When Americans venture out of the states, we have a hovering red, white, and blue flag indicating “foreigner.” Whether it’s wanderlust from first time travelers or naively ignoring cultural norms, it takes no genius to spot an American abroad. With this being said, we need to take extra caution to avoid being scammed and squandered. I don’t know all the tricks or treats out there, but a little research will help avoid trials and tribulations.
1. Know the dress code.
To avoid sticking out like a sore thumb or offending any cultural par, try to blend in. In Morocco it’s still unacceptable for many women to expose their body. Sporting shorts or short sleeves will peg you as a rich westerner. You’ll be overwhelmed with locals offering to guide you to your destination, luring you into their shops, or any other service for an expectedly generous compensation. I’m not saying to buy a Djellaba or a head piece, but respect their culture, and make yourself seem less naive by exposing less skin.
2. People watch.
Take time to observe how people interact- you’ll notice some patterns. Pay attention to details- what areas or interactions do they avoid or attract to? A friend ventured to Paris for the first time was intrigued by a gambling game on the street near the Eiffel Tower. A woman playing was up by a good amount of money, so he took his chances only to lose $200 a half hour into his voyage. A vender later told him they’re scam artists. A humbling experience to say the least.
3. Know the public transportation.
When arriving into a new city, it’s overwhelming and easy to get lost. Instead of hopelessly hopping in the nearest cab and spending several times what you’d save using a bus or metro, plan ahead and seek out the most common and efficient way to commute. Many places will overcharge tourists thinking they’re rich and ignorant. Download a metro or bus app on your phone, or screen shot google map routes. You’ll be less of a target.
4. Know some common phrases in the native language.
While English is spoken sufficiently in many cities, approaching everyone in English is perceived as rude and arrogant. We expect foreigners to speak English when they come to the states, so don’t be a hypocrite. It’s also unrealistic to expect everyone to speak English, so know some common phrases that can help you get by combined with some hand and facial gestures. When abroad, you’re an ambassador for your native country. Make us look good!
5. Shop local!
If everyone who came to New York only saw Times Square, they’d have no idea what real life is like in New York City. They’d be overcharged to drink, eat, and buy souvenirs and miss out on the best views. Don’t make the same mistakes! Find out the best local places by talking to locals. If you’re acquainted with someone living there, or meet people by attending a couch-surfing get together. You don’t need to invade their couch to indulge in their city. The only way to know a culture is to know the people who carry it. Sight-seeing a destination does not mean you’ve experienced it! You can sit on your couch for that.
6. Talk to other travelers.
Travelers are the hunters and gatherers of our world. Strike up a conversation and ask about their experience in the destination. “A smart man learns from his mistakes, a wise man learns from others.”
It’s easy to get wrapped up in wonder when in a new city, but don’t fall so much in love that you become blind. Yes, there are genuinely generous people, but remember don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Whether or not you end up enjoying a destination depends largely on your experience. While I can’t guarantee things going perfect, I can guarantee your reaction will be much more rational the more prepared you are.