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10 Dead Giveaways That You’re a Tourist

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Locals can usually deduce at some point that you’re not one of them, but there are still ways to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb when you travel.  And blending in has a more practical purpose than just making you feel comfortable — it can open the door to better interactions with locals and make you less vulnerable to pickpockets and other scammers who specifically target travelers. Here are 10 dead giveaways that you’re a tourist… and what to do about it.

1. Unfurling a paper map in the middle of the sidewalk.

maps - kevin dooley

Yes, sometimes it’s easier to carry a paper map (see tip #4  here). But there’s nothing else that screams “I don’t know where I’m going” more loudly. Here’s where it’s useful to have a smartphone or a tablet. Even if you’re in a foreign country without a data connection, it’s possible to download detailed maps with just a little planning and forethought. We’ll even go as far as to say that, with Google’s Offline Maps feature, it’s pretty easy. Of course, there are instances where you won’t want to be brandishing a shiny phone in public either. Use your judgment.

2. Engaging with hawkers.

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Those annoying street vendors won’t leave you alone? Stop. Talking. To them. We’re not advocating rudeness, but some hawkers target tourists and can be shockingly aggressive, whether they simply shove their wares into your face or, as they do in Seville or Paris, hand over “gifts” before proceeding to demand money. Be very firm when saying “no, thank you” — and once you’ve done that, walk away without engaging further. Also a good rule of thumb: Keep your hands to yourself (and on your belongings) and never accept anything you haven’t asked for.

3. Lugging around an oversize backpack.

backpack - artur staszewski - 620

We’re looking at you, backpackers traipsing past the Sacre Coeur and the Duomo, or through Times Square. Seriously, unless you’re on a hiking trail or deep in the woods, you probably don’t need all of whatever it is that you’re carrying. For day excursions, we suggest a canvas tote or a messenger bag which can be worn across your body.  These are pretty much universal and also inexpensive, and you won’t leave your zippered pockets vulnerable, as you would with a backpack.  This also means that you don’t need to worry about wear and tear on your body — and you can avoid looking too obvious. If you don’t have a place to drop your bulky luggage, do some research at airports, bus depots, train stations, major tourist attractions, and even a few local hotels. Many of these spots will be able to hold your big bag for a small fee. And trust us, you’ll enjoy your destination much more if you go there unencumbered.

4. Fumbling with currency.

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We won’t lie, just thinking about foreign coins — and the horror of mixing them in your pockets with U.S. currency — makes our heart rates go up. An easy way to avoid all the squinting and flipping is to simply use a credit card. Even better, choose one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. If you’re good about getting cash at the bank ahead of your trip, or are purchasing items from vendors who don’t take cards, it helps to have an organized wallet. Take a few minutes at the beginning and end of every trip to separate your American dollars and coins from the foreign currency, keeping them in their own compartments in your wallet. You’ll save time and energy while you travel, and you’ll avoid looking like a travel newbie.

5. Struggling with public transit turnstiles and other automated machines.

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Here’s another travel challenge that totally makes us anxious: figuring out the ticketing and entry process for foreign public transportation. When you don’t have a handy guide showing you how to swipe a transit card, it’s good to rely on your powers of observation. As you’re entering a train station or hopping on the bus, pay attention to what others are doing. When it doubt, don’t feel shy about asking, starting with the people who work there. A final universal tip: Have your card or currency ready before stepping up to the machines, and do a bit of research beforehand to understand what you’re buying, rather than digging around and holding everyone else up.

6. Speaking a different language.

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This sounds incredibly obvious, but if you don’t speak the language, well, no, you probably aren’t from there. And that’s fine. But locals generally will give you points for trying with simple greetings (“hello”) and niceties (“thank you”). It’s also nice if you can ask locals whether they can speak English in their language. If not, there’s always gesturing or even translation apps that might help get you what you need — along with a little patience and goodwill.

7. Blocking pedestrian traffic.

pedestrians - kevin dooley

We get it. We all need to orient ourselves and figure out where we’re going, sometimes even in our own hometowns. Still, blocking pedestrian traffic in big cities is a sure way to attract death glares, and quickly single yourself out as a visitor. Our advice here is simple: Be aware of what’s happening around you, and if you need to stop, get out of the main lanes of pedestrian traffic. If you’re getting off public transit, take a few paces so others around you can get in and out. If you’re at an intersection, step away from the curb so you’re not in the way of people crossing the streets. As for selfies in the middle of the street…please, for your own safety, don’t even think about it.

