Travel Tips  July 31, 2017

How to Feel Less Like a Tourist When You Travel

by Larkin Clark

When I first moved to New York City in my early 20s, I was all open energy and California smiles, talking to anyone and everyone because I literally knew three people and was terrified of being alone. For the first couple of months, I wandered everywhere with wonder-filled eyes, gazing up at the skyscrapers and marveling at the crowds.

If you haven’t noticed, New Yorkers do not slowly wander about with wonder-filled eyes. They’re more of the “Why-the-fuck-are-you-standing-there-please-move-thanks” mindset, so I stuck out like a sore, touristy thumb.

So what’s wrong with looking like a tourist if you actually are one? Nothing, as long as you’re not wearing a fanny pack and Tevas with socks unironically. (Joking. Kind of.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of touristing. As your days are generally packed with a bunch of must-hit spots, it’s a great way to see a lot of a new places quickly and efficiently. (Traveling, on the other hand, generally allows for deeper immersion in a new place and isn’t so much about checking off spots as it is about the experience – at least that’s how I define it).

However, there are two drawbacks with to waving your “I’m a tourist!” flag around: 1) It’s harder to blend in with the locals, which can prevent you from having a more authentic experience of the place and 2) it can make you a target for theft and other dark deeds. Even some of the most beautiful places in the world have weirdos and thieves on the lookout for naive newcomers (like Barcelona’s beaches, where kids on bikes notoriously swipe bags quicker than you can shout “Socorro!”).

I’ve found that attempting to blend in with the locals, whether that’s by learning a few key phrases in the local language or moving at the locals’ pace on the street, has always made my experience much more seamless and, to be quite honest, safer. This is tougher to do in some places than others, but I think it’s always worth a shot.

Living in NYC, I picked up a few habits that have served me well in this area. City folk may call these tips common street smarts, but for the rest of you, consider them ways to feel a bit more street-wise abroad or when traveling alone.

Jot down a game plan.

Plan out your travel routes ahead of time so you at least have a general idea of where you are and where you’re going before you leave your hotel or Airbnb. Put it on a slip of paper or note in your phone, so you can reference it even if you’re on the subway with no cell service. 

Be discreet about your tourist gear.

Besides the fanny pack and Tevas combo, there’s nothing like a giant map and a camera around your neck to let everyone know you’re fresh off the plane from out of town. If you like to carry a guidebook, read it discreetly if you’re in the street or go to a cafe where you can really sit with it and gather your thoughts, and jot down your to-do list on your phone so you can easily reference it on the go. As for the camera, there are tons of cool cases out there that look like purses or messenger bags, like Gattabag. Stash your camera in one so it’s not just dangling around as you walk. Always keep your bags securely closed (zippers are better) and in front of you, so sticky fingers don’t get a hold of them. It kind of sounds paranoid, I know, but it would really suck to lose your phone or passport on a foreign trip.

Don’t look lost.

Even if you have no effing clue where you are, unfurrow the brow. Calm the roving eyes filled with panic. Take a deep breath. Then head confidently toward someone who seems like they know where they are and ask for directions (fingers crossed they know English, if you don’t speak the local tongue).

Look at how the locals interact and follow suit.

Okay, let’s say you are totally lost, there’s no one around to ask for help, and you’re starting to have flashes of your limp Teva-clad feet in a dumpster somewhere. Before you lose your shit, pause to look around.  You can tell a lot about the character of a neighborhood from other people’s energy and behavior. Are they hanging out laughing, flashing their phones and not paying much attention to their bags? You can probably relax a bit. Are they walking quickly with their eyes down, or looking suspiciously at other people? Maybe you should quicken your pace a little bit.

Keep your wits about you, but also look like you don’t give AF.

This is a more advanced move, but can be easily accomplished by putting in earphones with the sound off or consciously relaxing your face and eyes. (I’ve also found that sending out a “Don’t you even come up to talk to me right now” vibe seems to help.) When I first moved to NYC, several people told me I had “open” energy, and while I usually take that as a compliment, I soon realized my smiley eyes could also attract sketchy situations if I wasn’t careful. While I never wanted to shut down my energy, I did learn to harness my openness so unsolicited strangers wouldn’t attach themselves to me and follow me off the train.

Learn to say a few phrases like a local.

This clearly doesn’t apply if you’re visiting an English-speaking city, but saying “Hello! How are you?” “I’m good, thanks!” like you know what you’re doing will help you blend in and, in some cases, can make you seem more agreeable to locals who aren’t particularly into tourists. It does take some practice to get the accent and delivery right, but even the most skeptical Parisienne will agree that it’s the effort that counts. And knowing that a “bodega” is a corner store and “on line” means “in line” in NYC gets you bonus points as well.


The important thing, clearly, is to enjoy yourself and get lost in the beauty and excitement of a foreign land, so chill out and enjoy the crazy ride that touristing is. Most people are eager to help tourists and share all their favorite spots, so while you want to be street smart, you should definitely stay open to wandering and talking to strangers. You never know where a chance conversation or jaunt off the planned path may land you. Even a fanny pack can’t stop that magic.


Words and styling: Larkin Clark
Photography: Rob Brockett

Wearing: Prada sunglasses (past season); Zara coat (past season; similar available here); Zara top (past season; similar available here); Native American earrings

  • share this on

Tags , ,

You might also like