There is a lot of nonsense written about how “NOT” to look like a tourist when traveling. GQ magazine, Conde Nast, blogs galore, Facebook and other social media all carry a common and recurring admonishment, don’t look like a tourist! I’ve heard it all. Don’t wear t-shirts, don’t wear athletic shoes, don’t wear workout clothes, don’t carry an SLR, don’t wear shorts, polish your shoes, don’t carry a backpack, don’t use the hop-on hop-off bus, don’t wear a ball cap, and the list goes on. Some articles even go on to give advice about how not to look like a tourist in a specific city. Or worse yet, how not to look like an American tourist. Of course they don’t state the obvious that the second you open your mouth and speak your accent will give you away.
When it comes to clothing its useful to know what local customs are and what is acceptable at the location you’ll be visiting. For example shorts and sleeveless shirts may prevent you from entering some religious facilities in Europe or other places. Otherwise wear whatever you’re comfortable in. I’ve always heard about how much Italians value and appreciate good shoes. If you travel to Italy I hope shoes are on your shopping list. The travel “experts” will brand you a tourist, or worse yet (apparently) an American if you wear athletic shoes during your 8-10 hour walk around Rome or some other major European city. I thought this was good advice until I witnessed a very fashionable local woman snap a five-inch stiletto off in the cobblestones outside Saint Peter’s Basilica. Locals most certainly don’t know what your physical limitations might be and when it comes to comfort I don’t care what they think as long as I’m being respectful. Wear what’s comfortable and you’ll be a happy tourist. You might also take note that tourists aren’t the only ones dressed comfortably and practically.
“Don’t go here and don’t go there” warn the articles about the most “overrated” tourist attractions. The author often speaks to this subject as if they hold the only truth on this matter. The real truth is that its subjective. Your trip might be a once in a lifetime experience. Go where you want and see whatever interests you. Rest assured you still won’t be a local if you avoid tourist destinations. It is absolutely a good idea to read and be informed so consider a good guidebook, but be advised even these have opinions that I believe are cookie cutter approaches to being “proper travelers”. There are many good guide books and I often prefer Lonely Planet, but shop around for one that suits your needs, or consult with an experienced travel agent. They provide excellent information on culture, social norms, safety, itinerary help, attractions, lodging, restaurants, and a plethora of other information. Planning your trip well will help you optimize your time, save money, and reduce disappointments.
Most locals want you visiting their town and aren’t looking to critique what you look like. It helps to talk to them if you have a chance to learn a little about their home and the way they live. You’ll probably find there are more similarities than differences. Learning a few useful phrases in the local language can go a long way. We often seek opportunities to meet with and share a meal with a local family. It’s a great way to learn about the people, one of the primary reason I travel. I’ve done this Croatia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe and each experience has been memorable.
Carrying an SLR on trips is both a blessing and a curse. I love to photograph landscapes and architecture and this is a hobby within my travel hobby. But, the gear is heavy and it can be cumbersome. It really helps to plan and narrow down the lenses and other gear you really need. People who say leave your SLR at home don’t get it that that’s a big part of why some of us travel in the first place. So I pay no attention to them. If you’re into photography you may even considering booking a photo tour with a local professional photographer.
You can go out of your way to blend in with the locals, but the more you travel and the more borders you cross those lines become increasingly blurry. Be respectful, get to know the people, see what you want to see, and be adventurous and your travel experience will likely be a great one.
Looking like a tourist is OK!