8. Wearing bulky, sporty sneakers.

sneakers - erik abderhalden - 620

This is a controversial one, we know. But bulky athletic sneakers — which are so popular  in America, and on the feet of American tourists striving for comfort — can be a telltale sign that you’re traveling. Do a little research before you pack for your trip to see what people generally wear in, or bring to, your destination. And this goes for all clothing, not just shoes. Heading to Europe? We like the Savvy Backpacker’s guides, which points out the kinds of kicks that you’re be more likely to see across the pond.

9. Lugging around a paper guidebook.

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As with consulting a map, flipping open your Lonely Planet will clearly mark you as a tourist. But what can you do? You need your guidebook, right? These days, many choose to download guidebooks onto e-Readers or their phones for convenience. (This solution also saves you from having to lug these books around.) Still, hard copies aren’t subject to battery life limits and are much less delicate to travel with. If you prefer them, simply cover them with paper or fabric so it’s not so obvious they’re guidebooks.

10. Making silly poses for photos.

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We’re not saying that we haven’t done this before, and that our Facebook and Instagram feeds aren’t crammed with silly photos of ourselves “pushing” the Tower of Pisa, or “holding” the Eiffel Tower. But we know that this is pretty much like wearing a “Tourist” sign around our necks. Same goes for peace signs, aggressive thumbs ups, and other hand gestures. Just say “no” to those posing instincts. And if you must pose, do it with the knowledge that you’re in decent company… with all of the other tourists.

25 Comments

  • Janet says:

    Yes, always dress like a local: Local in Germany:
    Brown Oxfords, Orange knee-high socks, Green shorts,
    blue button down shirt, filling up his convertible
    with his blonde girlfriend.

    By all means, don’t wear comfortable shoes or anything but black.

  • Bruce Bertsch says:

    All of those are good, but you left out the most obvious on. Leave your college, hometown, USA sweatshirt and similar caps at home.

  • Teresa says:

    When did being a tourist become such a bad thing? It shows you are interested in learning about other cultures & cities. I love being a tourist!

  • Linda Mueller says:

    You are judged by your SHOES in Italy.

  • E says:

    Don’t wear your college or favorite team hat either.

  • 2LiveCruizer says:

    What is so darn wrong with being a tourist? Why should we emulate the natives. We are tourists, and we will wear our sneakers because those who don’t are just asking for sore feet, or they are only walking two blocks. Get real. Be comfortable, open your map, read your guidebook. The countries we visit are happy to have us as tourists, and we are happy to pay for that priveledge.

    BE A GOOD VISITOR, not a fake local.

  • Jack says:

    Why be a tourist if you have to work so hard at pretending you aren’t one? Why do cultural elitists shun all things American while praising all things not?

  • Nicole says:

    Excellent tips! There is certainly nothing *wrong* with being a tourist, but making a few small efforts to hide the fact that you are a visitor will make you seem infinitely more sensitive to the local culture. Not to mention the fact that looking like a tourist will make you much more vulnerable to pickpockets, taxi drivers taking you the extra long route, or (in places where haggling is the norm) vendors taking huge advantage of you.

  • NYCTim says:

    What you whiny people fail to realize is that tourists are TARGETS for thieves in many countries, including your own. That was the whole point of the story. So, please, stop being so whiny — 2LiveCruizer and Teresa and Jack — and pay attention to the story. Or you’ll be here another time complaining about why a certain country is “awful” because you got robbed. Of course, you will NEVER think it was your own fault for being dumb.

  • laurel says:

    No one said to be a fake local or not to be a tourist these are geared at people being same as a tourist I’d more likely to be targeted for crime. How hard is that to get???

  • Chuck says:

    I do not know if the author of 10 suggestions has traveled outside the U.S. in the last 3 or 4 years. Yes, the senior men do wear OTC black socks and wing-tip shoes; however, you will see many of the young natives wearing U.S. college logos sweat shirts and hats and bulky brilliant tennis shoes. I have found that the major European cities, now,are more American than many American cities. The clue is not to act like a tourist–American or otherwise–and just enjoy the scenery and the culture. I found that simply walking for 3 or 4 hours throughout a city and people-watching and chatting with the natives will always make you feel welcomed

  • maria rosa santacruz says:

    Just be on the alert for pickpockets and muggers. If vendors get agressive don’t answer, pretend you didn’t see or hear them and they will leave you alone, if you say “no thank you” they know they got your attention and they will insist. They will know yo are a tourist the minute you open your mouth even if you speak the language, accent and idioms vary from country to country. And in certain countries (Muslim countries especially) don’t bare you arms or your knees for your safety and out of respect. Have small amounts of local currency handy, preferably in small bills. I have traveled to many countries following these rules and have avoided a lot of trouble.

