“Have more than you show, speak less than you know.” ~ Shakespeare.
Have you ever wondered how to not look like a tourist? Won’t it always be obvious that you’re an outsider just visiting a destination?
Maybe you’re tired of being singled-out in a crowd by pushy people trying to sell you fake Rolex watches or miniature Eiffel Tower ornaments, but not sure why you’re a target. This can put a real damper on a trip that you’ve been looking forward to for months (or even years) in advance – travelling is meant to be an enjoyable experience so I’ve dedicated an entire series on this subject to help you!
Perhaps you’ve been speculating whether it’s actually possible to be an “invisible tourist” despite the name of this blog. Because really, don’t all tourists stand out in a crowd? This sounds like something out of a fiction novel… In reality you can’t enjoy all the fun touristy things and avoid looking like a tourist, can you?
I assure you – you can! In case you may have missed it, since 2008 I have been embracing invisible tourism, have dedicated my entire website and literally written a book about this very travel style. I practice what I preach quite literally so you won’t even find my photo on this blog!
Through every article on this website, my mission is to spread the word about the benefits of being a tourist without looking like one – irrespective of your heritage – so I’m revealing my secrets, tips and tricks and dedicated itineraries to help you “be invisible” at your next destination. To learn how to blend in anywhere when travelling, read on for more!
This guide to how to not look like a tourist will cover:
This article on how not to look like a tourist forms part of my top strategies to overtourism solutions. You can also learn more ways to “be invisible” throughout the trip planning process in my detailed guide to becoming a more ethical and responsible tourist. Take a look once you’re done here for more ideas.
Why is it bad to look like a tourist?
It’s bad to look like a stereotypical tourist for a number of reasons I’ll explain below. Even the word itself is enough to make some people cringe!
- Can seem disrespectful: Being overly loud, oblivious to our surroundings or drawing unwanted attention to ourselves by acting like a tourist can mean we’ve not bothered to learn local customs or etiquette, which can be a show of disrespect.
- Treated differently: Dressing like a tourist makes it obvious we aren’t a local and therefore we may be treated differently in stores or restaurants. Perhaps we may be charged more for a meal or not given the same kind of attention or respect as a local because tourists are a dime a dozen.
- A target for scams: It can also make it obvious we’re on holiday and therefore have a flashing ATM sign above our foreheads in the eyes of those with malicious intent. We may look like a sucker to those who deceive tourists for living, making us a target to pickpockets and other types of tourist scams. Unfortunately, it happens!
TRUE STORY: I met a girl on a flight to New York who was robbed of her iPhone and wallet within her first 30 mins of arriving in Paris. This astonished me as I’d visited France’s capital four times and never had an issue.
While I listened to her story in absolute surprise at first, I soon realised she practiced all the hallmarks of a stereotypical tourist. Her actions gave her away to robbers at Gard du Nord station gates – she had headphones in, iPhone out on display, wallet in her back pocket. Oblivious to her surroundings, these valuables were ripe for the picking.
On a more positive note, blending in has LOADS of benefits. From meeting locals to avoiding pesky pickpockets and scammers, it really is the best way to get the most out of your travel experience!
I’m not sure why many other travellers are not aware of these steps (or don’t care about them) but it’s really simple to avoid looking like a tourist when we’re exploring somewhere new. It doesn’t even take much effort.
Think about locals and expats. They’re at almost every destination around the world and they go out and do stuff too, don’t they? So what defines you us a tourist, expat or local isn’t necessarily just about the way we look. How we act and our behaviour is what will give us away!
Here’s how to NOT look like a tourist in 14 easy steps
Read on for my top 14 tips for how to avoid looking a tourist in Europe and beyond. The last bonus tip may be the most simple yet effective!
1. Book a central hotel
Booking central hotels or traditional B&Bs means we’re not traipsing across the city to see attractions and trekking back again, wasting a lot of time that could be better spent exploring a museum or enjoying an experience unique to our destination.
Sure, we may be saving some money per night by staying outside the city centre, but I always like to think of it this way – what’s our time worth? We can save money or we can save time – usually not both.
