The summer vacation season is coming to a close, and depending where you live, that may come as a big relief. You’ll finally get your favorite table back at the coffee shop you go to every morning, prices will drop back down to normal, and you’ll be able to walk down the sidewalk in peace without being jostled by big groups of backpack-sporting, selfie-stick wielding, chattering tourists. You hate when these kinds of people invade your own hometown, so before you head out on your next vacation, read our tips on how to not be a tourist.
Why does it matter if people know I’m a tourist or not?
Before we delve into how to not be a tourist, you might want to know why you should care about being perceived as a visitor. First, I should point out that tourism is a good thing. It stimulates the local economy and promotes multiculturalism – awesome! But tourism can also disrupt a city’s normal rhythms, like I mentioned in the scenario above.
In Barcelona’s case, too much tourism is actually choking out the natives. In 2016, the Spanish city hosted 7.5 million tourists. The result? Rental prices so sky-high that locals are being forced into the suburbs, mom-and-pop shops closing up shop so that overpriced souvenir boutiques can take their place, and general disruption of normal life.
So definitely be a tourist, just don’t act like one! This guide is all about flying under the radar and leaving your vacation spot just, if not better, than you found it. And if you’re not convinced that traveling is for you, check out these great benefits it provides:
How to not be a tourist on your next vacation
You are what you eat
- If you’re away for a long time, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a taste of home, so indulge in your Starbucks venti caramel frap, or test out the unusual regional menu items at McDonald’s. Once. And then go be adventurous and eat something you can’t find in your own city or country. Local blogs and actually asking advice from natives is a great way to find little gems that are off the beaten tourist path. Another note: if you have food allergies, brush up on the vocab for these foods in whatever language they speak where you are going.
- It’s easy to spot Americans by their shoes. Definitely pack good walking shoes, don’t get me wrong. But know that people will recognize you as a tourist if you strut around in your neon ASICS. Now, besides these being hard on the eyes, wearing running shoes also make you an easier target for scammers and pickpockets. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Dress for the job you want.” Well, how to not be a tourist? Don’t dress like one.
Share the sidewalk
- Avoid consulting giant maps and posing for large group photos in the middle of the road or sidewalk, especially in places with large crowds and narrow streets. When it comes to directions, try to plan your route ahead of time. Or, pull over with your map somewhere where you won’t be in the way. Download interactive maps on your phone ahead of time. Even better, just wander! You’ll see more this way than if you constantly have your head in a map, anyway.
- As far as photos, of course it’s okay to take some, but try not to stage an entire photoshoot in the middle of the road, or in front of smaller monuments or landmarks that everyone wants to get a look at. Take some photos, but don’t miss out on making your own memories, either.
Say it like you mean it
- Even though English is spoken in a lot of places around the world now, don’t assume everyone speaks it. Remember, you are a visitor in someone else’s home. Language barriers can be frustrating on both sides, so do your part and learn a little bit of the language spoken in whatever city you plan to visit. Or, at least bring along a friend who knows how. Learning even just simple phrases like “please” and “thank you” will go a long way.
- Americans, this one is for you: not everyone needs or wants to know your business. Keep your voice down in public. We don’t realize how naturally loud we speak, but others are painfully aware of it when there are 30 people in the metro car and all anyone can hear is the three Americans chatting and laughing. How to not be a tourist: don’t sound like one.
Go with the flow
- Locals can also spot typical tourists by their under-eye bags and zombie walks. Common tourist mistake #1? Trying to pack too much into one vacation. Planning your schedule down to the minute will only stress you out. Keep an open mind and accept the fact that you might not get to everything on your wishlist. When traveling in a large group, consider splitting up according to interest group instead of trying to see everything. And if you want to know how not to be a tourist, don’t limit yourself to the tourist attractions.
Do your homework
- Do a little research before your trip. A quick Google search will turn up lots of advice for any questions you might have. Which tourist traps to avoid and which attractions are really worth it? Which parts of town to avoid at night? How to dress? And even local customs. When you arrive, respect signage (like private property, or dress codes in cathedrals and mosques) and use common sense.
- Also, avoid tourist-specific headaches by having backup plans for things like accommodations (what do you do when your Airbnb host cancels on you at the last minute?), or lost wallets (make photocopies of your ID and travel documents). Generally, do as the boy scouts do: be prepared.
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