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How to not look like a tourist, ideas and comments

while travelling we often spend time sitting in a cafe watching other people and tourists walking by. as part of a 'game' we try and guess, if the people are tourists, and if so why do they stand out.
the easy one for us is when we see people walking along, often in the middle of a small street, carrying there trusty Rick Steves travel book in hand and camera hanging around their neck.

we have noticed plenty of other traits that tourist do.
what things do you think make tourists stand out?

hopefully a list might help others from being a target.

Posted by
1823 posts

Being a tourist "target" does not concern me in the least. I dress the way I want to, do not use Steves books and have a camera in my pocket. I can't understand the thinking of people who do not want to look like a tourist. You are what you are and there is nothing you can do about it. I do have a photo of an American tourist in Odessa, Ukraine standing there in his zip off pants, hiking shoes, shirt with tabs and many pockets, and a goofy looking floppy hat. Now, that is a tourist who stands out. My wife and I just don't worry about image because we have some nice travel clothes that we transport in our convertible carry-on bags.

Posted by
16817 posts

Locals who are looking for tourists recognize subtle signs that you probably can't avoid, so hiding your camera and guidebook won't solve the issue, nor will avoiding sneakers or zip-off pants. Myself, sitting in a Paris sidewalk café, felt that I could recognize everyone wearing comfortable walking shoes, easy-to-match neutrals, and black & white patterned scarves as tourists. The local women were in less practical shoes and easy-to-soil white dresses, for instance. Of course, all is lost once you start to talk, and anyone traveling with a partner tends to have to talk as they walk.

Posted by
1536 posts

In support of Laura's comment, on days when I go to the Prado alone, I am rarely approached by touts of any kind, but on days when I go with someone else and we are speaking to each other in English and following American body-language conventions, I am usually approached pretty quickly with requests/offers/etc.

Posted by
12040 posts

Another thing I've noticed... tourists from most of the world basically dress very similarly, and the tell-tale body language is identical.

Posted by
4522 posts

It's not whether you look like a tourist, whatever that means - there is certainly no commonality between how tourists dress and act. It's whether you look like a "chump." European cities are filled with tourists. So looking like one means little. What scam artists look for are those that seem lost or oblivious to their surroundings and therefor make for easy prey. It's also very hard for many Americans to give a "brush off" to those that might want to bother you. I live in a big US city and it's commonplace for me to do it here or in Europe. But percentage wise, most Americans live in suburbs and smaller communities and might not be used to being approached by neer-do-wells. Learning to brusquely say "No!" with a wave off would help a lot.

Posted by
4664 posts

The only way not to look like a tourist is not to look at stuff.

Posted by
2147 posts

I second the not looking at stuff--I notice that locals tend to walk quickly and aren't soaking up all the gorgeous sights like we tourists. They also don't have a death grip on their bags.

Posted by
10344 posts

This is a frequently asked question here.
You're a tourist. The locals will spot you as a tourist, no matter what you do.
So what?

Posted by
12125 posts

I've lived and/or worked all my life in very touristy cities: Florence and San Francisco.
I can spot a tourist no matter what he or she does to appear like a local.
If I can do it and I'm not a professional pickpocket/scammer, just imagine someone who does that all day to try score a hit.
Just give up on looking like a local, because it's impossible.
Just look like a mean tough tourist who can seriously kick behinds and nobody will bother you.
Go lift some heavy weights at the gym starting this weekend! And when approached by a gypsy kid, speak meanly and carry a big stick.

Posted by
5624 posts

Some folks don't have a chance of blending in. As others note, they would be identified as tourist as soon as the speak or whip out their pictorial recording devices. The video in this DW World link illustrates the phenomenon:
http://www.dw.de/chinese-tourists-in-the-black-forest/av-17059231

Chinese Tourists in the Black Forest Tourists from China are flocking
to the Black Forest: they tend to arrive in large groups, take a lot
of photographs and spend generously. At Lake Titisee, a number of
restaurants have adapted to suit the needs of visitors from Asia.