Large tour groups usually leave a city by dusk and it’s the locals who stay out into the night. With our hotel close by there’s every reason for us to stay out enjoying the nightlife, too!
TIP: Where possible, avoid taking day trips to popular destinations that are notoriously overcrowded with tourists. Plan ahead and stay longer – I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but my solutions to overtourism explain how this actually eases the burden!
Notes on homestay accommodation services
By recommending you stay in a central hotel or traditional B&B, I mean to avoid Airbnb’s that are located within busy inner city areas where there is already ample (and regulated) accommodation. What many people don’t realise is that the use of Airbnb’s in major cities around the world is having negative impacts on locals’ quality of life.
To help be more of a responsible traveller and due to illegal and ethical concerns, please do a little research into your destination and reconsider if you should use Airbnb. These ethical alternatives to Airbnb ensure you won’t inadvertently take long-term rental properties away from local residents.
2. Buy tickets in advance to popular attractions to save time
Did you know it’s possible to book tickets to countless popular attractions online before your trip? In some cases, these advance purchases even allow you to skip the long queues to get in!
As I approached the Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam, Netherlands there was a massive queue of tourists snaking down the street hoping to purchase tickets to get in that day. I’ll never forget the faces of some of them as I walked straight past to the entrance and was immediately granted entry with my ticket I’d purchased several weeks beforehand – if looks could kill!
How to buy skip-the-line tickets in advance
One of my favourite sites for booking advance tickets is Klook. With discounted tickets to thousands of attractions throughout Asia, Europe, Oceania and North America, they make it a breeze to be organised before your trip.
You can even book things like portable wifi, SIM cards, train tickets and passes, cultural experiences and more!
Some popular destinations featured on Klook are Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, UK, France, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, Greece, Russia, Croatia and the USA.
3. Dress appropriately for the place we’re visiting
This may seem obvious but it’s one of the most important steps. If we truly want to blend into a crowd, we shouldn’t wear anything that will draw attention to us such as that colourful Hawaiian shirt or baseball memorabilia from home.
Additionally, it’s imperative to be respectful of local cultures and customs. In some temples throughout Asia and the Middle East, shoes must be removed before entering – take a cue from what the locals are doing. In many religious sites throughout the world, women need to cover their hair, shoulders and even knees.
TIP: Ladies, as mentioned in my Singapore packing list, it’s always a good idea to throw a light scarf or shawl into your suitcase. Use it to cover your shoulders or hair in places of worship.
Also included in what not to wear when abroad is active wear. If we’re visiting museums, art galleries and places of worship it really isn’t appropriate for the occasion. It also screams tourist!
In general, what to wear to not look like a tourist
Branded designer clothing and handbags scream “I’m not from here” in a majority of destinations. While this may be acceptable and a bit of a status symbol at home, in many countries it can come across as pretentious and can make us obvious targets to pickpockets.
It helps if we do a little research into the destination we’re visiting beforehand, too. For instance, locals in cities like Tokyo and Paris dress smartly, or smart casual. Whereas in other destinations such as Dublin or Los Angeles it’s more acceptable to dress down and wear sneakers on a night out.
What to wear to not look like a tourist in Europe
I see this question asked quite a lot! Smart casual works for most European destinations – no training shoes, backpacks, ripped jeans, baseball caps or active wear.
The only exception to no training shoes is plain white leather sneakers with a rounded toe, as they are more smart-casual than colourful, branded joggers that turn up at the toe.
Europeans are usually stylish, wear colour blocked clothing rather than bright patterns, and prefer structured handbags rather than slouchy. This is my travel cross-body bag that I adore for a number of reasons mentioned in my mid-range travel resources guide.
Remember if we’re in a place where the average local would not wear these things then we probably shouldn’t either. For instance, I know of travellers who had their designer coats and other items stolen from cloak rooms in Prague nightclubs. Moral of the story: Don’t travel with something we couldn’t bear to part with, either!
4. To avoid looking like a tourist, learn the local customs and etiquette
While walking around eating may seem completely acceptable at home, did you know this is frowned upon in Japan? Or that you should never touch a child on their head in Thailand? Or why ladies should never place their handbag on the floor in China? Or why you shouldn’t smile at strangers in Russia?
