A traveler’s biggest fear: being pegged as a tourist. The tourist stereotype is not so flattering, particularly internationally, and a seasoned traveler typically tries to avoid falling into the category at any cost. However, some beginner traveler habits can come off touristy without even trying. In today’s post I’m going to break down how you can avoid some common mistakes and help you travel like a pro.
The lighter you travel the better
Before your trip even begins, consider the amount of luggage you’re planning on bringing with you. If you’re traveling for a week, or even a month, it’s likely that you could fit everything you’d need into one large suitcase and a carry-on, especially if you’re staying at an accommodation that has laundry service available.
The first time we took our kids to Europe, we overpacked since we were traveling for a month. I don’t think anyone in our family will forget the trek with all of our luggage from the Venice train to ferry and up four flights of stairs to our pension. A week in, you could see our unhappiness (picture included for proof). Since then, no matter how far and how long I’m traveling, I only bring a carry-on size suitcase and a purse or a backpack and make it work. I’ve never regretted it!
Traveling light allows you to ingrain yourself in the culture of whichever city you’re visiting. You’ll visit convenience stores, local markets, and you’ll have an easier time navigating public transport like trains and ferries, where you’ll really get to know a place and its people.
Know local customs and etiquette before you go
Tourists (especially American tourists) can forget that other countries and cities have very different social cues and unwritten rules than we do in our hometowns. Doing some research upfront to understand how to greet people, how to act in public spaces, and what may be potentially blasphemous can save you embarrassment once you arrive in your destination.
This travel prep also shows that you are invested in learning more about the local culture instead of just seeing the sights. Before our recent trip to Japan, we researched local customs and discovered that it is very rude to eat while walking. With all of the innovative street food available, we may have crossed this line without even realizing it if we hadn’t looked into local etiquette and taboos beforehand.
Don’t rely on rating website - ask for recommendations
Rating sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp are great for quick decisions if you’re not looking to get outside of your comfort zone, but the true experiences will come from the recommendations you receive from people who live in the city you’re visiting. When you’re at the grocery store, in a taxi, or sitting down for your first meal, ask the people around you for recommendations. If you don’t speak the local language, that question would be a great one to practice!
Look for opportunities to support local artisans and businesses
Finally, many cities are supported by tourism, and you can give back to the local economy without coming off as a tourist. Seek out ways that you can support local artisans and businesses by either heading to a local market, or using a service like Vacation with an Artist (VAWAA). I made it part of Grasshopper Goods’ purpose to support local makers here in the Midwest - when I travel I extend that purpose to the city that I’m visiting.
Travel is an integral part of my life experience, the impetus for so many of my choices and beliefs. I’m sure that I’ve come off as a tourist before, but, at the end of the day, I was still just as changed, just as positively affected by those experiences. So, here’s my biggest piece of advice for traveling like a pro: don’t sweat the small stuff. Treat every day like it is a gift, an opportunity to learn something new or to meet someone who might just change your life. Even the small embarrassments are a part of the story that you’ll tell your family someday.