We have all been there; desperately trying to to blend in when we stick out like a sore thumb. What do I wear to look like a local? Where are the places to go that will give me a genuine experience?
These are questions we all ask ourselves repeatedly when planning a trip. Who doesn’t want to see something no one else has thought of or go to the hidden areas only the locals know about? Everyone wants to appear like they belong. No one wants to be the one with the brand new, bright white New Balances with matching fanny pack or the Mom yelling at her children while she holds her selfie stick.
So, you spend hours reading articles about “How to dress for Europe in the Spring” or “How to look like a local in Italy.” You have a board on Pinterest dedicated to travel clothing. Admit it, you know you do. Guess what? They know you are not local…..Be the Tourist! Embrace who you are and own it!
Let’s start with those bright white New Balances. There is a legitimate reason you see them everywhere when you are traveling. They are comfy and practical. Lucky for us the world of design has come up with shoes that not only offer plenty of options to make your feet happy but looks that make your vanity happy too.
First you need to be aware of what kind of terrain you are venturing into. If you have activities planned, read about the type of footwear needed. Get friendly with the reviews on TripAdvisor. We have found them incredibly informative and helpful in preparing for unexpected landscapes. Those cobblestone streets are gorgeous, but you do not want to be wearing heels while sightseeing for twelve hours. You may be going for a boat ride along the Thames, but it may require a half mile walk to reach the dock.
Do not make the mistake that Jen did. She decided on the day we visited the Vatican Museum to wear her handy errand running ballet flats. Little did she know Craig would drag her through the museum twice in search for a statue that was not even there. We will talk about Jen’s “I love my husband, I love my husband” moment another time. The result of this decision was blisters.
In our opinion, shoes will be the most important purchase of your trip. Nothing will slow down your adventures like the wrong footwear. Start your search early, so you can try them out at home and find something that works for you. Make sure to break them in a bit. We cannot stress the importance of comfort. Comfortable clothing and comfortable shoes. Comfort!
Jen found incredible success with Ahnu shoes and….sneakers. Craig loved his Sperry’s….and speakers. We each brought two pairs of shoes to alternate between the days. Your feet will get sore even if wearing supportive footwear, so change it up to soften the pressure points.
While traveling in Italy in June, Jen wore summer dresses every day. While the sneakers did not pair well, and she cringed while leaving the hotel, she was able to tackle Florence and walk the grounds of the Boboli Gardens without complaint. (Note: this was the day after the Vatican Museum blister/where is this stinking statue debacle.)
Men have an advantage when it comes to this part. Craig looked dapper even in his sneakers paired with his khakis. Jen may have rolled her eyes a time or two when he told her the sneakers looked amazing with her dress. At the end of the trip you will not focus on how fabulous you looked, but what you were able to see and experience. Someone may even envy you in your comfortable sneakers as you hop down the Spanish Steps while they are hobbling along trying to not irritate their swollen feet.
When we hiked to the top of Mt. Vesuvius, in our sneakers, we encountered a group of elderly women that were decked out in heels, dresses and jewelry. As we were huffing and trying to catch our breath they were elegantly gliding along as if it were a Sunday stroll. In heels. We have no idea how they did it, but they made it to the top unscathed. They were locals and clearly born in those Louboutins. While Jen envied their ability to pull this off, as she can barely make it across a polished floor in stilettos, she was relieved in her choice of Nike’s that day. Remember….comfort.
Now that you have your inner self working on letting the shoes go, on to clothing. All of us want to look like a French model strutting the Champs-Elysees with ease and a sense of belonging. Yeah, we will watch her walk by while stuffing our faces with fresh croissants near the Arc de Triomphe. Do not try to blend in, you will be exhausted with the effort. You can still dress to impress and not lose yourself in the process. Treat yourself with new outfits and call your friends that have a full walk-in closet to borrow some pieces.
You should take the time to delve into where you are going and the climate for that time of year. You do not want to get to France in December with light dresses or England (any time of year) without a raincoat. (However, this would be a fantastic ploy to get new clothing without your spouse being able to stop you.) Also, keep in mind that certain venues have a dress-code and you will want to be prepared. We can’t imagine anything worse than waiting in line for entry, only to be denied because you have bare shoulders.
While there you can immerse yourself in the variety you are surrounded in. The different fashions from around the world colliding in one foreign city. You just might be admired for your flowing, floral dress that has pockets or the hat that was purchased to battle the sun.
Our last piece of advice is in the attempt to find the off beaten path in your travels. We are not saying to stray from this line of thinking, but don’t stress about making everything truly authentic. There is something to be said about the “Tourist Traps.” Life is thriving in those top attractions for a reason. Don’t deny yourself stopping at the Westernmost point of all of Europe because a travel writer told you it was skippable. Walk along the South Bank of a foreign river even if you were warned it was not worth it. Like we stated in a previous post, you know yourself and what you will enjoy. Trust that and go be your own tourist.
There is a feeling of camaraderie that comes with being surrounded by strangers all looking at the same great piece of architecture or famous statue. You stand side by side admiring a painting by one of the greats or tossing that coin over your left shoulder all with the same wish. These are things that have brought millions of people to the same location year after year, and here you are in that exact spot.
Take that in. Take in the smiles and laughter. Take in the couples embracing. Take in the family’s joy. Taken it in. Buy the cheesy souvenir from the stand next to it. Take the selfie and go ahead and pull out the stick too. Take every photo from every angle to cement this moment in time. You will only ever regret the things you don’t do.
Now that you are aware there is no hiding the fact that you are a tourist, time to be smart. The small stands or corner sales will see you coming a mile away. They will even speak English to you because not only do they know you are a tourist, they know you are American. We clearly give off some kind of vibe or maybe we glow, we can’t be sure.
In a previous post, Our Favorite Place On Earth, we told you about waiters at restaurants in Piazza Navona, and how they call out to you to entice you to come take a seat at their tables. One waiter asked the couple in front of us, in English, if they wanted to stop for beer. He asked us if we wanted to stop for wine. He spoke to the couple behind us in Italian. They know. This even led to an in depth conversation about why he asked us to have wine and the other for beer. In Jen’s opinion we were clearly more sophisticated with our sensible shoes. We all know Jen is always right.
The boldest street peddlers will even place a small trinket in your hand as a “gift” only to turn around and chase you down for payment five seconds after walking away. On the streets of Italy, one street peddler reached out to give a miniature elephant to Craig and he instinctively put his hand out. The second the little object dropped into his palm he realized he made a mistake. Craig had to toss the item back to him to get him to stop following us demanding payment. That was interesting….
Unless you want to purchase their wares, avoid eye contact and do not accept any item from them, no matter how pushy they may be. For the ladies, invest in a good travel purse that crosses over your body. Jen purchased a Travelon anti-theft bag and Craig invested in a good money belt to be worn under his clothing. Unfortunately pick-pockets are at every corner of this world and they believe a tourist is an easy target, flush with cash. Take the proper steps to be prepared and you can travel safely to any destination.
To quote Dr. Seuss, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Don’t try to blend in with the locals, stand out and be the couple from Northern New York or the family from the handle of Oklahoma. Have fun in the tourist traps filled with street performers and local artists. Be smart and travel safely. Be the Tourist!
Thanks for reading, and #NeverStopPlanning!
Jen & Craig