Before many students travel abroad for the semester they research what they will need to bring (think plug adapters, a lock, an umbrella), what the weather will be like during their stay and how to pack (more on that here). What many students might not think as much about is how to assimilate into the local culture during their stay in their home away from home and not look like a tourist. Melissa Timbers provides some tips on how to make your time abroad a time to assimilate into the local culture, based on her time in Paris.
Read this post and then head over to check out our fares to help get you to Europe, the South Pacific or Central and South America to get your semester abroad off to a good start from take off!
So, here you are in Paris. You hop on the metro, take the line to the Arc de Triomphe, and maneuver your way through the crowds looking for your hotel. You look around you’re surrounded in a sea of tourists. Camera flashes blind your eyes, big fanny packs, tennis shoes, and of course, the old woman wearing her backpack on the front of her to prevent pick pocketing. You don’t want to look like a tourist all semester, right? So, here’s some tips on how to not look like a tourist so you can assimilate into your local culture and blend in with the locals during your semester abroad:
- Find a unique place to stay.
My best friend and I ended up renting a room in Paris, yes, I mean a single room, in a classic Parisian style apartment building. This little flat had a double bed with a skylight, a mini fridge, mini kitchen and a shower all in the same room (which, by the way was about 15 feet by 12 feet). The toilet was down the hall, but that just made the room all the more charming. Oh, and did I mention that it took 127 steps to reach the flat on the top of this tiny, narrow staircase. No wonder the Parisians are so thin!
Okay, enough about my experience. But I will say that the entire experience gave us a real taste of what Parisian life is like. Not only will you get a true experience, but you’ll save a lot of money in the end, too. Hotels are incredibly expensive in Paris and I recommend looking up rooms to rent on airbnb.com. It’s this great website with loads of rooms to rent. You can even check out the reviews of other guests who have stayed there and leave your own review when you leave! They have rooms all around the world, so check it out the next time you travel!
2. Eat like the locals do.
Monkey see, monkey do. In Paris, we stayed at a place right down the street from a bakery. A baguette was couple Euros, and some brie was a couple more Euros. Voila! You have breakfast. Quiches, baked goods, and cheese are all relatively cheap in Paris. If you get a place with a kitchen, buy some food at the local grocery store and make it in your room. You’ll save loads of money on food and have the time to use it towards other travel expenses. Plus, if you’re seen in a local, cheap café, you’ll fit in more and look less like a tourist, and more like a resident. Try everything new, whether you like it or not. Some of the best food comes off of the street vendors and from the tiniest hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
3. Dress normally.
I’m not saying you can’t rock a visor, but I’m also saying, you can’t rock a visor. You can still wear the wardrobe you wear at home while you’re travelling, but there’s no need to pull out the Hawaiian shirt, white tennis shoes, and khakis while you’re in Paris or Rome. Buy a cheap dress that was made in France, or wear colorful elephant pants that you picked up in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There’s no need to match what the locals wear, but wearing clothes that won’t pin point you as a tourist will make you less of a target to pick pocketers and provide you a chance to add some new cultural pieces to your collection. So go out and buy those funky pants in the window in Italy and wear them!
4. Your camera choice.
I’m a photographer myself; however, I choose to travel with my iPhone and an attachment that allows me to zoom in. All of my photos in Europe and Thailand were taken with a simple iPhone 6. That being said, there is nothing wrong with a nice, state of the art camera to take photos with, but you shouldn’t wear it around your neck all the time. Having a small side bag that zips to put your camera in will allow you easy access to it when needed, a secure way to keep an eye on it and make you not look like a newbie in whatever country you’re in.
5. Just Walk!
Walking, biking, scootering, or boat riding are the best ways to travel a city. You get to see so much more of a city just by walking through it rather than taking a cab, the metro, or buses all the time. Don’t get me wrong, public transportation is great, but walking allows you to get some fresh air and see more of the city. If you’re like me, walking five miles from your hotel in Paris to get to Notre Dame will also help you run into some interesting things, like an art market with amazing street art. We never would have stumbled upon that, or this amazing painting, if we had simply taken the metro. The coolest restaurants with the cheapest food (and beer!) can often be found when you wander down side streets. You’ll thank yourself for the extra change in your pocket from saving a metro ride when you want a nice glass of Strongbow Cider at a tavern.
So next time you travel, leave the fanny pack and visor at home, and take in every cultural opportunity you can. I assure you you’ll have a more memorable experience, street advertisers will not be as aggressive as you pass and you will learn a lot. Happy Traveling!