It always amuses me when so many seasoned travelers tell you to “not dress like a tourist” so you “don’t look like a tourist” thereby increasing the probability that you could be the target of pickpockets, scams, or street crime.
Let’s examine what looking like a tourist really means. The way you dress is really just one of many ways you can look like a tourist, right? If you do any one or more of the following, aren’t you telling everyone that you’re not from around here?
1) Dress like a foreigner wearing some type of clothing other than the norm for where you are. For instance, I’ve seen many places that say not to wear sneakers or a baseball hat in Europe because everyone will know you’re an American.
2) Wear travel pants with hidden pockets, zippers, etc. which, by now, the pickpockets know about anyway and have found ways to still steal your stuff
3) Wear a backpack, daypack, fanny pack, or carry luggage of any kind. Really if you carry things other than maybe a cell phone or small bag you look like a tourist.
4) Fumble with your change or paper money because you haven’t figured it out yet, or look like you’re converting the exchange rate in your head
5) Carry a camera and take pictures of the local sights or even walk around with a look on your face like the things you are seeing are amazing. A local will walk right by a beautiful landmark without even looking up since they’ve seen it a thousand times. A tourist will stop, stare at it, point, talk about it with their traveling companions, and take pictures of it. And don’t forget about taking a selfie in front of a scenic location.
6) You’re in an airport, bus station, or train station. Isn’t that where tourists are likely to be found since people found there are indeed traveling? How many locals hang out at these locations if they aren’t going somewhere? And if they are going somewhere, then they are tourists.
7) Pull out a map or guidebook to look something up. Locals know their way around and wouldn’t use a guidebook in their own city.
8) Look lost, or ask for directions. Similar to #7 but a local wouldn’t look lost either and they wouldn’t have to ask directions from someone.
9) Look foreign, such as a blonde, white person in India or Asia. There’s no way to disguise yourself as a local in these situations.
10) Act foreign, doing something that locals don’t do. This can include local taboos, faux pas, or customs. Even acting like a stereotypical American (many countries think Americans are noisy and rude)
11) Struggle to read/translate a sign or restaurant menu, and pull out your phone to plug a phrase into your language translator app
12) You are overheard speaking a language other than the local language
13) Look paranoid and overly cautious that every person is out to get you and your belongings
14) You are with one or more other people that are doing any of the above
Did I miss any?
Scam artists and pickpockets don’t just target tourists anyway. Locals are victims too. These criminals are really just looking for any opportunity to separate someone from their money and valuables. Looking like a tourist is just one way you make it more likely to be a victim. Is a local person who dresses “normal” but is distracted by talking/texting on their cell phone any safer?
It’s true that some people look much more like tourists than others, but I think this obsession with not dressing like a tourist is silly.
To truly not look like a tourist and avoid being the victim of pickpockets, scams, or street crime you would have to:
1) Dress, look, and act “normal”
2) Not carry much of anything with you
3) Walk around with confidence that you know where you were going, can speak the language, and use the money
4) Not take any pictures of the beautiful sights
5) Stay away from the transportation hubs, and crowded areas where pickpockets are likely to be found
6) Not look like you’re trying to do all these things to avoid looking like an easy target
Is it even possible to do all that while still enjoying your travels?
I think being cautious and aware of your surroundings at all times is much more important. Be aware of the places that these crimes are likely to occur, stay away from alleys, places and neighborhoods known to be crime areas, wandering around after dark, etc. Know the types of scams that occur, watch out for people making distractions of any kind and, if you’re traveling with a partner, watch each other’s back.
But most of all, enjoy yourself. You’re on vacation to have fun!