If you're new to traveling then first of all, congratulations! Second of all, you're in the right place. As someone who traveled out of the country for the first time when she was eight and then again for three weeks when she was 12, I've learned what makes it glaringly obvious that you're a tourist. Luckily, I've also learned what not to do in order to avoid looking like a total newbie when it comes to being elsewhere. Now that it's winter, travel season is rapidly approaching and many people are booking what might be their first big trip. It's a thrilling process and something you'll look forward to for weeks and days... Then you'll get there and you'll realize that you're in a completely new territory with no idea of how to proceed.
This is totally normal! It's all part of the travel experience and, trust me, is a good sign. Step one to avoid tourist blunders is to acknowledge that you're in a new place with new customs. This simple idea prevents you from being arrogant and what's referred to as a "memorable" tourist, and not in a good way. Fear not -- there are plenty of other ways to avoid looking like a total travel rookie. Many are simple, some are common sense, and others might even be the reminder you needed before boarding a flight out of the country.
The reason you'll be told this in New York City is due to the fear that while you're looking straight up at these massive skyscrapers, someone could come alone and pick-pocket you. Passing someone who's looking straight up is usually a solid giveaway that they're not from those parts because they're clearly enamored with everything surrounding them. This doesn't mean that you can't take everything in, because you absolutely should, but there's a way to do it without drawing extra attention to yourself. The same goes for photos; if you're the first one to exit the airport and immediately have your phone ready and poised, chances are you're also wearing a neon "tourist" sign above your head.
This is a common sense point that many would be surprised to know goes unacknowledged. As far as I'm concerned, the worst thing you can do is book a flight somewhere and have absolutely no clue about the culture of the people who live there. While many places around the world are very tourist-friendly, that doesn't mean that they don't expect a certain type of respect from you. Even knowing the basics can avoid an awkward situation and the inevitable, "I'm sorry, I didn't know, I'm just here on vacation". If the shoe was on the other foot, wouldn't you want travelers to know your country's rules, too?
Knowing what to bring in your suitcase and what to pull out of your closet is important on a myriad of levels. For starters, consider the weather -- Seasons around the world differ drastically based on where they are in the hemispheres. Right now, although it's winter in North America, it's the beginning of spring in New Zealand. You could be traveling during the rainy season in Asia or during slightly chillier months in Europe. This should all be reflected in your choice of clothing. Additionally, barring going to a tropical location, clothing should always be modest. This doesn't mean you need to wear a full bonnet and floor-length dress getup, but something that's comfortable yet respectable is usually preferred and won't make you stand out.
Yet another point that should be common sense, but isn't always the case. Money conversions are confusing and can be a massive hassle when it comes to exchanging cash last-minute. Taking a bit of time beforehand to study up on your money conversions will help you in the long run and will cut back drastically on money-induced anxiety. Unless you're not planning on eating or purchasing souvenirs at any point during your stay, you'll need to know what your country's dollar means in another country's currency.
If you're staying in a hotel, you'll likely need to tip your bellhop (granted there is one) or possibly even at the front desk. Every country differs in their tipping policies and while 15-20% is usually a solid rule of thumb, it doesn't hurt to double check before you go. Additionally, you might find that the opposite is true -- Maybe the country you'll traveling to doesn't require any tipping at all. Canada has a similar system and tipping is included in the bill already. The key to avoiding this travel blunder is knowledge... Knowledge is power, folks.
It goes without saying that not too many of us are comfortable with driving on the "wrong" side of the road. The fact that we're even comfortable saying the "wrong" side implies that we're already used to driving on the "right" side. This can be awful if you're in another country and realize all too late that not only are their road rules different, but they're also driving in the opposite lane. Remember that scene from The Holiday when Cameron Diaz is forced to drive through an alleyway in England with absolutely no clue? Don't be that person, look into trains, buses, and taxi services if you can't hoof it.
You're new to this country and trust me, it's completely impossible to avoid looking like a tourist in some way or another. It's likely that people will get the sense that you're not from those parts and as long as you don't feed into it, you'll be just fine. However, this doesn't mean that you can't ask for help if you need it. Even in the biggest cities, people will still ask a perfect stranger for directions. Make good use of being polite and asking a passerby for advice if you happen to get lost or are in need of direction. I promise it's not as nerve-wracking as it seems.
I know I know, the last thing you want to do is experience flashbacks from your high school language class. Luckily, we have such crazy access to numerous phone and computer apps that allow us to learn things in a minimal amount of time. Take advantage of these applications and brush up on the native language of the country you'll be traveling to. These apps will come in handy over there as well since inevitably, you'll need to know the phrasing for something while you're on the go. They're usually fairly cheap and you might even find an app for free.
If you're walking to your hotel with two suitcases, an overnight bag, a tote bag, and a laptop bag for all of your technology, it's going to be quite obvious that not only are you a tourist, but you're a new tourist. It's incredibly easy to panic and start throwing last-minute items into your bag and before you know it, you've packed half your wardrobe. Remember this: Unless you're traveling to a third-world country or an isolated location, shops will be available to you. A good rule of thumb is to figure out what you use in a day and pack only those essentials; as far as clothing goes, pack comfortable outfits and enough layers to play with. Pack one comfortable pair of walking shoes and one pair of (comfortable) formal shoes. Done!
