8 ways to travel without looking like a tourist

Mark Bristow

Mark Bristow

( 5 min read )

One popular piece of travel advice is to try and blend in overseas, and avoid looking like an obvious tourist. Not only can this help you appreciate the cultures of the places you visit, but it may also help you avoid some of the problems that some tourists experience while travelling.

Take care with cash

Flashing fat stacks of cash is one way to attract attention to yourself, which may not be ideal if you’re trying to blend in. Even if you’re not makin’ it rain, taking your time counting your change in public can mark you as a confused tourist. 

Consider getting your hands on the appropriate local currency before leaving for your destination, and familiarise yourself with the different denominations before you arrive to avoid confusion. Plus, organising your cash in advance may help you avoid paying too many fees from international ATMs, or coming off second-best when making a currency exchange.

When in doubt, consider using a credit card or travel money card where possible. As well as letting you avoid cash misunderstandings, most credit cards include security safeguards against fraud, and keep a digital record of your purchases to help resolve any disputes.

Be discreet

Dangling a high-end camera around your neck, snapping instagrams with a selfie stick, or standing in the street scrolling through map directions on your phone can all indicate to onlookers that you’re probably not from around here.

While there’s nothing wrong with using your equipment to record and navigate through your adventures, consider your surroundings when using your electronics, and try to stay out of the way of fellow travellers, and especially locals.

Beware of scams

Major travel destinations attract tourists, which in turn often attract scammers, looking to take advantage of said tourists. The exact methods can vary, but generally, if something sounds too good to be true, it very well might be.

Consulting travel safety websites such as the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller can help you get a better idea of what to watch out for in different areas. Keep this information in mind to help you minimise your risk of being targeted. 

Learn (some of) the language

Learning a whole new language can be a significant commitment, requiring years of practice. If achieving language fluency in time for your next trip isn’t a realistic option, learning just enough to be polite can sometimes be the next best thing – after all, politeness costs nothing.

A few simple words, like hello and goodbye, please and thank you, and assorted apologies (especially “I’m sorry, I don’t speak your language”) can make a big difference to the first impressions you create. Even if some miming and charades is required to get the rest of your point across, the initial effort is often appreciated.

See some alternative sights

Seeing the wonders of the world is all well and good, but it’s important to remember that exclusively visiting internationally-renowned landmarks often means exclusively rubbing shoulders with people doing exactly the same thing.

Getting away from the well-travelled areas can help give you a broader perspective on your destination, rather than ticking boxes off a travel checklist (“Been there. Done that. Took a picture. Next!”).

Buy local

Souvenir shops can add a bit of kitsch to your wardrobe, though their wares often clearly mark you as a tourist (HINT: New Yorkers don’t wear those “I Heart NY” shirts). Plus, some shops selling overseas-manufactured souvenirs to tourists end up taking money out of the local economy.

Shopping where the locals go is one way to experience the local culture, support local businesses and industries, and pick up some unique mementoes of your trip. Similarly, staying in local accommodation rather than an international hotel chain can provide a very different travel experience.

Haggle carefully

Haggling can be a delicate subject, depending on where you are and what you’re buying. Taking the first price offered can make you appear clueless, while negotiating too aggressively can be obnoxious.

Remember that shopping doesn’t need to be an extreme sport – haggle if it’s expected, but don’t feel obliged to squeeze every last drop of value from each sale. Also, in some countries it’s considered rude to walk away without buying something once the negotiations have commenced, so only ask for a price if you’re prepared to buy.

Be respectful

We’ve all heard the legend of the Obnoxious Tourist. Loud of shirt and loud of voice, they roam from country to country, complaining about how different things are from back home. Afterwards, they may be seen getting aggressively drunk and embarrassing themselves.  

Don’t be the Obnoxious Tourist. Be mindful that any destination you visit is someone’s home, where you are a guest. You can have a good time travelling without ruining the experience (or the destination) for those around you.

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