Posted by
4556 posts

I like (& agree with) Kent's comment:

You're a tourist. The locals will spot you as a tourist, no matter
what you do. So what?

If you are a tourist... why worry?

Enjoy your trip & travel safely!

Posted by
6243 posts

Why do we keep responding to posts like this - How not to look like a tourist? How to live like a local? Traveler/Tourist? The responses always seem to be the same.

Posted by
12107 posts

We don't worry about looking like tourists but the funny thing is that we're so often mistaken by other tourists as locals!! Honestly, we don't dress or act any differently than we do at home! Maybe we just don't go about clutching our day bags nervously to our chests and looking like someone is going to (God forbid) approach us with malice on their minds? THAT is what makes you look like a tourist, and even I can spot them a mile away.

Posted by
4522 posts

Why do we keep responding to posts like this - How not to look like a tourist? How to live like a local? Traveler/Tourist? The responses always seem to be the same.

Because each OP is different and hasn't asked that question x times. And because the travel media still has this obsession with people traveling like they are locals. I love RS and think his philosophy is pretty sound for how I am able to travel, but many people wrongly interpret it as trying not to look like a tourist. In fact, I've had much better luck being warmly welcomed by locals as a tourist and NOT blending in.

I still say, don't look like a chump.

Posted by
162 posts

Im black, so I KNOW Im not going to blend in much, especially in Central/Eastern Europe, where I like to visit the most. I did meet some expat black American living in Vienna though.

Posted by
1823 posts

Frank, was that you I saw striding smartly down the street in Kolomiya, Ukraine about a month ago?

Posted by
126 posts

Can't be done - I cannot not look like a tourist - even at home, I have 1-2 cameras around my neck at all time, wear nothing but tennis shoes, and wander up and down alleys and lanes looking for something to photograph. I imagine when I hit Italy this Oct, it will even be more obvious. Don't have a problem with it myself. And I have a strong southern accent, so unless I never talk.......

Posted by
506 posts

I think it is unlikely that if you are in a high tourist area you are going to look like a local. Almost everyone is a tourist. My biggest objection (just back from Italy) is how sloppy most travelers look. If you are camping or hiking or on the beach I see that type of wardrobe. But I don't understand why people travel to big cities and wear those kinds of clothes, zip off pants, cargo shorts sloppy T shirts? Why not just wear nice casual clothes that you would wear if you were in any city in the US. I understand comfortable footwear, but the clothes just baffles me.

Posted by
162 posts

Monte, that wasn't me. I've only been as far east as Budapest (nicest people in Europe I've encountered so far, btw). I'm not THAT adventurous a traveler to go to Ukraine during the troubles they're having right now.

Posted by
1529 posts

So, I have a question- where do local European/UK men keep their wallets if not in their pockets? We keep telling people not to keep their wallets in their pockets, but are the locals all wearing money belts?

Posted by
10344 posts

Emma,
The last part of your post was apparently cut off, if you could add what's missing....
Thanks

Posted by
10344 posts

Hi Emma, looks like you're on-line.
Ok, what kind of haircuts should we get if we really want to be mistaken for locals? Inquiring minds want to know.
:-)

Posted by
10344 posts

Emma, I enjoyed the hair post.
I don't have much hair myself, but I thought those who are not hair-challenged would benefit from the tips.

Posted by
506 posts

So what does a hip 60 year old American women's hair look like? Ha Ha! Just have to know!

Posted by
6243 posts

Thank you Emma for finally posting a new and entertaining response to the age old "not look like a tourist" conversation. You've made my day.

Posted by
1782 posts

On my recent trip I had a lot of people talking to me in French and Italian. Several people asked me for directions including French speaking folks in Paris. I attribute it to the fact that I wore the same clothes I do in L.A. which include jeans and I didn't carry a backpack. I always wear a hat during the day (not a baseball hat). It helped that I usually knew where I was going.

For those that think they can always spot a tourist, how do you know for sure? You can spot the obvious ones but the ones that do blend in you'd never know without interacting with them.

