There she was, tired from 12 hours of airports, airplanes and taxis. She had made it to Paris where I picked her up from CDG, ready for a week of sightseeing and adventure with her grandson. She was wearing her normal uniform: A robin’s egg blue sweater with hummingbirds on it. She would stand out, raising our profile, everywhere we went. Blending in would be interesting.
My plan: Take her to so many sights that she wouldn’t be able to stay up past 6pm – limiting our time on the streets at night.
#1 tip for blending in? Dress the part: Don’t be the 6’5″ guy in a wild pink shirt and scarf standing outside a major tourist attraction (the Louvre) with your passport sticking out of your shirt pocket. Heading to a Muslim country? Don’t wear revealing clothing especially if you’re a woman. Balkans on your calendar? Dress up if it calls for it. Don’t overdo it though- the goal is not to become a master of disguise, but to stand out less than other targets.
Blending in overseas; however, is much more than what you’re wearing. Do as the locals do and you’ll further your cause. How do you know what’s normal? Do your homework, ask people who have been there, read TripAdvisor reviews and check out Know Before You Go for more pre-trip advice.
How to do as the Romans when in Rome (or anywhere else):
- Know your way around. Figure out where you’re going before you leave the hotel. Do you see locals walking around lost, stopping and squinting, heads on swivels? Nope, they walk with New Yorker intensity.
- Walk with purpose: Locals are typically going somewhere. Act like you know where you’re going. If you don’t, fake it.
- Look at maps or travel guides off the street. Duck into a café for a second, open the map, get your bearings then get back out on the street.
- Leave the valuables at home. It’s not a fashion show, bling invites unwanted attention.
- Keep your possessions tucked away. I wear clothing with multiple pockets and take a laminated copy of my passport, I leave my original at the hotel in a PacSafe bag.
- Learn some lingo: This can separate you from the rando tourist. Recently I grabbed a cab in Marrakech. I asked to go to the train station and he quoted me a price two times the norm. I said one of the three phrases I had learned in Darija, “I’m not a tourist, I’m a local.” He laughed, said to get in and gave me the normal price.
- Driving: Learn how they drive and follow suit. Honking may be the norm in some countries, often times drivers do not make sudden movements, nor do they wave people across the road. Pay attention and go with the flow.