Backpacking with a HIJAB 101 – Part I

I have travelled both as a non-Hijabi and a Hijabi in my life. While most of my solitary travels begin after I started putting on my headscarf, I have learnt many unspoken rules and tips the hard way. So in this attempt to share some of it, I have divided this post into 4 different categories :-

1. Packing the load
2. Outdoor activities
3. Airport Security
4. General tips

1. Packing the load

Packing the load includes picking out the right headscarf to wear, and tips of how to fold them with minimal creases and space consumption. So let’s get to it!

– Know the weather of the destination of travel

Oh boy, did I learn this the hard way. I was in India in August ’11 (in her monsoon season) where I was donning on my favorite thick red Pashmina. Due to the weight, it holds great on my head. But halfway in Varanasi, I and my friend started to smell funny things. It smelled like a bad sandwich, not too strong, but the smell was pretty bad. So we started digging in our bags to see whether we left a bad veggie burger. Suddenly she stopped, and said “Babe, it is coming from your headscarf”.

Yes. Pashminas holds on to smells a lot. And considering the fact that we just came back from a body burning funeral ceremony, passed by countless cows and goats along the way, ran in the rain and had the headscarf air-dried, it was no wonder it was holding up smell. (yea, sounds disgusting, but frankly, it commonly takes place my dear).

At the base of Himalayas, in the village of Dharmsala. I was standing in the raining mist, before the damage happened.
At the base of Himalayas, in the village of Dharmsala. I was standing in the raining mist, before the damage happened.

So, it is very important to double check on rains, humidity level and temperature of the location of your travel. But to be honest (and to save you on the research) I can simplify this in one sentence. Go for cotton. They are amazing for all weathers; enough to keep you warm in cold climates, and cool enough for the hot summer spell and tropical climates, plus, they dry easily and they don’t crumple badly.

But if you will be travelling in a relatively cold climate, this will not be a problem.

In a Pashmina and freezing my brains out in Times Square, New York City.
In a Pashmina and freezing my brains out in Times Square, New York City.

Avoid silk scarves at all cost. No darling, the silk scarf Beyonce wore as a turban on her beach photoshoot will not look good on you on your trip across Cambodia. Silk scarves are extremely fragile, they stick to your skin when you sweat, and they crumple as easy as thin paper. They may look good for the first 20 minutes, but the moment the winds from the tuk tuk rides attacks you, when your forehead starts sweating and your underscarf starts running, you will look like you slabbed on paper mache on your head messy. Plus, they require ironing and are sensitive to water and other liquids (trust me, this is a big deal).

So if you are planning to be eating crickets by the roadside of Phnom Penh under the scoarching sun, this is not a good idea.

(ps : Crickets taste good by the way)

They taste like paprika chips, I kid you not.
They taste like paprika chips, I kid you not.

– Your pins and underscarves are as important.

Treat your underscarves like you will treat a piece of underwear. If you refuse to repeat your underwear without washing, same rule should apply to your underscarves. They are in the layer between your hair and your headscarf, where most of your scalp sweats accumulate. Do not repeat your underscarves without washing it.

Pins are a matter of national security. No, I am not kidding. In Schiphol Aiport (Netherlands), my pins were forced to be removed and left behind because they were afraid I will poke the pilots with my pin and the plane will crash felt that it could be used as a weapon. When in airports, opt for bobby pins instead.

These pins are evil. Avoid in all costs during travel. Opt for bobby pins instead!
These pins are evil. Avoid in all costs during travel. Opt for bobby pins instead!
Less evil I assume
Less evil I assume

– How not to lose your pins during travel

Find a tiny soft toy and pin them on it! This fish is so small that I also carry it around in my handbag everyday. No longer will you spend time looking through the bottom of your backpack for it.

– Pack it, with minimal crumples!

1. Layout all the hijabs you plan to bring on the trip, and a sock for storage. (Yes, a sock)

2. Stack the hijabs onto each other, and make sure they are folded at the same width

4. Start rolling them into a ball

5. Put them into Mr Wolverine!

And you will have crumple free scarves, promise!

– Pack an Al-Amira

This will be explained below

2. Outdoor activities

With the massive growth in the Islamic fashion industry, you see massive growth in headgear fashion and Islamic compliance swimwears. Personally I think its great that this area of art has expanded and many Muslim girls are able to express themselves through different styles of hijabs, but please, just because the drapes, the folds, the long flowy ends with feathers diamonds and the origami flower sculpture you create on your head looks good for LookBook, it doesn’t mean its practical, especially for backpacking. Stick to the basics.

Personally, I do not own a Burqini, and I do not plan to own one. I feel that you can create the same coverage with everyday clothes, that you can recycle in your bag to save up space. For swimming, I usually wear black leggings, an oversized black t shirt, hand covers and an Al Amira. And this outfit has survived cliff divings, paraglidings, parasailings and snorkeling. I personally feel that the Burqini takes up too much space and is overpriced. But hey, that’s just me.

The said outfit, parasailing near Mamutik Islands
The said outfit, parasailing near Mamutik Islands

Important note: In all such activities, please avoid all form of difficult or complicated hijab styles. The general rule I follow is If you need to fold it, wrap it, put too much pins on it, it is too dangerous for you. During my paragliding stint in the Himalayas in Dharmsala, my headscarf’s pin got stuck to the parachute’s gear. Thank God it did not affect my landing and the pin could be pulled off without damaging the gear, but it was a close call. Thus, I would suggest all you Hijabi travellers to invest in an Al-Amira (which also goes by different names like the 2 piece Hijab, Tudung Syria, etc) They are the safest bet on it.

The Al-Amira (photo courtesy of

Part II will consist of dealing with Airport Security and General Tips. Wait for it!


Izzati is a travel and food enthusiast based in Kuala Lumpur. Often seen with her crummy backpack lost on foreign grounds, she finds peace and serenity in solitary travel. Check her blog out!

Be a guest writer by clicking here, or read more of posts by other guest writers here.

Author: Jasmine

Jasmine is from tropical Borneo. She loves traveling, fashion and all things lifestyle.

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