How to Avoid Looking Like A Tourist

07 Aug

Keeping covered while keeping cool

My apologies for not posting last week–my day job got crazy, and I’ve got to focus first on the work that pays my bills and permits me to travel!

Still, to show my contrition for laying off this blog, I’ll share some helpful advice with you.

First off, don’t worry–this is not a post on the tiresome “tourist” versus “traveler” debate; I’ve already briefly weighed in on that.  No, this post is focused on making sure that you blend into your environment as much as possible when you’re traveling so that you can stay safe.  While it’s great to have the opportunity to see the world, once you step past your backyard, you may stand out in ways that make you more vulnerable to sketchy situations.  Sometimes, depending on your look and where you’re traveling, there will really be little that you can do to keep a low profile.  However, in many cases, if you follow my tips below, you will be able to have more success in flying under the radar during your vacation.  Plus, if you’re really on your game, a local will stop you and ask you for directions–highly satisfactory proof that you are a cool traveler!  So, how do you avoid looking like a tourist?

1.  Look around.  This seems obvious, but you would not believe how many Western tourists I see who roll into a new location wearing clothes that are, at best, dissonant with the surroundings and, at worst, offensive to the local culture.  In this day and age, with guidebooks and the Internet, you should know before you leave what is appropriate to wear in your destination.

Even if you show up totally clueless, just look around.  Take your cues from the people around you who are of your gender and approximate age.  Usually, you will be able to remix your wardrobe in a way that helps you to blend in.  If not, take the time to buy one or two key pieces at your destination that you can pair with what you brought.  I promise, it’s worth the money to avoid extra stares and/or harassment.

2.  No American-style sneakers.  You know the kind I’m talking about–the super-white, super-bright, super-padded athletic shoes that you use when exercising (or, just living life).  Few things scream “tourist” so loudly and blindingly.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Shoes like this can be perfectly useful and appropriate if you will be hiking or doing certain athletic activities during your trip.  However, for your day-to-day wanderings, it’s better to focus on simple flats, sturdy sandals, or more slimline European-style sneakers so that you’ll fit in more with the crowd.

Plus, unless you plan to wear big sneakers each time you move from place to place, it might be better to leave them at home so that you don’t take up so much room in your backpack.  This means that your back will thank you (because of the lighter load) and so will your friends and family (since you’ll have more room in your bag to bring home gifts and souvenirs)!

3.  No tank tops/singlets as your outer layer.  This rule applies to you, too, gentlemen, so don’t think that you’re off the hook.  Tank tops and singlets make sense as exterior clothing if you’ll be at a beach location.  However, once you get out of those sandy areas, cover up.  Most people in the world dress more conservatively than those in the West, so bare shoulders and deep necklines can really get you some additional attention.

If that’s not what you’re looking for, save those items of clothing for layering under other pieces.  I know what you’re going to say: it’s hot where you’re going, and you don’t want to sweat to death.  I hear you, but this rule still stands.  First, you can get much of the same cooling effect by simply wearing a short-sleeved shirt, thus keeping your shoulders covered.  Second, once the temperature soars past a certain point (i.e., the 90s in Fahrenheit/the mid-30s in Celsius), you will actually feel cooler if you’re wearing something long-sleeved (but lightweight).

If you don’t believe me on that latter point, just look at the manner of dress for many of our fellow world citizens who live in super-hot locales.  If you still don’t believe me, I can tell you from personal experience from my travels in Morocco.  The daytime temperature in September was frequently above 40 degrees Celsius/104 degrees Fahrenheit, and my sweat glands are generally not shy about doing their work to keep me cool; that being said, I felt comfortable most of the time by simply wearing a tank top under a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt (as pictured above).  If I can do it, so can you.  Stay strong!

4.  No balling out of control.  You have nice stuff–that’s awesome.  However, if you would like to hang on to that nice stuff, be thoughtful.  Do you really need to bring a particular valuable item with you on your trip?  If not, leave it at home.  If you must bring the item, can you at least leave it secured in a locker at your hostel/hotel?  If not, do your best to keep your valuable item out of sight of covetous eyes.

