How to Blend in While Travelling

My name is Alex and I hate looking like a tourist when I travel. There, I said it.

Okay, I know that a fair number of people are in the same boat as me, but sometimes you look through your suitcase and you realize that you’ve basically packed an entire wardrobe that screams, “I AM A TOURIST, PLEASE MAKE ME PAY MORE FOR THINGS, THANKS.”

Now, if you’re one of those people and you’re happy in your sweat pants and fanny packs (to be honest, I didn’t even realize those were still a thing until I got to Paris and saw tourists pulling maps out of fanny packs; I mean, unless Paris is trapped in 1993 permanently, which would explain the cops on rollerblades, but I digress), more power to you. Embrace your sweatshirts! Hit me with a fanny pack next time you see me! But if you’re like me and would prefer to look like a local, then here a few tips for how to blend in.

Dress the Part

This is the obvious one. I’m not saying that you have to seriously doll and up and clomp around in a pair of heels just because you want to look less touristy in Paris or wherever, but a little care can make a big difference. The basic no-nos are anything that could also be worn as gym wear (sweat pants, running shoes, tracksuits), cargo shorts (unless you are at a resort or beach destination), and baseball caps, along with heavily branded clothing. For most places in Europe, a pair of nice jeans and a dark sweater or shirt can really go a long way to helping you blend in. A great accessory to pack is a scarf since it’s both stylish and functional (especially in colder climates). Basically, think classic, simple and neutral when it comes to clothing.

Also, there are plenty of street style blogs that you can research beforehand if you’re super dedicated to fitting in (The-Streetstyle, Stockholm Street Style, Tommy Ton, Facehunter, Hel-Looks and the classic Sartorialist are all good places to start, although there are a billion blogs out there for every major city).

Leave the Giant Camera at Home

This is kind of a tough one since most travellers love taking 80 billion photos of their vacations (which are then uploaded into four separate Facebook albums so their mom can check out every moment of their trip), but those big cameras are a pain. They’re heavy, bulky, and are the equivalent of putting a big gold medal around your neck that reads “#1 Tourist.”

If you really want to take pictures, go for it (I’m a photographer, too, so I get it), but if you’re just out wandering and there isn’t any real reason why you should be dragging it along, leave it in the hotel. If you can bear to part with your camera during the less scenic parts of your trip, try to stick to phone pictures (if your phone has decent enough quality) or point-and-shoot cameras that can be tucked into a bag or pocket. Also, never take photos with your iPad. Not only do you look like you’re trying to take pictures with a baking tray, but you’re in everyone else’s way with your high-tech baking tray.

No Fanny Packs, Cloth Neck Wallets or Whatever

To be completely honest, I didn’t realize fanny packs (or bum bags, if you’re British) were still around until I went travelling through Europe. Clearly they are enjoying a resurgence because I keep seeing people pull maps, change and possibly sandwiches from them. I don’t mean to be harsh, but get rid of them. Sure, they may be useful while you’re lacing up your LA Gears or to hold your parachute pants up while you’re listening to your boom box or whatever, but they are basically big WHOOP WHOOP I’M A TOURIST beacons. A simple leather purse, a stylish backpack or a straightforward canvas bag are all much better choices (though I do recommend something with buttons or zippers since open bags are much more likely to be the target of pickpockets).

Note: If you’re looking for any easy but stylish way to haul around just a few cards and some cash, the designer Luxirare makes fantastic necklace wallets that hang on a chain around your neck and are great for keeping a few tiny things in. You can’t carry much else, but they’re good in a pinch.

Put Away the Map

Nothing is worse than turning into that person who stands in the middle of the sidewalk while fumbling with a giant map and yelling, “BUT I THOUGHT WE WERE SUPPOSED TO TURN AT FIFTH STREET.” Most guidebooks have much smaller, discreet maps within them that allow you to flip through them quickly and quietly, so a small one in a bag or purse is generally the best option.

For those who like using their phones but hate roaming data charges, you can download city maps to your phone on the Google Maps app by typing in the city and, after it’s loaded, typing in “ok maps” to download the map to your phone. While you can’t use the search function, it will still show you your location through GPS and is quite useful for discreet location checks.

Confidence, Confidence, Confidence

It’s hard sometimes to feel super confident when you’re lost in a new city. It’s even harder when you don’t speak the language and you’re staring at a sign in Finnish trying to figure out which word means railway station (rautatieasema, if you’re curious), but carrying yourself with confidence is very useful for blending in when exploring a new city. It’s the best way to trick others into thinking you belong there and can occasionally even help prevent you from being an obvious pickpocketing target (since you appear more aware and sure in your surroundings). Keep your head up, your shoulders back, and you’ll blend effortlessly into the new city. No one will ever know you don’t belong. Well, until someone asks you a question. After that, you’re on your own, buddy.

 

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Alex Nursall

Alex Nursall works in advertising but likes to pretend she's some sort of cool artist on weekends (NOTE: She's not, but don't tell her). She looks like something between early Winona Ryder and early Winona Ryder's less attractive cousin. She spent most of her childhood sitting in the back of cars driving around North America. She also takes photos and does illustration work sometimes, which can be found at alexnursall.com.