For me, one of my goals when traveling is to blend in as much as possible. Part of it is the challenge - can I pass for a local? Or, at least, someone from somewhere in the same country. Obviously, in some areas you'll stand out no matter what you do. If I go to Asia, there's not a chance I'll be mistaken for a resident. But by dressing and acting so that I don't effectively scream TOURIST, there are several benefits. In major tourist destinations, you'll stand out much less as a target for petty theft or scams. Let them go for the map holding, shorts wearing throngs around you. I've also found the reception from locals is warmer, from restaurants to shops to markets where you haggle.
This advice applies specifically to European destinations, as that's where my experience lies. I cannot speak to Asia, South America, or Siberia - at least not yet. The classics remain true: don't wander around with a map out, avoid wearing flashy jewelry, and learn at least basic phrases in the local language. Exceptions almost always apply, so go ahead and take a few grains of salt. Without further ado, here are my 5 tips for blending in:
For heaven's sake, do not wear shorts unless you are at the beach. An exception can apply for the ladies if they are stylish and dressed up, but it's still pretty rare to see European women in shorts away from resort towns. Men simply do not wear shorts - I can honestly say I don't recall ever seeing a European man in shorts.
Sneakers. No. More specifically, eschew those running shoes. You'll see lots of "fashion" sneakers on the younger set, but otherwise, you might as well wear a lit-up sign that blinks "Tourist!". Unless you are a die hard jogger, just leave the Nikes at home. For me, I usually take rubber-soled flats with room for a cushioned insert if the insoles aren't supportive enough.
Avoid backpacks as your walk-around bag - generally another reliable tourist indicator. The biggest downside is security. You simply cannot keep an eye on your things when they're behind you, and there are too many ways to get robbed on the sly without realizing it until it's far too late.
Dress up a little! While jeans have finally become pretty common, don't look like a slob. I'm not suggesting you aim to be a fashion plate every minute, but put in just a bit of effort to add some polish. Even at home, I practically live in jeans, but I wear a nice pair when traveling and take at least one pair of nicer pants, usually in black. It is possible to be comfortable and look nice - I promise!
This is about as casual as I get, unless hiking. Comfy but rip/hole-free jeans, nice knit top, and scarf for staying warm or visiting churches. And of course my trusty Manhattan Portage bag!
If you need to carry a bag, keep it as small as possible and sling-style. A small messenger is perfect for men, and there are tons of cross-body bag options for the ladies. Not only does it make bag-snatching harder, I find it's much more comfortable when walking around all day. As referenced in my post about Manhattan Portage bags, if you are carrying camera equipment, just make sure your camera bag doesn't look like one. Carrying a bag emblazoned with popular photography logos or heavy padding just tells people that you have expensive items with you. Why draw attention to that?
There are many ways to blend in, and these have worked well for me. I'm convinced it's why I was asked for directions (in French!) no less than 6 times while I was in Paris. Feel free to share your tips for going local in the comments below.