How To Not Look Like A Tourist
Updated: Jun 19, 2022
Don‘t wear running shoes unless you‘re running. The end. Thanks for reading. I kid I kid. Though I stand strongly by the statement.
We must accept first that there will always be situations where it is impossible to look like a tourist. And that‘s okay. No one will begrudge you looking like a tourist at Disneyworld.
You will not get treated differently taking a tour of the Eiffel tower if somebody thinks you‘re a Parisian ( well you might, because they‘ll think you‘re insane). There will also be situations where your skin color alone will rat you out.
Many places you will travel to do thrive, and sometimes exist solely, on tourism; so, generally speaking, I would say embrace it when you go to those places. It‘s expected. I‘m going to focus here on the gray areas: Cities.
One summer during college I learned the definitive lesson on this topic. I was headed to Barcelona to study with one of my best friends and I packed very poorly. Very poorly. Growing up in Atlanta I had never really learned how to dress for the summer.
It‘s SO hot there you just go from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned wherever you‘re going. The few minutes you might be outside could be tolerable in almost any clothing.
I wanted to look cool of course, so I packed mostly jeans and flannel shirts. I was young and stupid and had never lived in a pedestrian city. As it happened this was the hottest summer in recorded history in that region.
Not to mention air conditioning in Spain is generally reserved for large department stores and movie theaters ( if you‘re lucky). It took all of 2 sweaty days for me to head straight to H&M and buy myself a whole new wardrobe. And thus made myself look more like a local than I could have ever planned for.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I was, multiple times, mistaken for a famous Spanish soccer player. I had to learn about him.
If you‘re in a metropolitan city, wherever it may be, dressing up rather than down is going to be key. Have you ever seen a guy in a tux and thought,“ look at that damn tourist?“ I think not. Don‘t actually wear a tuxedo, you‘re not 007, but you get the idea.
Outdoor gear will be a dead giveaway. A brand new Awesome shiny backpack will also be one. If you need to carry a bag when you‘re out and about, carry something that looks lived in and used frequently.
I recommend shopping at Goodwill, I‘m also a huge fan of military surplus gear. My Czech ammo bag goes on most trips with me whether they be short subway trips or too faraway countries.
Clothing-wise, just try to ride the line between functionality and style. Find shoes that are comfortable to walk in, but don‘t look like walking shoes. ( The Danish company Born makes great ones).
If you don‘t feel like you can buy clothes there or match the way people dress at your chosen destination, go simple: Dark colors, nothing flashy, when in doubt just don‘t draw attention to yourself.
I‘ve lived in and out of New York City for a long time and I can pride myself on spotting tourists immediately (it’s not hard). I very quickly learned to ALWAYS look like I knew where I was going and what I was doing.
You will get eaten alive in that city if you don‘t. Do your research ahead of time, so that you will only need to glance at your guidebook if you need, rather than reading the whole thing right there in front of everybody.
Be aware of the people around you. Always. If you‘re walking down a crowded sidewalk, notice the speed of the folks around you. Is there someone walking behind you desperate to pass you?
Kindly let them do so. Pay attention to other people and if you are in the way. DO NOT stop in the middle of a sidewalk to look at something no matter how cool it is. Notice it, deftly slide somewhere safe where you don‘t anger other pedestrians, and then look at your shiny object.
Most importantly, just observe. Be aware of your surroundings and how everyone who’s not a tourist is functioning. Every city is different in its way, but humans are pack animals, wherever you go, just observe the pack and join it as best you can. Short of that, just wear all black, you‘ll do great.
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