No matter where in the world you’re traveling, you’ll make for a richer, more authentic experience if you immerse yourself in the destination rather than impose yourself. Instead of looking like an outsider, try to blend in. The benefits are numerous. For starters, you’ll be safer. Plus, you’ll improve interactions with the locals, engaging in authentic conversations rather than simply asking for directions.
With just a bit of research and planning, you can fit in with the local culture, enjoy the destination, and create authentic memories — all without looking like a tourist. Start with these simple tips.
With a world of information literally at your fingertips, spend some time learning about your destination before you even leave. Besides the weather and geography of the area, read about the people, culture, customs, economy, and current events. From planning a smart itinerary to packing the right clothes, educating yourself pre-trip paves the way for a safer, richer travel experience.
Avoid bright-colored clothes and wear muted colors instead. Ditch the white sneakers, bulky cargo shorts, and yoga pants, and opt for comfortable shoes and casual pants like khakis. Forget the fanny pack and hulking backpacks. Carry only what you need. If you must bring more along, use a small, non-descript tote bag. And leave the flashy jewelry and designer handbags at home.
Of course, take photos of your vacation adventures. But selfie sticks scream “tourist.” And with the high-res capabilities of smart phones these days, you can take fantastic pictures on your phone without whipping out a giant DSLR camera. Use your phone to capture the essence of “place” that makes this destination so special. Once you get a few pics, put it away. If you’re constantly busy framing your next best shot, you’ll miss out on the actual experience.
Staring at a paper map makes you look like a lost tourist, which you probably are. Familiarize yourself with the area before you leave your resort, perhaps even take a short walk around the neighborhood to get the lay of the land. Map out where you want to go ahead of time. Either memorize the directions or use Google Maps on your phone. If you’re truly lost, pop into a local shop to regroup, calm your nerves, and ask a local for assistance.
Visit the iconic sites, but make sure you explore lesser-known areas of the destination to get a better flavor of the region. Walk a few blocks away from the city’s main drag to visit family-owned businesses and eat at local culinary gems. Drive to the countryside to discover the beauty of a rural village. Rather than buying a kitschy souvenir, truly shop local. Visit a pottery studio or street vendor selling handmade baskets rather than a souvenir shop.
While this should be a no-brainer (even if you’re a local), be polite. Don’t drive like a lost tourist, cutting people off because you missed your turn. Don’t assume you have the right of way when crossing the street. Don’t be loud and obnoxious when you’re eating in a restaurant. Be kind, courteous, and well-mannered every step of the way.
Traveling to a foreign country? Don’t expect to use the American dollar. And learn a few phrases in the local language, especially “please” and “thank you.” While you don’t need a deep history lesson, you should know enough about the people and destination you’re visiting so you’re not culturally insensitive.