The Art Of Blending In When Travelling.
I’ve always been told that the best way to travel is to experience places like a local. Now the best way to achieve that is blend in. The benefits of blending in and acting a bit less like a tourist and more like a local never be underestimated.
Blending in can afford you a more intimate look at the local culture, one that may not be granted to outsiders. If you look and act like a tourist then you will be treated like one. If you want to walk the walk, it’s going to have to be their walk. And don’t assume that your custom is their custom.
More important than that is safety. Most criminals can spot tourists from dress, mannerisms, and the way they act a mile off. Blending in will not make you completely impervious from pickpockets and scam artists, but it can help protect you. That said, you will still need to keep your whits about you even if you blend in.
11 Tips to Help You Blend in and Experience It Like a Local
Research. Research. Research.
I’m obsessive about researching a new destination. So I can make the most of my time there and also so I can become familiar with the place before I arrive. Looking at loads of guides online can give you a good sense of how a place will look like when you get there, and how people dress.
It’s important to research proper dress if you are planning to go to religious sites or countries where modesty is more of a thing.
If you want to blend in with the locals, pay attention to how the locals act, what they do, where they congregate, how they dress — and follow suit. If you are in a location for a short about of time… it’s impossible to completely adapt. If you are paying attention, you might find that things like prolonged direct eye contact or a giant smile don’t go over too well in a particular location, even if at home these are always the way to go.
If you have a sense of where you are going to do and how to get there, you will be able to navigate through your day with confidence. If you are ever unsure of where you are going, take a few steps aside, find a place to sit down and get your bearings. Never do this on a street corner or in the middle of an intersection.
I use a brilliant app called Sygic Travel to plot out my day’s adventures. It’s brilliant because it can give you a step by step map and an estimate of how much you can get done in a day. If I find something along the route that was not in my itinerary I add it in so I can look back and remember.
Research on how you pay for local travel before you arrive. Sometimes you can pay for local transport on phone apps. Research these and set them up before you even land in the country. Loads of apps like Kaptan and Lime are global so your local account will work from the get-go
Mind on the Money
Before you arrive to try and get a grasp of what the local currency will buy. That will allow you to carry enough cash with you and in the right denominations to not cause a problem. Fumbling with money not only outs you as a foreigner, but also can make you a mark for thieves. Keep in mind, however, that you should carry only what you need for a single day in a wallet or purse.
Some countries are going completely cashless (Look at you Sweden) so carry a debit card that has brilliant foreign currency charges. Monzo is brilliant if you need a new card
Talk the Talk
Murdering the local language just makes it clear you aren’t from around here. I’m really guilty of not trying to use the local language. But if you even use a bit of the rudimentary words you would be surprised how much slack you get for trying. If you don’t know how to say something, ask — many locals are happy to help you learn. And the more you practice, the better you get at the language, which can open doors that lead you deeper into the local culture.
Word of warning though: if you don’t try and the language, talking even louder in English is not going to make you understood.
Listen To Your Voice
Don’t be that person in the restaurant whose loud laughter disrupts everyone else’s dinner. It’s not like people in other places are quiet — every local area has a local or two who is noisy — but that person shouldn’t be your role model if you’re trying to blend in. I’m mindful of not being that ‘Loud American’ so I try to dial it back to 50% of usual volume. Impossible if I’ve been drinking the local spirits
Do More Than The Obvious
People who want to blend in with the locals also tend to want actually to go out and be with the locals. Following the well-worn tourist tracks won’t get you there. If you visit Buckingham Palace, you should expect to be surrounded by other tourists visiting Buckingham Palace. I’m not saying to avoid the typical tourists’ spots (You have to see the Eiffel Tower if you visit Paris) … just try and explore more and seek out unusual or out-of-the-way sights.
Stay Like a Local.
Airbnb has opened a lot of doors (literally) to stay like a local. Staying in a more residential area will allow you to see more of the everyday life of the locals. Then chances are you will find some brilliant local gems of restaurants and cafes.
When I’m talking about accessories, I’m talking about tourist accessories… I’m talking guide books and huge cameras. Taking photos of your travels is a natural and its the number one goal for me, but if you want to blend in, you may want to tone it down a bit. Having a big honking camera hanging from your neck everywhere you go acts like an outsider’s scarlet letter — not to mention an attraction for thieves. I do about 75% of my travel photography on my phone. I bring the camera out for a thing that will benefit from being shot on a camera
I carry all my kit in a small backpack so I don’t look like a trekker going across the Himalayas. I only carry the kit that I know that I’ll want that day and leave the rest in the hotel.
Be Yo Self
There is only so much you can do to make yourself disappear into the local culture. When I was in Marrakech there was nothing that I could wear or tricks that I could use to blend in. I was just smart and confident and played the game the locals wanted to play without getting played myself.
If you use enough of the tips listed above, don’t be surprised on your next trip if someone asks you mistakes you for a local and asks for directions in a language you at best murder.