Monday, March 07, 2016

How To: Not Look Like A Tourist

I'm not regularly one to get embarrassed about much. I once slid down a flight of steps (it was snowy) in front of all of my classmates at university and I just stood up and kept going with all of my dignity. I once flashed a bunch of New Yorkers when the wind picked up my skirt and I didn't even pause. However, the one thing that really embarrasses me is looking like a tourist.

I do my best to blend in whenever I travel. I do research beforehand to find out what it will take to look like a local and do my best to follow along with what I've learned. Being conspicuous and looking like a local is something I like to do because I feel like it's respectful to the people of the city and I also do it for myself, as it helps me have a safer experience. Sticking out turns you into a target for thieves (and as a woman, I don't want to attract any other criminals, if you catch my drift) so I do my best to behave normally.
I thought it might be helpful to put together a list of my tips for blending in.

LOOK THE PART
Dress like a local. That doesn't mean you need to don a costume; you don't need a beret and breton top in France or a woven poncho in Peru. But, if you're heading to Italy, dress up a bit. If you're visiting a mosque in Istanbul, cover those shoulders and knees. And above all else, avoid graphic T's that declare your love for the city you're visiting and burn those fanny packs.
Tuck your camera away when you aren't using it. Carry a bag big enough to hold the cam or if you insist on keeping it around your neck (lest you miss a photo opp), try using a cuter strap and not the default, bulky, ugly one.

And obviously you can't do much about your skin color but make it a goal to blend in.

NAVIGATE LIKE A LOCAL
One sure way to stick out like a sore thumb is to look lost. Use a map app instead of a paper map (though a paper map is always a good backup to have) so that you're not struggling, trying to figure out how to refold your street map. Plan your route in advance (either in the morning at the hotel or anytime you pause, like for coffee or during a meal) so you're not standing on the street looking confused and awkward. Keep your eyes peeled for street signs and keep track of where you're going.
MIND YOUR MONEY
Don't faff about with your money. If you're in a foreign country using foreign currency, memorize what the bills and coins look like so you're not fiddling with wads of cash for every transaction and screaming to potential thieves that you're an easy target. Take only what you need for the day with you - pulling out a giant stack of bills is unwise - and stack your money in order (1's, 5's, 10's, 20's) to make it easier to pick out what you need.
Avoid garish and/or flashy jewelry or anything that screams, "I have lots of money! Come take something from me!"

BE RESPECTFUL
Hop on Duolingo and learn some greetings like "please" and "thank you," and maybe a few more essential phrases. And don't be that person who thinks that increasing the volume of your voice somehow makes it easier to break the language barrier.
Learn the local customs. This is probably the most important part, as you don't want to be gesturing or speaking or doing anything that may be offensive to the locals. What's normal to you at home may be completely inappropriate abroad. Basically, know what's considered good manners and what's rude; then, do the former and avoid the latter.

Do a little people watching, be observant, and basically follow along. If you're in a fast-paced city, keep your speed up. If you're in a laid back destination, relax and slow down. If everyone speaks loudly, speak up; conversely, if everyone controls their voices, control your own.

EAT LIKE A LOCAL
Instead of sticking to at home favorites, try venturing out of your comfort zone to eat a local specialty. This may be difficult for picky eaters (I'm not going to lie, I have a lot of disdain for picky eaters) but even if you're squeamish, you can at least make an effort to eat the local cuisine instead of hunting down a McDonald's every time you're hungry.
Avoid international chain restaurants or tourist traps. Instead, ask someone who lives in the city for a recommendation. Eat when the locals do (for example, in Spain, dinner is eaten late in the evening), drink what the locals drink, and follow the tipping customs.

MAKE FRIENDS
What better way to look like a local than to make friends with a local? This is definitely the best tip. You can learn more about the customs, where to get the best food, they can point you to the best bar, the best coffee, the best views of the city, etc. Basically, you'll get insider knowledge on your destination and experience it like no typical tourist will.
Every time I share some mantra or set of rules, I like to emphasize that the most important part of being on holiday is having fun. So, even though I think it's important to avoid looking like a tourist, it's also important to be able to enjoy yourself. Honestly, the best way to blend in is to look natural and happy.

So have fun!

xoxo.

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