Tips for traveling abroad—how to blend in.

By taking in the culture, you'll look less like a tourist when studying abroad.

By taking in the culture, you’ll look less like a tourist when studying abroad.

You’ve signed up for foreign study. While you are traveling abroad to broaden your experiences and learn, you also don’t want to stand out as a tourist. After all, part of the experience is the immersion into another culture. The more you look like you belong, the more you will probably get from the experience. So how to blend in and not scream to everyone within eyesight that you’re a tourist? Here are some tips on what to pack and how to act so you won’t get noticed.

Appearances matter

First things first—if you are walking around in a NY Yankees T-shirt and sneakers with a fanny pack on and clutching a camera, you will instantly be pegged as an American tourist. Avoid this trap by thinking ahead when you pack. James Feess blogs at The Savvy Backpacker with his suggestions in his August 4, 2013 post “Women’s European Fashion—Tips for Dressing like an European” and for guys, his August 5, 2013 post, “Fashion Advice: How to Avoid Looking Like An American Tourist in Europe.”

Both men and women should wear:

  • Well-fitting clothes
  • More subdued colors for Europe, brighter shade for places like India and the Caribbean
  • Casual sneakers that don’t look like white athletic shoes
  • Scarves are big for both sexes
  • Clothes appropriate for the weather

Items to be avoided:

  • Baseball caps
  • Athletic pants, shorts and/or sweat pants
  • Any kind of white sneaker
  • Crocs
  • Anything with a U.S. flag or U.S. brand (think Abercrombie & Fitch or GAP)
  • And, does it even need to be said? Fanny packs

Local culture

Before traveling abroad it’s important to investigate the local culture and customs. In a November 14, 2013, post on The Planet D blog, “How to Blend in Abroad: Tips to Avoid Looking and Acting Like a Tourist” authors Dave and Deb recommend reading up on local customs because “gestures and greetings can be easily misinterpreted overseas especially if you assume that all signs are universal.” You don’t want to accidentally insult someone without even opening your mouth, do you?

Other areas to research:

  • Body language etiquette
  • Tipping customs for taxis and/or restaurants
  • Proper manners when entering a house, visiting an ancient site and/or a place of worship
  • Local laws

The post also says another idea for how to blend in is to be open-minded, because “Tolerance is the key to blending in.” For instance, in some Latin American countries, things, like customer service, may move more slowly than you are used to in the U.S. Be patient and just enjoy the experience.

Be quiet and discreet

Unfortunately, Americans have earned a reputation for being loud. So practice being a bit more reserved when traveling. For instance, don’t scream into your cell phone or flail your arms around when you are talking. Of course, if you speak the local language all the better. Try to at least try picking up some basic phrases, such as please and thank you, which will go a long way to endearing you with the locals. Definitely learn how to say, “Do you speak English?” in the language of any country you visit.

Another sure give-away that you’re a tourist is to pull out a map or guidebook. That trap can be neatly avoided “in the age of smartphones and GPS technology,” according to Libby Zay’s May 30, 2012, post “How to Avoid Looking Like A Tourist” on Her tips for blending in while traveling abroad include “discreetly consulting a map on your phone” to get around and “step out of foot traffic or even into a store or cafe when you need to regroup and figure out where you are.”

You don’t want to be ashamed of where you come from, you just want to blend in and enjoy your time traveling abroad. While you may not master all of these before your journey to another country, if you stay observant and respectful of the culture you’re in, your trip will be a positive learning experience.

Do you have other ideas on how to blend in with the natives when you are traveling abroad? Share your tips for not standing out in the crowd in the comments below.

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