Six Ways to Avoid Looking Like A Tourist

TouristHow to blend in? This is one of the most discussed topics on travel forums and bulletin boards.

How not to look like a tourist. How to get people to think you’re a local.

I have bad news… can’t. Unless you speak the local language, dress exactly like the locals, and learn their cultural minutiae, you’re going to stick out.

Just the other day, I was discussing New York City, where I was born and raised, with an aquantance who had visited the city. She said she did everything she could not to stand out–even ducking into toilets when she wanted to consult her map.

I felt bad when I informed her that most New Yorkers would have known she was a tourist simply by the way she walked. You see New Yorkers, true New Yorkers, know where they are going and are always in a rush. They tend not to make lots of eye contact and walk with determination.

Empire State BuildingTourists on the other hand, walk slower, are constantly looking at what’s going on around them, and tend to, on a regular basis, look up to admire the skyscrapers. (Not long after 9/11 I was walking down 5th Avenue in Manhattan when I noticed a group of people stopping in the middle of the sidewalk and looking up. My first thoughts were, uh oh, here we go again. So, I looked up and was relieved to see they were only admiring the top of the Empire State Building a couple of blocks away.)

So it was with amusement today when I saw an article in the Huffington Post on Six Ways To Avoid Looking Like A Tourist.”

I have to admit, I think it’s a good start.  I tend to follow all six suggestions and have occasionally been mistaken for a local. Very occasionally.

Besides the six suggestions in the article, what  do you do to try to “blend in” or do you bother at all?

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14 Responses to Six Ways to Avoid Looking Like A Tourist

  1. Ralph says:

    Agree very difficult in reality. I’m not sure there is a good reason(s) though to try to appear local. What I mean is, a vacation is supposed to be fun and have memories. Why would someone not want to take pictures or try and be amazed at new things/food, simply to look local? (and I don’t mean outlandish behaviour) Having said that, yes, one would not want to appear as an easier mark than the next person. And when shopping in an environment where one negotiates, one should know what they are doing/the right price. But that applies to locals as well.

  2. Paul says:

    I thought about some of these things before the Mitteleuropa trip this summer. I was going to be in countries where I can speak the language, but even so, I can’t really pass for German or Austrian. The cut of my clothes is a giveaway, and I can’t handle a fork and knife the European way, but I didn’t want to be unnecessarily conspicuous. But it is bizarre to think that one shouldn’t look at the things one wanted to see.

  3. Mags says:

    I don’t bother. As you pointed out, once you start gawking at buildings and taking photos, everyone will know.

    The first time I went to the UK, I was so paranoid about “looking like a tourist” that I bought new shoes and left my comfortable, broken-in sneakers (running shoes, though I only run in them when someone is chasing me) at home. My feet were sore after a couple of hours of walking in these particular shoes, which turned out to not be as supportive as I had hoped they would be. My British friend who took me around wore…wait for it…running shoes. Purple ones with silver trim.

  4. Lomo says:

    My goals are to look and behave appropriately and give a good impression about myself and my “people”. Showing respect for the culture and people I have come to visit is very important to me.

    I am a Mennonite. We dress in a “plain” manner. I would be SUPER ANNOYED if folks who visited the more traditional communities tried to “blend in”-black hats, bonnets, broad falls, and buggies,…can you imagine? How dismissive of the culture and the faith.

    That being said, I am all for not being a creep–asking before taking a photo of a person, dressing comfortably-but in a way that is appropriate-no bikinis in the supermarket, not making fun of the locals (yes, I have seen a lightbulb before), and the like.

    It took living overseas (in the same city-not in Europe) for 3-6 months before I was mistaken for a “non-American” rather than a local. –Wait, not true–once, on a weekend trip to Paris, a pair of American women thought I was French–tried to ask me for directions in French. I credit my stylish hat (purchased that morning) for their mistake.

    So that is my advise: when in Paris, buy a hat.

  5. mototrvlr says:

    These are all good suggestions that I follow. I think more important than fitting in is situational awareness. Try to fit in, sure, but as you and the article state, it won’t be 100%. I’ve traveled a fair bit and never had an issue with pick pockets or personal security. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I always try to keep my SA about me. Eyes up looking around. Criminals, no matter the place look for the weak, distracted, and oblivious. Don’t act the part of a victim if you don’t want to be treated like one.

  6. KF says:

    I’ll agree with the last post – act like you know where you’re going, pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you, don’t flash a lot of cash, and check what cab companies are legit (like the black cabs in London) That said, if you get lost, do ask for directions – hotels are usually quite helpful, although my favorite memory is getting lost while jogging in London and asking a bobby for help – he actually drew me a map back to my hotel. Carry a purse or messenger bag cross-body, with the opening next to you.

    I try to dress more conservatively when I’m abroad in Europe – dark jeans, shirts with no logos, just a little more dressy than I wear normally. I’ve been mistaken for French by Americans in Paris, and asked for directions by a French couple while I was in London (they were mortified when they heard my American accent).

