No one wants to be a “tourist.” Bermuda shorts, fanny pack, huge camera, giant map - you know the type. The target for thieves, scammers, and ridicule. Yet by the very nature of travel, we are all tourists. We are all strangers in a strange land.
But I believe there is a “slight” difference between a tourist and traveler. A traveler immerses themselves in the local culture and spends longer in a destination; a tourist is just there quickly.
As an avid traveler, I’ve developed a good nose for who is who. You can spot those who are just there for the photo, and those who are actually interested in the culture. But more importantly, you can spot the “tourist” a mile away. They are the ones wearing the big “scam me” signs on their backs. They stand out.
Here are some tell-tale ways to spot tourists (and ways to avoid them):
“The Wrong Way Backpack” – There’s no better way to spot a tourist than by seeing those who are wearing their backpacks in front. They are so worried about being robbed that they end up highlighting the fact that they don’t belong, therefore making it more likely that they will get robbed. Moreover, the wrong way backpack sends the message that “I’ve never been to your country before but I already think you are thieving, untrustworthy people.” Are the locals wearing their backpack that way? Nope! Getting robbed is a reality in any city. You just have to learn to be smart. Wearing your backpack on your front shows you don’t belong and makes you more likely to get robbed — or at least scammed. So do as the locals do – put the backpack on your back. That’s where it’s supposed to go. As long as you act cool and keep your head, no one is really going to try to rob you any more than they would back home.
“The Fanny Pack” – Just like the front backpack, the fanny pack screams to the world, “I’m not from here! I don’t know what is what! Please rip me off!” Salespeople around the world see this and go, “Yes! Easy target.” Not only does having a fanny pack make all your valuables accessible to the ardent thief, but you also look like a large dollar sign to everyone you come across. Put away the fanny pack. Put your money somewhere else. Act cool. Act like you know what you are doing. You’ll be less likely to be scammed or ripped off. Additionally, that fanny pack is very 1980s. Come on. Get with the times. At least wear a money belt.
“The Giant “Where are we?” Map” – We all get lost on the road. We all need maps. I’m not saying don’t ever bring them out, because I use them all the time. However, standing out on the corner with a lost look on your face will lead to someone coming up to you and asking if you need help. A lot of the times they are genuinely trying to help, but many times you get people trying to point you in the wrong direction and lead you astray. Grab your map and fold it up into little parts so when you do need it, you simply take out the little bit, look, and move on. Or take it out when you are sitting down for lunch or coffee. The goal is to be inconspicuous.
“The “I love….” T-Shirt” – I know you love the city you are in. You just bought the shirt to prove it. Just don’t wear it in the city while you’re there. How many New Yorkers wear the “I love NY” T-shirt? How many people in Rome wear that one? London? Not many. It can be a fashion statement but combined with doing the things above, it becomes obvious you aren’t wearing it to be fashionable, you are wearing the shirt because it’s a cool souvenir.
Avoid being seen as a tourist by making an effort to blend in. Act like you belong, and avoid the tell-tale tourist signs whenever possible. Locals will know you’re a foreigner when you begin to speak anyway. Yet by not screaming silently “I’m a tourist,” you hide yourself from the thieves, scammers, and touts who prey on clueless visitors.
You came all this way to enjoy the culture. At least make an effort to blend in. Not only will you avoid sticking out, but you’ll begin to soak up the culture a bit easier, too.