It’s crucial to learn local customs and etiquette before our trips in order to not look like clueless tourists. Not only will this demonstrate to locals that we respect their heritage, they’ll be super appreciative of our efforts!
TIP: Check out my destination-specific etiquette guides further down the page sorted by region to help you blend in as best as possible.
5. Become familiar with some language basics
I had a hostile reception from locals during my first visit to France (no fault to the French, it was all me!) so from that point forward I was determined to always learn the language of the destinations I visited.
Learning a few basic phrases (and possible responses) is probably one of the most crucial tips and will earn us massive brownie points with locals – we’ve gone to the effort to learn their native tongue and demonstrate that we respect them and their cultural heritage.
It’s like waving a golden ticket at a local and a big confidence boost for us to do things we may not have considered otherwise! Along with being able to decode foreign menus and easily read signs, there are many more benefits for learning language for travel. Go get linguistically prepared for your next journey!
TIP: If you’re planning a trip to Japan, I’ve shared my detailed guide about essential phrases in Japanese for tourists.
6. To be a responsible tourist, consider ethics around animals in tourism
Just over a decade ago, it seemed completely acceptable to pet chained tigers or ride on elephants in Thailand, allow a donkey to carry us up almost 600 stairs in Santorini and witness orca perform in confinement at Sea World in the United States.
Cuddling hedgehogs or dining with owls in cafes throughout Japan seemed like a cool thing to do, too.
While this all seemed harmless on the surface, little did we realise the dark side and stressful conditions some of these animals were enduring.
In recent years it’s come to light the tigers were being drugged, elephants were kept in short chains when tourists weren’t around and donkeys were receiving spinal injuries from lugging tourists up the steep staircases all day. Owls and hedgehogs were being mistreated by tourists and owners. Unfortunately, this is only scratching the surface.
Thankfully, there is a movement beginning to shift away from these trends and people have become more vocal about the mistreated animals in tourism that don’t have a voice. Although as tourists we may have made mistakes in the past, it’s important we learn from them.
I was one of those people who rode a donkey in Santorini in days gone by and felt awful when it tripped from exhaustion and we both fell onto the concrete! This was a wake up call for me to truly think about the negative impacts on animals in tourism and I kindly urge you to do the same.
TIP: Here is a list of some animal attractions to avoid and what to do instead.
7. Be a skeptic to avoid looking like a tourist
In order to survive a summer in Europe (or most destinations really) without being scammed we need to think almost EVERYONE is out to get us… Really. I know, I know, this sounds totally harsh but it truly works and helps prevent putting ourselves in avoidable situations.
If someone approaches us speaking English – who doesn’t look like someone who normally speaks English – then we probably don’t want what they’re offering. It’s a sad reality as I understand some people are just trying to make a living, but if we stop and buy something from one, we attract many more or fall victim to their scam!
How often are we responsive to relentless telemarketers at home? This is the abroad off-phone equivalent. If we want something ourselves, we usually go and get it on our own, not from a random stranger on the street with a hidden agenda.
NOTE: One exception to this rule is Japan. People tend to keep to themselves and won’t approach us – unless you’ve genuinely dropped something and they wish to give it back! It’s such a refreshing change from other destinations.
Know the sneaky scams at your destination
Some tourist hotspots around the world are notorious for scamming visitors, particularly Paris, Barcelona, Prague and south-east Asian countries just to name a few. Fortunately for me, I’ve visited many major cities across 4 continents and can proudly say I’ve never fallen victim to a scam or been robbed (touch wood!).
But how? In notorious areas I never let my guard down. Being curious, prepared and observant of my surroundings helps to eliminate risks and recognise suspicious behaviour.
It’s easy to check if there are any scams at our destination by doing a quick search online to prepare ourselves in advance and avoid taking the bait.
TIP: You can find a rough guide to 40 tourist scams to give you an idea of what to expect.
8. Fake it ’til we make it
ALWAYS look like we know where we’re going, even when we don’t. Locals always know where they’re going, don’t they?
If we really are lost, forget pulling out a map in a busy area or wandering around aimlessly. Our cover will be blown, pickpockets will catch on and we may become an easy target in crowded areas.
