Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist


We’ve all seen them… maybe we’ve even BEEN them. People walking around New York, Rome, Barcelona, Paris, London, or (insert city), and everything about them screams, “I’M A TOURIST!”

My name is Chris… and I was a tourist.

I went to Spain and Portugal on an awesome 10-day trip wearing sneaker-sandals because I wanted to be comfortable. With me on my trip were a few friends who were very much travelers. When I looked at the pictures after coming home, I was shocked by how much my friends blended with the locals—and how much I didn’t. In that moment, I vowed that I wouldn’t be a tourist anymore… and I’m here to give you some basics tips and gear recommendations to help you blend and be comfortable while you’re out and about on your next travel adventure. Now put away your over-sized cargo shorts, your graphic t-shirts with inappropriate slogans, and (most importantly) your sneaker-sandals and let’s see how travelers do travel right.

Getting there is half the fun, right? Well, sometimes—not always—especially if you’ve ever taken a transatlantic red-eye in coach. I don’t normally sleep on planes, and when I do it’s in fits and starts and never very deeply. But I’ve found the times that I have slept the longest is while wearing a pair of noise-canceling headphones. I prefer wired ones so I don’t have to worry too much about batteries, and with technology driving prices down you can pick up a pair for less than $30. You can always go top-shelf and grab a pair of Sennheiser or Beats for ultimate performance and coolness. Also, don’t let my personal preferences get in your way. We have a wide selection of wireless or in-ear options.

Audio-Technica Consumer ATH-ANC70 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling Closed-Back Headphones

With feet on the ground, the first thing I recommend is to get some RFID protection. RFID stands for “Radio-Frequency Identification” and is used in microchips on everyday items from debit and credit cards to your passport, and can carry a variety of information like your name, address, social security number, and account information. From small credit card sleeves, to bi-fold wallets and cross-body purses, these devices block “skimming” devices that thieves use to steal information wirelessly from a distance. You don’t want to pay for dinner in a foreign country and have your credit card declined unexpectedly.

Pacsafe RFIDtec V50 RFID-Blocking Compact Bi-Fold Wallet

On that trip I mentioned, we were on the metro from the airport to our hotel and my wife’s iPhone was picked right out of her bag. We were off the plane for maybe less than two hours. Since she was a bit of a workaholic at the time, having her off her phone for the trip was worth the $50 it took to replace it when we renewed our carrier contract (and I probably would’ve paid three times that J). The lesson we learned was to travel smart, because thieves are very smart. Close your purses and bags and keep them close at hand (just don’t wear your backpack on your chest, please; I’m begging you). For added security, you can get anti-theft backpacks that not only often incorporate an RFID-protection, but can have slash-resistant straps and fabric, zippers that resist tampering and can be locked. Plus, they look nice and come in a bunch of colors and sizes.

Pacsafe Metrosafe LS450 Anti-Theft Backpack

To help keep your money, travel documents, and credit cards safe, there’s also the option of under-clothing carrying systems. Pacsafe has this Waist Wallet, neck pouch, body pouch, belt pouch, or a travel belt. Loksak’s Arm PAK-R is a variation that straps to your arm or leg to keep things safe. This style of pouch will keep your valuables safe without having to resort to the infamous fanny-pack, and is valuable if your accommodations are a little sketchy (like at a hostel). Speaking of sketchy hostels, if this is the route you’re taking for your trip, this travel security system might come in handy. Originally intended for campsites, it can be easily adapted to urban environments to help keep you safe while you sleep.

Pacsafe Coversafe S80 Secret Body Pouch

Today, we can’t help but document our travels with pictures. While many of us are happy with using our cell phones, a good number of us want to bring DSLRs to capture those amazing shots. The problem is that natives to the city you’re traveling to don’t normally carry cameras, so those people wandering around with their camera slung across their shoulders are easily tagged as tourists. The answer is having a camera bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag. This one from Jo Totes looks like a purse, but holds a DSLR body and lens system, and medium-sized laptop or tablet. Ona makes a stylish backpack that can hold a camera body and up to 7 lenses. There are also messenger bag styles, like this one from Kelly Moore, that will handle a camera, 10" lens, flash, and a 13" laptop. If you prefer to use your smartphone as your camera, it makes sense to get a battery case so you can snap and share all day.

ONA Bowery Camera Bag

Speaking of cell phones, B&H offers an array of unlocked cell phones, and many work with international carriers. Remember that story about my wife’s iPhone? See where I’m going with this? Many larger international airports have vending machines where you can buy sim cards for local carriers. Drop one into the phone of your choice, and you’re good to go in that country without roaming fees. Call, text, take and share pictures… all without having to worry about someone stealing and hacking your phone with all your valuable info stored on it.

LG G5 RS988 32GB Smartphone

Bonus Pro Tip: Google Maps usually works even in Airplane Mode on most iPhones. If you’re at a location with a Wi-Fi signal, use Google Maps to find your next location and start navigating before turning on Airplane Mode (so you’re not using data, which is expensive on international plans). Through the magic that is today’s electronics, Google Maps will track your progress accurately without eating up valuable data—or you having to rely on paper maps and travel books, which makes you look like a tourist.

Being comfortable is important when you travel. Your hotel room is your oasis where you can relax and plan your itinerary. If you travel with kids, they can get a little cranky not having all their stuff—and if you travel internationally, their shows are unlikely to be on (or in English). If you travel with your laptop, and the hotel has Wi-Fi, instead of crowding around a tiny screen, Sony makes a portable projector that measures 3.25 x 5.25 x 5.25" and weighs about 2 pounds, as does an LG that measures 5.2 x 3.2 x 7.9" with a similar weight. Maybe not great to fly with, but not bad if you’re driving to your destination. Couple that with mobile Bluetooth speakers, and you’ll be golden. For even more awesomeness, grab a small streaming device like the Google Chromecast Ultra, Roku Streaming Stick, or Amazon Fire TV Stick. Many hotel TVs will accommodate these devices and give you the option of watching your favorite shows and movies without having to rent them… plus, the familiar menus will help your kids feel more at home and less whiney. I’ve spoken to a few hospitality professionals here in New York City, and their TVs are compatible with these streaming devices, but it’s probably a good idea to phone first and check.

