How not to look like a tourist

As vacation time rolls around each year, the same question starts to turn up in our search referrers over and over again: how not to look like a tourist. It’s not just the search referrers, either: it seems a lot of you are worried about looking like tourists when you’re off, well, being tourists, basically, and we guess our first question for you has to be WHY?

How not to look like a tourist: style tips for your next trip

How not to look like a tourist

Why are you worried about looking like a tourist?

Maybe it’s just us, but this always strikes us as a bit of a strange thing to stress over. The fact is, when you travel, you ARE a tourist – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Travel broadens the mind, and is one of the best learning experiences you’ll ever have: why spend the time worrying over whether you’re blending in with the locals? In fact, why, for that matter, try to blend in at all? Sure, you should always make the effort to learn about the cultural norms of the place you’re visiting, so that you can avoid inadvertently offending someone by being dressed inappropriately, but trying to adopt the current fashions of your destination seems a tiny bit pointless, unless you genuinely happen to love them. At the end of the day, you’re NOT a local, and it’s unlikely you’ll be fooling anyone anyway, so our golden rule of tourist fashion has always been this:

Dress for the climate, the customs, and the activity, and don’t worry about looking like a “local”.

In general, using clothing to pretend to be something you’re not is often a bad idea, as you’ll only end up feeling uncomfortable, and like you’re wearing a costume. In addition to this, desperately trying to “blend in” and “look like a local” will often backfire, unless you’re very familiar with what the locals ACTUALLY wear. Quite often there’s a huge difference between how you THINK people from a particular country or city will dress, and how they REALLY dress. Get it wrong, and you’ll just become a laughing stock: or, even worse, end up offending people who’ll feel like you’re making fun of them. For instance, most French people don’t walk around in berets, with strings of garlic around their necks. Scottish people wear kilts only for very formal occasions, and will find it hilarious when you rock up bedecked in tartan and believing you’re fitting right in. (We speak from experience on this one…) So don’t try to adopt a costume based on how you THINK people dress. Instead, think about:

1. What kind of weather you can reasonably expect at your destination.

2. What sort of activities you’ll be taking part in.

3. What are the cultural norms: i.e., will you be expected to cover your head or arms in certain places, or are there religious rules of dress which you’ll need to observe.

Once you’ve answered these basic questions, the next one should be relatively simple:

Ask yourself how you’d normally dress in those conditions/situations

Expecting hot weather at your destination? How would you dress for those kind of temperatures at home? Going to be spending a lot of time outdoors, maybe hiking or camping? OK, then how would you dress for a hike in your own country? Planning long days of city sightseeing? You probably have a city close to home (or live in one yourself) which you visit from time to time: what do you wear when you do that? Aside from the obvious religious/cultural sensitivities, your clothing as a tourist doesn’t actually need to be all that different from the kind of clothing you’d wear at home for similar kinds of activities. Why buy a whole new wardrobe, or force yourself to wear clothes that aren’t really “you” just so you can try to hide the fact that you’re on vacation, and trick everyone into believing you’re one of the locals? Just be yourself, don’t worry too much about what you’re wearing, and enjoy the wonder of travel!

stylish tourist sitting on suitcase

[Image: M&Co.]

Still want to know how not to look like a tourist?

Just in case we haven’t managed to convince you not to stress, here are some specific tips to make sure your tourist status remains your own guilty guilty secret:

1. Don’t wear white sneakers or Crocs

Now, we know you’d never DREAM of wearing Crocs anyway – for anything – but if you really don’t want people to know you’re a tourist, leave the blinding white sneakers at home. You’ll still want some comfortable footwear, especially if you’re planning on doing a lot of walking and sightseeing, but trust us: there ARE other options…

2. Avoid bumbags (fanny packs) and huge rucksacks

Yes, they’re convenient. But you may as well hang a sign on your head saying, “Hi, I’m a tourist!” And you don’t want THAT now, do you?

3. Put the camera away

You’re on vacation, so you’re going to want to take some photos. Resist the urge to snap every little thing you see, though, or people will realise you’re a tourist. Either that or a fashion blogger. It’s up to you to decide which is worse.

4. And the map

We don’t want you to get lost, but only tourists try to open up a giant map on a crowded subway. Work out your route in advance or download an app for your phone instead.

