’t show any cleavage.

Couples refrain from showing any affection when in public, even holding hands is uncommon.

In China especially, it’s rare to see local women drinking alcohol. We both like to “do as the locals do”, so we refrained from showing affection in public and I barely showed any cleavage, but I did drink alcohol!

making dumplings in china
You won’t see any cleavage at this dumpling party in China

In Africa, it was typical to see women wearing whatever they wanted. Although, parts of the continent are Muslim and therefore we had to dress accordingly. We rarely, if ever, saw local couples showing public displays of affection.

mozambique woman
It was common to see African women in tank-tops

In the Middle East and Central Asia, the majority of the population are of the Muslim faith.

It would have been very inappropriate to show too much skin, or to wear tight-fitting clothing. In Iran, it’s the law for women to wear a headscarf, but luckily for me, it was winter time so I didn’t mind the extra warmth!

Showing affection to your significant other in public is a definite no-no as well.

On top of the strict dress codes and “moral” codes, in the Middle East drinking alcohol is frowned upon (and in some cases, illegal). Also, Muslims don’t eat pork…so bacon was out of the question!

no bacon
No pork allowed

In the Sub-Continent, in order to avoid unwanted / negative attention from the local men, I covered up and wore appropriate clothing.

Especially on the beaches in India, the attention from men was a problem. You definitely need to be prepared before going to India!

In Sri Lanka, it was much easier for me to enjoy the sand and sun without worrying about the gawking eyes of local men. Showing affection in public here is also a no-no.

Beef is rarely eaten in the Hindu religion and we hardly ever found it in Nepal and India.

beach in india
This was BEFORE I knew about how the local men of India acted…cover up ladies!

Can you keep up with all of these rules and regulations?!

Not only was wearing certain clothing or not being affectionate towards each other a bit difficult at times, finding western comfort foods was quite a task.

Although we absolutely love trying new cuisines from around the world (Mexican, Indian and Chinese are some of the world’s best foods), there always came a time when we just felt like some sushi, pizza or a hamburger!

Most of Asia, Africa and the Middle East wasn’t able to satisfy our western food cravings.

food in malawi
Deep fried goat innards…oh ya, by this point in Malawi we were definitely craving a burger!

Since coming to Mexico and Belize, we feel like we’re on a holiday!

This is our first time in Central America and we’ve been here for 2.5 months so far. We both weren’t sure what to expect and hadn’t experienced Mexican or Caribbean culture before (outside of resorts).

I’m pleased to say that we’re both having an amazing time and are grinning from ear to ear!

isla holbox
Two very happy Goats on the beach at Isla Holbox

I can definitely see why many people book holidays from North America or Europe to this part of the world.  

Not only are there no restrictions on what women can wear, what foods can be eaten, or how couples should act in public, there’s just an ease and relaxed feeling when travelling in this region.

Who wouldn’t want to travel here?

The beaches are covered in pure white sand, the water is some of the clearest we’ve ever seen and the marine life is abundant! Outside of the beach towns, we’ve enjoyed a few of the many colonial cities in Mexico.

Valladolid, Merida and San Cristobal were some of our favourites. We loved wandering around soaking up the colourful buildings and traditional clothing.

We’re both interested in history and spent some time gazing in awe at seven ancient Mayan sites in the region, one of which was a Wonder Of The World!

Holbox Beach
AH, the good life! Enjoying the waters of Holbox Island

Lively music is played in restaurants, bars and on the streets. We’ve even seen people spontaneously dancing!

The local food and western foods are all very satisfying. Gone are the days of horse meat, unseasoned foods and fried rice that we became accustomed to in Central Asia.

playing music in mexico
We love hearing live music while eating dinner

Buying a bus or boat ticket has never been easier. Here in Belize, everyone speaks English and in Mexico, most people in the tourism industry spoke English, which was great because hablamos muy poco español!

We’ve also been sampling the local beers, liquors and coffee of the region as well! Everyone can drink alcohol openly and freely here, religion and customs don’t dictate otherwise.

margaritas in mexico
We love margaritas!

While walking hand-in-hand, we have to remind ourselves that we’re not on holiday and that this feeling isn’t going to end…this is just how life is in this part of the world.

Will we go back to places where we have to dress & act conservatively?


Even though there are certain restrictions we have to abide by in certain areas of the world, travel is all about experiencing different cultures and ways of life.

It may not have been easy, or felt like a vacation when we were in places like Tajikistan, but if we never travelled there, we would have missed out on so many experiences.

I can’t imagine having never seen the towering snow-capped Pamir Mountains, devouring goat meat from a bucket, or meeting people who actually live in yurts in the middle of nowhere.

pamir highway
I can’t imagine missing out on this epic 2 week road trip through the Pamir Highway!

Experiencing unique places, diverse cultures and different religions is what travel is all about.

We wouldn’t change our past travels one bit. Everywhere we’ve been has been incredibly interesting and adventurous. Although it may not have been easy at times, our travels are always memorable and exciting.

…but for now, we’ll be on the beach with a drink in hand.

What do you think? Should we only travel to places where we are able to act how we want, eat what we want and dress how we want?

