When I’m traveling to new places, especially if I’m going out of the country, I try to blend in with the local population as much as I can. Partially because it helps me feel closer to the culture I’m learning about, but also practically because I don’t want people to take advantage of me.
Of course, trying to blend in isn’t 100% foolproof, and sometimes it’s impossible depending on who you are and where you go (For example, when I went to Mexico it was pretty obvious I was not Mexican). That being said, here are my tips for trying to blend in for your optimal Untouristed Experience.
1. Leave your American Gear at Home
You may agree with me or hate me for telling you to leave your Detroit Tigers ball cap at home while you travel abroad, but I’m right when I say that it’s a red flag for American Tourists. If you’re going to wear something with a logo on it, go for something more vague or an international brand. Personally, I don’t want people to label me as American the moment they see me – in case I run into someone who isn’t a fan of the US or their politics.
2. Neutral, Fitted Pieces are Key
When I travel I usually bring some type of capsule wardrobe, because it makes packing less of a chore and then I can reuse pieces multiple times. Especially in Europe, most people in cities are wearing neutral colours and clothing that is fitted. Not the place to bring cargo shorts. It also helps to research what locals wear, for added blending in. It’s also considered pretty American to wear bright athletic clothes around as regular outfits. Obviously if you are doing something athletic like running or hiking or what have you, you will need to bring some of these. I know, I love my workout clothes. They’re so comfy. For my upcoming trip I’m making sure I have neutral athletic wear that can go from hiking to indoors as smoothly as possible.
3. Forgo the Giant Money Belt
I feel like most of my readers didn’t even consider bringing a money belt, but for those who did, don’t. It’s really obvious when people wear one, and they can be uncomfortable to wear and access. My parents wanted me to have something other than my purse when I was in college and went to Dublin, so I got a little pouch that velcros to my bra. You honestly forget its there. But honestly when it comes to cash…
4. Forgo Carrying Cash
You may want a little for emergencies or for vendors that don’t take credit cards – but in the digital age there isn’t much of a reason to carry a large amount of cash abroad anymore. You can use a credit/debit card almost anywhere (make sure it has a chip). In case you do need cash, you can usually access a safe ATM indoors somewhere. If your credit card gets stolen, you can call and cancel it, but with cash, it’s just gone.
5. Don’t go in there – Avoid the Obvious Tourist Traps
As you’re sightseeing, you might notice restaurants and gift shops in close proximity to popular attractions. Use caution when going in here, as some places jack up prices where tourists are close, since most people won’t venture far away. I try to research where locals eat, for added cultural experience, authentic food, and usually a better price tag. You can even find better deals on souvenirs at shops that aren’t in or right next to popular sights.
6. Know where you’re going
I feel like everyone has heard this one, but I’m still putting it in here. Look at the route you’re going to take. Nothing says “Hi I’m a tourist” more than people absorbed in Google Maps walking down the street. Plan out an efficient route before leaving your accommodation.
7. Learn a few words of the country’s language
In addition to enriching your cultural experience, it’s helpful to learn a few key words in the language of the country you’re visiting, like “Thank you” “Where is the toilet” or “Help”.
8. Take Pictures – But not of everything
Nothing says tourist like someone taking pictures with no semblance of their surroundings. Photos are great! Definitely take some! But take time to enjoy being in the moment as well. Oh, and for the love of all that is good, don’t bring a selfie stick. That’s just a little tourist antennae.
9. Be Quiet.
If you’re traveling outside the country, you will probably have an accent to the local people. This can immediately out you as a tourist – so try not to yell and scream at your friends as much as possible. I know, some things can be exciting, but it makes the experience more pleasant for everyone, and if you’re like me, it keeps you from being pegged as the “Loud American”.
10. Confidence is Key
At the end of it all, blending in is about confidence. If you look like you know what you’re doing/going, people will generally ignore you, even if you don’t necessarily look like the rest of the population.
Essentially, enjoy your trips, and if you want to blend in with the local crowd – I hope some of these tips can work for you.