Posted by
1536 posts

Maybe on this recent trip, Richard, you were a traveler and not a tourist. :-)

Posted by
4522 posts

So, I have a question- where do local European/UK men keep their wallets if not in their pockets? We keep telling people not to keep their wallets in their pockets, but are the locals all wearing money belts?

There are three reasons why the answer isn't very relevant for non-European tourists:

First, locals aren't hanging out at sights and on the busses where tourists congregate and tend to attract pick-pockets. For example, I doubt locals going to and from work stop to gawk at the street performance artists.

Second, locals are far more aware of places where pick-pockets are likely to be and can be more prepared to watch their pockets. They are more likely aware of the scams and strategies by pick-pockets (who work on distractions). Whereas a tourist is far more likely to be taken in by the roving gypsy kids, or a petitioner, or not realize that getting bumped and jostled on the train might be a ruse to pick your pocket.

Third, if a local does have their wallet stolen, it is a hassle but doesn't ruin a vacation 2000 miles and an ocean away from home. And they don't lose their passport and train tickets and wad of euro to pay the hotel in cash.

I do think there is an over-reliance here on the waist-money belt. I don't personally like them and think they are overkill for most destinations. And many of us do suggest other secure options. And there are posters here that think their wallet is perfectly safe in their front pocket.

Posted by
1782 posts

I left my wallet at home. I was pretty sure I didn't need my Costco card in Europe. I carry a messenger bag on travel days and turn it around so the opening is facing me while on public transport. On non-travel days I just have a drivers liscense, credit card and cash in my front pocket. I can keep one hand on that pocket if the bus gets jammed full. I had my money belt but never used it on this last trip. If I had used more public transportation I probably would have.

Posted by
3696 posts

OK... so the question in reverse...
Can we pick out the European tourists in America?
Just after I read this post I had to go to one of the Art Stores that sells my work for the day. I noticed an interesting looking woman was perusing my art (mostly European images) and I could tell that she was either European or an extremely stylish American. When I approached her and she spoke, she was French, and lived in Nice. She had on some flowy linen pants, a beautiful loose shirt, and what appear to be really interesting scarves tied around her head. After chatting with her for a while I told her I loved her scarf and she told me it was a hat she bought in Paris... she looked understated but amazing, and even before she spoke I was pretty sure she was not one of us:))) How do they do that????

Posted by
8293 posts

I know what you mean. Yesterday I met a man in my building I had not seen before. He wore jeans, a light coloured linen jacket and a pale blue scarf wrapped several times around his neck. Of course, he is from France. It's genetic!

Posted by
1782 posts

It's all about the scarves. French men and women wear them and the Americans don't.

Posted by
3696 posts

Richard... well, lots of Americans wear scarves (me included) but I still look like an American trying to look like a European...:) they just have a style...

Posted by
518 posts

I agree with the comment about body language. Even if you don't carry a day bag, and wear local clothing (whatever that means), how you walk and where you walk will give you a way. For example, when I used to work in downtown San Francisco, people out on the street walk with a certain speed and confidence and determination. They are not wandering around or looking up and around. They are either on their way to/from work, to/from meetings, etc. The minute you stop sporadically, look up and around, especially with another person or group, it's obvious you are not from around there.

Posted by
607 posts

Where are you guys travelling??? On my trip in Italy, there were wall to wall tourists. A more challenging game would have been "spot the non-tourist".

If you want to not look like a tourist, just buy and carry six selfie sticks and walk around like you are a street peddler. Everybody will avoid you like the plague.

Posted by
7737 posts

There's a flawed logic working here. I agree that 95+% of people who look and/or act like tourists are tourists. (Remember there are lots of residents of Italy who were born in other countries.)

But that doesn't make the reverse true. Unless you query every single person you see, there's no way to know if the people you think are non-tourists are indeed non-tourists. I've been asked several times by Italians if I live there.

Posted by
12107 posts

If you want to not look like a tourist, just buy and carry six selfie sticks and walk around like you are a street peddler. Everybody will avoid you like the plague.

