Below, we outline a few of the things that can mean the difference between being a tourist and a traveler.
Know your surroundings. Once you arrive in a new country, the first thing you should do is scope out the area where you will be staying. Do you know how to get to transport quickly and easily? Where are the closest shops for food, water and supplies? Spend a little bit of time seeing what the traffic is like out on the street. Are there busy times and quiet times? And who is nearby that can help you if you need it.
Be aware of your immediate vicinity. Many tourists get into trouble because they are too busy being awed by the new environment. Remember to keep your eyes on where you are walking and mind people around you. Often, wide-eyed tourists are taken advantage of because they are not paying attention to what is going on around them.
Be careful what you are carrying with you. Remember that you don’t need to take everything with you when you go out. The last thing you want to be doing is pulling out guidebooks and brochures every two minutes. Before you go somewhere, make sure you know where you are going and what you will need when you get there. Tourists become a target for criminals when they show their inexperience, and when they are carrying too many possessions to keep track of.
Learn some basic language. Remember that in this place, you are the foreigner and the locals might not have good English skills. People are usually sympathetic, and will try and help you, but it is courteous to at least greet and thank people in their native language. The more you know, the better off you will be. Remember that other words such as “please”, “water”, and “sorry” are also invaluable. You will find yourself much more prepared if you can also master some basic numbers.
Avoid tourist traps. While this might sound obvious, be wary of businesses set up to directly cater to tourists, and not the local people. While some tourist organizations can help you get to and see some famous landmarks, others are trying to make a quick buck. Also, places where tourists congregate are often targeted by thieves. By going where the locals go, and doing the types of activities that they do in their leisure time, you are more likely to have a positive unique experience.
Don’t dress like a tourist. You just bought that cool Brasilian flag T-shirt and now you want to wear it. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your tourist purchases, but remember that tourists can be targeted and dressing in all of your new clothes and accessories can identify this way. Remember to dress comfortably and naturally; there will be time to show off your holiday wares when you return home.
Make friends with trustworthy locals. While you don’t want to walk the streets of a new place asking people to be your friend, there is a definite advantage to having some local knowledge. If you can strike up a friendly relationship with someone local who you trust, they can be your biggest defense against being taken advantage of. Pay attention to the places they suggest to eat, and the types of places they avoid. If they are open to some cultural exchange, they can also help with the basics of the language.
Most of all; Be Aware. This is really the underlying message whenever you travel. Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Read the mood of the situation, and pay attention to directions. If you look and act as if you know exactly what is going on around you, you will look like less of a target. Keep your belongings as close and secure as possible.