Blending In: How to Not Look Like a Tourist

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There are many advantages to blending in and not looking like a tourist when traveling.

Thieves and pickpockets will be less likely to eye you up as a potential target, and con artists will be less likely to try and scam you.

In addition to this, in some areas it is not uncommon for the locals to have a general discontent for tourists. By looking like a tourist you’re ‘one of them’, instead of ‘one of us’.

Merchants at markets may also massively overcharge you if you’re a tourist and will be less inclined to give you special discounts on their wares.

In general, looking like a tourist will provide you with a less authentic experience when traveling, as you’ll feel like you’re always on the outside looking in.

I’ve compiled a list of several tips that will help to prevent you from instantly being labeled as a tourist whenever you’re traveling. These tips include being discrete when looking at maps at guidebooks, restraining the amount of photos you take, following the local dress-code, among other things.

After following these tips, don’t be surprised if tourists start asking you for directions!

Don’t Advertise the Fact You’re Looking at Guidebooks & Maps

Everyone gets lost at times (myself more than most, thanks to my terrible sense of direction), some kind of map to look at when you’re in a new city is a great way to learn the area and know where the important things are.

That being said, nothing will advertise you as being a tourist than holding a fully opened map out in front of your face and gazing into it with a confused look on your face.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use guidebooks or maps, but I am saying that you should try to be discrete about it if you don’t want to be labeled as a tourist.

If you do need to get your bearings and look at a map, find a more discrete place to do it away from the crowds, whether that’s inside a convenience store or in a quiet corner somewhere.

One way of concealing a guidebook is to place the cover of another book over the cover of the guidebook. Then, when you’re sitting outside at café in the town square, reading up on all the sights people will think you’re reading Stephen King (or whatever you put on the cover) instead of a Lonely Planet guide.

An alternative to looking at guidebooks and maps is to look at digital guidebooks and maps on your smartphone instead. You can look on Google Maps for direction or on one of the several guidebook apps now available. Looking at your smartphone is a good way of getting the information you need without blowing your cover.

Of course, before using a smartphone abroad it’s important to apply a little common sense. While using a fancy new smartphone won’t make you look like a tourist in the middle of Oxford Street in London, it will in poorer, more rural areas where smartphones are uncommon.

Be aware of where you are and don’t pull out your smartphone in a place where thieves will see you as an easy target.

Lastly, before you get out onto the street (when you’re still in your hotel room) take some time to study a map of the area and to plan out the route you’re going to take. By having a general idea of where you’re going and what to expect, you’ll only need to consult the map sporadically (instead of every two minutes) and you won’t walk out onto the street looking like you have no idea where you’re going.

Majorca Cathedral

Don’t Be So Snap-Happy With Your Camera (or at Least Take Pictures Discretely)

The second biggest giveaway of a tourist is someone who goes around with a camera taking pictures of everything in sight.

By actually experiencing the places you’re visiting first-hand (instead of through the lens of a camera) you won’t look so obviously like a tourist to those around.

Part of the reason that some people take so many pictures when traveling is because they want to come home with at least a few extra special shots that they can look back on with fond memories.

Instead of taking thousands of pictures of everything in the hope that one of them comes out well, by learning how to take good photos you reduce the amount of pictures you need to take of each area.

Try to Follow the Local Dress Code

Avoid the typical traveler fashion faux pas such as wearing socks with sandals or fanny packs (or ‘bumbags’ as they’re known in England).

Blending in and not looking like a rich tourist is far more important in poorer areas where thieves will look upon you with envious eyes.

Wearing designer clothing and trendy outfits in such places will make you stick out like a sore thumb.

Loud Hawaiian shirts are a dead giveaway in Europe, but are the norm in the Caribbean. In order to camouflage yourself in European countries, wear clothes that are dark-ish neutral colors.

Tyne Bridge

Act with Confidence

If you don’t want to look like a local, act with confidence and assurance. Look like you know where you’re going (even when you don’t). When looking at a map, do it with a confident, sure look on your face (regardless of what you’re thinking) is far better than squinting at it and looking like you’ve never seen a map before.

Doing so will make you seem like you know what you’re doing (meaning you aren’t an ignorant tourist) and locals won’t think they can get the better of you so easily.

Be Observant

To truly blend in and act like a local, you need to understand the subtleties of the culture and how people in the area operate.

By far the best way to learn these things is to be observant and to pay attention to how other people are doing things.

For example, if you don’t know how to use the ticket machine at a train station, instead of trying to figure it out while a queue builds behind you, step aside for a minute and casually watch how the locals do things.

Most cities will have lots of unspoken rules that you’d never even think of if you hadn’t been there (or to a place like it) before. For example, when traveling on the escalators on the London Underground subway, standing passengers are supposed to stand on the right whilst those that wish to walk up/down the escalator go on the left.

Standing on the left will result in plenty of tuts and sighs from busy businesspeople trying to get by in a hurry, and will make it clear to all around that you’re not from the area.

These are just a few suggestions to help you avoid looking like a tourist. Of course, the enjoyment of your trip should always come first, so if you feel the need to take pictures of everything, by all means, go ahead! Likewise, if you want to wear a Hawaiian shirt and bright Bermuda shorts whilst waving your guidebook around, go for it!

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