The Common Sense Guide to Being an Uncommon Tourist

 HOW TO BE AN UN-TOURIST

While there is no wrong or right way to spend your holiday, vacation or trip, following a few simple rules, and knowing when to break them, are the easiest way to make your trip into an unforgettable experience. This page will be updated from time to time. I will be adding stories, examples and perddy pictures, so be sure to bookmark and check back now and then.

DO THE LOCAL-MOTION

As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Blending in is the easiest way to see your destination in the best and deepest way possible.

Dress like a Local – Wearing the “tourists uniform” is the surest way to make sure you pay more for tickets, taxis, and get bad directions. Shorts, t-shirts, sandals or sneakers, baseball caps or visors, any article of clothing emblazoned with logos, sweat pants, and track suits are best left at home. In fact, track suits are worn by the more disreputable characters in some countries, like the UK, best not to look that part. Oh, and most importantly never wear a fanny pack! Dressing this way makes you a big shiny target for pickpockets and scammers who know that you are most likely carrying spending cash and valuables, like cameras.

Duane Hanson - Tourists - 1970

The American Tourist Uniform is so “iconic” that it inspired a series of sculptures by Duane Hanson. The really sad part is that the one above was done in 1970!

Go here, to see the clothes you should leave at home, and what you should pack instead. And check out street fashion sites that target your destination, like hntbat.com (How Not to Be Tourist), which also has more tourist do’s and don’ts.

Eat like a Local – Don’t eat at restaurants, cafés or street carts located in tourist areas. These places are notoriously overpriced and there is usually nothing special about their specials. If the menu has a Tourist Special listed, it’s probably best to move on. In fact, unless you are visiting a landmark or attraction, tourist areas are best to be avoided all together. If you must go, be sure to go on a full stomach and well prepared. Paying 5 Euro for a small bottle of water is so not un-tourist.

To make eating a real experience and save money in the process, check out the market or specialty food shops. Try a few samples, but only if you are actually going to buy something. Some will have an area when you can sit and eat, but if not, find a bench, or patch of green, have a picnic and people watch.

Here’s a story from jlanza29 on Virtual Tourist that is a perfect example for this section:

French Breakfast

Would you pay $26 for a few croissants, and a glass of OJ? Here is the notorious “French Breakfast.” No wonder the French are always on strike.

“…I was wondering what was so special about the “French Breakfast” that I saw advertised everywhere we went sooooo…..as a typical tourist … I sat down at an eatery and ordered a “French Breakfast”….and boy will that be the last time I ask for the “French Breakfast”….for 20 Euros….you get a crossiant, butter, 3 ounces of hot chocolate, 3 ounces of orange juice and a small baguette bread !!!!!! I really thought the waiter was kidding when he told me that was it !!! …the waiter probably laugh as I had the word tourist ALL over MY FACE !!!!!!!! Ignore all the signs and pick your self up 10 pastries and a gallon of Orange juice and have it on a sidewalk watching the world go by for 10 Euros…”

Read more stories of price gouging, and tips for eating cheaply in Paris here. Did you know that the price for a coffee can change depending on where you sit?

Walk like a Local – Have someplace to go and at least look like you know where you are going. Soak in the sites and beautiful architecture you made the trip for, but don’t stop suddenly or just in general be a nuisance to other pedestrians. You might be on vacation, but everyone else is still getting on with their busy lives.

Also don’t have your nose buried in a guide book or map. It’s another sure fire way to be targeted by scammers and pick-pockets. Plan out where you are going ahead of time, and there are plenty of e-versions of your favorite guide books and handy translation and map apps. Tapping away at your phone is far less conspicuous.

Speak like a Local – Locals always appreciate and respect you trying to speak the local language, it doesn’t even seem to matter if your grammar is mangled and you accent atrocious. Speaking like a local is also the best way to pay like a local. Many tourist attractions have an unpublished price for locals that are easier to get then you think. When the booth operator asks for your info: How many? What time? Etc… try to respond in the language. You don’t have to be anywhere near fluent, just keep your responses simple, for example: How many tickets would you like? You: Two, please.

There is one part of being a typical tourist that you should do, and that’s keep the Tourist Perspective. To the locals it’s just the same buildings, people and shops that they see every day, but to you every new site, smell, taste and experience is special and precious. Try new things and let loose in a way that you only can do in a place where everyone is a stranger. Experience everything with the pleasure of being somewhere new and exotic, at least to you.

