How to not look like a tourist (even if you are one)


Karin Kemp thought she’d done everything she could to not look like a tourist in Belgium. She wore muted clothes, learned helpful phrases in French and Flemish, and did her best to blend in. Still, Americans would stop her on the street to ask for directions.

“I finally asked one how he knew I was an American,” says Kemp, a retired graphic designer from Matthews, North Carolina. “He pointed to my shoes.”

She was wearing white sneakers. Gotcha!

You should be concerned about fitting in, even if you’re an artist like Kemp. Standing out while you’re visiting another place can make life uncomfortable – and it could even cost you yours. This summer, four visitors cycling in Tajikistan were targeted and killed by  terrorists. The U.S. State Department is continuously warning Americans about travel abroad, sometimes advising them to stay away from touristy areas.

So how do you not look like a tourist, even if you are one? It’s a combination of wearing the right clothes, visiting the right places, and behaving in an un-touristy way, say experts.

It’s what you wear

“Nothing identifies you more like a tourist and an American as white Nike sneakers,” says Kemp. “The blue jeans and sneakers went in the closet.”

Sometimes, blending in means staying away from clothes marketed to travelers.

“Locals don’t wear zip-off pants and breathable mesh shorts,” says Summer Davis, who spent two years as a tour guide in Morocco.

Cameras are also a dead giveaway. 

“If you enjoy photography, I would suggest using a bag for your camera that doesn’t immediately look like a camera bag,” says Wayne Goodwin, a world traveler who founded Evolve Travel Goods, a travel gear company.

But make sure it’s the right bag.

“Having a backpack or fanny pack are also dead giveaways that you don’t fit in,” says Glen Loveland, a human resources manager who lives in Beijing. 

Bottom line: If you want to blend in, you have to look the part. You don’t have to look like a local, but avoiding bright clothes, glittery jewelry and high-end electronics can make you less of a target.

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