  • Mark says:

    I totally agree with 2LiveCruizer & Jack above…
    The editor & person who came up with their nonsense
    “recommendations” are both idiots…
    Wonder if they are embarrassed that they actually get paid to write crap like this…

  • Cygnus says:

    Some of the most interesting and positive interactions I’ve had with locals have been started by someone seeing our party using a map or a guidebook and stepping up to offer help, even in Paris, which so often gets a bad rap. While dressing neatly and modestly is a good idea (and helps mark the difference between a tourist and a traveler), I see “bulky athletic shoes” all over the place on the feet of locals here in Japan and did in the Middle East as well — I don’t wear them except when exercising, but they sure aren’t a marker of “tourists,” except perhaps in Italy. Why convey the idea that it is a bad thing to be a visitor? Be a POLITE visitor and know the basic politenesses in the local language, by all means, but it really is okay to not be local and to not pretend to be local.

  • James says:

    I don’t care how hard you try to look and act like a local they will know your not right off. If you manage to pull off the look they will still know as soon as you speak (even the most fluent French speaking American will have an accent that screams “I’m not French”). Don’t worry about being a tourist, they expect it.

  • Jasmine says:

    There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. The main reason you don’t want to look like a tourist is to avoid being a target. In some countries, it’s difficult to spot the hustlers – could be a gypsy woman with a child, even an elderly woman near a church or that middle-aged man that would look like a middle class man in the U.S. And yes, the sneakers do scream tourist because people in some other countries dress better even for casual free time than people do in the U.S.

  • Joseph Ferrari Zani says:

    Unfortunately, many American and some other countries vacationers leave the impression that they are doing that country a big favor by being there and giving them our great $$$dollars, and sometimes are quite arrogant with locals. Americans are just one of many tourists in any country and we should try not to stand out like a sore thumb. Don’t be loud with conversations and try just learning a couple of words in their language like; good morning, good evening, thank you or no thanks and you’ll find it goes a long way.

  • joeg says:

    don’t forget the fanny pack and tan clothes with a thousand pockets.

  • Ginda says:

    Why go to such great lengths to pretend that you’re not traveling? This is such a ridiculous article–should I wander around lost in hurty shoes because I’m afraid to open a map or a guidebook (sorry, but trying to see map detail on a smart phone is not the same)? Agree with the person who said that some of their most interesting interactions with locals have come as a result of clearly being a lost tourist peering at a map. We met so many kind people in Paris and Amsterdam recently who saw us looking at our map and stopped to help us get oriented and ended up giving us tips as to places to see/eat/be. I’m all for respecting local customs and places, but I’m not ashamed of being a visitor in a strange land and clearly a tourist! As for “being a target,” I don’t leave my street smarts at home when I travel, so who cares if they can tell I’m from someplace else? Doesn’t mean I’m an easy target. Duh.

  • Lydia says:

    While traveling in Greece a New Orleans shirt helped us get the best deal of our vacation – a taxi driver who had lived in New Orleans offered his services for the day, getting us up close to all the things we were trying to accomplish on our own. Not only was it great because he spoke the language but he took us to places we were would not have known of. And his daily rate was a lot more affordable than some offered tours!

  • jodi says:

    Who cares what I look like a tourist, its all about comfort. There is no rules tourist as you see fit without being rude to others.

  • wim says:

    It’s easy to recognize American tourists. First the JohnBoy Walton hair ;)
    Than, they always think everybody uses drugs…surprise..only French and American tourists do. Normal people do not use drugs.
    Dead give away…they don’t have a clue, do not speak languages, have no knowledge of history or geography.

  • Sharon says:

    Looking like a tourist doesn’t bother me. The main thing to remember is be respectful of those around you.
    Be kind.

  • Roxy says:

    Around places like the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Tower of London, etc, almost everyone is a tourist as the locals don’t frequent these places often. So why not act like a tourist? I’m not saying be obnoxious, but definitely get that cool shot with the landmarks. Who cares if you’re a tourist as long as you’re respectful to the locals and culture!

  • Analie says:

    If I am to visit another country, the one without strict clothing rules, the only thing I would care about aside from local currency, and being observant, is: i would dress according to the weather: If it is a summer time, I would bring my own summer clothing. If ever I have to shop the another country’s clothing, it would be because I would like it for souvenir or an addition to my summer clothing, not because I would like to be one of them or blend in with the locals! every country has thieves and bad guys, so, I would still be the same: vigilant and careful with my bag. Yes, I would love messenger bag, and I would sling it over me so my hands are free, and I would put an extra pair of wrinkle-free clothing in it, just in case I would to change due to spilled food, or water, or a spray from a puddle done by a passing car! You know, u gotta be always ready like a girl scout:) But never be someone you re not when you are traveling—unless you are a spy, then, that’s another story. But If I must to travel to a country that requires me to dressed up their clothing rules, then, I would respect that.

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