« Bonjour | Main | Vacay »

Looking Like the LocalsMarch 2, 2005

I just answered Mary and took too long to do it, so you get her answer, too. Now I'm missing Italy....

She asked:

Dear Rachael; I'll be going to Tuscany for 7 nights(Montecatini) and Rome for 2 nights at the end of our tour.  I'm going with a tour group from Pleasanton, Ca (near Oakland) and would like your idea on what to wear so i don't look so touristi on our free days.  I consider myself a young 53. What shouldn't I wear as well, i already know shorts and white tennies are a no, but since i'm leaving on Nov. 2, 2005 that won't be a part of my luggage anyway.  I'm told by others that it will probably rain and be on the cold side. Are a nice pair of jeans appropriate?Thankyou for taking the time to answer.  Sincerely, Mary

Oh, you lucky, lucky, LUCKY woman. And it's a great question.

Go get yourself the darkest black pair of jeans you can find. Black like you can't tell they're jeans. They'll fade later, after the trip, and you won't care. Get a nice black water-resistant jacket, lined for warmth, with pockets inside and out for lots of stuff, but it should be sleek and shouldn't LOOK like it has lots of pockets. I like it to fall to at least my thighs, and I like it to have a zip-off hidden hood. I have a great London Fog one that I got at Mervyn's, I think.....

Then, get some V-neck black tees, three or four of them (you can wash clothes every night and hang them over the radiator which you WILL have in your room, and they'll be dry by morning, even jeans -- you can totally get away with bringing only three pair underwear and socks, three tee shirts (including the sleeping one), one dark wool sweater, one pair jeans, and two pair of shoes (one boot and one nice pair if you bring a skirt)). And when you get there, buy two or three different colors of those fake pashmina shawls that they sell in stands everywhere. Don't pay more than 20euro. Wearing all black with a splash of color at the neck will make you fit in. Italians approach me all the time for directions while in Italy. Yay! That's my favorite part.... Then I open my mouth, and the jig is up. Best to keep your mouth shut and run the other way. Then they'll never know.

(Good black boots are great to wear -- Mephisto or even Birkenstock has a wonderful black boot that is water-repellant.)

Also important in the Non-Identification is what you carry -- I try to carry very little, except for bags holding things I've bought (the locals are holding those, too). If you hate ripping up books, buy two of your favorite travel guides, and when you get to a city, rip out the pages that you'll need while there, and keep them in one of your pockets. Get a good digital camera (with LOADS of memory -- most important part, expensive but worth it -- I usually take enough memory to take about 100 pics/day at highest resolution) that will fit in another pocket. Reserve an inside pocket for your driver's license and debit/credit card. Never ever use a different pocket. Yet another pocket should carry all your day money (easily obtained from any of the bajillion ATMs, just make sure you have a four digit passcode to get money out). Leave the passport at the hotel (the desk clerk may have asked to keep it for you, as they are allowed to do -- don't be scared, you'll get it back). If you want to carry a journal, I like those small Moleskines and a tiny pen, which fit easily into another pocket.

There! Now the only thing that will identify you is your tour group! Leave 'em in the dust, says I. And go sit in a cafe and watch the people scurry past, drink Prosecco at noon, and dream.

Sigh. Don't you want to go?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Looking Like the Locals:


oh YESSSSS! I wanna go. Right now. I've got plenty of black, and loads of pockets....

Oh how I would love to go to Italy! When I was in London for study abroad upteen bajillion years ago - ok, 11 - I always got asked for directions because I didn't to the obnoxious tourist thing, and I wore lots of black. It was always fun seeing the look on their faces when they heard my accent, and then when I gave them good directions! :)

Ah, Italia, come voglio ritornarti! Tuscany is just lovely. When I was there in 1999, I had an 8-digit ATM code and panicked when I found out that the ATMs only accept 4 digits. Fortunately entering the first 4 digits worked, so perhaps that is still the case for longer codes.

This is good advice - darn blippin good advice. You think that with all those travel books (and I read quite a few of them) out they might mention stuff ike you just did. No, they just write the same ol' stuff, grab their bucks and ....You are a veddy smart traveler! Three years ago in Europe I used my ATM w/o a hitch - that was cool except the ATMs in Italy tended to be a bit rare. And if you want to go into a bonafide bank in big towns in Italy you leave all your stuff in these lock boxes outside the door & go through a couple of heavy doors. A little bit different banking in Italy. Wish I cd. read more of your sis and mom's travels.

