I am clearly a tourist in most of the places I travel solo.
My skin is fair and my wildly curly hair is white. It’s amazing but only a very small percentage of women don’t color their hair most places I’ve been.
So, I stand out. Unless I’m in North America or maybe some places in Europe, I am obviously a tourist. There is really nothing I can do about it because I am physically different from the locals.
But, even though I can’t blend in, I can still visit like a quasi-local. I observed this as a beautiful friend with long blond hair and blue eyes managed her way through Santiago, Chile where the women have brown hair and brown eyes. I thought, if I can act as a capable and competent expat, I will be fine even if it’s obvious I’m not. So how to do it? Know the ropes and be nobody’s fool
Ten steps to blend in when traveling solo.
- Watch how the locals behave. Find a seat in a public area and sit back, relax and watch. Observe how they wait for public transit, how loudly they speak, how they make eye contact, how close they are when they talk to each other… Emulate their behavior. If they are timid and obey line-ups, do so. If they are pushy and loud, be so (within reason).
- Walk with confidence – as if you have gone the same route dozens of times before.
- If people stare at you, ignore them as if you’re used to getting stares. I’ve even had people touch my hair because they were so curious. In this case I check to see who it is and they either get a smile (children) or a ‘back off’ look.
- Rather than a day pack, carry a shopping bag of a local retail chain.
- Dress appropriately. It may not be necessary to dress in local custom but it may be beneficial.
- Know the currency well. Fumbling with money and making mistakes is a sure sign of a tourist.
- Become a regular, even for a couple of days, at the same coffee shop or small grocery store. They’ll know that you’re new but when you say hi like a regular, others won’t.
- Put away the camera, the map and the water bottle.
- Keep to yourself on public transit and other busy places where people don’t make eye contact.
- Book a licensed guide for the major tourist sites and learn from them.
It is also best to keep English chatter to a minimum so that you’re not broadcasting your tourist status. As a solo traveler you have a distinct advantage in this regard.