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How To Be A Non-Tourist Traveler: Avoid Acting Touristy

Updated on October 8, 2018

I love to travel, but one thing I never want to be viewed as is being a bit too touristy. Being a non-tourist traveler requires living by the expression "while in Rome do as the Romans do". Not only is being way too touristy often expensive on the pocketbook, it can be slightly annoying to the locals who have to put up with this behavior. When I grew up in the mountains we literally had tourists coming up to our windows and pressing their noses against the glass, but maybe they thought this would give them a better view of the inside of a "mountain house". Gee, I wonder what was so different about the inside of "a mountain house" in comparison to a "city house"? Another time a large group of tourists walking by with cameras around their necks took pictures of my dog Lady and proclaimed that she was a "mountain dog". Once again, I wonder what was so unique about "mountain dog" in comparison to a "city dog," but maybe these tourists thought she was part of the native wildlife. Do not believe me? I would not put this thought past them.

The funniest example silly tourist behavior I have heard about was a story our substitute teacher used to entertain the class. One day his neighbor looked out the window to see a family picnicking on his front lawn up in Running Springs. The man went outside to confront them and ask them why they were doing this, and they told him that they presumed the lawn was part of the forest because it was in the mountains. Oh the joys of living in a mountain resort, but this man decided to teach these touristy tourists a lesson about the proper places to have picnics. As they drove away he wrote down their license plate number and then took it to the DMV to get a print out of their residential address. A month later he packed up his family with a picnic basket and had a picnic on their lawn in San Bernardino. When the touristy tourists came outside the Running Springs family simply replied that it looked like a park because it was in the city. This is quite an over the top scenario, but I am sure you get the idea of how acting too touristy can push people's buttons. One of my favorites is when tourists would stop by our house and ask for water because the town was five miles away. We were usually nice and would give it to them, but when did tourists start to think every house in the woods is a twenty-four hour 7/11? Thus, when I travel I never want to act too touristy, so I actually try to find out more about how the locals live and act. Here are some suggestions on how you can be a good non-tourist traveler.

Picture I took of Wikiki beach in April 2002.
Picture I took of Wikiki beach in April 2002. | Source
The view of Waikiki Beach from a boat cruise.
The view of Waikiki Beach from a boat cruise. | Source

Plan Your Own Trips

Avoid wasting money on packaged tours when possible. Doing research online and booking your own flights/hotels/transportation can actually be cheaper than a packaged tour. Paradise News is a humorous novel by the writer David Lodge, who chronicles just how ridiculous touristy tourists can act on packaged travel tours. I highly recommended this novel for anyone who wants to read a witty book about tourism in general, and Hawaii in particular.

Most of the mainline tourist sites provide reviews written by actual tourists, which can be much more honest than a travel agent trying to sell a packaged tour. Expedia, travelocity, and loneyplanet are some of the better known websites, but is now one of my favorites. The thing I love about virtual tourist is that people who have traveled to a destination many times, or those who actually live there write reviews about affordable accomdations, restaurants, and entertainment. Many of these sites actually allow you to connect with locals, which means you might make a few online friends before you actually go on vacation. It never hurts to know a few potential friends in your new travel destination, as long as you take safety precautions such as meeting in a public place for the first time, etc. Independent research can often give better deals than a touristy agency with a packaged deal. Besides, many times people can identify a group of tourists traveling together, and traveling independently helps the independent tourist blend in with the locals. The first day I was in Hawaii I walked around and several of the vendors thought I was a local and not a tourist because they started joking with me about the "touristy tourists".

