How many of you are still trying to get in that last trip of the summer? We’re off to the Olympic Peninsula this weekend for a tent camping trip – where even in August it’s meant to be cold and wet. We’ve been putting it off for years but it’s the last west coast national park we’ve yet to see and we’re determined to check it off our list. It’s a pretty short trip and since we lived on the West Coast for 10 years, we’ll have no problem fitting in. This isn’t true for everywhere we’ve gone, sometimes it can be a real challenge to not stand out but we do our best to act like we belong everywhere.
No matter where you’re traveling to, it’s a skill in itself to keep a low profile.
You don’t want to insult people by mimicking them. You can look neutral and non touristy while still looking stylish. Respectfully showing the locals that you’re there to appreciate what they have. For example, don’t dress like a surfer if you don’t surf, don’t wear a sombrero if you’re not in a mariachi band, and don’t dress in the “hiker’s uniform” (expensive wicking fabrics, trekking sticks, bucket hats, etc) if you would normally wear a t-shirts and cargo shorts on a hike. There’s no need to spend money on clothing you’ll wear once or feel silly in outside the environment. It’s most likely that if you look closely, locals dress in a variety of ways and you may have to look past how you imagine a place to see it. In Hawaii you might see surfer guys with no shirts all over the place, but go to the local grocery store and you’ll see people in jeans and stained t-shirts, just like everywhere else. If you’re wearing expensive duds in a poorer neighbourhood, that’s something else entirely – like, what are you doing there? go buy a t-shirt and come back.
Don’t try to dress casual if you feel weird in a t-shirt and board shorts. There’s a lot to be said for casual designer menswear, on the beach or any warm day – especially when paired with a great pair of sunglasses. If you’re planning to get in the water, that’s another story. If you’re the only one who doesn’t want to walk around shirtless, match their casual mood with an open collar or flip-flops – your attitude will speak volumes. If you act like you’re completely at ease, no one will question you, if they do, act like they’re the weird ones. Being comfortable is much better than a self conscious nagging in the back of your head when you should be having fun.
Know why you travel
When we go on a trip we plan almost nothing. We find out about a few key locations that the city or region is known for, and we either do or don’t go to these places. We just see how things play out. We walk, sit, take in the details of a place, watch the people, and discover places we would have never found on the internet. We like to look for fun little bars. In Barcelona we found a “rock bar” that all the tourists walked past. After a few visits we ran into a group of people from the UK and Wales and had a massively fun and unexpected night. This isn’t everyone’s travel style. Some people really like everything planned out. Try to figure out what you want out of your trip before you go. Are you going to relax? Then probably don’t pay for any day tours that will have you running around the area all day. Do you want to socialise and meet people? Look into things like bar crawls, live music and sporting events. Are you all about the history? Plan a walking tour of historic places and museums – in most cases, don’t be afraid to use the public transportation. Some will be easier to figure out than others but if you’re genuinely interested in seeing what a place is like, this is a great way. Otherwise, taxis might be for you – but be aware of genuine taxis vs fakes, and be smart when paying anyone, always count out your cash, never hand over a wad – I lost my last $50 pesos this way.
Be ready for any weather
By “any” weather, I don’t mean take a parka to Fiji, but always take at least a light jacket, maybe even something waterproof if rain is a possibility. Long pants are also a good plan. You don’t want to look like an unprepared noob when a tropical storm shows up. Even if you never need a jacket the whole time you’re there, the plane’s air conditioning may be brisk and annoying, they’re great for makeshift pillows and covering stains when you sit in something weird on the beach. It doesn’t hurt!
Don’t be afraid to ask directions
Many men (and women) find it shameful to ask directions. I don’t like being lost myself, but honestly, even locals get lost. I know people who’ve never been their own city’s art museum and couldn’t even tell you where it is. Don’t walk up to people with a map or book in your hand. Try to get a short version of directions, listen closely, and use your own common sense once they walk away. This makes you feel more independent and look intelligent, comfortable and casual – rather than a target, or idiot stereotype of a tourist. Even if these things aren’t true, it’s a great way to portray yourself in a new environment among strangers. If you still can’t figure out where the place is, ask someone else and chime in what you do know or have gathered from the previous help. You’ll look and feel a lot more confident in your travel abilities. Little things like this also help change people’s opinions of travelers and benefits us all!