Pro Travel Tip: Adopt the “Local Look”

Praying to the Football Gods

It was a windy, wintry day when the pre-playoff NFL season reached its crescendo, and, according to Billy, the jukebox DJ/part-time waiter at the diner, it was time to pray that Boston’s Lord and Saviour, Tom Brady, was fit for the upcoming game. His effusive passion for Beantown consumed him as he lip-synced to Aerosmith’s, Walk This Way, blaring from the music player. Aerosmith, FYI, are The Olde Towne’s original rock stars, so belching out their uplifting song about ‘getting with the winning program’ added another notch of ‘patriotism’ to his rousing sermon. The next instant, a quintessential ‘New York-looking man’ walked into the eatery, asking to be seated. Billy, immediately latched onto the new man, abandoning the impending chorus, because he had recognized that particular out-of-town look in the man. When the crooner received confirmation about the strange man’s resident town, a curious conversation followed between the two of them.

The lean, athleisure donning, well-coiffed man was seated at the bar, Billy swiftly perching right next to him. The Boston native made it known that he was a devout Christian man with a steadfast belief that The Hub was the rightful ‘city of angels’ whereas New York was the ‘city of demons.’ Perhaps his hatred for the nearby city stemmed from the unlikely defeat of his beloved Patriots to the NY Giants in 2007, or perhaps he detested the malpractices of Wall Street bigwigs. The thing is, his reason was not relevant; humanity has been given the gift of thought, to formulate their own opinions and biases about anything they please. Opinions can be respected but biases tend to bother us greatly. Why?

Biases vs. Bubbles

Biases are idiosyncratic opinions that are skewed from one’s own experiences/understanding of things (or lack thereof). The resulting partiality alienates those that the prejudice is stacked against as well as those harboring conflicting views. Biases stem from misleading information making it harder for people to buy into the falsehood, and, because they are unfounded, irrational outlooks, it can be hard to conjure a discussion around it. Biases are more hard-grained into us than mere opinions. In fact, if our views were measured on a number scale from positive to negative, 0 being the most weighted, rational view, then the two extremes on the scale would represent bias – either positive or negative.

From my quarter century on earth, I have learned not to challenge biases because I am of the belief that all of us need to perpetually learn and come to our own “0” scale by doing our own research, forming our own life experiences, etc. Opinions need not be engineered by others. The New Yorker had the same idea it seemed, he ordered a coffee, listened to Billy’s rants for ten minutes, wished him luck for the Patriots game and left, presumably to find another judgement-free breakfast joint. He probably felt harassed and powerless to defend his core identity (which involved him being a New Yorker) – an aspect he has no control over to change. Thus, he thought it wiser not to conserve his energy and let Billy come to his own conclusions on his own.

I don’t particularly enjoy being harassed and none more so than when I am traveling. Being a “brown-skinned” woman, I am already fighting the lack of knowledge that most North Americans have about my culture and identity. Getting a “namaste hand gesture” or a “how do you speak such good English” are situations I have to deal with on a regular basis. But, I get it, what North Americans don’t realize is that the rest of the world is obsessed with them. They are the popular kids in school that everyone wants to emulate so how dare the geeky kids feel insulted when the popular kids don’t know who they are? So, instead of flaring up, I choose my battles more wisely and even more so, when I’m running on borrowed time in a different city. I can’t control the color of my skin but I can try camouflaging myself so as not to attract undue attention to myself. The biggest giveaway about the New Yorker’s identity was his athletic attire. Winter in Boston means LL Bean jackets and faded jeans – not “compression pants,” a Yankees hat and Nike sneakers.

Stress-Free Travel

There are many reasons why people travel; some travel to visit friends and families and others travel to explore attractions. Although I don’t mind the occasional FnF visit, I am happiest when I’m visiting new locations, discovering new cities, cultures, food, etc. Cities are living, breathing entities with their own personalities and quirks that I love learning about. The world-famous attractions can be an added bonus to visiting a place but I find it more interesting to encapsulate a travel outing with the every day of the city. ‘What is it like to take the subway in the city’ or ‘what is it like to drive in the city’ or ‘what are the fashion trends of the city?’ When I find answers to these, I have a better understanding of the people and their history and the culture – a more immersive learning experience for myself. In fact, a more memorable one to say the least. My travel mantra is simple, ‘go and live like a local.’

It starts with dressing like a local and not acting like a tourist in the city (obviously don’t walk around with a camera hanging around your shoulders and definitely don’t gawk at popular statues and buildings, etc.), don’t ask for directions (unless you’re most definitely lost). Pick up the slight nuances when visiting a city – such as whether to follow the pedestrian traffic lights or not, to hold the door for someone versus not or to stand on the right side or left side of the elevator. These can reveal very important things about the city and its people. But all of that is guesswork once you get there; pre-arrival, I take many hours to prepare my routes, acquainting myself with the city’s transit systems, neighbourhood lingo and any local slangs (this involves watching episodes of Chef Tony’s many episodes about the city in question) and then I follow that up by following Instagram accounts of locals from that place or finding the definitive blog/website covering all aspects about the city’s nightlife because it helps build a clearer picture of the place.

Why do Los Angelenos carry spare flip-flops in their bags? – Because there are plentiful beaches and one never knows when the day will end up at the beach: an indication of a relaxed standard of living. Why do Calgary natives have bear spray in their car dashboards? – Because most Calgary natives are part-adventure seekers who travel to the Rockies (riddled with bears) for recreational purposes: an indication that the natural beauty accounts for a greater proportion of recreation than the nightlife.

Don’t Wait!

So, it brings to question, why do all of this? Why spend so much time getting to know places and people? Well, for one, it helps you fit in rather than infuriating the likes of Billy. If the movie, Waiting has taught me anything is that you do not want to aggravate your food servers at restaurants!

Sadia Sarwar is an upcoming author with plenty of opinions and rarefied tastes. Follow her on @sadiamhsarwar


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