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As an American living in Europe a couple of years, one of my biggest tips for those traveling in Europe for the first (or fifth) time is to avoid looking like a tourist in Europe. This can be done in a couple of ways that might run counter to common travel advice (e.g. travel vests), but it might help you have a better experience and hopefully make you less prone to pickpockets who target tourists!
As an American who has lived in both Paris and Amsterdam, I am proud to say that I have been mistaken for a Parisian. In many parts of Europe at the moment, due to overtourism, tourists are not necessarily welcomed in all places (e.g. Barcelona). I find that dressing like a local can help you have better experiences in terms practicing languages, avoiding being targeted by thieves who prey on tourists and avoiding being harassed on the street. I include what to avoid wearing in Europe prior to discussing how to dress like a European!
Avoid safari clothes (e.g. travel vests and bucket hats)
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I understand that a lot of people love travel vests and I imagine that all the pockets are quite handy. However, it’s painfully clear that you are a tourist from the moment that you come off the cruise ship (or anywhere else) in lots of cargo-related items. The travel vest and the bucket hat are a bit much.
If you’re concerned about not having enough space for various items, a pro tip (from my dad) is to bring a durable yet inexpensive reusable bag with you. Many European cities tax the use of plastic bags, so if you end up visiting a grocery store, it might save you some euros! (You can always pick up a good bag from a local supermarket that you use for your trip!)
Don’t go too casual
Casual in the United States is quite different than casual dressing in Europe. It’s not to say you can’t wear jeans and a t-shirt, but you might want to think about making it look a bit smarter. I find that European fashion is more about the way that things fit, rather than emphasizing brand names. I find that a small difference, such as swapping out your logo t-shirts, American flag t-shirts, and/or shirts from various destinations for plain t-shirts can make a huge difference.
If you’re someone who loves jeans and a t-shirt no matter where you travel, wear a nice cardigan over your outfit (not in summer). In spring, I often wear a vegan leather jacket or a subdued jacket over my jeans and t-shirt outfits, which adds a nice accent to what I’m wearing! A nice jacket or sweater can also elevate a simple dress into something far chicer.
Avoid athletic wear if you’re not going to the gym
This is a big one. Athleisure is big in the United States, but it’s uncommon to see people in sweatpants out in public in Europe! Leave your sweatpants at home and swap them out for comfortable jeans or a comfortable skirt!
Leave your designer items at home
Although designer bags are pretty popular in the US, I find that European brands tend to be a bit more subtle with branding. As a precaution, I recommend avoiding traveling with expensive designer bags as they can be a target for thieves. I’d go with something more subdued which can fit your items.
I always recommend choosing a bag that has a zipper as it enables you to better protect your valuables. Personally, I prefer a plain crossbody bag, which is easier to hold onto on public transit.
Rethink your backpack and go with a more subtle daypack (if you need a backpack).
Although backpacks can be a good way to carry stuff, wearing a big backpack can definitely be a liability, especially if you can unzip the pockets from the back. See if you can go a bit lighter with a subtle daypack as there are some great looking theft-proof backpacks that will make you blend in like a local. Many people use these kinds of backpacks for commuting!
Avoid wearing your camera around your neck and carrying a selfie stick
Wearing your camera around your neck is the easiest way to peg yourself as a tourist. I generally keep my camera away while keeping it in an easy-to-reach place within my bags. My photos are my biggest memory of a trip and you do not want your camera stolen. If your camera is around your neck, you’re more likely to put it down on the ground where someone can easily grab it. I find that putting it away securely is far safer.
One of my biggest tips for protecting your electronics is to look for a portable bag with a good zipper that can fit your camera. I have a Nikon DSLR, which is fairly bulky,
I’m not a fan of selfie sticks, but if you travel solo, I understand why you might need to carry one. I’d generally avoid walking around carrying your selfie stick as they’re now banned at many museums and disliked by many locals who have been hit by one while walking. Try to keep your selfie stick packed within your bag until it’s time to use it at a spot away from the crowds.
Avoid multiple suitcases and pack lighter
If you’re on a longer trip, it might make sense to use multiple suitcases, but in general, I’d recommend packing lighter. It’s never fun moving more than one suitcase, especially along cobblestone roads. I personally only bring a suitcase if I’m going by car as it’s far easier to transport the suitcase around.
