Blending in when traveling, that is, being less noticeable as an outside or tourist, lies in the subtleties of patient observation. It’s the grandiose gestures which give you away and the inconspicuous ones that keep your cover. There is no single one way to blend in and soon after arrival you’ll need to discover the native mix first to become a traveling chameleon.
Leave The Extra Gear Behind
Locals walking on the streets typically don’t carry large specialized bags with them everywhere. Pockets might not be bulging with wallets; light jackets may be worn in what you consider warm weather. Whatever it may be, you likely have packed it or can leave it locked in your hotel. The items that can help you blend aren’t those found in specialty shops, unless of course you’re going to hang out with a bunch of hikers.
- When you do whip out your camera for a few photos, put it away when not in use.
Changing your focus can not only help you take better travel photos but make your camera less obvious as well.
Observe Faces, Not Places
The majority of cultural clues in a given place are walking all around you, expressed and in plain sight on the faces of everyone you’re trying to mimic. How do people interact with each other – at the grocery store checkout, how much eye contact takes place, for how long? You need to observe faces for how fundamental signals are conveyed like “yes”, “no”, and “friendly” versus “acknowledgment”.
- Notice The Little Things – Tiny differences in behavior that you exhibit are what make you stand out. Put your clothes on someone from the city you’re visiting, they probably wouldn’t be mistaken for a tourist.
- Watch The Pace – People all over the world walk at different paces; slow down or speed up to match the flow around you.
- Observe Conspicuously – Absorb all that’s going around you in snapshots, not trying to see everything at one. Getting caught wide-eyed disrupts your flow (see above) and makes you stick out.
- Learn A Few Words – Whether it’s the language, jargon, or native accent, even knowing just 4 words can go a very long way.
- Chat With Someone Living In The Area – There are 3 language social networks you can use to talk to locals and share a bit about yourself as well.
- Opps! – Don’t commit these international faux pas.
Remember, the people around you are live examples of numerous mannerisms, facial expressions, and sounds that all tell you what makes a local seem like a local.
The Benefits Of The Blend
Aside from the insights you gain through careful perception, the less outside attention you attract, the smoother your movement will be on sidewalks, markets, and popular tourist spots. Traveling chameleons are less attractive targets for pickpockets, overzealous shopkeepers who don’t know you can bargain your way to a good price.
One of the best reasons to blend in though is the confidence it gives you. Travelers who feel less out of place are more likely to go to lesser known restaurants, engage locals more frequently, and experiment with new experiences.
Added time is another bonus – or at least the perception of it. You can slow down and make the most out of your last impressions, using the process to look back on your entire trip, in between, and ahead for your next trip.
You’re Not A Local; Limits To The Disguise
There is no absolute, no complete blend possible. Locals can (eventually) always distinguish everyone else from themselves. It take a moment, perhaps until you utter your first few words of broken Spanish, but it’s not when you go unnoticed that’s important. It is what you notice to achieve that state that not only keeps you undercover, but lets you uncover the culture you’re visiting. You’re not completely changing who you are but rather making subtle adjustments to fit in just that much better.