Traveling with confidence is something I excel at. I almost titled this post, “How to get asked for directions by tourists so often that you think that you must look like a local”, but that seemed a little too long. That’s kind of how I came about this topic. It happens to a lot of people that travel a lot. You’re walking along a side street, near a tourist attraction but not that close, and someone approaches you with a map in their hand.
“Um, excuse me, do you speak English?”
“Oh! Do you live around here?/Are you from here?”
“No… can I help you?”
“Well, maybe you know where i can find the ___?”
If you’re like me and can memorize a map, pay attention to your surroundings, and exude confidence while walking through a foreign city, you can probably help them.
“Yeah, just keep going this direction, and when you get to the statue of the guy, make a left. You’ll go about two blocks, but you should see it on your left.”
“Oh great, thanks!”
If you’re wondering how often I get stopped by someone wondering where they are, or where they have to go, it’s often. At least once a day in various cities. And it’s not that I have every city memorized. Most of the time, I can only give them a bit of information, knowing they’ll need to stop someone else in a few blocks. It’s that when I travel, I walk like a local. I act like a local. I do it with confidence.
So what are my tips for traveling with confidence?
Know your route before you leave.
Or, at least, know a part of your route before you go. If you’re leaving the hotel and going to one specific place, have a general idea of what streets you need to walk down in order to get there. Some cities are easy to get lost in (Rome, Venice, London), others aren’t so bad (Florence, Edinburgh, Paris). If you’re more like me and wandering around without a destination sounds like fun, know what streets you need in order to get back to the hotel. You’ll look more like a local if you aren’t walking around with your head stuck into a map. Bonus: you’ll see more, like the laundry hanging out the windows, the intricate details on the random church on the corner, the smells wafting from the food cart, etc. You can really take it all in.
Don’t be afraid to talk to the locals.
Seriously. If you realize you are lost (or misplaced), stop into a shop or cafe and ask the server/shop attendant if they can direct you to wherever you’re going. They may take you themselves, if they can, or that might pull their kid from the back room and have the kid lead you. Depending on where you are in the world, you might be asked to sit for tea/coffee and a chat, at the end of which, you may be led to the museum/train station/whatever. Usually, they’ll at least give you directions.
Dress like the locals.
Nothing screams “tourist” like binoculars and cameras slung around the neck like a necklace; or Hawaiian print shirts with khaki shorts, bad sunburns, fannypacks (called bum bags in a lot of place around the world, “fanny” being a nasty word, fyi), etc. There is nothing wrong with looking like a traveler – so many cities around the world rely on the tourism economy. But tone it down a bit. If you notice that the women are wearing dark jeans, flats, scarves.. do like they do. Buy a thin scarf (summer) or thick pashmina (fall/winter) and use it to wrap yourself in the chilly museums, restaurants, etc. To gain entrance to some religious buildings, you do actually need to cover your shoulders (and likely your knees, so short shorts are out) and a scarf is the perfect thing to throw on.
Again, don’t even pack the shorts, unless you are going to the coast, and even then, I recommend skirts. maxi shirts, flowing summer dresses, etc. For men, dark jeans and a blazer, khakis, and a nice collared shirt. These are excellent packing ideas. Everyone should take a good sweater for the winter. Google area fashion before you go to ensure you won’t stick out. And always, always, always: classic is better, unless you are going to Lollapalooza or Burning Man or some other crazy festival. Stick with neutrals and pops of bright colours (scarves, tie, cardigan, etc.).
Don’t be loud and brash.
I hear from a lot of my international friends that they can pick an American out of a crowd (and I can, too). Nine times out of ten, it’s because that person is talking overly loudly and/or rudely to friends, or the waiter, or the shop personnel. As a culture, we can be demanding and rude, but going with the above theme of looking like a local, don’t be that person. If you speak English, speak quietly. I have been in too many groups where I’m embarrassed with how loud my companions are. It’s even worse when said companions are complaining about how things are done in whichever country we are in. They don’t give you enough booze, they can’t give you a double, the martini was made wrong (and this person gave directions on how to make a martini. yikes.). There’s confidence, and then there’s over the top. Don’t be too bold.
Take advantage of safety deposit boxes in hotels.
Or, make sure you feel safe keeping your belongings in your room. Nothing will stress you out more than wondering if you hid your passport/took that money off the dresser/etc. If you’ve rented a flat or house for a week, and you know no one else will have access to the rooms, still place computers, passports, etc inside a closet or in your bag under the bed. You will feel better knowing that you’ve secured your belongings. I, for one, have never used a safe deposit box, but I do pack up all of my electronics before leaving for the day. It IS a good idea to make copies of your passport/ID and email them to yourself and someone who is not traveling with you, in case you need that information. I have a printed/laminated copy of my passport that I keep in my bag. It won’t serve as a form of ID (trust me on this one!) but if you need to desperately get to the your embassy, it might expedite things.
Know where the embassy is.
Just for your own personal knowledge, if anything. Especially if you are in a part of the world where you might need to get there for asylum or help, evacuation, etc. Register your trip with the State Department. This way, if there is a terrorist threat, attack, natural disaster, or anything else, you will be notified by the government and they can help get you out.
Know a little bit of the history and culture of the city you’re going to.
One day, it might help you win a pub quiz. Seriously.
Also, know some of the language. At the very least, learn “thank you” and say it with a smile. That’s universal.
Don’t stick to the main streets.
One of the best restaurants I found in Rome was on a tiny street in the Monti district, and the only reason we found it was because we walked past at 9 PM and it was PACKED. So, we decided we’d have dinner there, and it was amazing. With a little digging, you can find some gems that are off the beaten track.
With these tips, and your own confidence, you can navigate any city like a local. Did I miss anything? Do you have any stories of how you exude confidence while traveling? Comment below.