5.  Avoid sportswear and baseball caps

Not all countries employ the “sportswear as daywear” rule we have in the UK and US, so dressing like you’re part of your national football team (British men are particularly guilty of this when abroad: that England strip is a dead giveway that you’re not from round here, you know…), or wearing any kind of branded sportswear or baseball cap will mark you out as clearly as that sign for your forehead.

6.Dress a little better than you would at home

We’re not saying you need to dress like you’re attending the Oscars, but very causal (read “slobbish”) clothing MAY make you stand out in some countries just as much as being “all dressed up” can do here in the UK or US. If you’re worried about going too far in the opposite direction and end up sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb, go for a “your usual self, but better” approach, and just smarten things up a notch. Even if you DO still look like a tourist, well, at least you’ll be a well-dressed one…

Got any tips on how not to look like a tourist?

9 Comments

  • June 24, 2013

    lizvocal

    I took a three week trip that started with a week in Italy and took me through Paris and London. I carefully planned my clothes and shoes so I would not look like a tourist, no sneakers, slightly nicer clothes than I wear at home. I also went to ‘street fashion’ websites for Europe to get ideas, then picked ones I wouldn’t feel ridiculous in. All good, right?

    Then the airline lost my luggage, and I had to scrounge around the tiny Tuscan town I was in to find something to wear. I would up with a plain T and pajamas pants, that were the only things available at a reasonable price. The days I wore my T and pjs were the only days anyone addressed me first in Italian, as if I was a native. All that careful planning for naught!

    I would also add that the reason you don’t see more branded sportswear in Italy is not because it doesn’t exist. We went looking for sportswear, thinking it would be cheap to wear while waiting for our luggage. It is monstrously expensive. We saw Nike sweat pant cutoffs for 75 Euro. Branded T-shirts were 50 Euro. It was insane. Maybe people pay prices like that in the US, but not me, and not many Italians, either.

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  • June 24, 2013

    Claire

    I’ve always had a bit of pride about trying not to look like the stereotypical American tourist, but I guess you’re right – no one is going to mistake me for a local or even for something besides American. Thank you for this small epiphany 😉
    I always spend the entire week before I leave on any trip (no matter how short) carefully planning what exactly to bring, counting out days and nights I’ll be away, planning whole outfits, working out what bras/underwear I’ll need to wear with those outfits, and generally being rather obsessive. But it does generally work out and I’m usually happy with the clothes I’ve brought.

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  • June 25, 2013

    Robbie

    Loved these tips!

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  • June 26, 2013

    Kota

    I agree with trying to learn about local customs and mores, but please PLEASE leave the “native” gear at home!

    Here in Texas we get all sorts of tourists and it’s amazing how many of them think we all dress like cowboys and ride horses (granted, many of us do, especially in rural areas). One time an obviously foreign (read “not Texan”) tourist actually asked me where all the real Texans were! Even worse are the ones who try to assimilate themselves by dressing in cowboy gear and trying to speak with a Texas drawl. The real accent can be hard enough to understand, but when it’s spoken by a non-native, it turns into gibberish. Oh, and for the record, “y’all” is PLURAL.

    Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.

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    • June 26, 2013

      lizvocal

      Kota, I thought the plural was “all y’all” 😉

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      • June 27, 2013

        Kota

        “All y’all” is plural, but is used more when emphasis is needed, i.e., “ALL y’all better git offa mah property ‘fore Ah call tha cops!” (Sorry, that’s the best Texan accent that I can write.)

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  • June 27, 2013

    annette tirette

    I just dress like I always do, since my main demand for daily wear is that it’s comfortable. I make most of my clothes myself so they fit me well and I’ll feel good in them. Dresses or skirts with a top, paired with comfortable flats or canvas sneakers are my daily uniform and I just keep wearing them when I’m on holiday. For some reason people always assume I’m a local, I’m not sure why…

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  • July 26, 2013

    Francisco

    hi… ok i´m a guy it makes it simpler but e girl friend of mine does the same and it works …withe shirts ( has many has the days you will be out and 2 extra ones) dark jeans and a blazer or cardigan… a nice scarf and you´r good to go from a casual lunch to a fancy dinner party …

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