When was the last time you spotted a tourist wandering around your hometown?
Whenever it was, I’m willing to bet you pegged them as an outsider within a second or two of clasping eyes on them.
Perhaps it was the eminently sensible walking shoes? The all-weather cagoule on a sunny day? The cargo pants, pockets bulging with maps?
Clothes maketh the man, goes the proverb, but when in a foreign country it’s often preferable to blend in.
The problem is that, while we can spot a tourist from a thousand yards when we’re at home, we’re often utterly oblivious to the similarly strong signals we give off when travelling.
Not being aware of subtle sartorial differences between ourselves and our local hosts is not just a matter of fashion, however. Unfortunately, looking like a tourist can instantly mark you out as a target.
This may be for an automatic price hike as you stroll through a market or it may be something much more sinister: either way, seemingly cash-rich foreigners with poor language skills, little or no local support networks and a willingness to engage with strangers make rich pickings for criminals and con artists the world over.
So, what are the biggest mistakes committed by tourists and visitors when they’re out on the streets in a foreign land?
Flip-flops or sandals are great for beaches and beach towns, but if you’re more than a few miles inland, you need to look a little closer at the footwear of your local hosts. In many places across South America, for example, wearing open-toed shoes is a sure sign that someone has stepped straight off a bus from the coast and hasn’t acclimatised to city life yet. Ditch the sandals for a pair of trainers and automatically earn yourself some locally-aware brownie points.
All-weather survival wear (in a major city)
Walking boots, waterproof trousers and jacket, sports cap to keep the sun off your face, Oakley sunglasses to protect your eyes – all very practical, undoubtedly. But you may have noticed that locals seem to be traversing the hostile climes of central London without the need for similar survival wear. If they can do it, perhaps you can give it a try? Ditch the all-weather wear for a simple jeans and jacket combo and instantly blend in when you’re in the big city.
Wearing a rucksack on your front
Yes, pickpocketing is rife in cities worldwide. And, yes, guidebooks often advise you to wear your rucksack the other way round to prevent someone gaining access to it. But there are much less conspicuous ways of protecting your belongings when in transit. Firstly, use a small padlock on the zipper pulls to deter the vast majority of would-be thieves. Secondly, consider whether it is even necessary to be carrying around so many items while you’re exploring. Limit yourself to what’s in your wallet or what will fit inside a larger jacket pocket to pass for a streetwise commuter.
National flag patches
Speaking of rucksacks, the trend of sewing a patch of your country’s flag onto your rucksack (Canadians, I’m speaking to you) is great for identifying fellow countrymen while abroad. But is also a handy heads-up for any local scammers who want some prior info on where their target comes from. Think about what you’re giving them: your nationality, the language you speak, the fact that you’re from a rich Western country, the currency you’re familiar with. Make life harder for them and leave the national-signifiers at the hotel.