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It’s impossible to blend in completely when in a foreign country, but there’s no need to stick out like a sore thumb and risk being taken advantage of. Some things are impossible to chance, like speaking your native language unless you so happen to speak a foreign language, then consider yourself lucky. But, it’s important to try to blend in so that it also shows that you respect your host country.
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But why should you bother AVOIDING to look like a tourist when traveling… when you ARE a tourist?
Well, for starters…
- You might be taken advantage of by scammers looking for naive travel-newbies.
- You might be harassed for being an American – wait…WHHHAT? You heard me. I’ll explain in a bit!
- You might come off as someone who doesn’t care about another culture’s customs.
- You might scream “I’m rich! Come rob me!”
Do these things REEEALLY happen? No not always, but it CAN and DOES happen to the best of us!
But, just because I said you shouldn’t dress like a tourist, doesn’t mean you have to forgo all fashion. You want to dress in fashionably comfortable clothes while traveling, and the European standard dress code is to always look your best, and most DEFINITELY, never to leave the house in your pajamas. Folks just don’t do that here, just Americans. But dressing nicely can also lead to friendlier service, you know the Pretty Woman service.
So, you’re headed out on your first adventure out of the US? How should you prepare? What should you pack? What should you NOT pack?
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we?
1. CLOTHING (K.I.S.S.)
When traveling, there is absolutely no need to draw attention to yourself. It is always best to blend in. The last thing you want to deal with on your vacation is having to explain your choice of clothing because you offended someone. As I say, “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” If in doubt, simply pack neutral colored clothing which you can layer and wear with multiple outfits. Just because you might be an American tourist in Europe, doesn’t mean you need to look like it.
So, how do you NOT look like an American tourist and what should you NOT wear in Europe?
Despite the fact that it was incredibly HOT in Sveti Stefan and we spent the day at the beach, we still dressed respectably with my husband wearing shorts, and a nice button up shirt and Fedora hat. We didn’t want to stand out like tourists in Montenegro, but also had to dress according to the weather.
- Try to avoid wearing T-Shirts or baseball caps with inappropriate expressions with swear words, sexual innuendos, military or sport paraphernalia with symbols.
- Don’t worry about showing off your uber-buff muscles with those tight shirts.
- Leave your Cargo pants behind. Nothing screams American more!
- Save your shorts for beachy areas! Even places like Indonesia, men do not wear shorts even on the hottest days!
- Ditch the shorts when visiting deeply religious countries, as they are seen as a trademark American tourist. Once, when we were in Plovdiv, Bulgaria my husband wasn’t allowed inside of a mosque for wearing shorts, so he had to stay outside while I went inside.
What should you bring?
Leave behind overly skimpy clothing that reveal too much, or save that for beachy holidays. This is especially important when visiting deeply religious countries, therefore it’s important to always remember to be religiously respectful. Women should wear clean-cut, conservative clothes, as you certainly don’t want to offend anyone and wearing work out clothes out and about in town is one of the biggest faux pas in Europe. You really wear your work out clothes or pajamas at the allotted time.
What should you bring?
Here, I tried my best to be religiously respectful while in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a long dress and a cropped jeans button-up shirt to cover my shoulders. I had done research before arrival, and before I left the hotel made sure to ask the front desk if I was dressed acceptably.
- Always carry a jacket or shawl with you at all times, if you will be visiting places like Italy which still require a woman to cover her shoulders before entering a Catholic church. Everyone is a tourist in Italy, but you don’t want to look like one!
- Being a tourist in Turkey or countries with Mosques requires long skirts or pants, including high waters.
- If you are not appropriately dressed, churches will deny you entry, especially Mosques, although they do sometimes offer an appropriate wrap, like the time I was a tourist in Bulgaria.
- Being a tourist in Germany or England doesn’t require much change to what you should wear, as generally anything goes.
- If you wear leggings, wear them under a dress or long shirt, alone, they are not considered pants, often too see through and generally, look unappealing.
Even your shoes!? Yes, even those!
- In many parts of the world, sneakers or Tennis shoes are still very much considered sport attire only. Yes, they are comfortable but they are a flashing tourist signal. Save those for when you feel like a jog in the morning before sightseeing!
What should you bring?
- Trade in your sneakers for some comfortable leather walking shoes. This will gain you a few head nods from spiffy Italians and Spaniards.
- Find shoes which have good traction and will not cause you to slip’n’slide for whatever reason.
Men in Europe typically don’t wear tennis shoes. It’s so unfashionable and young guys like to wear nicer looks shoes with their khaki pants, which I actually find much more appealing anyways. But when it comes to sightseeing, you’ll want something comfortable, though my husband has been known to wear all varieties when sightseeing, unless we’re hiking then he has to pull out his hiking boots.