Shwaab ghost town in Death Valley.  I took this picture in 1993.
Shwaab ghost town in Death Valley. I took this picture in 1993. | Source

Plan A House Exchange

Would you like to save money and not stay in a hotel during your vacation? If so, plan a home exchange using websites such as and The former is a good website for those with families and people who want to stay in the house, while the latter website will appeal to backpackers or those on a tighter budget. However, I have never used either of these websites and I cannot guarantee their success ratings, but you can read the user reviews to get a better idea about whether house exchanges are a viable option. The nice thing about these services is being able to speak to the person you are exchanging houses with before leaving town, which means having an inside scoop on the entertainment, dining, and other points of attraction. Also, houses exchanges save money that would be wasted on a hotel room, and you are not forced to be part of large organized group events that come with a packaged tour. I am sure organized tours can be fun, but I have never enjoyed these because I am an introvert and enjoy being able to explore a new place with my friends, family, or on my own. Autonomous travel allows the tourist to interact with the locals and learn more about the local culture.

Stay With Friends

Staying with friends is the optimal situation because you already know one of the locals. By staying with a friend you can hang out with them and do things the local residents do, and not be lured into the tourists traps that will charge you twice as much for nicknacks you can buy at your home mall. Once I feel silly for having fallen for the suggestion of buying a fake plumeria flower at the airport because it was twelve dollars, and the same thing you could buy at Jo-ann's Fabrics for about two. In the future when I go to cities I try to stay with friends, or I do my research ahead of time and try to avoid the tourists trap stores. Of course visiting these stores can be fun once in a while, but I would not spend my entire day doing this. I would rather get out, walk around, and see the daily activities of the locals.

Picture of me standing near the charcoal kilns in Death Valley.  This picture was taken in 1993.
Picture of me standing near the charcoal kilns in Death Valley. This picture was taken in 1993. | Source

Ride The Bus Around Town

Ditch the overpriced rental car and use public transportation/walking to get around the city you are visiting. In Honolulu this worked very well because they have a very good transit system, but this may not work in every city you visit. Plan ahead and visit the online webpages of the transit authorities in the city you will be visiting.

Read The Local City Website

Before heading off on vacation read the local city website. Not only will the local town website give the tourist more information about the history and culture of the vacation destination, but it is also a great resource for those who may be using their holiday as an opportunity for a job interview. For example, I have known several people who planned vacations to Hawaii to coincide with their job interviews, which is hitting two stuffed animal birds with one stone.

Take a hike out at the Pinnacles in the San Bernardino Mountains.  This trail is definitely off the beaten track.
Take a hike out at the Pinnacles in the San Bernardino Mountains. This trail is definitely off the beaten track. | Source

Go Camping In The Wilderness

The ultimate way to not travel like a tourist is to go camping in the wilderness where you will not be tempted to act like touristy tourists. Trips to isolated places like Death Valley work well, especially if you can camp near one of the ghost towns. There are many amazing ghost towns to visit in Death Valley, such as the Shwaab that was once a mining town founded by several enterprising women. It was interesting to sleep in our jeep and then explore the mines the next day. I must have been fearless when I was eight because I walked about half a mile into those mines with my dad and his friend, but I could never imagine doing this again. We went again when I was fourteen, and luckily many of the old structures were still intact. Today I would not be up for rugged camping myself, but I am glad I got to experience this when I was young, and it is the perfect trip for the ultimate non-tourist traveler. You can explore and look around without coming off as tourist, mostly because not many people in places such as Death Valley. Do not forget to visit the Death Valley National Park Museum as if gives information about the history and geology of the region. Camping in isolated and rugged regions is the ultimate non-tourist trip, but plan ahead as there are few and far stores/gas stations in isolated parts of the desert. Have fun, and remember to try to blend in with the locals when traveling.

Non-tourist travelers can witness spectacular scenes such as this vista on the desert side of the San Bernardino Mountains.  You just have to be willing to go places that the locals go.
Non-tourist travelers can witness spectacular scenes such as this vista on the desert side of the San Bernardino Mountains. You just have to be willing to go places that the locals go. | Source

Touristy Tourist Confessional

Have you ever been guitly of acting like a touristy tourist?

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Tourists Behaving Badly

Which of the following is the most annoying thing a tourist could do?

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