The moment you step off of the plane or bus and into a brand new city, it is easy to be overcome with emotions. You’re happy to finally be there, but you’re also probably tired, confused, nervous and excited all at the same time. You’re surrounded by people in their normal, every day lives, but you feel totally out of yours. And most of the time, it’s obvious. Whether you’re wearing clothes that scream “Hey look at me, I’m not from here” or you commit a social faux pas that makes it obvious that you’re from somewhere else, there are plenty of ways you can accidentally stand out. Here are 6 ways to be a tourist in a new place without broadcasting to the world that you are.
Dress The Part
Access to smart phones and computers makes it very easy to figure out what the weather will be like when you arrive at your destination. Flip flops may have been appropriate footwear for home, but if you step off the plane into cooler temperatures, it’ll be apparent you didn’t do your research. Take a little time before you go to study up on the current weather conditions of your destination. If you’re heading to a mountainous country where you’ll be doing a lot of hiking and walking, leave the heels at home. If you’re heading to a place with higher temps than you have at home, leave the sweatshirts and long underwear behind. One of the first things people will notice about you when you arrive in a new country is how you dress, so avoid looking like a tourist by dressing appropriately.
Learn Key Words
You didn’t just wake up and realize you were going to be in a new country today. This was not a spur of the moment trip or random kidnapping where you had no time to prepare, so prepare! Learn important words (bathroom, help, water, etc.) so that you can get around your new city a little easier. Visiting a non-English speaking country and expecting everyone to understand you is not going to work, and neglecting to at least TRY to speak the language can be seen as disrespectful. Most of the time, the locals will be able to piece together what you’re trying to say and will appreciate the effort. Knowing how to read basic words will also help you navigate an unfamiliar place.
Leave Your Valuables Behind
Nothing says “Hey look at me, I’m new here and not quite sure what I’m doing!” like carrying all of your personal belongings on you while you’re site seeing. Leave important documents, like your passport and VISA card, in a safe at the hotel or hostel. You don’t need those for a typical night on the town, and things can get really bad really fast if they’re stolen. The less you carry on you, the less risk of having it get lost or stolen. When you’re out and about in a new town, bring one form of ID and enough cash to get you through the night, leave the rest behind. Also, nothing says “Hey thieves! Look where I’m hiding my important stuff” like clenching your purse or bag to you at all times or obsessively checking your jacket pocket. Be aware but stay relaxed.
Educate Yourself On Local Customs
One quick way to out yourself as a tourist (and possibly make enemies real quick) is to be ignorant about local customs, greetings, and gestures. Hand gestures are not universal, so make sure you’re not cursing at someone when you’re just trying to be nice. Read up on what is expected when you enter someone’s home, when you are in or around religious buildings, and how locals interact with each other. Make sure you are aware of certain laws as well so you don’t end up in jail for breaking a law you didn’t even know existed!
Keep It Down
Westerners typically talk at a higher volume than those in other countries. Try to be aware of your volume vs. the volume of those around you and adjust accordingly. You may not think of yourself as a loud person, but you’ll stand out real quick in countries where locals take a softer tone. This is especially the case if you’re in a country where the language is anything other than English. Speaking loudly AND in English is basically like waving a banner that says TOURIST above your head. If you can’t speak the language, be aware of the volume that you’re using.
Don’t Look Lost
You’re going to get lost. That is a fact. And most of the time, the best stories and memories start with “So we got lost heading to….”. When you realize you have no clue where you are or what you’re doing DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT stop suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk and open your map or look down at your phone. That is not only a telltale sign that you’re a tourist, it is also very annoying and can be dangerous if people bump into you. Walk with purpose and pop into a local store or restaurant to ask for directions or revisit your map. Act confident and calm, even if you’re freaking out on the inside.
Being a visitor in a new place is nothing to be ashamed of; it is an exciting adventure that not everyone gets to experience in their lifetime. The purpose of a trip is education, self-exploration, and stepping out of your comfort zone to try new things. Blending in with the locals is not as important as enjoying the experience, but it helps. If you keep these six tips in mind, you’ll fit right in and be set up for the trip of a lifetime.
Written by Diane Eastman