When I visit another country, I like to blend in with the locals. The desire to live like a native and have an authentic experience is a big appeal to me. Moreover, I don’t want to appear disrespectful, foolish and impolite due to my selection of clothes and manners. That would attract unnecessary attention which is not going to let me enjoy the new place. In addition, there are other benefits of trying to fuse into the culture and daily activities:
- Show respect and interest for the country
- Get a better taste of the local way of life
- Get treated better
- Avoid entering an uncomfortable situation with locals
- Mislead thieves
- Avoid being typecasted into stereotypes
- Be a good ambassador of your country
As you can see, blending in can have a positive effect in your travel experience. It is extremely difficult (or impossible) to pass up by a local. Conversely, there is a lot you can do to reap the benefits of blending in.
Here are some suggestions you put into practice:
1. Use neutral clothes
The key to dress for success while traveling is neutrality. You can dress fashionable, comfortable and low key by adhering to neutral and basic pieces. You have the right to dress as you want while visiting a foreign country. However, you should consider avoiding some pieces of clothing in order to feel more welcomed in another country (plus all the benefits of blending in). Here are some suggestions on what pieces of clothing to avoid:
- T-shirts, tops and blouses with:
- Brands associated to a specific country (“Abercrombie and Fitch” and “Roxy” for the United States)
- Hawaiian prints
- Political, religious and cultural symbols, phrases or figures
- Flags or patriotic symbols
- Sport team logos
- Educational institution logos
- Designs that may be considered funny in your country but may be offensive in others.
- Numbers (4 is associated with death in China)
- Cargo pants
- Zip off pants
- Some believe men wearing shorts are too obvious. Short are usually seen as part of the United States dressing culture.
- Jeans are also considered too obvious by some. I do not agree with this point of view since I have seen people wearing jeans in a lot of places I have visited.
- However, if you wear jeans, try to use a nice pair. Don’t go too crazy on the distressed (cuts, paint splattered) jean look. A friend of mine decided to wear a pair of jeans with huge holes in the knee area. When local friends pick her up at the airport, they though she was attacked (they even thought a dog attacked her.
- Tennis. A lot of people associate tennis shoes with certain countries. I, personally, don’t wear them. I think foreigners dislike when visitors wear certain pieces of clothes with the improper shoes (in this case, tennis). They are not necessarily irritated by the use of tennis shoes. I believe it is fine to wear this type of shoes with the proper clothes (plus, there are a lot of lovely styles nowadays). Avoid flamboyant colors and styles.
- High white socks
- Caps with logos or symbols
- Any big, bulky accessory that brings attention to you. A friend once had the brilliant idea of wearing a sequined, big headband in a country we visited. A considerable amount of locals stopped to stare at her.
- Other tips
- Try to go for a neat look. Neat and comfy can go together.
- Beware of places requiring special clothing (churches, temples).
- Understand the meaning of colors in the country you are visiting, especially if you are going to meet locals or do business. For example, purple is associated with death in Central America. Blue has the same connotation in China
2. Buy what locals wear
Once you arrive at your destination, you can take a look at what locals wear and go on a shopping spree. Or study recent photos of your destination and have a better idea of what to pack. This is just an idea; I don’t feel like this is necessary.
3. Don’t overdo the local look
On the other hand, exaggerating the local look can be phony. Using a beret and a white and black striped shirt in Paris can be counterproductive.
4. Backpacks and other bulky items
Avoid carrying a big backpack while walking around. Keep things simple and carry necessary items. Above all, avoid the dreaded fanny pack. I thought nobody used this anymore. Then, I saw my uncle wearing one the last time I went to Puerto Rico. No comments.
I like to take a lot of pictures but I know when to keep my camera in my bag. It can be dangerous to have you camera hanging from your neck in crowded places, when using public transportation or while walking at night. Camera bags with “Canon” or “Nikon” logos scream for attention.
6. Guide book
Cover your guide book jacket to avoid unwanted attention. You can use a book cover or your own cover for this purpose. Or you can simply stick a big post it in the front (and back) or tape an adequate piece of paper. Try to buy a compact guide.
If you really, really need to take a look at your map, here is what you can do to keep a low profile:
- Take a look at the map inside your guide book (see previous tip).
- Keep your map as folded as possible.
- Sit down to take a look. This brings less attention than taking a look while standing in the middle of the road.
- Ideally, take a look inside a cafeteria or other establishment. You can also stand in an unassuming corner.
8. Ask questions discretely
If you are lost or confused, your best bet is to try to spot a police officer or security guard. I have always had good experiences with them. If you can’t find one, approach people with children. Locals surrounded by their families are probably not interested in taking advantage of you. Be polite when addressing the locals.
9. Get familiar with local currency
You should have a basic notion of how to deal with foreign bills and coins. Pay attention to denominations and colors. It is easier to use bills f they are arranged by denomination. Separate the foreign bills from your country’s currency. Additionally, avoid using a calculator every time you want to buy something. Before arriving at your destination, learn the currency conversion factor. In that way, you can have an idea of how much something costs in your own currency without the need of a calculator. Concentrate in the whole numbers and forget about the rest. For example, in Argentina you obtain 4 pesos for each dollar. Therefore, you know that 10 pesos is equivalent to about 2 dollars (30 pesos is about 6 dollars and so on).
10. Learn some phrases in the local language
If you are serious about scoring points with the locals, make an effort to learn some basic phrases in their language. Guide books have the basic terms you should know (this is the minimum you can do but I encourage you to learn as much as possible).
11. Lear basic etiquette rules
Nothing will bring more attention and hate looks at you person than breaking etiquette rules. Things accepted in your culture are not necessarily accepted in other parts of the world. Here are some examples of behaviors that are looked as offensive in other countries:
- Displays of affection
- Bad temper
- High voice
- Putting feet over a chair
- Touching a kid’s head
Please, show your respect to others by learning and observing proper etiquette rules.
12. Don’t be constantly talking about how great, beautiful and advanced your country is.
Well you can do it if you want to get in serious trouble.
13. Be confident
There are a lot of suggestions in here. I mean, this can be overwhelming. Always remember that attitude is everything. Show you confidence by walking like you know the city, being nice to everybody and showing your good manners at every opportunity.
So, what do you think? Do you believe blending in brings benefits to the traveler? What are your suggestions to blend in like a pro?
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