Having been born and raised New York, I’m all too familiar with tourists and how damn frustrating they can be. Sure, most are friendly and upbeat once you have the chance to meet them, but they don’t walk or drive at a proper New York pace, they're finicky and tough to accommodate in restaurants, cause a cringe-worthy scene whenever a celebrity is around, and tend to display a general lack of situational awareness. And what do they usually all have in common? They haven’t done their homework on local culture, which is the only way to seamlessly blend in with native strangers in unfamiliar territory.
Feeling at home in a new city can be simple once you’ve studied up a bit, and it doesn’t take a ton of effort to appear respectful, in-the-know, and completely comfortable in new surroundings. No matter the destination on your suitcase tag, you can bet that a bit of preparation will make your transition go a lot more smoothly.
Study the Local Manners
Most people who haven’t ever left the United States would be shocked at how something as simple as a handshake can have all kinds of nuances depending on where in the world you're traveling. So keep in mind that every country has its own unspoken social rules, manners, and customs. You can’t take it for granted that even your best manners will be understood or properly interpreted abroad.
Before the landing gear deploys, you should be familiar with the local dos and don’ts of navigating and interacting in your temporary home. Learn how to greet people casually and respectfully, get familiar with proper local table manners, study up on what culturally taboo topics you’ll want to avoid, and memorize a few foreign language keywords you’ll need to get around to avoid fumbling through a translator app every time you need to ask for directions. This’ll make it simple to avoid stepping on any toes, and will help to make each interaction with strangers a positive and memorable one.
Dress the Part
While you should always be comfortable and dress to your preference, it's embarrassing (and potentially dangerous) to be labeled a gullible tourist upon first glance. Looking too casual or travel-ready (I’m talking cargo pants, big backpacks, and gym sneakers) is a dead giveaway.
You can't go wrong with well-fitting, slightly dressed-up gear in neutral colors. If it fits well and it has a collar, chances are it’ll look great no matter where you are. And avoid wearing flashy jewelry and accessories, or risk being a target for pickpockets. Yeah, your Rolex looks great and makes being on-time easier, but it's probably not the best idea to flash it in a foreign environment where your street smarts are lessened.
Plan Your Menu
Authentic, local food is indisputably one of the best parts of traveling. And while playing it safe and sticking only to stuff you’re already familiar with (I’m talking to you, picky eaters) isn’t necessarily disrespectful or rude, it’s a massive missed opportunity.
A trip to a new country is the perfect time to experiment with new cuisines impulsively, but it doesn’t hurt to get familiar with some of the local delicacies, and the way they’re commonly served and eaten, before you arrive. So do a bit of research, make a short list of a few dishes your host city or country does best, and gravitate towards those when you bib up at a new restaurant. No need to memorize every dish or local ingredient; if you’re lost on what to order, it’s always an option to ask your server for a recommendation as long as you’re polite.
With those details in mind, you'll get more out of your trip – and then return home a more experienced, well-rounded traveler. Now, have fun out there. And don’t forget to grab souvenirs for everybody back at home.