I already published this post on Her Campus, but I wanted to publish it here for myself, since I never read Her Campus even though it’s a wonderful site.
So here they are: my rules for not looking like a tourist abroad.
I have been abroad seven times in my life. Italy three times, England twice, France and Canada once each. I say this not to brag (okay, maybe a little bit to brag) but to warn you that I’ve only traveled in Western Europe and North America, so these rules, while mostly universal, will largely apply to Western countries.
1. Don’t step in any puddles. Never keep anything important in your back pockets. Keep some little coins or small bills on you to give to the homeless people you’ll see.
2. Like my dad always says, keep your head on a swivel. Like my mom always says, keep your wits about you. And like I always say, maintain at least 1-2 points of contact on every item you’re carrying.
3. HYDRATE. Keep a bottle of water full every day; fill it wherever you’re staying, ask to have it filled at every restaurant if it’s possible. Go to the bathroom every chance you get, even if you don’t have to go (this is especially important in Paris and London— for some reason, they don’t prioritize bathroom accessibility).
4. The further from the main roads you go, the better the food will be. Research the best restaurants and try to go if they’re not too pricey but personally I prefer the surprise of finding something unexpected.
5. Try not to pay attention to the calories in the food you’re eating, especially if you’re in a food capital like Rome or Paris. This is no time to diet. You need food to sleep well and walk and keep your wits about you. Yes, you do deserve dessert, every night.
6. Pick one thing to do during the day (i.e., a tour, a special restaurant, a good walk, etc.) and make a plan to get there and meet afterward if you’re with a group. If you’re alone, explore on the way! Sometimes a little spontaneity can be good. If you get lost, you can always ask someone for help, even if there’s a bit of a language barrier.
7. That being said: always. Carry. A map. Always. Circle wherever you’re staying on the map. Fold the map neatly and put it where you can easily reach it. I don’t care if someone you’re with has a map. You need. Your own. Map.
8. Get a bag with an over the shoulder strap, multiple pockets on the inside and outside, and a zipper over the main pocket. If it’s going to be cold, get a heavy coat with lots of pockets and a fur-lined hood.
9. If you don’t have a camera phone, obviously get a camera but make sure it has a strap and also carry batteries with you during the day. Do not attempt to change the batteries while you’re on a riverboat, particularly if that riverboat is traveling on the River Seine. I lost 700 pictures and my birthday present that day.
10. If you have a tour guide, talk to them. Ask them questions, get to know them. Tip them well if they’re good, and recommend them to the hotel concierge so they get more clients. Give them a fun nickname like Mike James the Man with Two Names, or Jason.
11. Keep your eyes up and open. Try not to look at the ground while you walk, except to avoid the puddles. This sounds self-evident, but it’s actually harder than it seems, especially if you’re an introvert, like me.
12. You don’t have to learn the language if it’s different but at least learn the following:
– excuse me
– Mr./Mrs./Respectful Title of Some Sort
– please/thank you/you’re welcome
– where is the bathroom
– help me/I’m lost
When in doubt, get a translating app. I recommend Duolingo to learn before you go, and WordReference to translate while you’re there.
13. If you’re traveling alone, make sure to tell someone where you’re going each day. Whether it’s a family member over the phone or the concierge at the front desk, tell them where you plan to go and when you plan to be back.
14. Charge up your phone every night and carry a portable charger with you. Get any necessary converters. I know they’re expensive, but trust me, it’s worth it.
15. Carry some snacks if you’ve got room and if you’re not going to a museum. (If you are going to a museum, make sure the snacks are well hidden in one of those purse-pockets.)
16. Travel light. A few little things to keep with you throughout the day:
– hand sanitizer
– portable toilet paper (seriously a life saver)
– deodorant/perfume to freshen up throughout the day
– small notebook and a pen
– lotion and chapstick, especially if it’s going to be cold. I don’t care if your masculinity is fragile, your skin is important.
(I realize the irony of having a list of so many things in this rule, but in my defense, this rule was my brother’s rule. I almost never pack light.)
17. Get a good pair of walking shoes (that aren’t too hideous) and make sure you break them in before you go. If you’re going to Italy or France, Italians and the French (Parisians especially) actually care about style so be careful to pick a pair of shoes that goes with most of your outfits.
18. Say thank you to the shop and restaurant owners as you enter and exit. This is especially important in Italy and France.
19. When you’re in a crowd, conquer your space. Say excuse me and sorry but don’t let people push you around, or you could fall and hurt somebody, including yourself or else get separated from your group.
20. Wear socks and slip-on shoes at the airport. Avoid laces at all costs. Empty your water bottles before you go in. Have your passport and boarding pass in your hands the whole time (yes, the whole time). And please, for the love of God, don’t forget to empty your pockets.
21. And finally, the best advice I’ve ever gotten for traveling and for life in general: Be polite, but firm.