Instead, we should approach a local who seems like they have somewhere to be (not a person who is loitering around a tourist hotspot, they can be trouble) and ask them in the local language if they have a moment to give us directions.
The local will appreciate our making the effort to learn their language and will be happy to help. Don’t be afraid! You can find out the essential resources I use to learn language for travel fast.
TIP: In most cases, avoid travelling as part of a large group where at all possible. It’s obvious when a huge gathering of people are following someone with a little flag that it’s a group of tourists who haven’t a clue where they’re going!
9. Use public transport where we can
Private transfers from airports to hotels are usually expensive. If we’d truly like to experience the local way of life at our destination, catch the train, bus or taxi. Not only do we get the full experience but we are supporting local jobs. An added bonus in some cases it can be a cheap way to get around!
There are some exceptions to this, however.
- Aim to use these services outside of commuting hours where possible. In some of the busiest train networks in the world such as Tokyo, London and New York City, there just may not be room for our suitcases on crammed commuter trains. Trying to squeeze on a packed train is a stress we may be able to avoid with forward planning.
- Don’t abuse public transport systems. For instance Tram 28 in Lisbon, Portugal has become so overcrowded with tourists wanting to get around the city on the cheap that locals often need to wait an hour to catch them to work. As tourists, we should have more time to relax and enjoy our travels so walking on foot is a great alternative, or use these services outside commuting hours.
- If planning to use taxis at our destination, do some research online in travel forums about the likelihood of tourists getting ripped off in some cities. For example in Madrid, Spain our taxi driver drove completely out of the way and charged my partner and I small fortune. The taxis were plentiful at the airport and even locals didn’t use them (no wonder!) However in Barcelona, locals were also using taxis so it seemed we were less likely to be ripped off and thankfully we weren’t.
10. Have a flexible itinerary to avoid winging it
So often I see in online forums and travel planning groups that tourists didn’t get to enjoy their holiday because they spent much of it rushing around to cram in all the places they wanted to see. This isn’t ideal!
The key is to have a flexible itinerary to help plan how to spend our days – enough time to see the places we wish at a relaxed pace while also leaving room for spontaneity. And as mentioned in my guide to how to stop overtourism, staying longer at our destination will also allow us to visit normally busy attractions during off-peak periods.
Itinerary planning not your thing? If you’d prefer to use someone else’s as a guide, sit back and relax as I’ve shared my tried-and-tested travel itineraries for many locations throughout the globe that incorporate all these tips for not looking like a tourist while you’re at it.
Each of my itineraries cover things to do, where to stay, costs, hidden gems and offbeat locations to help you maximise the experience. Take a look at my travel itineraries here!
11. Avoid permanently displaying a camera and selfie stick
To some tourists, cameras are a status symbol. The bigger lens, the better, right? Well, the number of tourists I’ve seen over the years with these hugely expensive SLR cameras and leaving a flash on when they’re shooting an object behind a glass cabinet or window… Facepalm.
Unless we’re a professional photographer, do we really need a flashy camera permanently draped around our neck that makes us look like tourists? If we don’t know how to use it correctly, expensive gear just doesn’t seem worth the effort.
How to not look like a tourist with a camera
A compact and discreet camera that easily fits in a small bag will do the trick. It’s wise to invest in a good mirrorless like my Canon G7X Mark III. It’s a great compromise from a big SLR and even shoots video in 4k!
Additionally, nothing bellows “tourist” louder than someone that documents their every move on their phone with a selfie-stick (urghhh). I know I’ll be in the minority with this opinion BUT I cannot stand selfie sticks. We survived travelling long before they came on the scene – they’re obtrusive and annoying.
Am I the only one who can’t help but think back to this meme from 2011 before selfie-sticks were cool and topped many millennial travellers’ necessity list? (I’m a millennial by the way).
They have caused so many issues that many cities across the globe have banned them in public areas, museums and the like.
TIP: We might make a new local friend if we actually ask them to take a photo of us!
12. Don’t flash that cash
We should do our best to refrain from displaying massive wads of cash. Better yet, don’t carry much cash at all, if it can be helped. Many places accept credit or debit cards so these days the need for carrying cash isn’t really there in many destinations.