Like it? Pin it! 🙂

From Burkas to Bikinis: Reflecting On Our Recent Travels

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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23 thoughts on “From Burkas to Bikinis: Reflecting On Our Recent Travels”

  1. Hi!
    Great post!
    I think that as travellers, we should travel to all places…it’s part of the package.
    Through the strict regulations and the dress codes we learn more about a country and it’s people, plus, it’s nice to sometimes be something different than we usually are, right?

  2. Great post – boy, the pics of the roasted goat innards from Malawi brought me back to my trip there 10 years ago! Then, things in Malawi were VERY conservative, owing to the former appearance restrictions under the old dictatorship – no shorts, no above the knee skirts, no tank tops, no long hair on men. Apparently about 15 -20 years ago men with long hair would have it forcibly chopped off at the airport.

  3. Impressive article! Very true sentiments indeed!

    We love the freedom you have in the beach towns of Central America or SE Asia, but it’s important to remember the interior of most of those countries are still quite conservative. It’s unfortunate when you see people who don’t conform to the customs expected in foreign lands. Great to see you guys embrace the cultural differences and see the positive side in taking them on board! We’re looking forward to doing the same when we venture through Central Asia and the Middle East!

    Safe travels.

  4. Nice reading guys 🙂 I think it would be a shame to avoid a country and miss out based on their customs…Sure, it’s awesome to do what you want, wear whatever and eat however you wish when you want to, but it doesn’t hurt to respect foreign cultures. It’s part of the experience!

  5. Great Read! travel as you mentioned is not always about being comfortable. its part of the experience to be exposed to diverse cultures and traditions. learn about other traditions and learn to accept other ways of life and respect them ..

  6. I enjoy both kinds of travel.
    Having to abide by different rules in some ways feels more exotic and different from home and therefore is sometimes more fulfilling travel-wise. Though at some points inconvenient. Or uncomfortable.

    On the flip side, its so nice to just do whatever.

    I vote for both!

  7. Thanks Yana,

    I have to agree with you. I think that’s what travel is all about, learning different ways of life, witnessing how people live and of course, abiding by their customs.

    Although I may not want to live in Iran, I certainly enjoyed visiting there 🙂

  8. Wow! Thanks for sharing that Vanessa, I didn’t realize that about Malawi – and I thought travelling there was tough when we went.

    I can’t even imagine what Malawi would’ve looked like 10 years ago…

    Did you try the goat innards?!

  9. Yes, that’s a good point. When it comes to showing affection and wearing and eating what we want, we are definitely free! We love experiencing all types of places, free or not so free 🙂

    Thanks for the comment guys.

  10. Hey guys, good point – not all places in SE Asia or Central America are as liberal as near the coast. We definitely noticed that in Mexico when in Chiapas especially. Always act and do as the locals do to a) not offend anyone b) fit in and c) have a more positive experience (locals are more likely to respect you and chat with you)

    Enjoy the Middle East! It’s unreal.

  11. haha, me too! It’s the unknown, the exotic and the crazy cultures that keep us wanting to explore more of what the world has to offer….including burkas, no PDA, etc. On the other hand like you said…sometimes it’s nice to just let your hair down, have a glass of wine and put on a little black dress 🙂


  12. Always need a vacation from the more exotic locales – Caribbean and Mexico great for that. Also, as a good Canadian, got to store up more beer and Canadian back bacon!
    I have to admit we’re like you; enjoy eating different things, can adjust to local customs…but I need a couple of drinks at the end of the day! I haven’t been to the more exotic places in the Middle East but the alcohol thing something that makes me think twice…
    Frank (bbqboy)

  13. The public displays of affection is interesting. I parts of South America it’s ridiculously full on to the point of being almost obscene (I found Argentina the worst for this)… In SE Asia by contrast I don’t really remember seeing any other than western men with Asian women.. I’m now nearing the end of 8 weeks in Taiwan, Japan and Korea and here there is A LOT of handholding and pecks on cheeks etc, of ALL orientations – straight and gay.

  14. We’ve yet to go to South America, but we’ve heard that it’s a very sexual kind of place and that the PDA is quite over the top! I find that very interesting that in many parts of Asia it’s so conservative, yet in Korea, Japan and Taiwan it’s not so much?! Especially with the same sex hand holding in public…you wouldn’t see that in many places.

    Thanks for sharing your findings 🙂

  15. hindus DO eat beef….Infact beef is the most savoured food in many parts of India……India is not the North India u saw….Atleast dont highlight it plz……lol

  16. You really do have some interesting experiences! 🙂 As for your closing question, I think it really depends on the person and what they are comfortable with. I personally enjoy going to places with different culture than mine and am fine with covering myself up and not drinking alcohol (I am actually happy about that one, in my country everyone is an alcoholic ;-)) or avoiding certain dishes (I did miss milk in South East Asia) AND not bringing up conflicting political issues to the locals if I can avoid it; however, my sister would rather stay outside than to wear a scarf on her head. I used to wear short skirts and deep cleavage all the time but actually, now I feel more comfortable in loose, longer clothes and it´s really not because of having spent too much time in Muslim countries, on the opposite! So I respect what anyone wants to wear. That doesn´t mean I agree to political and machist oppression of women. I wish to live in a world where everyone can wear whatever they damn please, no matter if they are Muslim, a party goer or a drag queen.

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