Best laugh I've had today, funpig.

Posted by
2447 posts

If somebody is looking at you, playing "tourist or local", they will probably be able to tell. Be it fashion, physical features (size, being Sicilian-American in Norway or vice versa), presence of a day bag, or just the way you are walking. If someone cares enough to pay attention to you, they will likely figure it out.

BUT I have a goal not to stand out as an obvious tourist. This is for my own protection (obvious tourist reads as easy mark for thieves), as well as my own comfort. I just feel more confident when I don't seem ridiculously out of place. This falls into two categories - physical appearance and behavior.

Clothes, etc: my guidelines FOR ME in Europe are no sneakers (I love the trendy fashion-blog sneaker look and see plenty of Europeans wear this, but I can't pull it off and look chic, I just look frumpy), no shorts in cities, no "travel clothes", no "athletic wear", no logos or sayings on shirts, no backpacks (purse works fine) and more classic style in general. I take some inspiration from what is in international stores/lines like H&M or Zara or Mango or Benneton. I'm in my 30s, I'm sure there are different brands more appropriate to people significantly younger or older. I also wear basic, minimal makeup (takes 5 minutes) and I bring a scarf or two. A typical outfit might be skinny jeans, black blouse, scarf, ballet flats, gray purse. A really bad "tourist" outfit might be ill-fitting travel cargo shorts, mickey mouse t-shirt, college football logo hat, sport sandals with white socks, backpack with guidebook hanging out, selfie stick.

Behavior - talk quietly, walk with purpose, if stopping on a sidewalk, move to the side, know where I'm going (i.e. not walk with the map in front of me!), know local customs and don't complain about them (ice in drinks, espresso vs. brewed coffee, stores closed for siesta, "slow" restaurant service), know a few words of the language and use them appropriately. Most importantly: carry self with confidence. Projecting discomfort makes you a target AND worsens your trip - you are less likely to seek new things (the whole reason you're traveling!) if you feel constantly out of place. So do what you can to leave discomfort at home - for me, it's tons of research so I know what I'm doing once I hit the ground.

Posted by
518 posts

I should add that in general Europeans are a bit more fashion conscious and by that I mean, their clothes are very well fitted. Although on average they might not be as heavy as Americans, a slender build is not the prerequisite for well fitting clothes. Balancing comfort with style, it's good fashion sense to have your clothes tailored. Sleeves that are too long, pants that sag, oversized t-shirts, jackets that fall off your shoulders, etc. I'd rather have a few pieces of well fitting clothes than a suitcase full of expensive yet ill-fitting clothes. Oh of course, all the other stuff said before about walking with purposes, not walking head down at a map, shouting, etc.

Posted by
10344 posts

Please yourself, no one else will spend even a second checking you out.
Unless you're way better looking than most of us.

Posted by
20973 posts

Our motto and it has served us well --

You cannot avoid looking like a tourist, just don't look like a stupid, American tourist !

And, secondly, there is a difference between blending in and standing out. We do not stand out. It seems to work. In nearly a full year of travel in Europe over nearly twenty years we have never had a problem.

Posted by
247 posts

I can't agree with the "don't look like a chump" remarks more. So true.

I might just try out funpig's tactic though. Might make some extra spending money peddling some selfie sticks!

Posted by
1498 posts

I think it´s more like a feel. If I am anonymous as a visitor it doens´t really matter how I look. Busy with what others would think doesn´t make you anonymous as I think anonymity is the way to enjoy a place.

I think too looking for “camouflage” (not getting noticed by people you don´t want to be noticed) is very normal, but the solution is not in the “dress” but more in the way of thinking: And realising that you will be less vulnerable how you look like and needs so less attention.

