Travelling Incognito - Maximising your Anywhr Experience
You’re all geared up for your first Experience trip with Anywhr - you may have contemplated other options, even the Wildcard one at first, but the traveller in you is screaming for an authentic understanding of how the locals live. Everything about their culture, traditions, food, history excites you. You may have had your fair share of previous ‘localised’ travel experiences where you moved around as a local would - but somehow you haven’t quite mastered the art of travelling truly incognito, blending in so seamlessly that even the locals think you’re one of them. (In fact, a true litmus test of local-ness is when you have a local speak to you in their native language or if they ask you for directions even!)
Our skin tone, eye and hair colour may give us away at first glance in certain locations. But in some others, you might just be able to get away with passing off as a local until you begin to speak and the unmistakable Singlish accent emerges. While I’m sure most of us know better than to behave like an ostentatious tourist, here are some practical tips you can adopt to really put the local in your Anywhr Experience.
*Related post: Sarah's Reflection In-Between Sunsets and Chill
1. Speaking The Language
Understandably, finding out your destination on the day of departure probably wouldn’t give you enough time to be fluent in the native language of your destination. But while waiting for your flight, do a quick search of simple phrases and keep this with you for the duration of your trip. Opening your questions in a new country with their local greeting beats a “Hi, do you speak English?” anytime. Better still, download a language app on your mobile device and do a mini-crash-course on your flight there!
A couple of years ago, I was lost in Paris and was perplexed by how no one would help me out no matter how sincerely I asked, or how increasingly desperate I looked. A friend who lived for a few years there as an expat later told me that it is always polite and almost expected of, to begin first with a “Bonjour, excusez moi” even if you don’t speak French. I couldn’t help but think to myself how many agonising, aimless rounds around the Champ de Mars I could have saved if I knew this simple tip!
2. Avoid comparisons
You may have heard some joke about how easily they can identify fellow Singaporeans overseas – by the way they go “Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!” when shopping or dining out. Granted, Singapore might be in a situation where our currency is a lot stronger than our Southeast Asian neighbours, but instead of constantly calculating and exclaiming what a good deal you’ve gotten, recognise that the S$7 massage in Bali that was “so cheap” for you may very well be someone else’s daily wage.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be enjoying the luxuries that you probably would have to pay a limb for back in Singapore, like massages and big feasts, but remember to do so with the knowledge and understanding that we are in a position of privilege and steer away from comments on price differences – locals would probably take to you better and you’d be less likely to stick out as a sore thumb.
*Related post: Traveller or Tourist, Which Are You?
3. Dress as the locals would
If you have the opportunity to, definitely try on a country’s ethnic garb. But no, I’m not referring to that. There is nothing that screams “tourist” more than someone dressed, or rather, underdressed compared to the locals. We get it, it’s warm in Singapore and no one would probably blink if you wore a sleeveless top, shorts and slippers. But for some countries or communities, your hemline and presence or absence of sleeves, for both men and women alike, matters, especially if you’re visiting a religious destination. So don’t just dress up, but dress smart and in a manner that respects the community that you’re visiting.
4. Take a Walk in the Local Supermarket / Grocery Store
For most people, food is an integral part of one’s travels. But beyond restaurants, cafes and even street side stalls, the local supermarket or grocery store is somewhere I’d make a beeline for if I want to feel truly local. Through the shelves of food and conversations among shoppers, you get a sense of what food means to them, what they like to eat best, and even pick up something you may have never imagined yourself having – like canned reindeer meat in Finland. And even if it’s something you might have tasted before, don’t rule out the possibility of finding the same item but of better quality, at a fraction of the price, like wine, chocolates, cheese or even olive oil!
Locals don’t eat out every day, and neither should you if you want to get a sense of how locals truly dine. While you’re gaining new insights into the country’s culture and cuisine as you wander down the aisles, why not grab a bagful of local produce and whip up a meal at your accommodation. Better yet, strike up a conversation with a local doing their grocery-shopping, asking what they intend to make for dinner – you could leave with both a new recipe and a new friend!
5. Just wander
When in our home countries or in a place we’re familiar with, we hardly walk around with our eyes glued to a physical map or Google Maps. If you want to look like you’re right at home, the most obvious way would be to resist referring to a map. Rather, talk to locals, ask transportation staff, look at road signs, just anything but your phone. You might find your destination, you might not, but who knows what you’ll stumble across in the meantime?
It’s always tempting to stay within one’s comfort zone, so-called for good reason. But since you’ve decided to take that leap into the unknown by taking your first Experience trip, why stop there? Amp up that experience by going local, through the tips here or by referring to your personalised Anywhr travelogue, and you’ll probably not just end your trip with photos and memories, but new, and possibly lasting, friendships with the community there.
*Related post: How to Gain Confidence while Exploring an Unfamiliar City