When traveling, we’re essentially walking targets. We tote around our cameras, our 15 gallon packs are loaded with endless amounts of gear, our physical features are different, and we may even strut around downtown in our workout clothes on a Friday night (guilty), making us relentlessly stick out like a sore thumb. Needless to say, as ramblin’ gypsies, the “tourist treatment” is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another.
So naturally, when I asked my friends why they didn’t take longer trips or go to more places that weren’t major destinations like Paris and London, many replied with something along the lines of, “Ugh, I hate the feeling/treatment I get when I look like a tourist.”
Being a four-year resident of China with travel experience all over Asia, I can relate to the feeling all too well. I’m approached by tuktuk drivers with inflated transport prices, people try to lure me into restaurants with the English menu, hell, I just ended up on the top of a mountain in the pouring rain due to a driver breaking his promise to take me to my hostel.
Realistically speaking, we’ll never truly coalesce with our foreign counterparts, but if you take some cautionary measures you could quickly find yourself at home in a new place by taking just a few steps to comfortably blend in.
1. Leave The Pack Back
I don’t normally travel with just a backpack, but it’s the most practical luggage for me in my current Southern China tour, as I haven’t been in one place for more than a few days. Mobility is key and I need to make the most of it, but carrying my entire life around with me all day isn’t going to make it any easier.
Chances are, if you take your pack with you, you’re not just bringing your clothes but everything you own. You’ve got your passport, money, debit cards, electronics and possibly your next transport tickets on you. Sure, it’s liberating to know you can survive with what’s occupying the space of a small child on your back, but it’s just not worth the risk!
Most hostels have a storage closet for those using a dorm, but you could do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a private room. Staying at a hostel that has a lockbox in the room will certainly put you at ease and it could save you tons in the long run. Just imagine getting your sack snatched while you set it down for a quick photo op: Trip. Ruined.
Not only is it safer to just drop your things off in your room, it’s more comfortable! The most frequent season we travel in is during the summer, and who wants an extra sweaty 10kg on their back when they’re trying to enjoy a new place? Not this girl. Nope.
2. Embrace Electronics
It’s 2015 and it’s glorious. Apps, GPS, translators; you name it. We’re in an age where information is limitless and we don’t have to carry a Lonely Planet or map in hand to find our way around, making it obvious that we’re lost, which isn’t the worst thing that can happen when you’re traveling. It can even create some really ridiculously funny memories.
Everywhere you go you’ll see people looking at their phones, whether or not they are locals. It’s the perfect opportunity to blend in and figure out where you’re off to next. This doesn’t mean spending your entire trip on Instagram, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t ask a local for help; but there’s nothing wrong utilizing modern tools that can make your trip run a little more smoothly. Get a cheap SIM card with data allowance. That’s what these devices were made for, right?
3. The Locals Look Hot – You Can Too
Traveling through Asia these days doesn’t have to involve water/stain-proof khakis, a bulky pair of shoes, sunscreen on your nose and maybe a fleece zip-up (edit: I literally ended up having to buy a neon blue fleece zip-up after writing this, due to being ill-prepared for my time in very cold and rainy Yunnan province…not so hot).
Get a manicure, let your hair down, and respectfully walk around town like you’ve been there your whole life. Confidence is key when traveling (and in life, generally) and if you look good, you’ll feel good, making you’re travels, well…good!
4. Eat Where the Locals Eat
More than seeing the wonders of the world, more than meeting other travelers, eating is my favorite part of exploring.
Most major destinations often have a walking street with vendor after vendor selling memorabilia, food, drinks, etc. I always check these streets out because they are great for taking photos and getting a sense of what the locals do eat. Food in these areas is alright, but, not everything necessarily has a lot of heart in it.
A few ways to find out where the best eateries are:
1.) Ask a local (surprise, right?)
2.) Pop your head in to some random hole-in-the-wall that looks decently busy and eagle-eye what everyone has got on their plates. Pull a When Harry Met Sally and say you’ll have what they’re having.
3.) Look up the hashtag of the city you’re planning to go to. Chances are someone snapped some food porn. Leave a comment asking what it is and where they ate it. More often than not, they can tell you the name of the dish in the native language and the best area to find it in.
Bam. You’re now on your way to food heaven.
5. Rent a Bike
Walking through new place is fun. A tuktuk can be okay. But riding a bicycle or motorbike through an unfamiliar land is a fool-proof way of getting around with zero shenanigans. No detours, no over charging, and no one having enough time to try and sell you something. Just you, the road and 100% control. You can stop and go as you please, you get to spend your time outside, and strapping a GoPro to your handlebars is an incredible way to create memories. It’s cheap, eco-friendly, and always available around the world.
If traveling is something that you’ve recently picked up, receiving the tourist treatment is certainly not the worst thing in the world. It’s even flattering when people do their best to sell you a cute souvenir or offer you tour around the city. But as time goes on, you’ll want to find a way to politely avoid it and do what you set out to do – travel!
How do you avoid tourist treatment – share your tips and recommendations in the comments!
This is a guest post by Monica Weintraub. Some people travel to see the world, Monica travels to eat, with breath-taking perks coming naturally along the way. Currently situated in Beijing, China, Monica has become a published writer, a co-owner & lead blogger to New Life ESL, and a mother to a mutt named Carl. When she’s not gazing at maps, handling biz, or snapping photos, she can be found researching (aka eating and cooking) for her personal blog Wok Like Me. Connect with her on Instagram.