So, do you know how to be a savvy traveler and not a tacky tourist?
I used to be what I (laughingly) refer to as a tacky tourist. I’m sure you know the type – the tacky tourist is a tornado rushing through their trip snapping pictures, buying super cheap (quality) souvenirs (not even made locally), then leaves. They make no effort to get to know the area they are traveling to, and can’t be bothered to speak to the locals because they are in such a hurry. Oh. And they love to over-pack. Does any of this sound familiar? 🙂
If you can identify yourself with a tacky tourist, it’s okay. I am here to help! As a former tacky tourist turned somewhat savvy, I though I’d share my 9 tips on how to be a savvy traveler and not a tacky tourist. LOL!
How to be a Savvy Traveler and Not a Tacky Tourist
1 | Pack light.
Tacky tourist mistake number one, over-packing.
Please pack light. I used to be the one with the giant suitcases, a bunch of shoes, and clothing for literally everything that came my way. I look back and think how ridiculous this really was. Large amounts of luggage is not only very difficult to handle, but it slows you and your companions down, you have to wait in baggage claim, and nothing marks you as a naive tourist more than a bunch of luggage.
Ditch that giant suitcase and free yourself of all that baggage! You got this!
In fact, as I mention in my other post 6 Travel Trips for Having a Stress-Free Vacation Abroad, my first trip to Europe was as a college student years ago. I remember being so proud of my packing. After all, I was ready for any circumstance and any occasion! Not so. I managed to overlook one important thing – how to handle all of that darn luggage! Everywhere I went, I literally held people up, and annoyed taxi and bus drivers. On many trains and metro lines there wasn’t hardly enough room for a carry on, let alone my entire closet. People were literally glaring. I never made that mistake again.
Unlike my former self, I can now pack the equivalent of 10 outfits in a small carry on. If I can do it, so can you. Trust me. Over the years I have created a travel capsule wardrobe so I don’t even have to think what to pack now. I do vary a few items depending upon the time of the year, location, and temperature of where we are headed. If you stick with basic colors that can mix and match easily you should be good to go!
2 | Dress like a local.
Tacky tourist mistake number two, wearing clothing that is completely inappropriate out of place for your destination.
Be low-profile and conservative in your choices. Do your homework about what people typically wear in the region you are going to.
Do not wear clothing that easily identifies you as a tourist – savvy or tacky. These things identify you as a tourist to criminals and pickpockets.
Be careful choosing skimpy and flamboyant outfits. Many places have dress codes, especially churches. For most areas in the world, I always dress in basic colors and lend towards gray, black, beige, and white. I can mix and match clothes easily and it helps me pack light.
I came across a great post written by Megan Lee from Packsmith. She gives great packing tips and advice on what to wear. Here’s the link: What to Wear in Europe Without Looking Like a Tourist.
3 | Learn some local phrases, don’t assume everyone should speak English.
Tacky tourist mistake number three, assuming everyone speaks English. Uh, no.
While traveling abroad, never assume that everyone speaks English. It’s much more polite to make an attempt to speak in a native language (and probably butcher it), than it is to just start talking English. At least ask if they speak English in their native language.
Learn some local phrases, and put them to use. Make it fun. Don’t be afraid to engage locals in conversation and ask questions. They will love and appreciate your effort. A lady in Hungary once hugged my husband because he was trying to say hello, good-bye, and thank you to her. Seriously! Apparently she said it is quite rare for tourists to try and speak their language. Hungarians are proud of their language and know that it isn’t the easiest to master, if you try you will be awesome! I can’t promise a hug from strangers, but you will be awesome nonetheless.
4 | Do your homework.
Tacky tourist mistake number four, not bothering to learn, or get to know, the area you are traveling to.
Please do your homework and learn about the area you are traveling to. Since it takes a lot of time, planning, and money, its definitely worth getting to know a little about the area you will be traveling to. Even if you are in a tour group, don’t just show up expecting everyone to chauffeur you around without making any attempt to learn about the country you are in.
It means so much more and helps you connect to your destination if you know about where you are. There are so many more options than just Tripadvisor and mainstream travel books. Try watching movies filmed in or about the area, maybe read a fictional or nonfiction book. Research on Pinterest and get various blogger’s takes on your destination. When you arrive at your destination, ask your hotel, a local, or even a cabbie for further advice. By the way, I swear that cabbies have been some of the BEST tour guides we have had! They know ALL the places to go.
5 | Enjoy off-the-beaten-path and try something unique.
Tacky tourist mistake number five, sticking to mainstream “must-see” sites only.
When we travel we like to mix things up. We typically choose a couple of sights from the “must-sees” but then balance them with interesting, off-the-beaten-path, activities to do. Try a bike tour, or a segway tour, a cooking class, or some other fun activity. We love market tours combined with cooking classes. It’s super unique and it’s a great way to meet people.
Museums, churches and synagogues are wonderful places to visit, however, if you visit multiple over a period of a week or two, they really will all start looking alike. Don’t get me wrong, ALL of these places are special and are full of important historical significance. The problem is that you may lose sight of their beauty and importance after visiting multiple on one vacation. Give them the attention that they deserve and try viewing churches of different architecture, or religion. Try different types of museums, like maybe a museum of modern art and then classical art.
If you’re short on time and don’t want to be in a crowded large group tour, then hire a private guide. Yes, sometimes they are expensive, but when compared to big group tours, they aren’t that much more (and sometimes they are less). We have found that we actually get in more sightseeing with a private tour guide because move along faster and are able to make more progress. Because the experience is more personal, it really is a great way to see the sights and learn about the history.
6 | Ditch the heavy guidebooks.
Switch to an electronic guidebook instead. If you are more comfortable with a book in hand, then by all means use it. We have learned not to haul guidebooks with us as they can be heavy and take up too much space in my bag. Use a Kindle (or other brand) app to take an electronic version of a guidebook with you.
The Kindle app can be loaded on any device so both my husband and I can have the same book or map open, or different guidebooks.
The best part is that you don’t look like a tourist because you blend in with all the other people staring at their phones! Perfect. 🙂
7 | Travel in the off-season
I completely understanding the need to travel during your children’s school holiday or your own work holidays, but if you can swing it, try and travel during the shoulder seasons or off-season.
You may have to make some concessions, like weather, or a few less things open. Overall you will have a much more enjoyable time – it’s less expensive, there are less crowds, and less traffic.
During tourist season, the tourists often outnumber the locals. By traveling in the off-season you can have the sights and locals to yourself.
Last December, the week before Christmas, we went to Ireland. It was AMAZING. The locals were in a festive spirit and there were literally no tourists. We went to site after site and we were often the only ones there. I highly recommend it.
8 | Enjoy your time, don’t schedule every minute of your day.
Don’t schedule every minute of your day. Make sure to allow for downtime and build in time so you don’t have to rush from site to site. Assume you are going to go back and don’t feel like you have to see EVERYTHING. It’s just not possible.
9 | Plan your trip carefully
Make the most of you time and plan your trip carefully.
As I mentioned above, build in some down time and flexibility. You don’t want to be a in a rush, and you never know what is going to pop up – good or bad. It’s possible to experience flight or train delays. If there are a lot of crowds you may have to wait in line for a lot longer than you anticipated. We have often changed our schedule because we come across something unexpected and fun and didn’t want to leave. If you have some flexibility in your schedule it makes it a lot easier
Make sure that your accommodations are easily accessible to transportation and the activities that you want to do. If you spend a bunch of time getting to and from one place, it will eat up your precious time and money.