No matter where I go, I always stand out. Vibrant red hair doesn’t typically blend in among many countries (unless you’re in Scotland…). I’ve been pointed at, laughed at, and had dozens of photos taken of me like I’m a celebrity or zoo animal (yes, I’m looking at you China!). While I typically don’t mind standing out and embracing my vibrant appearance and personality (and you should too!), there are some benefits to “blending in” when traveling abroad. By this I mean best practices towards being a respectful and courteous traveler. Let’s be honest, no one wants to be the stereotypical, obnoxious and rude tourist that some are misconceived to be (that’ll make you stand out even more!). Here are some tips for “blending” in and respecting other countries and cultures.
Learn basic phrases and vocabulary of the local language
It took a few trips for me and some “trial and error” before taking this advice. But making the effort to learn a few phrases in the local language will go a long way. Do NOT expect everyone to speak English and cater to your language needs. Making conversation with the locals in their native tongue will open up doorways and conversations you might not otherwise have had. Many locals will appreciate your efforts and interest in learning their language and culture. For example, in Tanzania, I met a local who very kindly praised my effort of speaking Swahili (unfortunately I was only able to remember a few words and phrases) and told me to keep it up!
Dress more conservatively
Always do your research before traveling somewhere new to be respectful and prevent from offending anyone. For example, in Tanzania, it is acceptable have your shoulders exposed and wear a tank top. However, for both men and women, pants, skirts and dresses should at least cover the knees (shorts are typically not acceptable in Tanzania). Yet in some countries, such as Cuba, anything goes! Always do your research and determine if you are traveling to a more conservative country and pack accordingly.
Learn the local customs (and respect them)
Every country is different and has its own culture and customs. Learning the language and respecting the dress code are also ways to respect the local customs. Additionally, learning what is considered “appropriate” in each country can also help you stand out less from a tourism perspective. For example, not all places and people appreciate having photos taken of them. Always ask if it’s appropriate to take photos before bring out your camera or smartphone. Other ways to be mindful of other cultures is to respect local superstitions, cultural etiquette, and mannerisms. Some of these may include only using your right hand for eating and shaking hands in many countries (with the left hand being taboo), being mindful of hand gestures, and religious customs.
At the end of the day, it is totally acceptable to be yourself! Just remember, you are a guest in another country. Being respectful, conscious of your actions, and making an effort goes a long way and provides a more authentic and wonderful travel experience.