Of course you may not really care what others think about how you look and/or act when you are traveling abroad, but to a certain extent, blending in and not acting like a typical tourist can make your trip a much safer, more pleasant experience.
Here are My Top Ten Tips for A Safe and Pleasant European Vacation:
1) Keep your voice down!!!
This is probably the number one complaint by locals when tourists come to town, either alone or with a tour group. You may think it unnatural to speak softly, but if you want to blend in and be less of a target for pickpocketing, then limit your loudness. This goes for speaking on your cell phone as well, as many people often do not realize how loud they are during a phone conversation. Not only might you be profiled, but you are probably also disturbing the peace.
2) Lose the map
Don’t pull out the big old map or bulky guidebook in the middle of a public square or in a crowded metro or tram car. Not only will you be getting in someone’s way, but again, this is a perfect chance for a pickpocket to slip swiftly in and out with some of your valuables. In larger cities, you will be one of many lost tourists, and therefore may attract a scam artist who will offer to show you the route in exchange for cash or may even direct you to the wrong place.
3) Don’t accept offers from people on the street
Don’t accept offers for hotel accomodations, currency exchange (especially), or nearby restaurants/bars from persons soliciting on the street or at a train or metro station. They are simply preying on clueless, unprepared tourists. Read your guidebook ahead of time and get an idea of where you can exchange currency, have a meal, or spend the night. If you really can’t find what you are looking for, go to a respectable looking business or even a police officer to get direction assistance.
4) Skip the fanny pack
Maybe you find the fanny pack a comfy and convenient way to carry around your money and other valuables. You will, however, rarely find any Europeans wearing them, and it will be more than obvious that you are a tourist. Try a money pouch that you can wear under your shirt or coat instead and use a small day pack that fits inside your backpack or carry-on luggage.
5) Be aware of your surroundings while taking pictures
Taking lots of photos of landmarks and bridges, can’t be helped. That is what you are there for; to be awed and to capture that awe through your photos. But if you go snap happy with your camera, you will attract plenty of attention, guaranteed. Just make sure you have your possessions securely on your person while you are busy being distracted by the view.
6) Use neutral-colored luggage
As normal as it may be in the US to have fun-colored suitcases (like neon green or pink) which no doubt can help you swiftly identify your luggage in the chaos of baggage claim, it is amazing how many people will stare at you and immediately know that you are from out of town… way out of town. If you want to fit in, carry dark blue, black or brown luggage. Not only will it decrease your chances of being stopped by curious customs agents, but dirt or stains won’t show as easily either.
7) Wear neutral colors
Dress in black, or some other neutral, rather bland color–at least on the days of rail or air travel. Try not to stand out by dressing too artsy or hippie or flashy–at least for your flights. With ever-tightening airport security and “random” searches, you want to avoid standing out in a crowd. Keep your sunglasses and hats off as well.
8 ) Dress like a local
If you know a few things about the customs and fashion of the place to which you are traveling, try to either dress like the locals or make sure you can purchase a few small items to wear once you are there. For example, instead of wearing your baseball cap (huge giveaway that you are a tourist, and most likely American!) when it rains, you would do better to carry an umbrella. Generally women in central and eastern Europe don’t wear shorts. Bring a skirt and you’ll feel part of the crowd,
9) Speak the language
On a similar note, it always helps to pick up a few phrases of the local language before traveling. Locals will respond much better if you just give their language a try. They will likely speak enough English to answer your questions, but will appreciate your effort. Carry a phrase book with you or make sure you buy a guidebook that has plenty of practical phrases in it.
10) Enjoy the culture that you are visiting
Leave your home at home, and don’t expect to find every convenience and custom that you typically take for granted. Yes, things may run a bit slower or there may not be such a thing as customer service or free refills, but the cliche is there for a reason: “When in Rome…..”. You will learn a lot about the culture, the people, and yourself if you just go with the flow. Plus, the most interesting, exciting travel stories usually grow out of a traveler’s encounter with and acceptance of the diversity of people and their cultures.