Be Bold Travel Tip
Travel tip #38
Most of the time in most places, travelers do not blend in with the crowd. You walk down the street and everybody looks at you, everybody notices you. No problem, appearing different than those around you is the hallmark of the traveling experience.
I think that it is perhaps a foolish attempt for travelers to try to blend in with the cultural seas that they travel through. We do not dress the same (even when we wear local garb), walk the same, speak the same, and out intentions are 100% different than those around us. Why then, would I want to blend in? Why would I want to try to be indiscreet?
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Sanliurfa, Turkey- March 27, 2009
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I don’t. I want to stand out as much as possible, spark the curiosity of those around me, and meet people. When I walk down a street I want people to invite me in for a glass of tea, I want the sidewalk sitters to offer me cigarettes as I trod through their turf, I want people to pull out their cellular telephones and take pictures of me. It is inevitable that this will happen anyway, so I find no reason to stand in front of a flood tide that is running smack against me.
I like the attention that comes from traveling.
Go with the flow, fill the role that is made for you. I am a tourist peeping in at the lives of people on every corner of the globe. I do not live anywhere, I do not work anywhere, and my young family is equally rootless. I am a voyeur hoping to be voyeured upon in each local that I end up in. Outside of the rounds of tourism, the voyeurism is mutual.
I stare at other people and they stare at me.
(For the past 15 minutes as I write these words a local man has been standing behind me just watching everything that I do over my shoulder. No booby pictures here, Jack, only boring words.)
I think that people from the other side of the world from where I grew up are interesting, and, thankfully, the people on the other side of the world tend to think the same. I do not mind standing out in a crowd, I do not mind being stared at or yelled to, I do not mind in the street attention, as this just means that people are finding me as interesting as I find them. Someone staring at you is a cue to stare at them back. The curiosity is mutual.
It is my impression that attempting to blending into foreign culture is highly held notion that is deeply entangled in Western society. We seem to find ourselves not very interesting, so it is a point of honor to be able to transform ourselves and show once and for all that we are not tourists. That blending in with the locals and acting “local” is something that a traveler should aspire to. The tales of Richard Burton dressing in disguise and sneaking into Mecca and Medina are buried deep in our imperial psyches.
But Burton himself had a particularly strong disdain for people who “dressed up” in foreign outfits and tried to act differently than they were. He despised Englishmen in Indian garb as well as Indians in English suits. I find few things more distasteful than foreigners bragging about blending in with foreign cultures.
“I am a local in xxx village in Thailand.”
“We are acting like Americans,” an American girl once warned me as we were trying to get ourselves invited to a Czech campfire party.
“We are Americans,” I responded.
If I wanted to blend in I would stay at home. I blend in fine in Albion, New York. But people do not try to meet me there, people do not stare at me, people do not gasp when they see me walking down the street or yell “hello” at me from a hundred different places. People also do not offer me their hospitality, make my wits quicker from having to figure out their intentions, or show me the kindness that only a stranger can show. In my home town, I am as interesting as wall paper. In the east of Turkey, I make people curious.
I once tried to blend in when traveling, I once thought that there was some highly held badge of honor that could be won from people mistaking me for a local. I tried to be indiscreet, to act as the locals act, and tried not to do anything that would draw attention to myself. But I eventually found that sticking out like a hitchhiker’s thumb is much more to my advantage if I want to really meet people and really get to know a place. You can walk fast with you head down in almost any place in the world trying to act discreet, but everybody will still notice you.
I say use the attention to your advantage. Meet people, take photos, and have fun in the streets. This is what most people do in the world outside of the USA and Europe.
If you are cowering from your surroundings, you cannot fully embrace them. If you walk down a street trying not to be noticed, then you are probably not going to engage the people who are trying to greet you with a smile.
In most instances, I try not to cower as much as possible. I want to be noticed by the people whose country I am traveling through, I want to engage people, and I want to have conversations and make friends. I walk down the streets like a proud rooster, looking people in the eyes, saying hello, and shaking hands when they are outstretched to me.
Locals are not interesting, foreigners are interesting.
I want to act as a foreigner. I want to say hello to everyone I pass and find out what is on their minds. Often times, they also seem to want to find out the same about me. I know that I will learn more from attracting attention, I know that I will find myself in interesting circumstances if I attract a crowd.
Most people in the world are good, some are jerks. If you cower from the jerks you risk missing out on the good in the world.
I read in a book recently a line that stated something like:
“A long term traveler comes to blend in with the surroundings wherever they go.”
This is garbage. It is my impression that the longer someone travels the more they stick out and look foreign, the more they come to accept their role as a visitor, as they know that this is the best way to meet people. People are naturally interested in that which appears different than themselves. When walking down I street I look for the most far-flung things that I can find, I look for that which is foreign to me. Business men in nice western suits with slicked back hair talking on cell phones rarely catch my attention.
It is my opinion that a traveler comes to learn that attention means conversation and friends, so they learn how to cultivate this attention. They learn how to stand out in a crowd and attract good attention and shut down the bad. They learn how to detect the jerks with a single look, and embrace the good people when they extend their hands. This is what I am learning now.
This is what I am always learning.
I know of no culture who admires wimpy people. Stand up, be bold, walk slow, look people in the eye, say hello, and act like the foreigner you are.
This is a travel tip based off of my experience. I could be right, I could be wrong, I could say something different tomorrow, so take my words and ponder them, or don’t.
Friends in the streets of Sanliurfa, Turkey. These men wanted to meet me and gave me some tea and interesting, albeit mostly pantomimed, conversation.
Turkish pants vendor in Sanliurfa. This man just wanted to sell me something.
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