How to not look like a tourist while travelling
Alesha and Jarryd are professional photographers, writers and the founders of Australia’s biggest adventure travel blog, NOMADasaurus. They’ve been exploring the world together since 2008, searching for culture and adventure in off the beaten path destinations.
Learning about foreign cultures, studying ancient history, trying exciting activities and making new friends are just some of the awesome things that you can do on the road. Most locals are happy to see people visiting their home countries, and will welcome you with open arms. Unfortunately, there are also a very small number of people who will see this as an opportunity to take advantage of your unfamiliarity.
Not looking like a tourist can be half the battle when it comes to beating pickpockets and scams, so make sure you follow these tips to blend in when you’re travelling the world.
Dress as the locals do
Every country has their own fashion, and the first trick to not looking like a tourist when you travel is to follow the same style of clothes the locals wear. Some cultures like to keep up with the latest trends, while others tend to keep things more conservative. It’s important to adapt so you don’t stand out.
You’ll always see backpackers rocking elephants pants they picked up in Southeast Asia, or colourful shirts that they found in South America, but nothing screams tourist like these, and will highlight anyone as a foreigner.
We recommend always having at least one set of smart, neutral clothes with you. A pair of trousers and button-up shirt, or a long dress — in dark colours — is always a safe bet. We recommend that on your first day out in a new country you wear these and see how it compares to what the locals are wearing. If you feel like you look very different from everyone else, head to the markets and pick up some new threads. Leave the Hawaiian shirt at home.
Avoid displaying your camera
Of course, you want to take photos during your travels, and capturing those memories is very important. But walking around with a big camera hanging around your neck is just asking for trouble, no matter where you are.
Instead, take a messenger bag or backpack and keep your camera in there when you’re not using it. When you see a photo opportunity pull it out, take your pictures, then when you’re done put it away. You don’t need to hide it after every single photo, but if you’re walking around it’s best not to have it on display. Learn more about travelling with a camera.
Don’t travel in large groups
Large groups of people following around a tour leader are an obvious sign of visitors from out of town and can be the target of pickpockets or scammers. For this reason, it’s always best to try and travel in smaller numbers of two to four if possible.
This doesn’t mean going on tours should be avoided. Rather, try to pick a trip or company that has smaller groups.
Don’t stare at a map in public
We’ve all been there: you’re walking around a new and unfamiliar city, completely caught up in the sights, sounds and smells, and suddenly you realise you have no idea which way it is to the church you were trying to find. This is often one of the best aspects to travel, where you find yourself somewhere you never imagined and with the chance to discover more local delights. However, you may want to eventually know where you are. In this situation, avoid looking confused and pulling out a map or your phone. Scammers can spot this in a heartbeat, and rush over to ‘help’.
If you do need to look at your map step inside a store or building, and do so discreetly. Don’t pull it out on a street corner. Memorise where you are and the immediate steps to the best of your ability (i.e, "Follow this road for two blocks, then turn left, pass the chemist, turn right at the service station" etc.)
If you are arriving to a new location at night, take the time to get acquainted with a map of the destination, also trying to memorise steps to getting to your accommodation.
Learn the local language
Learning a bit of the local language before you go somewhere should be part of your pre-travel checklist, just like buying insurance. If the place you’re headed has a different native language to where you’re from, make an effort to at least learn the basics before you touch down.
Not only is this a sign of respect, but it’ll also help you blend in a little bit more as you move around. While it’ll be easy for someone to pick up you’re not a local in seconds when you start speaking, if you can say a few words they might think you’ve been there for a while, and know how things work. This can stop you getting overcharged while shopping or getting rides in taxis, and even help you make friends!
There are plenty of apps out there these days that can help you learn the basics. You don’t need to become fluent, but it is a good idea to be able to greet people, to count, to order food/drinks, and to understand the currency.
Know the local scams
Being scammed comes with the territory of heading overseas. While 99.9% of people out there are awesome and would do anything to help a foreigner out, that small minority can make life a little harder.
Before you head off, do a bit of research on some common scams where you’re headed. Watch out for the old ‘torn note’ trick the taxi drivers in Turkey have, or the street salsa dancers in Barcelona that just want to twirl you around while you walk down La Rambla, then empty your pockets while you’re caught up in the moment.
You don’t need to have a barrier up against every person you meet, but by being aware of the scams you can instantly recognise them as they’re happening, and beat them at their own game. You’re on holiday, but always listen to your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, remove yourself from the situation.
Be confident with the currency
Trying to tell your Qetzales from your Cordobas can get confusing, and money changers and unscrupulous characters know this. If someone can tell you aren’t familiar with the money, it’s easy for them to trick you by saying a note is worth less than it really is, or by saying that the ‘green note’ is a 10, not a 100, before you have time to check.
Look less like a new tourist by spending a bit of time learning the local currency and what it different notes and coins equate to in your own currency. Check online for what the official rates are before you exchange, and keep a currency converter app on your phone for quick reference in case you need clarification.
When you get a hold of some new currency you’ve never seen before, spend a few minutes studying the notes, sizes and colours so you know exactly which one is what. This way when someone quotes you something you can open your wallet and pull out the exact notes like a boss, rather than fumbling around looking at each one.
Hide the guidebook
Guidebooks are amazing. They help you find the best places to visit in a new destination, and make your life much easier when trying to figure out logistics in a foreign land.
They also make you look like a complete tourist.
When you’re out exploring, keep the guidebook in your handbag or backpack, and only pull it out when you’re sitting at a restaurant or on a bus. If you walk around with it in your hand, you can become a target.
Buy the e-book version of whichever guidebook you need and put it on your phone. It’s much less conspicuous, you can have a quick read while walking around and people will think you’re just reading a message.
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