Carry On Travel

How to Not Pack Like a Tourist

February 15, 2016
how to not look like a tourist

How do I not pack like a tourist? A few weeks ago, a friend from college reached out with this travel conundrum.

“Hey Rebecca, I’m prepping for a trip next week and I’m having a hard time finding advice and recommendations for traveling securely without being the stereotyped American in a bucket hat, fanny pack, and passport protector around my neck. It would be great to have advice from a lovely, young, stylish, expert traveler. Typically I wouldn’t really worry but I’m going on a cruise and will be in tourist hotspots. I’d love any tips you can give. There is a clear void of articles on this from a young, stylish perspective. Thanks!”

Of course, I was thrilled to get this message. Questions about packing? My specialty. Questions about keeping your belongings safe while traveling in touristy areas? I lived across the (very crowded) street from the Vatican Museum for two years and became an expert on this exact thing.

Melissa was going on a reunion cruise with 19 relatives (yikes!), and she was by far the youngest. Most of her group was age 60+.

“Fortunately, I’m bringing a buffer buddy to save me from certain miseries that are generally only inflicted at holiday family get togethers,” she told me.

Like most people, Melissa was willing to endure a large family gathering in exchange for the reward–days spent in the Eastern Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and Grand Turk Island.

Her question got me thinking. So many people are worried about their purse or wallet getting stolen while on a trip, and understandably. It could ruin the vacation, and in the worst case scenario your overall finances. As far as what to wear, there’s a stereotype of Americans streaming off of cruises in cargo shorts, brightly colored t-shirts, and giant hats for a reason. But fellow Americans: we are better than this! You can keep your belongings safe and your skin free of sun while still dressing stylishly. I promise. Here’s what I told Melissa about how to NOT pack like a tourist (while still keeping her money and passport safe and bringing only a carry-on of course):

To Pack:

Since you’re going to such warm places, you can pack pretty light, which is great. I would probably bring three sundresses, two swimming suits, a cover up of some sort, a scarf/sarong (this can be used in so many ways – at the beach, as a shawl at night, etc), a pair of shorts, a tank top, a v-neck t-shirt, a pair of skinny jeans and a nice/going out shirt, a nicer dress, one pair of ‘dressy’ sandals, one casual pair of sandals, a sweater, and sunglasses. And obviously lots of sunscreen! And if you look good in hats (I wish I did) bring one of those as well. But not a bucket hat! Never! (Full list of what to pack below).

To avoid looking like a tourist:

I definitely get why you don’t want to bring a fanny pack or wear your passport around your neck! Not only does it look bad, but you stick out as a tourist and are probably more likely to get taken advantage of that way.

I always bring a cross body bag. I don’t know what size you’re looking for, but I have both a larger one that can fit my computer, and a smaller one that just fits a camera and wallet, and I love them both because they have a strap that goes across my body and the bag rests right by my hip, so I can keep my hand on it at all times.

Your bag should also zip all the way closed (ones with one snap or a button are easier to sneak into), and should have an inside zipper pocket where you can keep your money. For traveling to the airport, I have a passport/boarding pass holder. This is a good idea if you’re going to be carrying your passport with you a lot, otherwise it’s not necessary. I usually leave my passport in the hotel or wherever I’m staying. Along with leaving my passport behind, I leave one of my credit cards and some cash in the hotel too (ideally locked in the safe, if the cruise rooms have them). That way even if you do get robbed you’ll have a backup.

The less touristy you look, the less likely people are to think you’re an easy target. For this reason I would suggest no fanny packs, bucket hats, Hawaiian print shirts, tacky foam flip flops, American flag t-shirts, etc. Not that you would wear that anyway! I find that casual yet elegant looks translate worldwide.  Similarly, looking around like you don’t trust anyone just makes you look vulnerable. Relax! Have confidence in humanity.

Here’s exactly what I would pack:
A cross-body bag

A passport holder


Three sundresses

Two swimming suits

A sarong

A pair of shorts

A tank top (maybe two depending on how long you’ll be away)

A t-shirt

A pair of skinny jeans

A cocktail dress

A sweater or something to throw on if it gets chilly on deck

Sandals (I would bring one “dressier” pair and one more casual for the beach)

And of course, this will all fit in your carry on!

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