Tourists get a bad rap, especially American tourists. Some foreigners seem to have this idea that all American tourists are rude, disrespectful, impatient, and selfish. The word itself has a negative connotation. When you hear the word tourist, you’re probably not thinking of an adventurous globetrotter, but rather an overager person with a fanny pack belted to their waist, and a camera around their neck so they can stop every ten feet to snap a picture. This is not the kind of tourist you want to be. In fact, don’t even think of yourself as a tourist at all. To get the most out of your travel experiences, your goal should be to blend in with the locals…and the stereotypical tourist is not exactly known for blending in. Here are eight tips to help you be a traveler, not a tourist:
1) Interact with the locals
Don’t be afraid to talk to people! Traveling is not just about taking in the sights. While that’s a big part of it, your experience will be so much more authentic if you take the time to interact with the locals. Even if there’s a language barrier, you should at least learn some basic phrases of the native language and employ what you know. Locals will appreciate that you made the effort to speak to them in their own language. Plus, the locals will be able to tell you best places places to visit that you won’t necessarily get from a guide book.
I don’t mean come with an itinerary and go to those places. Of course you’re going to do some “exploring” on your vacation as you take in the famous sites, but don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path a bit and just wander. You may come upon a charming shop or a serene park you wouldn’t have visited otherwise. Allow yourself to get a little lost, even, and talk with locals to find your way back. Sometimes the best discoveries are made when we don’t go looking for them!
3) Sample the local flavors/cuisine
You don’t have to try anything super exotic that will make you feel sick, but don’t rule something out just because you haven’t tried it or it’s different from what you’re used to. Traveling is about expanding your horizons and experiencing new cultures, so try the national dishes and ask the locals where they go and what they eat. Go for the local, independent restaurants instead of visiting the same fast food chain you can go to back home. I’ve always enjoyed trying the night markets to really sample authentic local cuisine.
4) Respect local customs/traditions
If you don’t want to get labeled as a tourist, then do your best to be respectful and polite. Good behavior goes a long way, so do your research before you travel to ensure you respect local customs and traditions, and don’t do anything that would be considered offensive. As author James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might as well stay home.”
5) Dress to impress
When travelling abroad, it is important to be aware of the culture’s views on fashion. In general, according to AARP, Americans tend to dress more casually than people from other cultures. For instance, people in many Middle Eastern countries are known for dressing conservatively for religious reasons, so don’t wear anything too revealing. It’s always better to blend in than to stand out when it comes to your appearance in a foreign country.
6) Buy local
Instead of wasting your money on kitschy tee shirts, mugs, and magnets from the hotel gift shop that you’ll probably forget about in a few months, commemorate your trip with something more authentic. Why not go to a shop owned by a local artisan? Not only are you supporting the local economy, but you’re coming away with a one-of-a-kind souvenir that you won’t find in any gift shop.
7) Take it easy with the camera
Yes, you want lots of pictures to remember your trip by. That’s understandable. But take time to experience your surroundings through your own eyes and not just the camera lens. The memories you make will be so much more meaningful than any picture you take, so slow down and really savor the moment.
8) Be open to suggestions and advice
As I said before, coming with a schedule can be helpful if you’re someone who likes to stay organized and you want to ensure you fit everything in, but don’t be afraid to go off schedule and go where the locals go. Don’t assume you know everything just because you did your research first. Remember that the locals are intimately familiar with their culture and their country, so be open to their suggestions and advice.