Top Ten Tips on How to Not Act Like a Tourist

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Apr 20, 2017 / 2 comments

We've all been there - embarrassed by crazy tourists (or feeling out of place ourselves). One of the most respectful things you can do when you travel is to try to blend in and act culturally appropriate.

Here are our Top 10 Tips on how not to act like a tourist, wherever you are.

Top 10 tips on how NOT to act like a tourist

Wikimedia Commons: Martin Greslou, adapted by Wandering Educators

1. Dress appropriately. Do your research beforehand, and ascertain what the locals wear. Need to cover your head and shoulders? Take a scarf (or buy one, in the market!). Take off your shoes when required - either at a temple or mosque, or upon entering someone's house or restaurant. Pay attention to what people are wearing, and wear something similar.

2. Don't wear white tennis shoes. This deserves its own entry in the top ten list. I know that they are comfortable, these white tennis shoes. However, there are a plethora of fashionable comfort and walking shoes available. This is one of the easiest gaffes to correct, before you leave  home.

can you spot the tourist?

can you spot the tourist?

3. Learn the language. Don't travel expecting everyone to know your language. There are many online courses and communities (we like Mango Languages, and that can help you get some familiarity with the language where you're going. At the very least, learn how to ask for things, directions, and please and thank you. It will get you further than you think.

road signs Ireland

 Irish road sign in English and Gaelic

4. Watch your tone AND your words (and your nonverbals!). Speak quietly, not loudly and drawing attention to yourself. Watch what you say - remarking on the quaintness of a market, or the improbably color combinations someone is wearing is just rude in any language (and the tones carry the same meaning worldwide). Be gracious and kind, in all of your interactions. Research common mistakes in manners and nonverbal communication (I highly recommend Going Dutch in Beijing, by Mark McCrum. Genius!).

5. Food and drink. Eat what the locals eat and offer you, instead of running to Burger King or the Hard Rock Cafe. Don't get drunk - it's bad manners in any country.

the official pint of us

the official pint of us

6. Politics. Yes, we are ambassadors of our country while we travel. Don't get into huge political discussions, or ask people about painful historical subjects (wars) or situations (racism, immigration, politics) that may cause offense.  You don't want to cause discomfort or distress someone unknowingly - this is one area where you really need to be sensitive. 

7. Use public transportation. Know how to use the metro, El, subway like the general populace. You'll learn how locals live (and travel), and get places much more cheaply. You'll probably also find many great restaurants, shops, and experiences that you would never have found by taking cabs or tour buses.

8. Watch where you are walking. In many countries, people drive on the opposite side of the road. You've got to be careful and look several times before you step out! Likewise in Asia, where you have to look many times for the zillions of motorbikes that don't seem to follow traffic regulations.

Look right, drive left

Look right, drive left

9. Look like you know where you are going. Research your destinations before you leave your hotel or rental home, and leave your guidebooks there. Keep your camera in your purse or pocket, instead of around your neck. Be confident and happy, not confused and lost. Whipping out your smartphone to check on something is just fine - everyone else is doing it.

10. Be aware. Watch where you are going, and follow your gut instinct if something feels wrong. Be careful with your belongings, and don't flaunt your money or jewelry. Go into a bank to withdraw money, so you don't get scammed by fake ATM machines. Keep copies of your passport and travel documents at home, emailed to yourself, and photos on your smartphone (email those photos, too). Know the number and location of your embassy, wherever you are going. Don't drink with strangers, and watch what you eat. Stay away from political unrest and any sort of violence. Be careful what you say, and where.


But the best tip for not acting like a tourist?

SLOW DOWN! Smile, enjoy yourself. Mix with the locals, and go slowly and live like one. Visit the library, coffeeshops, and small restaurants as well as the tourist traps that you MUST see. Head outside, and learn about where you are. Find local events, participate in community gatherings. Talk to people, and learn how they live and what is important to them. Be kind and tolerant  of difference. Don't try to pack too much in - just soak up the local culture and have the time of your life!






Comments (2)

  • Amy Daniels

    12 years 9 months ago

    We joke around here that you can tell the tourists by their penchant for fudge ;) Really though it is all about respecting the local culture and being open... and as I learned in Spain, wear good looking shoes (like you mentioned, not white sneakers) all the people in Barcelona wore nice shoes and walked everywhere in them.

    I only pack "nice clothes" in my travel bag... and when travelling on airplanes, we dress like we are going to a nice restaurant... not in our jammies... ;)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    12 years 9 months ago

    You're so right, Amy - dressing nicely will take you VERY far. I can't believe the PJs and SLIPPERS! i see everywhere, including on the plane. ugh...


    Jessie Voigts, PhD


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