Posted by
337 posts

FWIW, when in Italy I am often mistaken for a native born Italian. And, in other parts of Europe I will often have Italian natives approach me and start speaking Italian to me before I correct than with a "Mi dispiace, sono Americano" statement. I guess it is because my parents and grand parents are all from Italy. But Italians are also travelers even in their own country, so I probably still looked like a tourist, just an Italian tourist. :-)

When traveling, I do not try to not look like a tourist. OTOH, I don't wear baggy sports shirts, t-shirts, baseball caps and white sports shoes. I dress in medium to dark colors with a nice casual shirt - you know, sort of like the Italian men wear when they are walking about town casually with their family and friends. In restaurants, I try to speak in a low voice and I don't freak out if the server is not begging me for my order 2 minutes after I am seated. And, I tactfully ask for the check when I am done.

Of course, I have my camera with me, thought sometimes it is only a small pocket-able one, and often I have some type of backpack or men's purse to carry a water bottle, maps, guidebooks pages, etc. They all scream 'tourist'.

You're going to be recognized as a tourist. Make sure you are also recognized as a descent and respectful human being. That's the important thing.

Posted by
42 posts

"I am what I am and that's all that I am." -Popeye, The Sailor Man. Although I am sometimes taken for a local, particularly in Germany, I don't worry about blending in when I travel. The people that I need be concerned about, thieves and scammers, will pick me out very quickly- it is their job, and like in any job, practice makes perfect. I asked a guide that I had engaged in Brazil how he had picked me out of a disembarking planeload of Brazilians, he replied that Brazilians think of a flight as an event and dress more formally than I did [smart casual]. And in China last November, at 6 foot 2 inches, WASP'y looking, and with a full white beard, I had no illusions about looking like a local. Indeed, I was told that I looked like Santa Claus [ I should lose that weight but the food is so good], and many young women asked to have their picture taken with me. Delightful. And one generous young couple even treated me to dinner after seeing me struggle with a menu, even though my terrible cold must have made my company a trial. In the movie "The Guns of Navarone" Gregory Peck is told that he has been selected for the mission because "... you speak German like a German and Greek like a Greek." Unless you can pull that off, relax but be alert, and enjoy being special for a change

Posted by
518 posts

Ha ha, that is too funny imacdonnel. It reminds me of a trip my wife and I took to Istanbul a few years ago. We were at the Blue Mosque and this other tourist family me asked me to take their photo for them, but then also asked my wife to be in the photo with them They weren't American tourists, they may have been local tourists or possibly another part of Europe. My wife and I are Chinese. I guess they don't see too many Chinese in Turkey or wherever they were from.

Posted by
12160 posts

On what Gregory Peck was told in that great movie, well... just work on that grammar, accent and intonation. You will pull it off. My American style clothes, hair cut, glasses, the way I walk, my travel style....all give me away, make me stand out, or, better put, betray me as a tourist from the US but with no camera hanging from the neck. Can I do anything about that? Should I do anything about that? Or, even bother?

Posted by
7822 posts

Considering half the population of Europe now have cool cameras hanging around their necks because everyone wants to be a photographer and many of them are wearing white athletic shoes, as well as back packs or messenger bags, none of those things will mark you as a tourist. This is what I wear almost everyday. though sometimes I wear my purple shoes and a city of Frankfurt hoodie. Germans ask me for information all the time while waiting for trains. I am never guessed as being American.

It truly is how you walk and stand and how your outfit is put together. Sometimes hairdos, but it is the whole package, not usually any one thing. If you are doing the tourist clutch with your bag, rather than wearing it casually, then this is a tip-off. Walking around with your water bottle in your hand rather than tucked away in your bag. Seriously, it seems that people can no longer stand to go 10 min. without drinking. It is constant. I see people drinking in the churches too, which is really frowned on.

If you want to blend, buy a cloth grocery bag from the local grocery store, carry a local newspaper, go to one of the neighborhood barbers or hair salons, wear a messenger bag or satchel. Look at Google street views, see if you can pick out the residents from the tourists. What are they wearing or doing differently other than maybe heading off to work? Honestly though, there are tons of bad dressers in Europe, with bad hairdos, just they look different from Americans who are dressed badly with bad hairdos.

