One of my most favorite moments during a vacation comes when another tourist asks me (or my husband) for directions. That gesture represents a couple of concepts to me. First, it means that we do not look out of place – even in a foreign country – and second, it means that our family is doing as the locals do and therefore we are appearing relaxed with our surroundings.
If you would like to blend in more when traveling, here are my tips for not looking like a tourist:
- Wear Appropriate Clothing – if you allow me to borrow the adage, the clothes make the man, there’s actually an application when it comes to travel too, especially if you are traveling overseas. Not too long ago, if you wore blue jeans anywhere outside the United States, you were immediately tagged as an American. Today, this is less true unless you happen to be traveling to Africa, Asia or the Middle East. However, anyone over the age of 12 wearing shorts or sweatpants overseas is still an absolute giveaway that s/he is a tourist. It may be frustrating and it may be extraordinarily hot and humid outside, but wearing long pants(or a dress) is better for mixing in when visiting overseas – unless of course, you are at the beach.
- Wear Stylish Shoes – if you want to mix in with the locals, do not wear sneakers or white tennis shoes while traveling. There are plenty of comfortable-style laced shoes in muted colors that will suffice and though it may sound odd, just as in the past, people around the world still look at shoes and judge accordingly.
- Learn Local Language Phrases – these days, it is really easy to learn a few, necessary phrases in the local language. If you have an IPhone, you can freely download 30 basic (and very helpful) phrases in 25 different world languages and study from there. Master these and you’ll be surprised how well you are treated just for trying to speak the local language.
- Plan Ahead with Maps & Guide Books – try to plan out your route before you set off on your day of exploration. If you happen to get lost during the day, take a break at a coffee shop and get your bearings. This is also a safety tip as pick-pockets can judge very quickly when someone looks lost and the “team” can clean you out faster than you can say “Can you tell me where I can find the…?”
- Hide Cameras & Nix Backpacks – consider traveling with a messenger bag rather than carrying a backpack. Messenger bags can carry many items including your camera and supplies so you don’t have to wear the camera strap around your neck. It these cases, convenience can sometimes make you stick out!
- Nix Fanny Packs (Please) – if confused, please refer to Tips #1 and #5 again.
- Walk with Confidence (even if you are totally lost) – this does not mean walk fast and barrel down everyone that crosses over to your path. Rather, as with Tip #4, when you have a general idea of where you want to go, walk with as much determination and vigor as you would in your local town.
- Don’t Look Up – if you want to blend in, short of a bird doing its business on your shoulder (which is supposed to be good luck), there should be no reason to arch your head, neck and back upwards to see anything while walking through a new area. Instead, take advantage of a observation areas, which are usually set up to highlight an area’s best vistas.
- Use Hotel Concierge to Find Local Hot Spots – This tip my husband and I picked up in Bangkok, Thailand during our honeymoon. We had just arrived from Phuket and were still dizzy from the wonderful meals we had on the island and wanted to find a place that specialized in seafood. The hotel concierge recommended a restaurant that was close to us, however as soon as we got out the door, there was a “guy” there directing taxis insisting that the selected restaurant was awful and that he knew a better place. We fell for it! Not only did it take forever to get through the traffic in Bangkok to get there, it wasn’t the greatest place (probably his friend’s place). Lesson learned to stick with the hotel concierge for recommendations.
- Relax – Above all remember what Clifton Fadiman, an American author, radio and television personality, once said, “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”