Shoes are tricking while sightseeing as you will be doing a lot of walking, but you also want to be comfortable, yet I know you ladies will be like me and want to still match and look fashionable.
Winter: During colder months, women in Europe typically wear knee high boots or ankle books, something with good grip so that you don’t slip on the wet, snowy cobbled-stones.
All Season: If I plan to do a lot of sightseeing, I typically wear my comfy sneakers, but on days when it’s too hot and I have to wear a skirt or dress, I typically wear comfortable ballerina slip-ons or sandals that won’t slip off easily, however, the downfall with sandals like these is that they often get stubbed into the cobbled-stones and get torn up easily. If I plan to do minimal walking, but need to be slightly more dressed up for whatever reason, I wear a pair of pumps with a good, sturdy heel so as not to get stuck between cobbled-stones. I don’t know how women wear stiletos while walking around Europe. They’re crazy.
3. JEWELRY & OTHER EXPENSIVE ITEMS
- #1 rule for how not to be a tourist: Don’t bring any flashy, shiny, expensive looking jewelry. You do not want to draw attention to yourself that you’re wearing expensive jewelry which could feed a family for a month. You do not want to be harassed or robbed while abroad. Who are you trying to impress abroad anyways?
Your wedding rings, family heirlooms or gifts are irreplaceable, so keep that in mind before you pack them!
- iPads, computers, or other gadets should be safely locked away in your hotel room safe or left at home. There is no reason to carry them around town when sightseeing. If you feel you will need something from the internet, print it out prior to going into town.
4. BAGS, PURSES & BACKPACKS
- If you’re considering backpacking around Europe, then invest in a good backpack. But don’t get too fancy of a package. I’ve heard the best thing to do is make a new backpack look old by adding some duct tap to the bag or slapping some dirt on the bag.
- When on public transportation, lean your backpack up against a wall where no one is standing behind you, or pull your backpack to the front of your body to keep a better eye on it when on a crowded bus or train.
- If you’re going on an over-night train, wear your back pack on the front of you with your arms crossed over it, or use it as a pillow. You never know who might try to rob you while you’re sleeping.
- Keep your cell phone and wallet in a secure location. Not in your back pocket of your pants or the front pocket of your backpack.
- Leave behind your fancy hand-held purses. This is an easy target for someone to run by and snatch your purse!
- Find a purse with as little zippers as possible. Avoid snap button purses!
- Find a purse with a strap which can go over your entire torso and lay at your hip. (This is trendy in Europe and will help you to blend in!)
- Find the best travel backpack which reduces the chance of someone pickpocketing you, which can hold a ton of clothes and necessities perfect for long term travel.
We all want to carry our cameras with us at all times while traveling to snap those memorable moments to show off once we’re home again. But NOTHING scream TOURIST more than a camera.
- Don’t wear your camera around your neck or wrist all day. Take it out only when necessary.
- Don’t buy one of those standard Canon camera bags. Instead, buy something a little more inconspicuous such as a camera satchel with no logos which looks like an every day satchel OR buy a special camera backpack if you have a lot of camera equipment.
6. WALK WITH A PURPOSE
- Before you leave your hotel room, study your map and speak with the concierge or the hotel check-in clerk to figure out the easiest route to your destination. You do not want to be stopping every 10 minutes, pulling out the map, standing at a street corner, looking dazed and confused.
- Should you find that you are lost, sit down at a cafe, order a drink and study your map some more or pop into a store and ask for directions.
- Do not walk around town with your cell phone in hand and using Siri as your tour guide. Keep your head up and stay aware of your surroundings.
7. TRY TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE
- People of other cultures brighten up when they hear a foreigner attempting to speak their language. They don’t expect you to speak their language fluently, but it will certainly earn you some bonus points! (100 Key Phrases to Learn Before Coming to Germany!)
- If you know some key phrases, you are less likely to be taken advantage of than some obnoxious American yelling loudly in English over and over as if the person would understand the louder they get.
- Be careful of your hand gestures. The peace sign with two fingers can have a completely different meaning in England if you don’t watch yourself! For all you know, you could be telling someone to F*** off, when really you want to promote, Peace, Love and Happiness!
8. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU TALK ABOUT
Before you visit a new country, you should always do your due diligence and learn as much as you can about your new destination before you jet off. Learn what you can about the country’s customs, beliefs, superstitions and general behavior.
- When in Germany don’t make Hitler jokes or talk about WWII too loudly. It’s still very much a hush hush subject.
- When in France, don’t make jokes about Germany invading France.
- When in England, don’t use the words ‘bloody’, ‘bloke’ or other British lingo without knowing their meanings first.
- When in Australia, don’t say ‘mate’ unless you have learned how to properly use it.
- When in Ireland, do not ask for an “Irish Car Bomb” in a bar. It might be taken offensively! Ask for a Half and Half!