That being said, I still strongly encourage you to reconsider your decision to bring your valuable item with you when you’re out and about.  It really won’t be end of the world if you leave it at home or at the place where you’re staying; it might be the end of world if you lose your item in some exotic locale.  Don’t risk it.

5.  No backpacks.  This advice seems weird because I am so clearly a huge fan of backpacking.  To be clear, I mean: no backpacks as daypacks.  A lot of people either bring smaller backpacks with them to use during the day or buy a full-sized backpack with a miniature daypack attached that can be used as a standalone bag.  While this is convenient, I wouldn’t recommend it.  First, this can lead to a sweaty back if the weather is super-warm.  More importantly, though, it’s another huge sign that you’re a tourist.

Instead, I suggest that, upon arriving at your destination, you purchase an inexpensive bag that is large enough to fit all of the items that you want to carry around during the day.  Obviously, this will be much easier for the ladies, but there are usually some decent options for gentlemen, too–just ask around.  In any event, if you buy a bag that is more typical of your location, you’ll be more likely to blend in; plus, if you insist on violating Rule #4 above, you have a more undercover way of securing your valuables as you move from place to place.  Plus, when your trip is over, your bag will be a great souvenir of your trip!

6.  No maps.  This rule requires clarification, too.  I am the world’s expert in getting lost.  This is true in both my daily and travel-abroad lives, so much so that I usually factor in time for getting lost whenever I have to get from place to place.  (Well, things are less severe in my daily life now that I finally broke down and bought a smartphone (which includes GPS), but I usually don’t bring my phone around with me when I travel, for the reasons discussed in Rule #4 above).  Since I am so often lost, I do definitely make use of maps.  Nevertheless, I try not to use the maps in public.  Instead, I will duck into a store, restaurant, phone booth, or some other private area to consult the map and figure out where I’m going.  That way, once I am finished, I can walk with confidence (instead of confusion) and at least pretend that I’m in the know.  Fake it till you make it.

7.  No jorts.  I saved the best for last.  Ladies and gentlemen, there is no need to wear jean shorts, or jorts.  Ever.  First, this is big-time tourist wear, especially if they’re of the cut-off variety.  You WILL stick out, and not in the good way.  More importantly, though, most jorts are hideous.  Unless you’re a fashion virtuoso who really knows what s/he’s doing, avoid wearing jorts on your travels.  In fact, avoid wearing them in your real life, too.  Seriously.  I mean it.  You’ll thank me.  You’re welcome.

*          *          *

Well, that’s it!  If I’ve missed anything, please let me know in the comments.  Otherwise, happy travels!


Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Africa, Miscellaneous, Morocco


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

2 responses to “How to Avoid Looking Like A Tourist

  1. Katie

    September 15, 2012 at 12:05 AM

    So, did you buy a djellaba? I have a Mediterranean face, so that made a perfect disguise in Morocco. “You remind me of my sister.” How do you deal with sticking out when it’s not your clothes that draw stares in a crowd? When I was in Morocco, it scared me how much the stares were disorienting, inducing me to look at the ground, losing track of my surroundings. The best cure against them was walking with a local, but even that didn’t help my companion with the movie star looks.

    • passportaddict

      September 15, 2012 at 5:21 AM

      I did not buy a djellaba, but I did try to dress conservatively (i.e., lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, pants or long skirts). That helped me fly under the radar somewhat, but, yes, I did get a large amount of attention. I was surprised given that many southern Moroccans have dark skin like me, so I assumed that the attention would be focused on blue-eyed, blonde women, but, apparently, there are so few dark-skinned tourists that I was a special oddity. For me, the best I could do was either walk with a group, or, if I couldn’t, go about my business as if I couldn’t hear any of the comments/come-ons. Patience is key, and, fortunately, the many good things about Morocco make up for the drawback of excessive male attention!


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