The frequent traveler knows those rare moments of actually blending in, where you could almost be mistaken for a local. It’s a good feeling and often fleeting, the moment passes and there you are again, exposed as a foreign tourist carrying plenty of cash and little sense.
Not looking like a tourist when you are traveling has a lot of advantages, you might become less of a target for thieves and hustlers, you will likely save money as tourists often get taken advantage of, and you might just have a better experience since a big part of traveling like a local means slowing down and paying better attention to your surroundings.
There are many ways that you can avoid looking like a tourist, but these are our simplest and most effective tips:
How did we even travel before the Internet? There is no longer any excuse for not doing your research before visiting a new city when a simple Google search can find you relevant and timely information, as well as helpful forums where fellow travelers can share their expertise.
Don’t forget to take advantage of social media when researching your destination. We are more connected than ever, chances are one of your Twitter or Facebook friends has experience traveling where you are going. When I went to Paris I reached out to a friend of mine who had been posting about the city a lot. He responded with a short essay detailing his favorite places to go which was super helpful!
Possibly the most crucial step to traveling like a local, is choosing a place to stay where real people love to live. When doing your research, choose an interesting neighborhood where you would want to live yourself, and then find accommodations in that area. Better yet, skip the hotels altogether and stay in an apartment. Services like CorporateStays.com offer apartments in desirable neighborhoods where locals actually live.
If you stay in a real neighborhood, not only can you avoid the heaviest tourist thoroughfare, but you can also find hidden gem restaurants and unexpected sights that you might not see on the beaten path.
It’s a good idea to pay attention to what people are wearing around you and try to blend in. This is different for every place you go but in general it is always a good idea to dress a bit nicer than you normally would.
Leave the shorts and running shoes at home. While shorts are acceptable wear in the US and Canada, in many other countries they are too informal for city wear. Even though they are comfortable, shorts and running shoes will usually make you look like a tourist. Try to wear comfortable shoes that do not look overtly like running shoes and switch the shorts for some light long pants.
This website gives you seasonal advice on what to wear in different cities around the world.
Be aware of the volume of your voice. American and Canadian tourists sometimes can’t be missed because of their overly loud and boisterous talk. North America tends to have larger spaces where our voices need to carry. In European countries for instance, people live, shop, and work much closer together so they speak more softly out of habit. Don’t be obnoxious, be aware of your surroundings and lower your voice.
For help with the local language and slang, consider downloading this handy app.
To be able to blend in to your surroundings it is important to actually take the time to notice them. Slow down, put the camera away for a second, and actually look around. It’s the easiest thing to miss the feel of a place as we rush from place to place, taking the time to live the experience will let you pick up behavioral cues from the people around you, as you deepen your experience.
That being said, if you are in a crowd of people rushing to get to work, don’t disrupt the flow of traffic to take a picture or look at your map. Not only will this instantly mark you as a tourist, but it will be very annoying to the people around you who now have to find a way to get by through the traffic jam you have just caused.
If you want to stop and take a photo, find an unobtrusive spot to do so. If you want to look at your map, step into a store or a more private area. Better still, grab a coffee or a meal, sit down and really take in your surroundings, then take look at your map before you leave.
That’s it, be safe out there and most of all enjoy yourself. Sometimes all it takes to avoid looking like a tourist is to stop doing that mad dash through all the famous sights and just take the time to enjoy yourself. You might not see every thing on the tourist map, but chances are you will have a more memorable experience.