Admit it. There’s a narcissistic streak in all of us and we like attention now and then. But when you’re recognized as a tourist in another country and are swamped by touts and bogus money changers, it can get a bit annoying. Here are some tips to pretend you’re a savvy local the next time you set foot on alien land.
1. Ditch your camera
The camera is the ubiquitous symbol of a tourist. Taking pictures of everything (and at every possible angle) every five seconds, whether it is of an old lady minding her own business or the road sign outside your hotel, is a dead giveaway that you’re a foreigner. So leave the device at home (or hide it discreetly inside your pocket).
2. Watch what you’re wearing
Unless you’re in Hawaii, there’s really not much of a reason to don your floral Hawaiian shirt. They’re passé (if they were ever cool in the first place) and indicate you’re someone on holiday, especially if they come with a fanny pack, a wallet necklace, a sunhat and sunglasses. If you don’t want to be stared (or laughed at), take the lead from the locals when it comes to clothes. If you’re a woman in Morocco for example, cover yourself from neck to ankle and don’t show too much skin.
3. Keep the map out of your face
Walking around with a map, with a lost expression to boot, is a no-no if you want to pass off for a street smart homeboy. So look like you know where you’re going (even if you don’t), and never admit that you’re lost. Consult your map only in the toilet (while holding your nose of course), and you know you have succeeded when people approach you for directions.
4. Less is more
Travel solo, or with just a few friends. Traveling in large tour groups, and being babied by tour guides like a sheep (especially if your group is wearing matching colored caps), signifies that you’re newbie to the place, and sometimes prevent you from experiencing as much of the foreign culture as you could be.
5. Speak the language
The more eloquent you are in the native language(s) of the country you’re in, the better you can communicate with its people, and hence, the higher the chance that they’ll mistake you as one of them. Learning the local slang is useful as well. For example, if you’re visiting Britain, know the difference between chips and crisps. If all else fails, pretend you’re a mute.
6. Make local friends
Friends exist to be made use of. Befriend natives from the area you’re visiting and hang out with them, preferably in local haunts little known to tourists. Hopefully, by association, a number of individuals will be conned into thinking you’re a fellow countryman.
7. Learn their customs
As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The easiest way to trick people into thinking you’re one of them is to act like you are. Hence, cheek-kiss when you’re in certain parts of Latin America and jaywalk when in Bangkok.
We ask “What unglamorous acts have you seen people doing while travelling?”
Su Jun Jie, 24, Student
“Cooking in the tent! The tent could catch fire and they could get scalded.”
Woon Yang Hui, 22, Student
“I’ve seen people taking a five hour bus ride to Yosemite Park and then staying on the bus and not going out because it was too cold. So they’ve spent 10 hours on the bus for nothing!”
Isaac Teo, 29, Program Planner
“Jumping over the turnstiles in front of the public toilets in Europe. They didn’t want to pay the EU1 entry fee!”
Andy Leong, 28, Marketing Manager/DJ/Photographer
“Littering and catching fish where they shouldn’t in Phuket. They’re disturbing the ecosystem.”
Suhanna Solastro, 21, Outreach Program Assistant
“I’ve seen tourists getting it on at Fort Canning Park. I guess it’s common for them to do that in public in their country.”