Honestly, do they still make fanny packs? Those bygone relics of the Lonely Planet traveler are not only a fashion faux paus rivaling plastic bangles and Swatch watches, but if a group of Spaniards are sitting around playing a game of Where’s Waldo the First Time Traveler, such a bag will make you stand out like a criminal in a police lineup. In other words, you may as well be wearing a day glow placard around your neck that says “Tourist!” Do you remember the 1999 film “Fight Club?” Brad Pitt, a.k.a. Tyler Durden, said the first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club. In the world of international travel, the first rule of being a tourist is you do not out yourself as a tourist. Ever.
Stop Pointing, S’il Vous Plait
With all the art, architecture and gelato, that first stroll down the cobbled streets of Europe will have you feeling like a kid in a candy store. Sure, your jaw is going to drop, but a good rule of thumb is to pick your jaw up off the ground and stop the pointing. Even that Bellini statue finds it rude. Visit the Sistine Chapel and there’s a guard who stands on a podium going “Shh!” every time the crowd begins to get too loud. No joke. Proper etiquette in historic public spaces is taken seriously, so don’t act like a toddler running amok in a zoo.
The Map and the Territory
A map is your best friend and your arch enemy. If you spend too much time studying a map in a public space, someone is going to mark you as a tourist and take advantage of you. It’s a good idea to get the lay of the land and plan an itinerary before setting off for a day in a foreign city. However, you’re probably going to need to consult a map at some point during your adventure; just don’t cozy up with it for an hour and study it like you’re doing research for a graduate thesis.
Documents and Valuables
Passports and visas need to be kept safe. Actually, that’s an understatement. Passports and visas need to be guarded with your life. Make a copy of all your documents before you depart on your trip, and leave those copies at home. When you’re traveling for the first time, it’s easy to get compulsive about your passport. This isn’t a bad thing. If you find yourself checking your pocket or purse throughout the day, don’t worry—it’s normal. In addition to making copies of your travel documents, you might want to consider purchasing budget travel insurance for students before you leave. If you trip and break your ankle on the Spanish Steps in Rome, you’re going to want to be covered.
It should go without saying that before you travel anywhere, doing research about the destination is imperative. You don’t want to look and act like a fish out of water. While a money belt is acceptable and inconspicuous, be sure to leave that fanny pack back in the ’80s where it belongs.