How's the trip looking to go to Maryland?

Boy oh boy do I want to go now. I haven't been there in years and I would just LOVE to rent a villa with friends. Hmmm.

Oh man, your Italy posts always make me swoon.

2 more months... although it's not nearly Italy or anything. And 7 weeks in a backpack is going to make me pack less than fashionably, at least as far as outerwear is concerned. It's going to be too cold in Siberia in May for anything but Columbia.

I loved this advice. It made me laugh and remember the time when I got totally *read off* by one of the travel/study prima donnas because it was projected to be hot in Florence in early June. I think that perhaps the woman who was berating me, poor hapless program assistant, did not get asked for directions ANYWHERE by Italians...

Here's my advice for travelling anywhere: pack very little except the necessities and an empty duffel bag. Have them in a carry on bag to eliminate the chances of lost luggage. When you get there, go shopping! Shopping for clothes in a foreign country is fun and you have wearable souvenirs when you get back. And while you're there, you'll look like a local because you shopped in their stores.

Dear Rachel, reading your post was so fun! As you maybe remember, I am Italian but I have been living in Germany for 13 years now. Your travel advices are great, and your suggestion about the clothes are really interesting. We Italians usually identify tourists immediately and often laugh about their clothes (LOL), but I couldn't have explained what one should wear or not wear!
I also find very interesting that people think of Italy like a wonderful country to dream of. I grew up there and realised its beauty after I moved to Germany. But Italy isn't really something special to me... I go there three or four times per year, but it is just the country where my family lives. I just visit my parents.
Your posts and the comments let me think that I was a lucky young girl being able to grow up in a country (and in a city, Verona), which is a place some people dream about....

Yes, oh yes, I dream of going back to Italy. It's been almost 15 years. Weirdly enough, the place in Europe where I sometimes passed for native was Spain. Very strange since I'm half Japanese and don't speak a word of Spanish or Catalan.

you should print this up and sell it as a pamphlet.

That's how I dress in rural Indiana---there is nothing more useful than a t-shirt, hand knit sweater and an absolutely plain gortex jacket.

Ohh the memories! I went last year and loved LOVED it..they all wear black! And how do those women run around in heels on cobblestones?? lol Great advice you have...next time I will be "dressing" the part too. Sitting in a cafe drinking wine people watching was one of my favorite past times!

i am leaving for rome in exactly eight days, and i cannot wait to get back to italia. just me and the boyfriend - we'll only be there for six days, but six days is better than none. :) here's hoping for a bella giornata (or two, or six) while i'm there. :)

I'm still chuckling about your idea to fly to Italy for the weekend... I wish! Hey, did you see the ad for the travel class at Stonemountain in Berk? "Travel Perfect ... how to pack for 105 days out of a carry-on bag and never repeat an outfit!"

I backpacked through Europe a few years ago and pretty much everyone I went with who brought jeans sent them home or threw them out because of their weight and bulk. The wierdest place I got mistaken for a local was in Finland. Even in Spain I didn't have any problems because my normally pasty-irish-white self was super tan and my hair turned fire-red from all the sunshine. I think my most prominent clothing essentials were my solid colored shirts (navy, black, red) and a dark brown/black flecked double zippered cardigan.

Oh, Italy. Oh, traveling. I wanna go!

What great advice and just in time! I'm going with 2 other gals and leaving in 7 days. Sunday is my day to try on everything and start weeding. I'm just going to "think black".

OO, I wanna go now! Well, I wanna go with YOU now, or at least hire you as my wardrobe consultant so I never ever look like an american anywhere again! ;-)

I am going to Rome in May. It will be 33 years since I was last there. But do I HAVE to wear all black? In May? Actually, I like Emily's advice. Pack very little and shop shop shop!

I love your euro fashion advice. That's exactly what I did in France almost 20 years ago. Black, no sneakers, etc. I was sometimes nailed for a tourist, though, because I had to use a backpack. (After all, I was a backpacking college student!)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


Subscribe to Rachael's mailing list

knitting projects

DSCN13632.jpg Email me