Notice the obvious tip-offs that the left half of the group shown above are tourists —cameras, camera bags, fanny packs, large purse (but the small pink cross-body one is perfect), local t-shirt and flowery shirt; the two people on the right blend in with neutral colors and few extras (see tips 4 and 8). We’ve listed the tips below to help you look like the pro traveler you are and blend right in with the locals in port. Watch out, your fellow travelers may start asking you for directions and advice in port soon!
1. Speak like a local. No need to be fluent, but it’s helpful to have a basic knowledge or understanding of the local language. It can help you avoid getting on the wrong bus, negotiate a better deal on that souvenir and endear the locals to you for trying to speak their language.
2. Read the Newspaper. Most towns have their newspapers online and those newspapers list local events and activities. Go for the people-to-people experience by doing just a little bit of research. Attend a local festival or event in the port you’re visiting on your cruise. You’ll get a chance to see the local side of the port and interact with the people who actually live there.
3. Know the local customs. Do some research ahead of time to be familiar with the customs in your port. For example, in most European ports, tipping 15-20% can be considered rude. Also, meals there tend to last about two hours, so you’ll need to budget for that time while planning your day in port. In some Mexican ports, places can close down for a few hours in the afternoon (not as common in the tourist areas), so you’ll want to plan around that as well.
4. Keep the camera and selfie stick at bay. Taking pictures is a great way to remember your vacation memories, just don’t keep your camera attached to your hand at all times while in port. Americans are not the only travelers in love with selfies, but most locals don’t keep their selfie sticks in their purses, to whip out on their daily commute or weekly shopping outing. If you’re waving your camera around on a stick, like a conductor leading an orchestra, everyone will know you’re not from these here parts. Tourists are often given away by snapping pictures of everything. Take a few shots of what you like and want to remember and the put the camera away and enjoy the moment.
5. Walk (safely) off the beaten path. Keeping safety in mind, explore your port by taking the side streets and back way. Obviously, this isn’t great advice in every port, but in the ones you can, take advantage of this. We found the best late night meal by walking around behind St. Mark’s square in Venice once. We also found some great local art spots and stores walking around in San Juan.
6. Rent a bike. In many ports, locals don’t have cars; they operate using only two wheels. If you want to see the town like a local – and get some great exercise to burn off some of those extra calories – rent a bike. Biking is relaxing and peaceful and a great way to see things cars don’t have access to. Several beaches and destinations aren’t accessible by car, so with a bike you’ll really get to see a whole new side of the island.
7. Pay attention. Don’t just walk around the port looking up and around at everything. You’ll want to take the sights in, but if you’re just standing there with your mouth gaping open, you’ll stick out like the tourist you are. Take the experience in, but pay attention to your surroundings; don’t get distracted by all the ‘shiny’ things you see. In addition to looking like a tourist, you’ll become an easier target for pick pockets and con artists.
8. Dress like a local. No matter how proud you are to be an American, dressing like it will scream ‘tourist.’ Your American flag T-shirt and stars-and-stripes beach bag will mark you as a tourist even before anyone hears your accent. Ditto your favorite football jersey. We’re glad you feel national pride, but please keep the flag- and team-wear at home — or for on board use only. Lots of jewelry, loud Hawaiian shirts and even bright white sneakers will always give you away. Crocs and flip-flops in Europe and other non-beachside destinations will peg you as a visitor because locals just don’t wear those types of shoes and sandals. Opt instead for sturdy, closed-toe walking shoes for touring. The exception is laidback and beachy locales — think the Caribbean and Australia — where flip-flops and sandals are the norm. Baseball is America’s favorite pastime, and baseball hats might be the national head covering of choice. Other countries do not feel the same. Choose sunglasses to keep the sun out of your eyes, and a local-style hat (like a Panama hat when traveling in Central America) to avoid burning your bald spot. Dress low profile with minimum jewelry and leave the fanny pack at home.
9. Leave it behind. Unless you need it with you in port – and odds are, you don’t need as much as you think – leave it behind in your stateroom. We’ve talked about jewelry – add credit cards, large amounts of cash and other valuables to this list. It might be cool in the casino to wear your keycard on a lanyard around your neck, but when you leave the ship, put your keycard in your wallet or throw the lanyard in your bag. You wouldn’t walk around at home with your Visa on a necklace. Think about when you head out to shop at home – you don’t bring all your valuables with you. Think the same way in port too.
Put your gear away.
Juggling your camera, tourist information map, cell phone and brochures as you leave the cruise terminal will not only make you stand out as a tourist, it makes you likely to lose something or walk into a pole that you can’t see for all the stuff in your hands. Keep your gear in a discreet neutral-colored bag and pull it out on the sly — not in the middle of a busy intersection.
Don’t wear hiking clothes unless you’re hiking.
We don’t quite understand it, but some travelers love wearing hiking clothing abroad — whether they are hiking up a mountain, through a museum or across a bustling city. Leave the zip-off pants and bug-repellent, SPF shirts at home when you’re on that European river cruise.
Skip the obvious name brands.
Whether it’s the shirt emblazoned with Old Navy or the bejeweled T-shirt touting the name of your cruise ship, loudly branded clothing does not help you blend into a crowd. Opt for solid colors or tasteful patterns — and remember that Hawaiian shirts are only OK in Hawaii or beach destinations where colorful attire is the norm.
Choose the right bag.
If you’re onshore for the day, you’ll need a bag to carry your water, beach towel, camera, umbrella and other necessities. If you want to tour incognito, leave behind backpacks or brightly colored-yet-utilitarian travel bags for subtle totes and satchels that you’d carry to work or in your hometown. And for the love of god, ditch the fanny pack! They are an embarrassment no matter where in the world you are.
We get it. You’re in a foreigahan city and you have no idea where you’re going. Still, you don’t need to be obvious about getting directions. Look at a map before you leave the ship, and have an idea of where you want to go first. If you need to consult a map, duck into a shop or find a quiet corner — don’t unfold some huge thing as you march down the main drag. If you’re a high-tech traveler, don’t have Siri shouting directions to you; check your phone on the sly, or opt for a silent mode with the phone buzzing when you need to turn.
We at Getaway Dreams Come True Travel will assist you with similar tips when you travel on your lifetime memories vacation. Call us at 724.752.2655 to schedule your Vacation Planning Session. You may also wish to view our related posts below:
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Considering What Clothes/Accessories to Pack for a Cruise