People who travel abroad may be surprised by the habits and mindsets of other cultures. There are some things that are universal – like basic respect, humility and flip flops. While people grew up in different cultures around the world, these shared experiences bind us together.
The problem comes when you travel unprepared.
No man is an island, but it sure can feel like it sometimes when you’re in a foreign land. It never feels good to feel like a fish out of water. Luckily, we’ve compiled the best tips we’ve learned (from personal experience!) to blend in when you travel.
The way you conduct yourself, how you speak, and what you wear can set you apart from the local population, making it difficult for you to successfully integrate into a new culture. It’s possible to blend in, rub shoulders with locals, and become part of the continent you’re exploring with a bit of research and some strategic adjustments.
Learn about the customs
When you’re in the Philippines, don’t point with your index finger. In Greece, don’t give a thumbs-up. In Thailand, you should never touch anyone on the head. You can’t convey your cluelessness better than by stumbling into a cultural faux pas you could have easily avoided by reading up on local customs. The right body language, hand gestures, and greetings can keep you from unwittingly offending others, as well as give you a better understanding of the culture of your host.
Get to know the local language
You can improve your communication skills and integrate into the local community by improving your language level. Language shapes thinking, and polyglots are considered to have multiple personalities. Knowing a country’s language well makes it easier to understand its inhabitants and put yourself in their shoes.
You can learn a new language for free using the Duolingo website and app.
Do not compare your country of origin to where you live right now. When it comes to adjusting to a new culture, feelings of inferiority or superiority are never helpful. Accept the oddities of the new culture with patience and respect.
Dress the part
Look the part if you want to blend in. Find out what the dress norms and styles are at your destination online before you pack. Visit local street-style blogs, browse photo sites like Flickr using location tags, and browse country etiquette guides, which usually mention dress codes. Dress in the spirit of the destination even if you don’t have a salwar kameez on hand. Is modesty valued above all else? Leave the shorts at home. How important is appearance to people? Put on your formal best.
Follow your destination’s pace
Walking at a different pace than the rest of the population in a place can make you look not only out of place but downright crazy, as I can attest as a long-time fast walker. Observe the speed at which life is conducted in a new place as you get to know it. Regardless of how fast you go or how slow you go, the payoff is huge. When you walk, talk, and live at the speed of the culture, you can truly appreciate its unique rhythms.
Don’t wear tourist gear
No, you probably aren’t going to need a water-bottle holster, a vest with external pockets, or a fanny pack full of guidebooks, energy bars, and hand sanitizer. Make sure to weed out any items that scream “tourist” before packing if blending in is a priority! The travel gear industry has evolved in recent years, and there are plenty of ways to store what you need without looking like a backcountry hiker accidentally wandering into the middle of the city.
Adjust your volume
Americans tend to talk loudly. In many destinations, our volume tends to distinguish us from the locals due to our wide-open spaces or general exuberance. When you speak, turn it down a notch so you blend in better as well as limit your ability to be recognized as a foreigner by locals. Still yearning to blend in despite being loud and proud? Don’t despair-there are plenty of countries where loud talk is the norm. You can turn it up to 11 without drawing sidelong glances from locals when you choose the right country.
Keep an open mind
Almost everywhere in the world, there’s a McDonald’s within walking distance. By staying in chain hotels and tourist traps, travelers can easily keep the unfamiliar at bay in foreign countries. However, you aren’t that person. Travel is an opportunity to embrace the new, isn’t it? You let the world in when you are open to the unknown. You can always find a way to excuse yourself that’s both courteous and unobtrusive if something—perhaps entrail stew or someone standing so close to you while talking—is uncomfortable for you.
Get off the beaten path
The tourist track has plenty of advantages—among them world-class museums, novelty T-shirts and food that at least borders on familiar for homesick foreigners—but it is unlikely that you will be able to blend in with locals in heavily touristed areas. You can only walk among those who live and eat in the place you are visiting if you meet them where they live, eat, and play.
Get to know the locals
Finding locals is the next step after deciding to walk among them. You can find out what’s popular among locals by checking out local review sites online and talking to those working at hotels, restaurants, and shops. Find out what they enjoy doing on their time off—you might be surprised. You might have to adjust your schedule to feel the pulse of native life, since some cities are essentially shut down during the day and others only come to life at night.
Embrace the local cuisine
Learn about local food customs before your vacation. If you do this, you’ll be able to feast with confidence when you arrive. If you want to eat like a local, you must know everything from the time of the meal itself (for instance, don’t go out to dinner before 9 p.m. in Spain) to the order of the courses and what utensils to use. Guidebooks cover the basics, and Internet searches can often yield additional tips, often from locals.
Being able to recognize your defeat
You won’t blend in some places. It might be your skin or hair color, your height, your gender, or your style of dress, but it’s a simple fact of travel that some destinations make you look like a local in no time at all. Even so, you shouldn’t give up; rather, you will often receive the most appreciation and positive feedback if you make the effort to blend in where you stand out.
Be able to laugh at yourself
You shouldn’t be hard on yourself when you don’t get a situation or on other people when they don’t react as expected. Have you made a mistake? Just laugh at yourself instead of burying your head in the sand, and the others will do the same. Even if you pull off a move that can be considered an insult, making fun of yourself will ease the tension. Just make sure you don’t do this amid a group of angry people, or you’ll pay the price!
What other tips do you have for blending in? Let us know in the comments.
It’s time to Do Life Right!
What are you waiting for? We hope these destinations inspire the spirit of adventure in you. If you want to add some spice to your routine, say goodbye to the city and hello to the island, let’s go!
Don’t forget to pack appropriately. You won’t need those stuffy business suits or constricting dress shoes. A comfy and stylish pair of flip flops will do.