How do you travel abroad without looking like a tourist?
- Pack appropriately for the local culture
- Know the local customs
- Accessorize carefully
- Get away from the tourist crowds
If you’ve ever traveled out of the country, you know the challenge of not feeling like you’re sticking out like a sore thumb. Your choice of apparel and accessories, and your behavior, can easily give you away as a tourist.
What’s wrong with looking like a tourist?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with standing out as a tourist, as long as you’re respectful of the local culture. However, there are some key benefits to blending in a little more:
. You’ll have a more immersive and authentic experience.
. You’ll be welcome into more local sites, like churches and restaurants.
. You’ll look less vulnerable, which puts you at less risk of getting pickpocketed or taken advantage of.
We’re sharing our top tips, as well as some awesome advice from professional travel bloggers, on how to blend in more when traveling abroad.
Before you travel abroad, check out this post about how to make a long flight more comfortable.
Pack appropriately for the local culture.
When you pack for a trip, you usually take into account what the weather will be and what activities you’ll do when you arrive. But when traveling abroad, it’s equally important to research local dress beforehand.
Some countries have more modest dress codes than others. As Amber, Knackpacker and travel blogger of With Husband In Tow, told us:
“Sure, Europeans will wear next to nothing at the beach, but when walking around town or heading out to dinner, expect something a bit more formal, and certainly more covered up. When packing for Italy, in particular, or in some Asian countries as well, it’s important to respect the local cultures. This includes covering shoulders and knees when visiting churches, cathedrals, and temples. More conservative dress is also recommended in countries like Morocco”
Just because you dress more formally or modestly doesn’t mean that you have to be uncomfortable - it just means that you might want to trade some of your athleisure or graphic t-shirts for a comfortable button-down and jeans.
The Globe Trotting Teacher shared some great advice for how to dress comfortably and still look like a local:
“In many places around the world, especially in Europe, shorts, sneakers, flip flops, and other athletic clothing immediately identify you as a tourist. Swap the shorts for a summer dress or a loose-fitting wide-legged pair of pants. Choose a comfortable shoe that you can walk in but also dress up or dress down as needed. Accessories like a scarf or a wrap can come in handy when you want to visit places, like Cathedrals, that require you to cover up before entering. Knack Backpacks have plenty of space to pack different articles of clothing so you can look like a local no matter what you have planned, day or night.”
That said, you also don’t want to go too far when trying to blend in. Some places have traditional clothing that are reserved for special occasions, and not worn on a day-to-day basis by locals.
As Knackpackers and bloggers from The Duuude Crew put it “blend in by not standing out - nobody needs to wear their Hawiian print shirt when landing in Maui.”
Know the local customs
Not having a general idea of the local customs, manners, and body language can lead to miscommunication and potentially get you into some trouble. As a visitor to somebody else’s country, it’s your responsibility to avoid a faux pas by knowing which gestures are offensive.
In fact, certain seemingly innocent hand signals used in the United States will be received very poorly abroad. For example, The ‘OK’ sign signifies a bodily orifice in Greece, Spain, and Brazil, as does the ‘good luck’ crossed fingers in Vietnam. Do your research before you go.
Of arguably lesser consequence is not understanding local body language and manners. If you go to Greece or Bulgaria, shaking your head means ‘yes’ and nodding means ‘no’, which could obviously lead to some massive confusion. Eye contact also signifies different things in different countries. While in the United States, eye contact indicates trust, it’s considered rude in Japan and China.
Learn a few words in the local language
While you won’t get fluent in a new language during the span of a one or two week vacation, you can learn a few new words, and doing so has immense benefits.
For one, it’s practical. Knowing how to ask for directions, how much something costs, and how to get help in an emergency are invaluable. Secondly, it shows a genuine respect for the local culture, because you aren’t expecting locals to cater to your language. Locals typically appreciate your effort, even if you royally mess up pronunciation and grammar.
To learn basic phrases, commit to spending a few minutes every day on Duolingo for a week before your trip.
What you carry with you - like a giant camera or oversize backpack - can be a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist. When you’re traveling, you should avoid displaying your valuables, and the fact that you have a lot of stuff with you, as much as possible.
Get a travel day bag
Travelers tend to forget that they need a lightweight travel day bag for when they’re actually at their destination. You don’t want to carry a massive travel backpack when sightseeing, as they’re uncomfortable and possibly not even allowed at certain attractions.
As Nora Dunn of The Professional Hobo puts it:
“Nothing screams tourist - nay, backpacker - more than wearing a massive backpack on your back, and another smaller daypack on your front. I tried it once myself. It was hot, heavy, awkward, and definitely NOT a look I wished to sport ever again. If you are traveling with your Knack Pack as your personal or carry-on item, then do yourself a favour and just use wheeled luggage. If you like to travel ultralight, Knack Pack is great for one-bag travel, since it expands (for travel days when you’ve got everything with you) and compresses (for use as a daypack at your destination). “
Knack Packs are the perfect daytime companion for adventuring around foreign cities. They’re sleek, comfortable, and have lots of security features, like a hidden passport pocket and RFID-blocking pockets.
Want to travel like a minimalist? Check out this post.
Don’t display valuables
Sometimes, we really want, or need, to carry our most expensive and valuable items with us during the day while traveling. For example, your camera can indicate to pickpockets that you’re not from the area, and that you might have some more money on you. Depending on where you’re traveling, you should be very careful about using your camera and other valuables out in the open.
But if you want to take pictures without wielding an enormous camera around your neck, Knack Pack makes it easy to access everything in your backpack. You can pull out your camera easily whenever you need it. Similarly, Knack Pack has secure pockets for your laptop, wallet, passport, and any other valuables that you want or need to keep on hand.
Get away from tourist crowds
When you go to tourist hotspots, you’re probably going to look like a tourist, no matter what you’re wearing or carrying. And while sightseeing the famous landmarks should definitely be on your itinerary, you should also schedule time to get off of the tourist track. Here are some ways to do that:
Take local transportation
Local transport will inevitably take you places that aren’t in the guidebook. When you travel by the local bus, metro, or on foot, you’re likely to make a few wrong turns, which will serendipitously introduce you to the many cool city parks, markets, and shops that were forgotten by your copy of Lonely Planet or Fodor’s.
Jackie from The Globetrotting Teacher says that “There are so many benefits to using public transportation like saving money and time in many cities. But, when you take the time to learn how to use a local metro or bus system (even if it's just to and from your hotel and the surrounding area), you'll inevitably blend in more with the locals who are commuting. Knack Backpacks help to complete the look, so to speak. Their sleek design and color palette means you'll blend in with commuters and won't have a backpack that screams tourist.”
Talk to locals
Do talk to strangers. No guidebook or online tourism forum knows a city better than the people who actually live there. Don’t be afraid to talk to shop owners, the desk clerk at the hotel, or the person next to you on the bus. Chances are that locals are more than happy to tell you about the best bars, hiking trails, and events. You might even make a few friends!
Do you travel abroad? Share your tips for blending in and respecting local cultures while traveling in foreing countries: