In a recent post on advice for girls exploring cities solo, I suggested avoiding physical maps while out and about because it makes you look like a nonlocal — phones are much better because they help travelers blend in.
Blending in with locals — whether you’re a guy or girl, in a group or solo — helps you avoid tourist scams while opening up the possibility for more authentic experiences. Here are three practical tips I’ve picked up to help blend in like a local when traveling.
1. Dress to the level of formality (or casualness) of the city you are in. For instance, in general I’ll dress up for Europe, but go a bit more casual in South America.
2. Carry a local grocery bag. This makes it look like you just stopped by the grocery store to pick up some things for dinner on your way home. Grocery bags are great for holding the contents of a picnic or the day’s snacks. I’ve also used them as purses, especially in cities I want to dress down.
3. Ride a bicycle, and/or use the same type of transportation that locals do. There’s no better way to get the feel for a city than on two wheels, especially for cities that are known for their bike infrastructure. I first realized this when Jim and I rented bikes for the day in Amsterdam in 2010. Several tourists actually stopped us and asked us for directions while we were out and about because they thought we were locals — at least until we spoke. We similarly blended in while riding bikes in places like Vancouver, Canada, and Seville, Spain.
— Laura Rowley