Roku 3600R Streaming Stick

Whatever you do, don’t forget charging for your devices. Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit allows you to charge your Macs without going through a separate converter and, at just $29, seems to make a lot of sense for frequent fliers. I travel with this QVS World Power kit, and what I like about it is that there are two USB ports for portable devices, which allows me to save space with separate plugs. There’s also this one from Travel Smart, or this one, both with USB charging.

QVS Premium World Power Travel Adapter Kit

Bonus Pro Tip: My wife curls her hair just about every day, even when traveling. Most hotels offer hair driers, not so much with curling irons. We tried combo voltage models, but catastrophically fried both on the first day of two separate trips. After the second one, we simply bought a 220V curling iron that she now travels with internationally.

The most important thing to remember when touring as a traveler is to embrace the culture you’re visiting… even if it’s something as relatable as Ireland or the UK. Watch some travel shows to see how the people dress, pay attention (and respect) local customs, and learn their monetary system to avoid confusion.

Final Bonus Pro Tip: Whatever side of the road they drive on is the side of the sidewalk you walk on… don’t get angry because everyone in Ireland walks on the left while you’re walking on the right and are constantly walking into people—that’s on you. Don’t be that guy.


This article sounds really cliché.

While it is true that in Europe pickpocketing is a little more prevalent, still everyone there goes to work and have fun while having their wallet, phone, camera etc on themselve and get to go home with those.

ONA bags are extremely expensive and look like camera bags,

I went to Mexico 5 times, in the Yucatan area, sometimes off the beaten path. Locals usually wear long pants in town and city centers. I never had a problem. 

Regarding phones, if you have T Mobile on many plans there is free data and texting when out of teh country, and calls are 0.20 USD a minute, making the local SIM car superfluous.`

Most computer and phone chargers are 110 to 240 V compatible. so you do not really need an expensive Voltage converter but just a plug adapter, or better a power strip rated up to 240 V that takes US style plugs. 

I would not carry the passport with me all the time as it is too big. With $30 you can get a US passport card that you can use as a US ID, as in most countries you are required to carry an ID on you. In the US you are not required but not carrying it prevents you from going to a bar or it may get you a ride to the police precinct if you are in unlucky circumstances.

Stefano...Your suggestion about a gov't issued ID card is an excellent suggestion and one I'll probably start employing myself.

I didn't mean to imply that every traveler will meet nefarious people wherever they go. Far from it...The point I was making is that you have to be cognizant that there are people who prey on out-of-towners. The fact that you've never had a problem is besides the point. Except for my wife's phone getting stolen, we've never had any problems - and we've been to cities all over Europe.

Here's the difference between locals and tourists (and this comes not only as a frequent traveler, but as someone who works in NYC and lives NYC-adjacent): Tourists are easy prey because they are very often distracted. Many people get overwhelmed in an unfamiliar city and aren't paying attention in the same way that a local is. I'm far more likely to notice someone zeroing in on me because I see the Empire State Building every day, unlike the family next to me who are seeing it for the first time.

And yes...MOST computers and MOST phones accept variable voltages...but not ALL.

Not sure how all of this stuff helps you blend in.  It's neat stuff to use though.

Not a bad article, Christopher, though a bit salesy. I'd like to add on to this from my own globe trotting adventures.

Bose is the best choice for traveling. Their noise canceling is beyond compare with cans so comfortable even after wearing them for hours on end.

An alternative, if you'd like to travel light, is to check out SCOTTeVEST. They make a great selection of clothing with tons of pockets for storing things, plus it makes going through airport security super easy and circumvents their strict carry-on limitations. However, I found their lightest vest, the Lightweight Travel Vest, to still be too warm for tropical climates - I'm planning to experiment with the Tropiformer jacket, which converts into a vest.

That said, I also have a Pacsafe backpack and I love it. Even airport security has trouble with unlocking the zippers.

I never bothered with hiding my DSLR when I'm out and about. There are locals who carry around DSLRs - they're called photographers! Who would have thought, huh? :P

Instead, Pacsafe makes a slash-proof camera strap, which I've replaced on my main body. Not sure if B&H carries them, but they're worth it.

I definitely can vouch for using an unlocked smartphone - I still get lots of questions about my Nexus 6 while overseas in SE Asia, and it was cheap to buy pay-as-you-go SIM cards.

No need to go Chromecast Ultra either unless you really "need" 4K (nobody really needs it, honestly) - regular Chromecast is more than enough at half the price!

And before you go buying tons of 220V converters, check your electronics' power ratings - most modern electronics (like laptop AC adapters, tablet chargers, camera battery chargers, etc.) have 110-220V switching technology, which means they only need the plug adapter and not the converter.

Sorry to hear about your wife's c*rling iron (for some reason, c*rling is in the black list of this submit form so I had to censor it), Christopher, but that falls neatly into the appliance category. Due to their higher ampere draw, they usually don't switch voltage.

My pro tip: Never go to the bank to exchange currencies - their rates are much higher than market, so you're better off going to malls with currency exchange shops.

Great stuff, Hann.

My one caveat regarding the banks - some people who have 'preferred' accounts can get discounts on the exchange fees - especially if you order the foreign currency on-line.