As an FYI, there are lots of countries in the world that speak English as a native language and your average German, Italian, or French person probably has no idea if you are from America, the UK, Australia, or Canada when you start talking. They don't know your accent any more than you know theirs. Can you tell if someone is from Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, or Lucerne when they speak German? These places all have very distinct accents, slang and different words for the same thing and most native German speakers will know where someone is from when they speak.
So, if people are guessing you are American, then it is something else you are doing. They aren't guessing it from when you speak.

Posted by
518 posts

I'm here in the US, San Francisco Bay Area, and have had friends tell me they've taken cross country drives across the US, through the southern states and the mid-west, stopping at gas stations in the middle of nowhere, and though they were blond haired blue eyed Caucasians, they too said they felt very uncomfortable with the stares they got. Sometimes people just know you're from out of town, whether that town is the next town over, or in another country.

I've also seen and toured with middle-aged tourists who visually wreak of tourist fashion, from the white tube socks in sport sandals, khaki shorts, tucked in polo shirt, sun hat, camera around the neck, you name it, and they turned out to be the most polite, respectful, confident, unassuming tourists and at the same time, knowledgeable and vigilant of scams, scammers, and pickpockets.

Posted by
5538 posts

In Paris last December we noticed that we were almost the only people wearing colored jackets -- Metro was a sea of black. (And ours were conservative solid-color blue, not neon green ) Black pants, black shirt, black coat -- and a fashionable scarf -- was the uniform du jour.

Posted by
12160 posts

"Can you tell...when they speak German?" On guessing their accents...generally yes, as long as they are speaking Hochdeutsch, maybe not the exact city but more likely the region but it depends.. No, not Frankfurt, I cannot tell if if the person is from/a native of Frankfurt. No, not Köln either, since mainly I've haven't been there in years, unlike Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin. Berlin...depends on the person, I listen for certain "indications" which might give themselves away. Berlin dialect is distinguishable. Munich...if the person is speaking Hochdeutsch, it can still come through that s/he is Bavarian. Vienna....yes, can differentiate a Viennese accent from a German one, say Frankfurt vs Vienna, and especially, if that accent is north of the Main River, or one from Salzburg or Upper Austria.

Posted by
18 posts

I lived in Belgium for a year and one of the things I always heard from Europeans is they can pick out Americans easily because we're always smiling. Not sure if that's true, but that's what I was told. When I travel, I dress for comfort, which means comfortable athletic shoes or hiking shoes, jeans or shorts and nice t-shirt or polo shirt. As a case in point, we were on a Mediterranean cruise a couple of weeks ago and spent two days in Barcelona. It was 95F (i.e. almost 40C) with 95% humidity. So, shorts, shirt and athletic shoes with comfortable socks were the only clothes that made sense. If that brands me as a tourist, then so be it. Even if I dressed like the locals, I always have my camera bag. So, that would give me away no matter what. I find it's best to dress comfortably and take precautions to avoid problems. I never carry a purse. I have a pouch that hangs around my neck where I store my iPhone, cash, credit cards and passport. One thing I've found that helps is my husband and I buy football and rugby shirts in many of the countries we visit. I've found that wearing these often serves as a conversation starter with locals. Of course, as we all know, it helps to learn a few words and phrases in the local language and use them.

Posted by
20 posts

I have been told this again and again by people who are Europeans that is true. If you do not want to be identified as a tourist, the one thing that is so important is the shoes that you wear. Men and ladies dress shoes, sandals and comfort shoes look different from the ones sold in America. When in Europe, go into a shoe store and buy a pair of shoes that don't look like they are American shoes. It is often said that a European checks out a person's shoes first and can tell a lot about a person from their shoes.

Posted by
3110 posts

I live in a community where tourism is extremely important to the local economy. If I care to, I can pick out tourists easily by their awkwardness in not knowing their way around. However, this usually just means stopping to help them. I know how much many of my neighbors depend on tourism for their livelihood and am glad to see tourists.

When I travel, I know I am a tourist and don't strive to be anything other than a polite and considerate tourist.