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Meanderings of a Working Travel Agent

The Non-tourist Tourist

How many times have you been to a place that might be a little dodgy? Well, let’s face it – a lot of places could be like that with pickpockets and petty crime – so you probably have. One of the things people tell you is to not look like a tourist. Honestly? Is that ridiculous advice or what? It doesn’t really matter where you go, you are never really going to look like a local. Have you ever walked around downtown Calgary staring up at the buildings or maybe just looking a bit lost?

Lots of people use backpacks these days so that is not going to give you away – so what is it exactly that makes us look so touristy? Maybe it is the “comfortable walking shoes” or the hat? When was the last time you wore a hat to work? Especially going to Europe. Guys – ditch the baseball cap. It is a dead giveaway. Europeans don’t generally wear baseball caps. If you need a hat buy a fedora.

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mmm – that’s not bad!

Looking like a tourist can make you the target of scams or even higher prices when you go to a cafe or shop. Also you will be the target of those ladies holding bunches of flowers. You are walking along and someone thrusts a rose into your hand – or a bunch. Don’t even engage. Don’t hold the flowers – let them drop to the ground. This is just a ploy to distract you and if you don’t buy the flowers before you know it your wallet is gone.

And all those pictures you take with your cell phone??? OK, I am guilty as charged. I always take tons of photos and obviously look like a real tourist doing that. Actually, come to think of it – it’s quite hard NOT to look like a tourist in some places around the world.

Take Japan – try buying a rail ticket in the busy station in Tokyo. I just did not know where to start. Everyone was rushing to work so the person who helped me was another tourist. There you go – takes one to know one!

And really – anywhere you go that is more exotic – like the Mekong. The kids were amazing – they knew we were tourists and followed us around. One of the other passengers had a bag full of candy and kept giving them out. Eventually our tour guide had to talk to her and say that it wasn’t good to do that because the kids skip school in tourist season because of these hand outs. Makes you feel kind of bad being a tourist when that happens.

But better than being a tourist is to be a tourist attraction! When we did the Mekong we stopped at one remote village on the banks of the river. We had left our river cruise to travel in small boats – the banks of the river are so high you really can’t see where you are going. When we docked we climbed up this really steep bank and suddenly – Wow – we were in the middle of a village. All around us were crowds of people just staring. Yep – we were the tourist attraction that time. The local people were fascinated with us. I would have loved to know what they thought … but maybe I don’t want to know! The Vietnamese women are so small and dainty – they probably thought we looked like a crowd of elephants.

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5 Responses

  1. Be careful but don’t be paranoid. In Rome Termini going by train to Orvieto just over a week ago, I needed to buy our tickets. There was a huge line up to speak to an agent but lots of ticket machines. After waiting in line for 5 or 10 minutes and not moving, I left my wife in the line to try my luck with the machines. I got halfway through the process and could seem to pay and get the tickets. An Italian man with a family group at an adjacent machine gave me a couple of pointers and voila, it took my credit card, and gave me 4 tickets; 2 for the train and 2 the bus to go up to the centre of the train. Gracie senore.

  2. How about those (few) times when you are approached for information or directions from a tourist who mistakes you for a local? It’s a moment of surprise and confusion.

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The Travel Lady Blog

The Travel Lady

Lesley Keyter is the face of travel in the fast growing city of Calgary. Every week since 1997 she has has featured live on the Morning News Global TV.

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