How To Not Be A Tourist

In 2016, I sat on 42 planes, most of which had uncharted (for me) end routes.  

Culture is so finnicky: from my house to my next door neighbors, everything is different.  Vacationing is just humans like us sticking out as sore thumbs, taking awed photos, gaping at monuments, and then getting sidestepped by some sticky locals.  Maybe you like that: being the odd man out, getting your photo, causing a scene.  

Or maybe there’s something more romantic about making yourself a local for a few hours: becoming a charging New Yorker, or a wafty San Franciscan, or a floaty, social-centric Dubliner. For me, feeling European while I scale the streets of London is essential to truly being there.  How does one do it?

From my experience, I've found a few little ways. They're simple, and easy to follow: most of you won't struggle to whip something out of your closets and pockets to make the process just a bit easier.  How does someone blend in?

 

  1. Wardrobe

Europeans love black.  Timeless trench coats, matched with the power of Adidas, are what make metro Europeans who they are.  Those whites, greys, and clean seams are going to merge you to the crowd.  Ponchos, plastics, and bright yellows are so American, they hurt the eyes.  

As for East Coasters, you become one with the scenery if you’re sporting the timeless collar, the post-work garb, and the business casual.  Of course, no one wants to spend their long travel day in a full suit.  But there’s always a way to class up the occasion: a collar, a sweater, a plaid pant (!).

 

No’s:

  • Jackets around the waist. Be so weather savvy, you’re not shedding layers every five minutes.  

  • Generic Nike kicks.  Monarchs, Roshes, any fitness fuelers will tell people you’re in it for the long haul.  Maybe you are, but there are other ways of proving it: a short boot, a comfy Oxford, a sandal.

  • Routine zip-ups and logo hoodies.  City folk care about their appearance, and opting for a nicer jacket (a bomber or a jean) is a plus for weather whiplash, and better for your soul.

 

Yes’s:

 

  • Jewelry.  Not the frigid, expensive kind.  A nice watch and a few trinkets say you came to learn, which is what traveling is all about.

  • Nice coats.  If you see rain in the forcast, swap out the poncho for one of your best raincoats.  Looking nice is key.

  • Lace-up shoes.  In the tasteful form, these will be the kindest to your feet.  Don't force yourself through a day of grouchy, stiff boots, unless they lace right around your toes.

Steven Madden, bought in 2015.  My favorite, weathered, go-to shoes from Europe

 

2. Packaging

What you carry matters.  

Backpacks of any sort, although handy to the back, are red tourist flags.  Especially for pick-pocketers! I get it: walking with a lug to the side is achy.  But maybe, just maybe, we can convince you that you need less than you think:

Besides a wallet, the occasional Fiber One bar, possibly a portable charger, a chunky camera, and some water source, all the stuff you fit daily into your purse shouldn’t really burst the seams of a nice, upscale saddle bag.  Faux leather ones are available on Asos and through other means.  Carhartt also carries a line of perfectly sized, pocket-savvy side bags, but what's important: give yourself the appearance of less.

Remember: this is a safety issue as much as it is style.  

 

3. That look of shock when you have to pay to use a bathroom

Not to fear... we made a whole list of things that might shock you when you first step foot in a new land (I cried after my first night in Paris, and not because a vendor gave me a rose).  Culture shock is real, and the things that happen outside of your little America are nothing like what happen in it.

Do your research.  It’s easy to meltdown when you realize that the owner of the McDonalds won’t give you the bathroom key until you buy an ice cream cone. Free bathrooms are more of an American thing, God bless this country.  In Europe, have change at the ready, so you’re not wandering aimlessly around with that desperate “about to pee” look on your face.

And in Asia, when you have to squat to use the bathroom, remember what you signed up for! Embrace, embrace, embrace.

 

4. Manners, manners, manners.

While in Ireland, my friend and I discussed tourist spotting with our host, a sweet French woman living in Dublin at the time.  She talked about how loud and glamorous Americans are, how shockingly they laugh, and how little they care for their surroundings.  As the trip powered on, I saw her point.  So, we amassed a collection of things Americans do wrong to give us that bad reputation.

In any big cities, it’s common etiquette to keep your voice low in public places:

In many European restaurants, your meal costs more if you choose to dine in (it’s true!).  People in Europe and Asia will pay for their environments, which get muddled down by the raging of tourists who come in, cool off, drop their legions of bags and buys, and make a scene.  Everything is a library! 

When you come to a country, the locals expect you to respect it like you would anyone’s home.  Being a loud human can bring on some irritations, and, if you catch the throng of annoying vibes being shot at you, it could dampen your experience with culture and interaction. Don't come to someone else's house and expect to take control of the TV!

 

5. Act like you know where you’re going

 

Our parents came from a generation of map-holders, who had to ask irritable city folk for directions.  Thankfully, like most humans, we’re the cell phone generation that can instruct an invisible tele-woman to take us places (got that, Siri?).  But, it’s still no help when you’re jumping trains, getting off on the wrong stops, and not laying it all out for sense.

Before you go somewhere, say it out loud: “right on Madison, walk a few blocks, the subway will be across the street on the right, take the E train to Bleecker, and we’re there.”  Say it out loud, use your hands to tell the story, and then walk the way you told yourself to. Make a game of it.

Being a tourist is part of the fun of traveling.  But, if you’re like me, you get your high off of blending; feeling like you’re there.  Being one with the people.  Defying tourism (while visiting every cool site around town) is the best way to integrate yourself, to take a pinch of salt from other people’s lives.  

Don't travel because you're a homebody, or someone who doesn't like living outside of your box.  Know that there's another way to do it, one that riles up your adrenaline, makes you feel important, even if for a few days.

And it is everything.