Last but not least….
9. STAY OPEN MINDED
- Keep in mind that other countries do not cater to every beck and call to customers like they do in America.
- Don’t loose your cool and throw a temper tantrum when you see the waiter chatting with coworkers or lounging at a table in the shade. Be patient, and they will come to you.
- Don’t be surprised when you run into towns practically asleep on a Saturday and Sunday.
- If you do have a bad experience in a restaurant, there’s not much of a need to complain to a manager. They’ll likely say sorry and offer you a free espresso, but not much more than that.
- Don’t just blend in, but hang with the locals and ask them for their advice and tips about places to check out.
Other Tips for Traveling in Europe:
HOW You Can Save Money as a Traveling Couple
Your ESSENTIAL Guide to Europe
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Replies to The BEST Tips to AVOID Looking Like a Tourist
Really good and interesting tips and I think I do most of these. Most places are very sleepy in the U.K. on a Sunday after 5pm. Restaurants are fine though and we run to the petrol station if we run out of bread or milk 🙂
These are such great tips! I started packing for our trip to Europe yesterday, and I’m definitely going to keep in mind the no bare shoulders while I’m over there. I have a feeling that we’ll be visiting a lot of churches while we’re there!
In Germany it’s definitely not a problem at least that I have ever seen but definitely in Italy!
I love this. I think it’s always good to keep an open mind. One of the great things about traveling is immersing yourself in different cultures. That’s hard to do if you’re stuck in your own customs and way of doing things.
Very useful tips ! I always struggle with the clothing… because the most comfy clothes when you travel are .. the ones that make you look like a tourist 🙂
I also struggle with this because I like pretty dresses which are comfy so I always get stared at but for me it’s what I like. I don’t wear jeans
Jeans are the worse in hot climate. I get shafting so easily with regular clothes as well. I now kaki pants scream tourist, but they are so perfect to me 😀
Khaki is also very nice! I die in Jeans even in the coldest months! I feel so restricted!
Great post, I definitely agree with these items! It’s so important to embrace the culture while traveling 🙂
These are such great tips!! I’m like you, now that I’ve been away so long I can spot an American anywhere. Even if they’re dressed to “blend in” I still know. It’s like they just have smell American or something haha But yes I think it’s so important for people to blend in when traveling! Especially if you’re alone or in an area known for being religious. I’ll be doing my first full solo trip to Colombia in a few weeks and I was thinking about how to dress because it’s soooooo hot there, but I also don’t want to draw too much attention to myself. Will deff be using some of these pointers 😀
Yes that’s always my hardest thing! If I know it’s going to be super hot, I want to wear a long flowy maxi dress but this isn’t always ideal for traveling but I don’t wear jeans or shorts so I don’t have many other options besides a skirt!
I think that American smell you’re talking about is Teen Spirit haha
Excellent advice, Lolo. You have some points here that not all people think about when they travel, like for instance what to talk or not talk about in different countries.
I think your suggestions of how to be respectful incredibly important. The ‘don’t wear swear word shirts’ and ‘don’t use expressions you don’t understand’ advice seems like it should be common sense but SO many people need to hear it! Thanks for sharing these great ideas.
I just generally don’t understand people who feel the need to wear such clothes nonetheless. I walked past a girl 2 days ago no more than 14-16 years old wearing a tank top that said F*** Off in big writing. I would never allow any child of mine to leave the house dressed like that or with that kind of behavior
Love this, some great advice! I’m guilty of carrying my camera around my wrist all day, haha. The clothes you chose for men look awesome! 😀
I’m too lazy to out away and take out my camera all the time but if I haven’t taken a picture in 15 min I usually put it away for a bit!
I really should have worked in the fashion industry but I took the wrong career path haha
This is the ultimate guide! This line made me laugh: “fashion is mute when it comes to traveling”. It’s absolutely true, what works for me in London does not work in Europe!
Too funny..I like the language tips!
I’m on team no fanny packs! #Citytripping
Wow, these are seriously great trips!! I do think I sometimes prioritize fashion but I always try to blend in and wear things that make sense in the context of the place I’m visiting.
Been meaning to invest in a good camera bag like that. I did wear it crossbody during my whole Mediterranean cruise trip and I hated doing that, for the reasons you pointed out. But because I take so many pictures I had having to put it away and bring it out so many times.
Love the background image you used for this post, by the way! Immediately recognized it as the beautiful main street in Dubrovnik. Seriously loved that place so much!
We bought the camera bag I mentioned in the post and love it!! It holds so much and looks like a normal satchel bag! No one would ever know a camera is inside!
These are all great and such useful tips. I admit I’ve been guilty of a a couple of them. It really is so important to be open-minded. Love the fashion tips and what not to talk about. My husband has a very similar camera bag. He loves it.