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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.