Let's discuss shoes. This isn't solely for women travelers because men are often just as bad when it comes to figuring out what to bring. Unless you know the itinerary prior to traveling, this can be somewhat of a stressful decision. Try as hard as you can to avoid packing more than two pairs of shoes, three if you're on an extended stay. A comfortable pair of sneakers or boat shoes is a great option for walking and if they're new, remember to break them in first. Flats are a perfect way to make an outfit formal without committing to heels, which can be a terrible mistake while abroad. If you really need to, pack a pair of mildly uncomfortable formal shoes -- But make sure to bring your flats along with you for an easy change just in case.
Oof, the number of times we see this could probably amount to more fingers than we have to count with. Not only is it dangerous to stop right in the middle of a busy area to take a picture, but it's also a great way to cause a human traffic jam. Understandably, you're looking to get the most Instagram-worthy shots to post on your feed at the end of your trip. However, that's not a cause to hold up an entire crowd so that you can wait for your camera to focus. Step to the side, say "excuse me", or find a low-volume area to snap your photo in. Chances are, whatever it is will still be there after you take 30 seconds to reposition yourself.
I'm not saying to wander down a deserted alleyway to check out the local graffiti that's spraypainted on the side of the building. Instead, do some research into what's a bit less visited. For example, let's say you're going to Ireland; rather than wait on line for three hours to kiss a stone that 200 people have made out with prior to you, go and sightsee some of the local castles. Check out sites where movies have been filmed or that inspired popular books. These things are not only inspirational but they'll usually less crowded and will give you a real travel feel as opposed to a "touristy" feel.
This is a great way to get to know the area you're visiting without consulting guides or what you think you "should" do. Sometimes, the best resource can be someone who lives in the area. Talk to the front desk at your hotel or the owner of the B&B you're staying at. Ask your server at a restaurant or your taxi driver. Anyone who lives and works in the place you're visiting is likely to know what's worth seeing and what's not. Don't be afraid to ask questions because after all, the point is to experience something out of your comfort zone and have a vacation that's new and exciting.
You might be thinking, "well, that's a strange requirement for not looking like a tourist", but I assure you that it's worth it. Museums are simply just depictions of timelines that have been frozen in time meaning that not only will you get an education, but you'll have a thorough understanding of the history of the place you're visiting. This is the best thing you can do to combat vacation ignorance and can really teach you some fascinating lessons. There's no better feeling than to walk away from a trip abroad knowing that you're coming home with knowledge, a sense of personalization, and an appreciation for someplace else.
This goes back to the idea of speaking to the locals. If you're a foodie and food is your thing, the best thing you can do is jump on the local's bandwagon. While your Zagat guide might bring you to a ritzy, five-star location, a local will likely send you to a hole-in-the-wall joint or a food cart. Go with it! This is often how you'll get a taste (pun absolutely intended) for the culture of the country you're staying in. Additionally, you'll probably be met with new flavors, dishes that will take you out of your comfort zone, and a real feel for what life is like there.
We all know how challenging it is not to purchase one thing from every shop that you go into. one thing you have to be aware of while traveling is knowing what will and will not make it through customs. Traveling with something that won't make it through can prove to be a major hassle, especially when you're crunched for time and trying board a flight. You'll end up needing to mail your packages back home if you even have the time or, worst case scenario, leaving them there. This is a classic case of needing to be familiar with the saying "know before you go".
It may only be two hours or it might be half a day that you'll need to temporarily get used to, but it makes a difference. If you can, take a few days prior to start adjusting your schedule. Go to bed a little earlier and wake up earlier or go to bed a little later and wake up later. While it's not always possible, these minor changes in your sleep cycle will prepare you for the time difference that you'll experience overseas. The last thing you want is to be exhausted and out of whack when you're trying to enjoy your vacation and experience something new.
You'll need a place to put all the money that you're unfamiliar with, right? Fanny packs are no longer the massive, poofy abdomen pouches that you got used to seeing in the 80s. Nowadays, they're stylish, minimal, and really don't look like anything outdated or silly. They're the safest way to keep your money and valuables close without risking losing something or being a victim to theft. This also allows you to easily pull out and count money without reaching into a pocketbook or rooting around in your pockets.
There is a strong debate about how to fold your clothes in order to fit them in a suitcase or bag. Some people will tell you to roll them while others stand by the traditionally square method of folding. Whichever you choose, don't be afraid to try each one out several times in order to see what fits best. It is possible to fit a boatload of clothing into one standard-sized suitcase if you practice a bit. The key to getting them back in there is to avoid being lazy and fold them in there in the same manner in which they came out.
Last but certainly not least, don't let your nerves overtake what should be an incredible journey. It's not often that you get to take a vacation so keep in mind that it can go however you want it to. Your attitude, demeanor, and overall knowledge of travel are key to have a fun and memorable time. Anxiety is often the underestimated downfall when it comes to traveling abroad but you have everything within your power to avoid letting it take the wheel. People travel every day and as long as you keep these tips in mind, you'll have a blast, be safe, and know exactly what to do. Happy traveling!