While I love to travel, I am always so self-conscious about fitting in and not looking like a tourist.
Perhaps this doesn’t bother you.
Me? It definitely does.
Over time, I’ve developed a few strategies to look a local.
- Do your geography homework. If you’re going somewhere new, study the local map ahead of time. Understand the part of town you’ll be staying in. Check it again right before you’re about to head out of your hotel for the day, so you’ll know which direction to travel first.
- Study the public transit system ahead of time. Get a solid idea of the cost of subway fare and how to use the ticket machines, etc.
- Set up a local home base. Odds are, there’s a coffee shop or cafe near where you’re staying. Make it your hangout during the stay. By day 2 or 3, it’ll start feeling like your own and if you’re nice, the barista may remember your drink.
- Bonus points: Buy a travel mug from that coffee shop and then use it during your stay. It’ll make a great souvenir and you can bring it back next time. It’s a good prop for looking like a local. [Note: This doesn’t work that well if the local coffee joint is Starbucks].
- More bonus points: Stay at the same hotel every time you’re in this particular city. With time, you’ll know the neighborhood really well. It’s your neighborhood now.
- When you head out: walk confidently, head up, moving with purpose. Walk quickly.
- Don’t stop in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. Ever.
- Have a back-up plan for directions. Of course you checked your map before leaving the hotel, but you may forget which turn is next somewhere along the way. If you need to use the GPS directions on your phone, plug in earphones so that you can discreetly hear the audio directions.
- Dress the part. Unless you are actively working out, don’t wear workout clothes. Especially shoes like this:
I actually like these shoes! For running. Not walking around the city.
If you’re worried about comfort and you’ll be walking a lot, try ankle boots or these:
These always work.
Here’s another example of What Not To Wear:
- What to wear: I find that being slightly overdressed is usually far better than the other way around, which is why I often wear a suit. Yes, you read that right. Even when I travel for fun, not work, I’ll frequently bring a suit. Why? It looks sharp, you can break apart the pants and jacket, wear them together, etc. It works for day or night. And you always look put together and like you are going to an Important Business Meeting, which of course a tourist would not do.
- Bonus points: People actually seem to treat you a little more nicely when you are wearing a suit. The hostess may seat you at a nicer table. The clerks in the stores may be extra helpful.
- Bring a bag for your purchases. Nothing screams “tourist” faster than carrying around a bag from the NBC Studio Store. Carry your souvenirs in a re-usable, foldable tote like this:
Other props that help you fit in:
- Sunglasses. A great disguise for lack of confidence. Fake it ’til you make it.
- A big umbrella. Tourists stash tiny, retractable umbrellas in case of rain. Locals use the big ones that are less prone to invert with the slightest wind gust.
- A baby in a big, expensive stroller. Why, yes, my baby and I are just out for a stroll in Soho. Our loft is around the corner.
- And the ultimate prop: your dog. A major pain for the actual travel part, but yep, you’ll fit right in.