Blending in with the locals is something that I strive to achieve when I travel, but I think I generally do a pretty bad job of it. So why do I want to blend in?
Well, I can only speak for myself, but I like to think that I experience somewhere differently if I don’t overtly look like a tourist. Rather than being targeted by touts and scammers, if I don’t look like a tourist then maybe my travels will be a little more authentic. I also hope that it means I am less likely to attract thieves or any other danger.
This particularly reminds me of when I was fresh out of university doing the obligatory backpacking trip across Europe. I was travelling with three friends, and by the time we reached the beautiful city of Prague in the Czech Republic, our relationship with one of my co-travellers had become a little fractured. She decided to spend a day on her own, much to all of our relief, but when we bid her goodbye for the day and told her to be safe, she became rather defensive.
“Of course I am safe, I blend in with the locals” she squealed.
Yeah, she blended in with the locals. She was 5ft nothing, Asian and wearing really scruffy backpacker clothes. We were in Prague, tall Eastern Europeans who took pride in what they wore.
No she did not blend in.
Luckily nothing happened to her that day, but whenever I think about Prague I think about blending in and that particular day.
So what should you do if you want to blend in with the locals? These are my top 5 tips:
- Know what the locals wear: Sounds simple, but the best way to blend in is to do your homework first and get a feel for how people dress. Are jeans and a t-shirt the go, or are they a little more refined. Either do some research on Google first and see what is the norm at your destination, or do some people watching when you get there.
Buy Clothes Locally: If you have the cash (and luggage space), buying clothes at your destination can make it easier to blend in. For example, buying kurtas in India will definitely help you fit in more, and they are designed specifically for the local climate.
Put the Camera Away: I love my camera and can’t imagine travelling without it. But when you have a camera around your neck you might as well be wearing a neon sign that says you are a tourist. Put it in your bag and take it out when you need, or better yet, ditch it in favour of the camera on your phone.
Learn the Local Currency: The quicker you can become familiar with the local currency, the easier it will be for you to look more like a local. Fumbling around staring at coins and notes trying to work out what they mean is a dead give away that you are a tourist, and also gives someone unscrupulous time to work out how to trick you into giving them more money than you need to.
Don’t Stare: This doesn’t just go for people, of course it’s just rude to stare at people. Also don’t stare at monuments, building, statues etc. Locals walk past these landmarks every day and they are no longer in awe of them, so when you slow down, point something out and look in wonder, it will be easy for people to work out you aren’t a local.
Of course, you can just forget all of this and just be a tourist. There is absolutely no shame in being new to a city or country and just enjoying discovering it. After all, that is exactly why we love to travel!