Photo: Roberto Michel/Shutterstock

Why Smart Backpackers Bring Their Dancing Shoes

by Ben Younkman Dec 18, 2007

You’re packed and ready to go, prepared for every conceivable travel scenario. You have malaria and stomach tablets, enough DEET to eradicate the Panamanian mosquito population, and more waterproof gear than an Alaskan king crab fisherman.

Yet lo and behold, you’re in country no more than six hours before being invited out to a popping new night club and realizing you have absolutely nothing to wear.

No sexy dress, no dazzling disco shirt – just chunky hiking boots or ratty flip flops and a pair of zip-up pants to go with your bland Patagonia fleece.

In my last two years as a tour leader in Latin America, this is a situation I’ve encountered an incalculable number of times.

Travelers around the world love to go out, and there is no better place to meet a local or mix with other vagabonds than in a bar or club. Even if you’re planning a culturally rich, ecologically sound trip, you will invariably end up at a night club more often than expected.

Nightlife is a major component of traveling that is often overlooked when gearing up for a tropical excursion, so make sure you are prepared. There are a few key articles you should pack to make sure you are truly ready for whatever the road may throw your way.

How To Blend In

I blend well in Latin America due to my darker complexion and penchant for facial hair, but I feel like a shriveled little troll in Scandinavian countries.

You can’t help what the lord has blessed you with, but you can make allowances in your clothing of choice.

You can’t help what the lord has blessed you with, but you can make allowances in your clothing of choice. Take note of what the locals wear during the first few days after you arrive and see if you can find something similar in the local market.

If, as sometimes happens to blonds, you’re getting an inordinate amount of attention, think about dying your hair. It’s a big step, but may make you feel loads more comfortable during your nightly excursions.

Hot Pants

Quick-dry, zip up pants are great for the bus or jungle, but look absolutely ridiculous when you’re trying out salsa moves on a Latin dance floor.

Make sure to pack at least ONE pair of pants you feel comfortable wearing out, be it jeans or something a little more risqué. Remember to take cultural norms into account, as spray-on tights might be alright in New York, but will stand out in certain countries.

If in doubt, err on the conservative side, since the last thing you want to do is offend your host nation.

Generally speaking though, in the era of globalization, most places have experienced the Levi’s phenomenon and jeans are a standard garment around the globe. There is no more ubiquitous article of clothing than a good, light-weight pair of jeans to help you blend into the local scene.

Stylin’ Shirts

When packing, you do need to pick your clothes sparingly, so make sure most choices are multi-purpose.

That said, you want to feel comfortable in swanky discos, so for men, bring something long-sleeved with a collar. This type of shirt can be used to ward off harsh rays or petulant mosquitoes, or help your chances with local vixens at the club.

For women, you normally have stretchy, easily condensable tops, so allow some space for one or two at the bottom of your rucksack. Forget the heels; you can find them abroad – and will probably come back with more than you wanted.

Don’t Forget Your Dancing Shoes!

In my opinion, shoes are the most important accoutrement of your entire ensemble. Too often, travelers are stuck choosing between the hiking boot and the flip-flop. Nothing shouts out ‘tourist’ more than a cumbersome walking shoe at a disco, because the locals normally come ready to play.

Nothing shouts out ‘tourist’ more than a cumbersome walking shoe at a disco, because the locals normally come ready to play.

Bring your dancing shoes. Make sure you have a slim pair of comfortable shoes that don’t take up too much space and are ready to tango.

Even if you think you won’t dance, depending on where you go, dancing is the best way to interact with virtually everyone.

Regardless of how ‘festive’ you may feel, it is never a great idea to shed your flip-flops on a sticky dance floor just because you may have found your soul-mate. Bring suitable shoes.

The Whole Package

Cutting edge style from back home will probably make you stick out like a canker sore at a wedding. Bring durable, dark and demure clothes that you can sweat into and hand-wash to your hearts content. A solid black t-shirt can work marvels. It can be dressy-casual, and fits in virtually every setting.

You don’t have to agonize over your outfits, but make a conscious effort to prepare for a night out on the town. Most times you can put something together with what you have, but a good pair of pants, a sharp looking shirt and some versatile shoes will go a long way.

Who knows, they might just be the difference between the one who got away and an evening you’ll never forget.

Ben Younkman dabbles in freelance journalism when bouncing from country to country, vainly struggling to lose the travel bug. His last two years have been spent leading tours all over Central and South American as a professional Tour Guide. He currently resides in Washington D.C., giving just one bed a chance for a while.

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