  7. Alan B says:

    Well, if in Hawaii one can start by NOT wearing shoes with socks, plaid shirts, jeans, etc.

  8. Calder says:

    Looking like a tourist never made my list of travel concerns. Being polite, respecting local customs, and learning a bit of the language are just common sense. If I need directions, I’ve found that pulling out a map is often the quickest way to get help.

    Might I have paid a Traveler’s Premium for some local goods and services? Probably. I survived. Besides, this kid from Wisconsin wasn’t going to fool any vendors in the Khan el-Khalili suq.

  9. arestocracy says:

    Here’s the thing: The locals usually aren’t lollygagging about during the normal 9-5. They have work to do, places to be, errands to run. If you aren’t hurrying somewhere (and heavens forbid you’re actually at a tourist attraction!), you’re a tourist.

    P.S. Alan B, actually jeans are fine in Hawaii. Actually, anything goes here. Okay, maybe not a tux unless you’re “Tuxedo Man”

  10. Paula Bag Lass says:

    To be honest I’ve never been concerned about how I look abroad, I’ve always dressed casual smart even as a kid.

    I live a strange paradox where, the country I live and work in is where I am the tourist (which means I’ve been a paid, tax-paying tourist in Canada for the last 36 years LOL!).
    When I go home to the UK and Spain, I revert to being local and if I’m solo, I’m usually doing mundane, non-tourist things or meeting up with friends /family. If hubs is with me that’s a whole different ball game. He is the tourist, I’m his unpaid personal tour guide!
    My clothes and footwear are from UK, Europe and North America and blend in most places. I don’t use a camera, don’t need maps in England or Spain and my various carry-on bags don’t look like the usual bags used for serious travel. I caught my reflection in a Covent Garden shop window four weeks ago, I looked like someone from the suburbs popping in for a weekend stay and not a three weeker to Spain with overnights in London.
    What I refer to as travel clothes in my closet, are just every day items that I choose to pack for trips because of the lightweight material, the ease of handwashing/drip-drying and comfort of wear.

    Yesterday whilst grocery shopping, a lady approached me and asked where I got my nice shirt, (a Magellans Adventure Travel Shirt in light brown), she was very complimentary, saying it was so smart, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d just been doing the gardening in it.

  11. jppreston says:

    I agree that it’s impossible not to look like a tourist (or at least a traveler) especially when in foreign countries. I spend a lot of time in Medellin, Colombia and even though I am relatively fluent in Spanish and there are a wide range of skin-tones there, no local would think I am “Paisa” – and they can tell with just a glance (as can I when I see other North Americans or Europeans). There is just something ineffably gringo about me.

    So I don’t try to “fit in” by say wearing long pants even during the day in the broiling sun (you almost never see a Latino wearing shorts). I just try to dress low key and keep my actions and reactions polite and respectful. I wear a relatively cheap watch and no flashy jewelry. This also works well with my minimalist travel ethic. I carry a Tom Bihn Synapse 25 so even when I have everything with me, I look like I am carrying nothing more than a daypack.

    While I agree with most of the suggestions in the Huffington Post article, I think it is more important to realize you aren’t likely to look like a local and that it is much more important to show up with a smile and a curious and appreciative attitude.

  12. BMEPhDinCO says:

    I agree it’s usually impossible to fool everyone, but by dressing respectfully, observing local customs, and not making a fool out of yourself, people usually let you into their world. Two situations I’ve encountered:

    What NOT to do:
    1. In India, we had stopped at a roadside restaurant place – I was with my friend and her family, they are native, I am not – I stuck out that way, but I was quite, polite, respectful of food and hand customs – I had no issues. The man at the next table was from CA – he was quite loud, insistent on showing his pictures of his children to everyone, insisted on being served “curry” even after being told that he had to pick which KIND, and carried on his entire conversation with his tour guide (I think he was on business and this poor person was stuck with him) in such a loud voice it carried throughout the entire location. Everyone was secretly laughing at him, his food was sub-par, his service was slow (he did comment on this, in a bad way), and his experience was not as good as it could have been.

    2. In a chocolate shop in a suburb of Paris, I stopped in to get a few things. The woman in front of me from England didn’t seem to understand what was going on, kept talking loudly about how everything looked, asking over and over for the price, took a long time selecting, gestured wildly and rudely commenting, etc… the shop keeper rolled her eyes towards me when the woman looked away and said something disparaging in french after she left – then I opened my mouth and spoke English! (But I was polite and she recovered her embarrassment at being rude about the other woman with me).

    In both cases, I was treated well, not necessarily because I fit in, but because I didn’t stand out.

  13. BethC says:

    When people start asking me directions (which often happens after I’ve been in a place for a week or so), I know that I no longer look like a tourist.

  14. Fun Travel says:

    It is impossible to do, in most countries’ business centers, if one loves architecture and leisurely strolls. This is what urban parks are for.

    Unbearable people bring their attitutes everywhere, no matter where they are from.

    Their loudness make them more of a target, good for others who travel with respect in mind.