The importance of blending in while abroad is quite obvious. Although many of us enjoying standing out from the crowd in our home countries, sticking out like a sore thumb when traveling can land any traveler in hot water. Not only do you become a target for thieves, but your attitude and/or dress might also offend locals.
Have no fear, just follow these easy tips and you’ll have no trouble blending in when traveling abroad!
1. Pack Appropriately – Every item packed into your suitcase needs to serve a specific purpose and “being stylish” should only be secondary to the item’s primary function. Leave the clutch, flimsy shoulder bags, expensive clothing/bags and gold jewelry at home as these items serve no purpose and greatly increase the probability of being robbed. The point is to pack items and clothes that won’t scream tourist (especially not “wealthy” tourist).
Modesty is also a factor to consider when traveling to more religious or conservative countries. When traveling to Italy and many other countries, churches almost exclusively require women to be wearing skirts or pants that cover the knees, as well as shirts that cover your shoulders, so keep this in mind while sight-seeing.
2.Do not carry your valuables when sightseeing – Leave your passport, laptop and VISA card safely locked in a hostel locker, apartment room, etc. and only bring the basics when you are out and about in the city. If you are heading out for the night, bring only the cash you’ll need, an ID card and a small camera. Think like a minimalist — the less you carry in your pocket, purse or backpack, the less amount of valuables you have to worry about, allowing you to relax and have fun.
3.Avoid being overprotective – Whether it’s your cellphone, wallet, or iPod, avoid drawing attention to the places where you have stashed your important items. Remember that often someone is watching for cues like these, so go with the flow and try not to tip off any thieves on the location of your valuables.
4. Read up on local customs – gestures and greetings can be easily misinterpreted overseas especially if you assume that all signs are universal — because they are most certainly not! Before you travel, you may want to familiarize yourself with the local ways to avoid trouble. Research topics could include body language etiquette, tipping customs for taxis and/or restaurants and proper manners when entering a house, visiting an ancient site and/or a place of worship. This way, when you get there you’ll feel a bit more prepared to communicate with the locals.
5. Stay Open Minded – tolerance is the key to blending in. While in Italy, I realized that I was surrounded in a culture that was much MUCH slower paced than I was used to — from restaurant services to even just the walking pace. It can be frustrating at first, but not showing your initial reactions can help you seem less foreign to your surroundings. It takes time, but eventually you’ll get used to the lifestyle change, and you may end up enjoying it even more than you’d expect (I know I certainly did).
6. Speak Half As Loud As Normal – many Westerners culturally speak at a higher volume than people in other nations. Is this surprising? Not at all. Speaking loudly, especially in a language other than the official language of the country that you are visiting, will almost always attract unnecessary attention. Instead try to either avoid unnecessary conversations in public places that might be somewhat unsafe or keep your conversation at barely above a whisper. Nothing screams tourist more than someone speaking loudly in English.
7. Just keep on moving – This is my favorite tip, because getting lost happened to me frequently. Honestly, the worst thing a person can do when they’re lost is to abruptly stop in the middle of the street and pull out a map. Keep walking tall and with a purpose so as to pretend like you have someplace to be. When you see one, casually pop into a nearby cafe, or pizzeria in my case, to check your map or ask for directions. The point is to always try to act like a composed and confident individual. This will not only avoid you being seen as a typical helpless tourist, but will also help you feel more independent as a whole. You can navigate cities on your own — you can conquer traveling!
8.Do as the Locals Do: Attempting to mimic the locals is great, but also engaging with them can be a fantastic way to feel more a part of the culture. They know the city best, so asking them for advice on where to go, what to see, etc. can be really beneficial. Not only will you blend in but you will also experience the local life and avoid the tourist traps of many big cities.
Hopefully these tips can help you as much as they helped me while abroad! Expand your perspectives, try new things, adapt, and enjoy yourself!