Any seasoned traveler knows the worst thing you can do is look like a tourist. When you blend in, it is much easier to strike up a conversation with locals and learn about a city’s best-kept secrets or simply get a flavor for local culture. It’s not just about your pride, either. Blending in with the crowd makes you much less likely to become a target for scammers or pickpockets who like to identify tourists who are known for being naive and carrying large amounts of money and valuables. Luckily, there are a few easy steps you can take to make yourself look less like a tourist from afar and make your travel experience safer and more authentic.
Fake It ‘Till You Make It
The single most important thing you can do on the streets of an unfamiliar city is to look like you know what you’re doing and where are you are going, when when you are hopelessly lost. If you stop in the street to cook around, confused or even worse, pull out a map, it’s a dead giveaway that you are clueless and an easy target. Instead, walk with purpose and wait until you can duck inside a cafe or hotel lobby to discretely consult a map and get your bearings. You can also rely on a smartphone, either by using a maps service or by simply taking photos of the relevant sections of the map. As long as you’re in a western country where cellphones are the norm, it will look a lot less conspicuous to pull out a phone than a guidebook.
Hide the Camera
You wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without your camera, and you shouldn’t! Walking around with it hanging off your neck, however, is akin to a large neon sign that blinks tourist! Instead, keep it in a simple bag until you need it and only pull it out when the moment is right.
Learn the Language
Chances are you’re not going to become fluent overnight, but even learning a few key words and phrases of the local language can go a long way. Good ones to start with are phrases for locating bathrooms, asking directions, saying thank you and sorry, and ordering food. Your accent will still give you away, of course, but the fact that you are making an effort will endear you to many and you will find that you receive a lot more help when you need it. When you don’t know enough to get by, like if you need to ask for detailed directions, politely ask in the local language whether anyone speaks English.
Do Your Homework
Never go somewhere new without doing at least a little bit of background research. Take the time to learn about local customs, hand gestures, and mannerisms so that you are prepared to interpret various situations and avoid offending anyone through cultural ignorance. Everyone (but women especially) should pay special attention to the guidelines for appropriate local dress so as to demonstrate respect for the culture and not attract undue attention on the street by wearing distinctly foreign clothing.
Assume Everyone Can Understand You
Don’t make the fatal mistake of commenting to your traveling companions about the people around you, only to have them reveal that they speak English and heard every word! It’s safest to simply assume that everyone around you can understand everything you are saying. Still, it helps to speak in private voice if you are in a public place and think that your language might give you away.
Once you have done your best to hide yourself from scammers and respect local culture, just have fun! After all, you are a tourist! You can only fit in so far, and after that you simply embrace your status as foreign and use it to swap stories with interesting people from all over the world!