Top 10 ways to look like a tourist. (Conversely, how to avoid doing so.)

These days when I’m out and about in a city, I like playing the game of ‘Spot the tourist’. Some people make this game way too easy. If I wanted to make this a drinking game in Paris, I’d get alcohol poisoning within an hour. 🙂

The most effective ways to look like a tourist are the following:

1. Read your map / guide book in public.

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2. Wear (visibly) any of the following:

  • Bum bag / fanny pack

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  • Security document pouches:

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I know that especially for novice travellers it’s very tempting to keep all your vital information close to you like that, but honestly it’s not worth it. Having tried them myself many years ago, inevitably it gets awkward reaching into your shirt or pants to get money out. You’ll find that you need cash waaaay more often than your passport, so you’re actually much better off keeping you passport, insurance information and the like in a pocket of your hand-luggage. If you keep it with your cash, every time you pay for something you’re flashing a private document which may be tempting for pickpockets. Also, you risk accidentally dropping it when you’re taking something else out. In my experience, out-of-sight-out-of-mind is a much better method to operate by than locking every bag you have,and better than keeping everything you have on your person.

Not that I’m advising being reckless and leaving your bags out (in a hostel or whatever), but be sensible. If there are lockers or safes available, lock up your valuables. If there aren’t safes in your room, ask to store things at reception. If that’s not an option, check on your valuables regularly and keep them near you, but don’t obsess about it.

Ideally keep passports and other critical documents in a pocket you don’t look into frequently. But always keep it consistently in the same one. Speaking from experience, you do not want to miss a train or plane somewhere because you put your passport into a different pocket than usual. Trust me. You feel really really really foolish. Really.

3. Wear your backpack on your front. Or maybe I should call it a frontpack.

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4. Block the stairs / exit / ticket machines / other thoroughfare.

I know it isn’t just tourists who do this, anyone oblivious to their surroundings does, as shown by photo of the girl using her phone at the top of the stairs. Apologies for the lame picture. But you get my point.

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If you need to stop – STEP TO THE SIDE. Don’t just stop where you are. As much as I love to travel, I also prefer to make sure my touristing interferes as little as possible with the lives of the locals there, who are often just trying to go to/from work.

5. Walk slowly, block the footpath, and/or amble in the bike lane, gawking at the world around you.

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You may think you’re a bike. But you’re not. Trust me. Bike-riders around the world will thank you for staying out of their way.

6. Stare at the world through your camera.

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It seems that watching the world first-person is overrated these days.

Also, apparently leaving your camera to dangle around your neck is the tourist stamp to aim for. The bigger the camera the better. I have a nice camera. It lives in my bag most of the time, with good reason. I like experiencing the world myself.

7. Seek out your favourite Starbucks / McDonald’s etc.

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This one always baffles me. You’re in a foreign country with a wealth of novel cuisine to try…. and yet you head straight for old faithful? Why didn’t you just stay home?

In Sydney, we got rid of all but two Starbucks, because Sydney coffee is so much better than the American chain. The two remaining ones are in the most touristy parts of town, and filled with Americans.

8. Carry around at least 4 branded shopping bags

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Again, the more the better, it seems. 😉

9. Make no effort to speak the local language or respect local customs.

I’m always amazed at how many people I hear starting a conversation here in Paris in English. At the very least, you should learn two things:

  • In Europe, you should generally say hello to the staff in the local language when you enter a store.
  • How to say ‘Do you speak English?’ in the local language, and thank you. Other essential phrases.

10. Go to see the sights in the middle of the day. Join the queue.

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It seems that every man and his dog likes seeing things in the early afternoon. The best times to see touristy things (especially in cities like NYC or Paris) are in the morning, right when it opens. 9am. The photo above shows the line for the Notre Dame cathedral while I was walking past one day. While the photo doesn’t entirely show it, I’m sure the line was as long as the cathedral is deep. And it hardly moved.

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But I guess it’s up to you how you want to be a tourist. Be cliche if you like. You’ll just make me want to take a photo of you. 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Top 10 ways to look like a tourist. (Conversely, how to avoid doing so.)

  1. I can explain the Starbucks/MacDonalds one, as we had to use them ourselves: The internet is free and not too slow. In NY, we found that the 3G internet was so slow and intermittent that it was easier to pop into the Maccas in Times Square than use anything else.

  2. Well, arguably, in NYC Starbucks/Maccas *is* the local cuisine, so you’re forgiven. 😉

    I also can’t count how many times I’ve stood outside a Starbucks in the US to use their wifi. But I’ve tried to avoid going to them aside from wifi emergencies when in other countries.

  3. About Starbucks again, Hard Rock Café’s are also tourist hotspots. The one on Plaça Catalunya has a crowd in front of it akin to that of the Mona Lisa.

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