Eeeew, this post is sticky! Wait, that just means that if you found it informative you should check back because it will be updated periodically!
Have some Un-Touristy advice, tips or stories from your travels? Post a comment about it and I might add it to the list.
Spotted one of my many spelling and grammatical errors? Let me know. They annoy me as much as they annoy you!

Internet Killed The Travel Agent?

While watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding for the millionth time, as Toula, her mother and aunt plan her escape from her miserable job waiting at her father’s Greek Diner to the (comparative) glamor of her Aunt’s Travel Agency, I couldn’t help but wonder, What ever happened to Travel Agents?” Has the Internet done to them what it did to CDs, movie rental stores and my free time? Force them to the verge of extinction?

Apparently not. The American Society of Travel Agents posts some pretty impressive statistics in it’s Press Kit stating that 50% of all airline tickets and 70% of all tours and packages are sold by an agent. Even the internet savvy Gen X and Y (18-34) use travel agents to book 33% of its travel.

Why should I use a Travel Agent when it’s never been easier to book trips online?

Stressed

“So if I travel a day earlier I can save $50 but then I can’t check into the hotel until the next day, and what time does this flight arrive anyway…Where was that graph I was making?”

If your planning a simple trip to visit the folks for the holidays, or a business trip there is no reason to use a travel agent. But when planning more complicated trips, it’s easy to get sucked into the time-suck of comparing flights, hotel and packages to inflict yourself with analysis paralysis and unneeded stress. It’s time to ask yourself “Why DIY when I can leave it to a professional?”. Save yourself the time and hassle.

Use an agent when you have a large group, an ‘event trip’ like New Orleans Jazz Fest, or interested in destination packages, like that family trip to Disney World. They don’t just do flights and international travel either. An agents can help you plan a RV Road trip. In fact most cruises are still done through agents, 85% of them according to the ASTA.

Agents can often match the prices you can find online. They have access to unpublicized deals, discounts and prices that you’ll never find yourself.

How to use a Travel Agent?

“I have your RV road trip and eating tour of America’s Diners and Dive-Bars all planned out. Sending your itinerary now. Enjoy!”

Be flexible. If your agent can save you $20 a night by staying in a hotel one block away and with just as many stars as the one you wanted, or could save you 15% by booking your flight a few days later why not go for it?

Be specific  – about any activities, events or packages you want. Want to eat your way across Italy, learn Tango in Buenos Aires, take a train tour of Africa? Let your agent know, they have the know-how to make you most obscure whims a reality.

Most agents will charge a fee,which is $35 on average. A pittance for the time and stress you can save. Agents make commissions from hotels, activity, and car rental companies and sometimes the airlines, though most large major airlines have stopped due to the advent of the internet and low competition. They will also be on-call when you are traveling to make sure that everything is going smoothly, and in the event that you encounter a problem they are there to help.

Have you ever booked with a  Travel Agent? Tell us about your experience in a comment.

Beware The Bonus – The American Airlines Buy/Share Bonus 2013

Most Airlines have annual promotions with Frequent Flyer Miles bonuses that are may look  tempting, but depending on your situation, may not be the great deal they appear to be.

For instance, this month American Airlines is having a promotion offering AAdvantage Bonuses when buying, or gifting miles.

Here’s the bonus chart:

Don’t forget to read the dreaded fine print. Prices are in U.S. dollars and do not include applicable taxes or $35 per transaction processing charge.” Ouch!

Let’s do some quick math to find out approximately how much we will pay per Mile. The least I can buy to qualify for the bonus is 5,000, at a cost of $147.50. Then we add the $35 processing charge and 7.5% tax (using what I was charged the last time I bought miles), resulting in 6,000 miles for $196.19, meaning the cost per mile is roughly $0.33. At the higher end I could buy 60,000, with a 15,000 bonus, the price drops to roughly $0.24 per mile. I might think this isn’t bad, but for $1,811.38 is it a good deal?

Is it worth it? It depends. Considering that the most you will likely be able to redeem your Miles for is about $0.03, (and even that is a very optimistic estimate, it is most likely to work out to $0.01) and when you do, you will pay booking fees and taxes for your flight, lowering the value of your miles even more, your best bet is to avoid purchasing Miles. If your Miles are going to expire or if you just need those last five thousand miles to finally book that backpacking trip through Europe, this could be just what you need.

Here’s an example of when Buying and Sharing Miles is actually a good deal (SPOILER- It’s not with American Airlines): Boarding Area – View From the Wing

American Airlines also has a annual transfer bonus. Check out a breakdown of last years bonus here.

I no make grammar good? Leave a comment and let me know.