If we do need to carry cash in some smaller towns, it’s a good idea to take enough with us for that day and leave the rest in our hotel safe or locked in our suitcases.
It’s important to note tourists of Asian heritage are especially vulnerable in Europe because pickpocketers know they usually carry large sums of cash when they travel to purchase luxury goods. I’m sorry to say it’s unfortunate but true!
13. How to be a better tourist: Eat where the locals do
Not only is this where we’ll find the tastiest, most authentic food of our destination, we’re also less likely to get ripped off by restaurants that have swarms of one-off visitors going through eating their mediocre food.
If we happen to chat to any locals when we’re out and about, ask them where they would recommend to go. Even staff at our hotel or traditional B&B should be able to provide us with a local’s perspective.
Enjoying local grub where locals do helps support small local businesses. As mentioned in point #1, we’ll be able to do more of this with our hotel in close proximity so we can spend more time out enjoying ourselves.
14. Think twice about leaving love locks behind
This seemingly romantic gesture has proven to do more harm than good to historical structures in cities across the globe. For example in 2014, a section of the world’s most famous padlock bridge, Pont des Arts in Paris, France, collapsed into the river below under the extra 40 TONNES of weight.
I’m proud to say I was one of the first travel writers to resist this trend, having written a full article about why we shouldn’t leave love locks in Paris and beyond years before authorities began removing them.
I kindly urge you to rethink contributing to this trend to help preserve the structures of our beautiful cities.
15. BONUS TIP
While maybe not as common these days, carrying a local paper was once a great way to avoid looking like a tourist. This clever little trick convinced observers we spoke the local language, therefore we’re less likely to be harassed by people who usually go after vulnerable tourists. Win!
Now you know how to travel without looking like a tourist
To clarify, I am not saying all these things to be a scaremonger or make us fearful of travelling. In fact, it’s quite the opposite!
Burying our heads in the sand won’t make the issues we face as tourists go away. But if we do a little research to prepare ourselves in advance we can be aware, know what to expect and exercise caution to avoid any pesky problems.
Now you’re armed with my best advice for how to travel without looking like a tourist on your future trips! Who doesn’t want to enjoy their holiday to the fullest? By implementing these 14 easy steps, I assure you you’re on your way to making the most of your next travel experience.
But I’m not quite done yet. Keep reading to for more strategies and my destination-specific travel guides to help you blend in even more!
How to Not Look Like a Tourist: Unlocking Your Hidden Power for Overtourism Solutions
My passion for sharing the benefits of not looking like a tourist has grown so much, in addition to my blog I’ve written a book on how we can use our hidden power as tourists to break the current cycle and improve tourism in the future – not just for ourselves, but for local communities of the places we visit and more.
This article you’ve just read is a small excerpt from the book, however in 150+ pages it examines in detail the lesser-known problems with overtourism, how they came to be and provides practical solutions to help you unlock your hidden power to use as a force for good.
It’s your handy companion to minimise your tourist footprint and maximise your travel experiences by blending in!
Destination-specific guides to help you avoid looking like a tourist in…
If you’d like even more tips on how to blend in with locals, be sure to check out my “Be Invisible” series – your ultimate guide for how to NOT look like a tourist on your next adventure.
Bursting with helpful tips and tricks, I’ve asked locals from particular cities around the world to share their insider knowledge on the best ways travellers can become “invisible” when visiting their city to enjoy it like a local.
Here are my dedicated guides for how to not look like a tourist in various locations around the globe. Have I covered someplace you’re planning on visiting? Sorted by region below:
How to not look like a tourist in North America
How to not look like a tourist in Oceania
How to not look like a tourist in Africa & Middle East
Can we still travel and avoid contributing to overtourism in the future?
Finally, is there a way we keep travelling and avoid contributing to mass tourism issues? I believe it’s possible so I’ve shared my 10 tips and tricks to help ease the impact of our heavy tourist footprint with these easy overtourism solutions. How’s your invisibility cloak?
Do you have any tips for being an Invisible Tourist? I’d love to hear them! Let me know where you’ve been invisible in the comments below, over on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or come and join me on Pinterest 📌
Until next time,
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