Many seasoned travelers adopt the gray-man-look. Basically, they dress in muted colors, so they just blend into the buildings, sidewalks, and pavement. It is kind of like a hunter or soldier wearing camouflage. You may have a stand-out message but you need to have a blend-in appearance and demeanor.
Blending with the Environment
This can be difficult if you are white and traveling in Haiti or China. But there are some things you can do to keep from drawing attention to yourself. When in doubt, the best rule is to dress mostly in grayish or earth tone colors.
However, in some cultures like in the Caribbean, they are known for wearing bright colors. Check out the customs online or talk with someone who is familiar with the area where you will be traveling. This is not to say you need to dress exactly like the native people but modifying your attire may keep you from being a “billboard” on the street.
Hats, caps, or head coverings or the lack of one could be a tell-tell sign of a foreigner depending on the culture you are in. You should research the location concerning head covering requirements or customs for men or women. In the United States baseball caps are everywhere but rare in some countries. Women who plan to travel in Mideastern countries, India, or other locations may need to wear or carry a head scarf.
Some religious locations or places of worship have certain dress codes. In some cases, a place of worship may require women to have a head covering or skirt-wrap for entrance even though no service is in progress, and you are only visiting as a tourist.
Do not assume people dress like you. Most places in the world dress more conservative than we do in the United States. Short pants and more revealing clothes may be offensive in some countries or just look out of place.
Youth groups like to buy matching t-shirts for everyone to wear on mission trips. Personally, I think this is a bad practice. Yes, it makes it easier to get a head count of your group but it kind of screams novice missionaries. Are we on a serious mission or a field trip to take pictures for our Instagram page? Sorry, but we really need to think this through before we go.
Be a Confident Traveler
Look like you belong with your mannerisms and demeanor. In a third world country or anywhere, locals can spot a rookie by the way they look and act. If you have on a Jungle Jim outfit and two cameras around your neck, you will look like a “flat-land tourister” in a Snuffy Smith cartoon. Dress normal and try to look like a seasoned visitor to their land instead of a newbie.
It is always good to learn a few greetings or phrases in the local language. A simple “Hola” or “Bonjour” (Hello) will let them know you want to meet them on their turf even if your pronunciation is not perfect. The phrases of “Hello”, “thank you”, and “God bless you” are a great start to fitting in.
You need to walk and talk confidently regardless how you feel inside. Use good posture and keep your head up. You need to be confident yet humble. Our behavior needs to genuinely friendly and kind. If something gets under your skin, keep your emotions under control.
Stay safe and enjoy your time abroad. You are there for a purpose, so do not let your lack of blending-in or behavior ruin your message.