5 Ways not to look like a newbie traveler

Perfume River, Vietnam

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a first-timer, a travel newbie; everyone has a first time and there is a sweetness in that first trip that you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to recapture. The lessons you learn and the experiences you have will shape your life and your adventures to come and those are things to celebrate and embrace.

There is no shame in being a newbie. There is, however, a little danger in it and perhaps good reason not to advertise the fact. The road will be a little smoother for you if it’s not obvious that this is your first rodeo and you’ll have less of a target painted on your back if you avoid some of the more obvious “I’m a brand new traveler” advertisements.

If you’ve been around a bit, you’ll recognize yourself or your friends in some of these, no doubt. Don’t get offended, we all want to save the next guy the hassle, right?

 1. Don’t Travel With A New Bag

My Dad’s sage wisdom for travel is this: Look like you have less than everyone else. This might be impossible a lot of places, but you can look like you have less by traveling with an old, used pack, or scuffing up the new one before you go. Buy a used pack and put the extra money towards your travels. As an added bonus, you’ll be less attached to it. If you already bought the new pack, sew some patches on it even if it doesn’t need it, rub it on the sidewalk and scuff the seams, take a pencil or a marker to it and mark it up a bit.

 2. Don’t Wear Your Money-Belt On The Outside

The point of a money-belt is to hide the fact that you’re carrying valuables. If it’s hung around your neck on the beach, you’re advertising. Instead, carry your money in pockets that zip closed or purchase one of those cool, traveler waist packs that you find abroad that are out of some native fabric and have zippered pouches with buttoned overlays. If you must carry wads of extra cash and valuables with you when you’re out and about, do so more discretely, by using one of the fake battery safes, with a screw off bottom, instead. You’re much less likely to have a “spare battery” stolen off of your person than you are a money-belt swinging in the wind.

3. Don’t Buy The “Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel” T-Shirt

Or if you do, at least don’t wear the damned thing in Hanoi. Nothing says, “This is my first rodeo,” quite like actually buying (and wearing) the t-shirt. Take it home, wear it in Kansas, it will look exotic there. Over here, it’s painting a target on your ass.

Of course you stick out when you visit a culture that is not your own; that’s the whole point. But you can fly below the radar of the pirates who prey on travelers by wearing clothes that don’t advertise that you’re a tourist and have been in town five seconds. If you’re lucky, you’ll be mistaken for a long term traveler, or an expat, or someone who is not traveling through with tons of money to spend on t-shirts!

4. Don’t Ask Stupid Questions

I’ve offended you already, haven’t I? Your Mama was right, there are no stupid questions. But there are questions that are unnecessary and will mark you as a first timer for sure. It’s impossible to list all of these, but this is what defines a stupid question in a given context: Its answer can be found without words if you will just pay attention.

Think about this for a second: What separates a tourist from a quasi-local? The need for directions and to have questions answered, right? If you know a place you don’t need to ask questions. Who do the pirates target? Mainly those who don’t know a place. There’s no shame in not knowing a place, I live my whole life in places I don’t know, but there’s no need to advertise the fact and put yourself at unnecessary risk.

What to do instead: Slow down, be cool, shut up and listen, use your eyes and do your homework. There will be signs. If there are no signs, there will be people to follow. If there are no people to follow then use your intuition and move in a likely direction. There are times to ask questions, even obvious ones, but don’t be the first guy rushing to ask, be the guy who tries to suss out the answer on his own first. Every teacher will tell you that finding the answer to a question through doing is a better way to learn than simply being given the answer.

5. Don’t Carry Your Guidebook

Guidebooks are great, for pre-game research and post-game toilet paper. They have no business in your hands on the street (and for god’s sake don’t take one from your local library with the bar code stickers on the outside). I know there are people arguing this point before they even get to the end of the paragraph. Are there exceptions? Yes, of course; there are always exceptions! By all means, carry that guidebook into the ancient ruins site so you can read the descriptions of each temple complex. The point I’m making is this: you don’t want to be the guy walking down the Champs Elyse with his nose buried in the guidebook. You can read about Paris from anywhere in the world, when you are actually in Paris stop reading, and be there.

What have I missed? What else can you do to avoid looking like it’s your first rodeo?

Posted by | Comments (9)  | July 30, 2013
Category: Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life


9 Responses to “5 Ways not to look like a newbie traveler”

  1. rubin pham Says:

    very practical advices, thanks.

  2. 5 Ways not to look like a newbie traveler | ASQRD Says:

    […] Original article can be found here: 5 Ways not to look like a newbie traveler […]

  3. Alissa Says:

    Ha, great stuff, I’ve been traveling for 6 months now and already hate those ‘t-shirt that says the name of the town you’re in’ people. Also, I say trash the guidebook entirely! (I just wrote about my opinion on them here – http://www.thisworldrocks.com/travel-planning/why-we-no-longer-buy-or-use-lonely-planet-books/)

  4. Debra Says:

    Isn’t it funny how you can pick the newbies out of a crowd in an instant. I’m just jealous that I haven’t even made it to newbie stage yet! But when I do, out goes the guidebook!

  5. Sage Says:

    Good advice. Also, don’t tote a backpack made for an Everest expedition. As a backpacker (of the walking kind), I had several backpacks to choose from when on a sabbatical doing a RTW trip. I chose a pack that I used for overnight ski touring–it was big enough but not too big!

  6. SeenItAll Says:

    Go with the flow & enjoy/make peace with the local differences because that’s a big part of why you are traveling in the first place — to experience different places, cultures, customs, and ways of life. Isn’t it? My first trip to New Zealand was in the mid-1980’s, and I vividly remember sitting in a hostel lounge listening to a (presumably wealthy) 20-ish girl from New York rant about all the conveniences/things that she was accustomed to back in New York but that were lacking in New Zealand–things like microwave ovens, clothes dryers, central heat/air, etc. –really just creature comforts. But to this woman, their absence was a glaring and unacceptable. For her sake, I hope she never goes to the more remote parts of Scotland. Anyway, the point is focus on what is present where you are and not what is absent, and you’ll enjoy your travels a lot more. Plus, one of the nice things about traveling outside the USA is that the entire layer of commerciality/materialism is stripped-off, life is more basic/elemental, and more enjoyable in my opinion. Safe and happy travels.

  7. SeenItAll Says:

    To tie my comment into the theme of Rolf’s post, putting on a happy face, going with the flow, and keeping your criticisms private will go be appreciated by the locals. Nobody wants to hear a visitor say their city or country sucks–it’s just bad form and the mark of somebody who’s not been there, done that.

  8. Christoffer Moen Says:

    Great tips! And I agree — chuck the the guidebook! Let your senses guide you where you intend to go but still do a little bit of homework and a flexible plan for where to go.

  9. Jennifer Miller Says:

    Sage… just spit my tea at the screen!!! “Don’t pack for an Everest expedition!!!” Indeed. Awesome.
    Seen It All… “Focus on what is present… ” yes.