As vacation time rolls around each year, the same question starts to turn up in my search referrers over and over again: how not to look like a tourist. It’s not just the search referrers, either: it seems a lot of you are worried about looking like tourists when you’re off, well, being tourists, basically, and I guess my first question for you has to be WHY?
Why are you worried about looking like a tourist?
The fact is, when you travel, you ARE a tourist – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Travel broadens the mind, and is one of the best learning experiences you’ll ever have: why spend the time worrying over whether you’re blending in with the locals? In fact, why, for that matter, try to blend in at all? Sure, you should always make the effort to learn about the cultural norms of the place you’re visiting, so that you can avoid inadvertently offending someone by being dressed inappropriately, but trying to adopt the current fashions of your destination seems a tiny bit pointless, unless you genuinely happen to love them. At the end of the day, you’re NOT a local, and it’s unlikely you’ll be fooling anyone anyway, so my golden rule of tourist fashion has always been this:
Dress for the climate, the customs, and the activity, and don’t worry about looking like a “local”.
In general, using clothing to pretend to be something you’re not is often a bad idea, as you’ll only end up feeling uncomfortable, and like you’re wearing a costume. In addition to this, desperately trying to “blend in” and “look like a local” will often backfire, unless you’re very familiar with what the locals ACTUALLY wear. Quite often there’s a huge difference between how you THINK people from a particular country or city will dress, and how they REALLY dress. Get it wrong, and you’ll just become a laughing stock: or, even worse, end up offending people who’ll feel like you’re making fun of them. For instance, most French people don’t walk around in berets, with strings of garlic around their necks. Scottish people wear kilts only for very formal occasions, and will find it hilarious when you rock up bedecked in tartan and believing you’re fitting right in. (I speak from experience on this one…) So don’t try to adopt a costume based on how you THINK people dress. Instead, think about:
1. What kind of weather you can reasonably expect at your destination.
2. What sort of activities you’ll be taking part in.
3. What are the cultural norms: i.e., will you be expected to cover your head or arms in certain places, or are there religious rules of dress which you’ll need to observe.
Once you’ve answered these basic questions, the next one should be relatively simple:
Ask yourself how you’d normally dress in those conditions/situations
Expecting hot weather at your destination? How would you dress for those kind of temperatures at home? Going to be spending a lot of time outdoors, maybe hiking or camping? OK, then how would you dress for a hike in your own country? Planning long days of city sightseeing? You probably have a city close to home (or live in one yourself) which you visit from time to time: what do you wear when you do that? Aside from the obvious religious/cultural sensitivities, your clothing as a tourist doesn’t actually need to be all that different from the kind of clothing you’d wear at home for similar kinds of activities. Why buy a whole new wardrobe, or force yourself to wear clothes that aren’t really “you” just so you can try to hide the fact that you’re on vacation, and trick everyone into believing you’re one of the locals? Just be yourself, don’t worry too much about what you’re wearing, and enjoy the wonder of travel!
Still want to know how not to look like a tourist?
Just in case I haven’t managed to convince you not to stress, here are some specific tips to make sure your tourist status remains your own guilty guilty secret:
1. Don’t wear athletic shoes or Crocs
Now, I know you’d never DREAM of wearing Crocs anyway – for anything – but if you really don’t want people to know you’re a tourist, avoid athletic shoes unless you’re actually working out. You’ll still want some comfortable footwear, especially if you’re planning on doing a lot of walking and sightseeing, but trust me: there ARE other options…
2. Avoid bumbags (fanny packs) and huge rucksacks
Yes, they’re convenient. But you may as well hang a sign on your head saying, “Hi, I’m a tourist!”
3. Put the camera away
You’re on vacation, so you’re going to want to take some photos. Resist the urge to snap every little thing you see, though, or people will realise you’re a tourist. Either that or a fashion blogger. It’s up to you to decide which is worse.
4. Avoid sportswear and baseball caps
Not all countries employ the “sportswear as daywear” rule we have in the UK and US, so dressing like you’re part of your national football team (British men are particularly guilty of this when abroad: that England strip is a dead giveway that you’re not from round here, you know…), or wearing any kind of branded sportswear or baseball cap will mark you out as clearly as that sign on your forehead.
6.Dress a little better than you would at home
I’m not saying you need to dress like you’re attending the Oscars, but very casual (read “slobbish”) clothing MAY make you stand out in some countries just as much as being “all dressed up” can do here in the UK or US. If you’re worried about going too far in the opposite direction and end up sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb, go for a “your usual self, but better” approach, and just smarten things up a notch. Even if you DO still look like a tourist, well, at least you’ll be a well-dressed one…