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SALT LAKE CITY — The dead giveaways: puffy white sneakers, fanny packs, oversized cameras and a tan camping hat. In one sideways glance you’ve been pinned for a tourist.
Well, you are. But what’s the problem? It tells pickpockets that yes, you have money, it’s in your fanny pack and you are not familiar with your surroundings. It also tells locals that you aren’t one of them.
With the first reason in mind, here are a few tips for blending in when abroad, specifically in Europe, though some apply generally.
A little bit of research goes a long way to making you look more comfortable and confident.
Know where you’re going and anticipate travel routes. Find out ahead of time which bus or metro lines you need to get on and if walking, on which roads to turn. If necessary, write them down in a small, discreet notebook or on your phone so you can avoid pulling out a large map — a clear sign you’re not from around here and distracted from your valuables. Then, all you have to worry about is finding the signs, freeing you up to enjoy the commute and look like you know where you are going.
When in busy, crowded areas where signs are harder to see, keep a hand on your bag or pockets with valuables in them and look ahead. You can usually spot what you need in a break of the crowd and make a shift in the right direction. Again, figuring these things out ahead of time can help a lot.
Watch out for people who seem to be taking a keen interest in you and your belongings.
Dress up, but without the flash.
If you are going abroad, do a search on the Internet to see what people will be wearing so you can blend in, the Better Health Channel recommends.
For example, while Europeans favor more neutral colors in general, if you are going to India or the Caribbean, black may stand out among the colorful attire.
Similarly, thinking, “I just want to be comfortable” may lead you to choose shorts, a T-shirt and flip flops for a day to the beach, but take a cue from the locals to protect your wallet. Is that what they are wearing? In Southern California you may be fine wearing this attire, in Europe you may look out-of-place and overly casual in place where the style is not fussy, but always put together and tailored.
In many places, an added layer — even in T-shirt weather scarves or cardigans are worn — is a quick way to dress up an otherwise casual outfit with an item you may already have in your closet.
For footwear in places where clothing is dressier, think about quality, and comfort will follow. Instead of plastic and foam flip flops, simple leather sandals are standard. Pair neutral loafers, moccasins or flats with jeans or fitted khaki-style or cropped pants. Boots are also popular choices for men and women. Choose simple and classic sneakers like Converse, Bensimon or Vans over puffy white ones — which are frequently noted as "tourist" attire.
Choose clothing and accessories that don’t pin you for an American from San Francisco who loves the Giants, or another sport team. Keep your pride in your heart and head down, so to speak. Additionally, if you’re going to purchase clothing or accessories from the destination, avoid wearing these items until you are on your way to the airport or you get home.
Wherever you go, avoid dressing too casually, without advertising yourself as a prime target for theft. Leave expensive jewelry, boldly labeled designer clothing or bags home.
For luggage, look for something sturdy and well made but not attention-grabbing. TV show host and travel guru Rick Steves recommends keeping it simple.
“Leave your fancy bling at home. Luxurious luggage lures thieves. The thief chooses the most impressive suitcase in the pile — never mine,” he wrote on his travel website.
If you plan on carrying around an expensive camera, avoid keeping it in plain sight around your neck. When it’s not in use, hide it away in a discreet camera bag, or, better yet, convert a regular-looking purse or bag into a camera bag with padding. You can buy these padded inserts or make your own.
Understand cultural norms
Learn some basic phrases if you’re traveling somewhere you don’t speak the language. With these down, you can navigate most situations with some confidence (and fill in the rest with gestures or a dictionary).
Some useful words or phrases to learn:
- Thank you
- Check, please?
- How much?
- Excuse me
- Where is the bathroom?
- Various words for bathroom/toilet
- Train station
- Bus station
If you are planning on entering any churches, temples or mosques, dress accordingly. Shorts and tank tops are not allowed in many sacred sites, and be prepared to cover your head if you are a woman entering a mosque.
Would you add any other tips to this list? Tell us in the comments section.