Standing Out

How to Act When You Know You Stand Out

This topic is a bit uncomfortable, but it is just. Whether we like it or not, as backpackers we stand out in certain situations. To avoid unwanted attention, you should consider the following situations in order to know how to control your circumstances.


Racial Identity While Backpacking

If you’re traveling to a country where the ethnic makeup is not your own, there’s nothing you can do about that. I am white as glue and that fact alone has gotten me plenty of stares, laughs, or undue attention. I have stood out like a sore thumb in lots of countries. In Morocco I remember walking through a huge street market in Casablanca, the only whitey there. In countless Latin American city outskirts I was an extremely rare sight. The most important thing we have to realize is that we may be a strange sight for some people, but let’s not allow that to bother us.

Of course, the color of your skin means your circumstances are uncontrollable in certain situations. This goes for everyone , it just depends on where you are visiting. Use common sense to judge a situation from an objective standpoint.

Having a Big Backpack

Prague Street

Now that we’re passed the delicate subject of racial identity while backpacking, we need to address the most obvious feature of the backpacker – his or her giant backpack. With such a massive piece of luggage weighing you down, you’re surely going to stand out in a crowd. If you know where you’re staying in a city, the best thing you can do is to get there quickly and leave your pack in the room. If you feel comfortable with the idea, you could also leave your pack in a locker or with a trusted agency if your hotel, hostel, or host is not yet available.

Not only is it tiring to lumber about with your pack, but it also draws far too much attention to yourself. You can try to limit the degree to which your pack is looked at by adjusting the appearance of it. For instance, this should all be considered when you’re packing, the lighter you pack, the smaller the backpack. I carry a 40 liter pack that looks well-used. That is, a shiny new clean backpack attracts more attention than a dirty one. Food for thought.

How to Dress

There’s no one way that a backpacker dresses, because backpackers are a diverse group of people. However, there are some things that can make you feel better about standing out.

I always choose to wear the neutral to conservative clothing option. This means long pants, above all. This means wearing shoes and socks as well. It means not wearing expensive accessories like earrings, necklaces, or fancy sunglasses. Women, in particular, should consider their surrounds, and what is appropriate in the local culture. Regardless of the western world social norms, traveling means conforming to local customs.

I remember my friend was warned in Jordan that a skirt would not be appropriate, and she wore it anyway. She said she felt more uncomfortable than ever before. Try to inform yourself about the culture before arriving, so that you have a good idea of how to dress. You’re already going to stand out somehow, so you might as well do what you can to lessen the impact.

Whether or Not to Use the iPod


Many backpackers carry electronic music players, cell phones, or computers. It is a bad idea to use some of these devices in public in certain situations. For example, it would be very unwise to take an evening stroll listening to your iPod in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Be a smart judge of your surroundings. If you are in a conventional hostel or in the house of your trusted host, then you have nothing to worry about. However, it is not recommendable, even in the daytime, to use your computer in a public park or plaza. Of course, we must remember that all of the considerations in this article depend on where you are , but they are considerations nonetheless.

A general rule would be to always carry electronics within your backpack, and when you need to shift things around, be sure to protect the contents from strangers’ glances. All that said, I should point out that a backpacker doesn’t need any electronics. Freeing yourself of them might actually have a positive effect on your physical disposition, further lessening your uneasiness under the gazes of those who see you’re standing out.

Guidebooks, Maps, and Knowing Your Route

In popular places, you might be standing out because of your ethnicity, your big backpack, your clothes, your electronics, or your guidebook and map. Although you should stick to the rules given above, you could probably get away with breaking them in popular tourist hotspots. But the degree to which you stand out depends on what part of a city or destination you find yourself in. This is why one last rule should be: to know your route. You don’t want to get to the point that you wander into an area where every outsider stands out. So, look at a map or guidebook before leaving your accommodation. Or, if you’re just wandering around, at least stay on well-lit and populated streets. And remember, there’s always safety in numbers.