I generally pack light and prefer using my Tortuga Carry-On, which fits most of what I need for 1-2 weeks with washing your clothes. You will be
I understand that not everyone can carry a backpack, but try to limit yourself to one suitcase and one carry-on item. It will make your life easier, I promise. I should note that if you intend to take any budget airlines, it is so important to check the regulation sizes ahead to avoid fees.
…No to visible fanny packs
Please don’t do it! Fanny packs are not fashionable although if you’re worried about being robbed, you can wear a money belt underneath your clothes. (Keep some cash in your bag to prevent drawing attention to your money belt as a pro tip.) I have never worn one myself, however I understand why many people choose to.
Ladies: Avoid heels if you don’t have a formal event
A friend of mine recently visited Europe for the first time and traveled to Paris. She usually wears heels, so she’s comfortable in them, but she found that wearing dresses/heels in Paris made her stick out like a sore thumb. Although she loved the idea of her outfits, what you often see on Instagram isn’t necessarily what people wear every day in Paris.
Important note: there are cultural differences by country. For instance, in the Balkans, Italy, Russia, and a few other countries, you might be more likely to see a woman in heels on the street. At least in the Netherlands and France, it’s less typical.
Heels can weigh down your suitcase and be annoying with cobblestones. Save the space and bring a stylish yet comfortable pair of shoes (consider booties with a heel). They can look stylish and be worn all the time!
A general reminder: There are plenty of reasonable stories in
europe, so you don’t need your entire wardrobe!
A lot of Americans I know tend to overpack and bring all these crazy outfits. Don’t overthink it. There are lots of affordable and well-made/sustainable European brands that accept American credit cards at their shops, so if you’re feeling like you didn’t bring enough, you can always bring back a clothing souvenir from your trip. It’s one of my favorite kinds of souvenirs!
What to wear instead to blend in like a local!
Less is more
In general, less is more. When I’m choosing outfits, I aim for simplicity with clothes that fit well, are more plein, and when put together, create a stylish effect. My go-to outfit is a plain well-fitting black t-shirt paired with a cardigan, booties, maybe a necklace, a little eyeliner, and a nice jacket. It’s not crazy, but it blends in well in most places that I’ve traveled.
In spring or summer, I sometimes wear A-line dresses or skirts (with tights if there’s some wind) with a light coat and a nicer t-shirt/blouse underneath. I generally pair these with a plain pair of boots or flats if it’s warm out.
Fewer colors; Emphasize texture
It depends on the country, but I find that more subdued colors are more popular in many European cities. Think muted tones, pastels, reds, greys, blacks, and whites. Instead of choosing a bright orange item, consider something with a cool pattern.
A nice jacket can make your outfit
I’m a huge fan of a nice jacket. I have quite a few coats, including a stylish red pea coat, a light open coat in a stylish pattern, and a vegan leather jacket. I really feel like a nice coat or sweater can really make your outfit in such a simple way.
Plain t-shirts or a nicer blouse
Jeans or neutral colored pants
Jeans are ubiquitous everywhere. Bring your favorite jeans. As a rule, I only bring two pairs to ensure that I have enough space in my bag for other items. For people who don’t love jeans, my husband lives in his dark grey khaki pants. They look good with so many outfits without much effort.
Skirts can really dress up an outfit
A lot of people online say that shorts aren’t in,
Avoid heels if you don’t need them
If you’re traveling for business, you might want to carry a pair of heels if it’s part of your standard outfit. Otherwise, I’d avoid heels and stick to practical yet chic shoes that you can wear with every outfit. I wear my booties year-round! Save that space for souvenirs.
A simple dress can be dressed up!
You don’t need anything super flashy or fancy. A cool pair of tights can really dress up a basic black dress without adding much weight to your bag. Similarly, you can always bring a cool pair of earrings or a necklace with you that goes with most of your outfits.
A scarf can’t hurt
I always bring a scarf with me when I’m traveling for a few reasons. In winter and fall, a scarf is always a good idea for warmth. However, in spring and summer, it’s always handy to have a large scarf on hand in case you choose to enter any churches. This is an easy way to be a bit more modest and dress up your outfit at the same time!
As a note, baseball caps, as well as branded sneakers, are actually in right now. You can happily wear these without looking like a tourist! I generally stick to stylish yet water resistant boots during winter, comfortable booties during fall and spring, and Converse/smart-looking black flats during the summer. I find that flip-flops aren’t so popular here unless you’re heading to the beach.