As November draws to a close and we are all trudging back to uni; another summer of British travel is coming to an end.
I think it’s safe to say that it’s been a fairly high profile season for UK travelers causing trouble overseas, including the deployment of two police officers to Magaluf to monitor the partiers. This, amongst other incidents, got me thinking that maybe we need to become a little more subtle, and lower our profiles, whilst travelling. I’m not only talking about huge incidents needing police attention, but also the little things that will help us not to stand out as profoundly when arriving in a new place.
Now, we’ve all been them and seen them: the glaringly obvious tourists waving maps, wielding expensive cameras, and generally looking lost. Aside from disturbing the authentic atmosphere of a place and possibly offending local people, being such an obvious newcomer also makes you a prime target for all sorts of crime. For these reasons, I have come up with 5 ways to lower your profile whilst on the move, and thus hopefully avoid a whole host of issues:
1) Make friends with local people
Only chatting to fellow travellers is an easy trap to fall into, but getting to know local people is also really important. Not only does this allow you to meet amazing people and show your appreciation for their country, but having a local friend can also be very handy in sticky situations. I was at a talk the other day and the speaker told a story about when he was in Thailand, and suddenly found himself surrounded by five men on a beach, each brandishing a machete and wanting his wallet. The only thing which saved his money, which he would have sensibly given without a fight, was a man that he had gotten to know in a bar the previous day running down the beach and shouting at the attackers in Thai. He doesn’t know what his friend said, but the men ran away without a backward glance. By taking the time to build relationships with local people, you’ll definitely reap the rewards in more ways than one.
2) Dress for their culture, not ours
Not long after arriving in South America, I was ready to dye my hair and change my eye colour, as I quickly learned that being the only blonde person on street full of brunettes is not fun. Clearly these blending tactics were not going to be practical, but dressing like the local women was something that helped. Often it feels like we shouldn’t have to cover up if we don’t want to, especially as a woman in a place where the two genders are treated very differently, but it’s down to us to adapt to a culture, not to change it. Saying that, making awkward mistakes is all too easy: I got kicked off a minibus in India by the driver who refused to take me if I didn’t change my clothes. In my case this led to an embarrassed scurry back to the hostel to change, but obviously sometimes there are far more serious consequences of not dressing in a culturally appropriate way. Unfortunately, sexual assault is sadly something which the Foreign & Commonwealth Office deal with overseas and, wrong as it may seem, one of the ways of lowering the risk of this is conforming to the style of dress that is accepted by the place you’re in.
3) Plan your luggage encumbered route
One of my favourite things about travelling is wondering down unknown streets and getting lost amongst the newness, so I definitely don’t have a problem with that. However, when first arriving in a new place, sweaty, stressed and carrying baggage heavier than your Dad, don’t stand in the street hitting people with maps and waving iPhones around as you attempt to remember that elusive hostel name. Know before you go where you are headed and how, in order to make a smooth transition to dump all your belongings in a safe place before going out to explore.
4) Learn something about the culture before you go
In most good guidebooks there is a section which has a few important details about local history and culture, and it’s not only interesting to have a read through, but could also save you from being the socially incompetent tourist. For example, giving someone the ‘okay sign’ in Britain is usually used to demonstrate a complex emotion like ‘that brunch was so great I can’t even put it into words.’ However in Brazil and the Middle East it means something far less pleasant, and will receive an equally unpleasant reception. Know before you go to stop something as simple as a hand gesture from landing you in trouble.
5) Try not to be the loudest person in the street!
This pretty much explains itself loud and clear, but there’s nothing which begs attention, good or bad, like the gaggle of screaming newcomers deafening everyone. I’m rarely the quietest person in the room so this one isn’t easy for me, but just be aware of how much you’re fitting in (or not!).
For information about the Know Before You Go campaign and more travel tips, head to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website
https://www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo and https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice