When traveling to a foreign country, especially one you’ve never been to before, it’s easy to look like an obvious tourist without realizing it.
In Costa Rica, we can spot tourists ‘a mile away’ by their certain habits, in particular, American tourists, who are, well, distinctly American, with habits that can be hard to just turn them off during a vacation.
But with a little research into the country you’re visiting to get an idea of their customs and daily routines, you just might be able to fool the locals.
The first step to blending in. Avoid these travel habits that scream “tourist.” You’ll thank us when another tourist asks you for directions because they assume you’re a local.
In Costa Rica, some of the following ‘blending in’ tips apply to the beaches and resorts, while others to the big city, the greater metropolitan area of San Jose, referred to as the “GAM”. Some are just tourist habits that just scream, ‘hey look I am a tourist’.
To be fair, many of the touristy things are committed by foreigners living in Costa Rica, even after many years in the land of Pura Vida have not been able to shake it.
1Walking Around With A Large Backpack
Large backpacks might be convenient to hold all of your stuff, but they’re also a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist. On top of that, they aren’t even very safe. With the zipper behind you, pretty much anyone can open up your pack, reach in, and grab your personal items without you realizing it, especially in a crowded area. Stick with a smaller bag and leave the non-essentials behind.
2Dressing Inappropriately For The Setting
Doing tourist activities in a new place can be exhausting, and it’s natural to want to wear something comfortable or something you’re familiar with. Though dress code doesn’t apply, for the most part, for vacationers, consider appropriate clothing for where you are visiting. A bikini can be normal walking the town of Playa Jaco or Playas del Coco, not so much in downtown San Jose or the local mall. The same is true dressed up to walk the beach.
3Taking Photos Of Everything
Of course you want to snap photos to have something to look at back at home, but be mindful of the way you’re taking pictures. Stopping in the middle of a crowded street to get a shot can be dangerous! Stand out of the way of bustling activity to take photos, and remember: You don’t need to get carried away.
4Ignoring Cultural Norms
If you’re going to a new country, keep in mind that how they act in public might be different than what you’re used to. It’s nice to research this type of thing so you can respect the cultural norms. For example, if you go to the United Arab Nations, public displays of affection are illegal and could be punished. If you’re in Japan, you shouldn’t eat while you’re walking around, because it’s thought to be rude. Fortunately in Costa Rica, the ‘Pura Vida’ way of life is all around you, so while you should be respectful of cultural norms, a miscue shouldn’t land you in any trouble. Just think, is my action acceptable in my home country? If not, most likely not even in Costa Rica.
5Not Even Attempting To Speak The Language
Going to a country where they speak another language? In Costa Rica, while English is predominant in tourist areas or overheard in higher social settings, the language is Spanish. Try to learn some basic words and phrases before you go. Learning on the go is good too. Even just saying things like “hello” (buenas) and “thank you” (gracias) in their language is more polite than just expecting everyone to know English.
6Walking Looking Really Confused
Even if you’re completely lost and have no idea where you are, try not to show it. This makes you really vulnerable to thieves and petty criminals. If you’re standing there staring like you have no idea where you are, you’re a target. Try to play it cool as you gather your bearings.
7Hanging Your Camera Around Your Neck
Who does that any more? And a camera, given the advances in smartphone cameras? If you enjoy photography, I would suggest using a bag for your camera that doesn’t immediately look like a camera bag.” This can also help ensure you’re not a target for theft.
Wearing shorts in urban areas such as San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, in the streets or the malls, is a no-no. OK for the beach areas or just walking around your hotel. Shorts are quite popular in the beaches, but not in the cities and towns of the (GAM). This rule applies mainly to men, women can wear shorts anywhere without being labeled a tourist.
9Leaving A Tip
Another sign you don’t belong? If you tip in a restaurant. I am not suggesting not to tip, bear in mind that a 10% tip (though it may never reach the server) is included in the final bill. While tipping is actually becoming more common in Costa Rica (mainly because of American tourists who don’t know they aren’t supposed to tip), it’s still not always expected. Leaving behind a large tip shows anyone around you that you’re a tourist.