International Travel Etiquette (aka How to Not Be *That* Tourist)
The Security Line Is Horrible…but You Don’t Have to Be
The airport security line brings out the worst in everyone, so a little humanity goes a long way. Smile at the guy next to you, let people in if lines merge, thank the guard who put that big squiggle on your boarding pass. Anyone can be serene in yoga class — but being serene in the security line pretty much makes you a Zen master.
If You’re a Man, Lend a Hand
Men, if a woman starts putting her stuff in the overhead compartment, it is against the law not to help her. Maybe you think that’s sexist. Maybe you avoid bringing carry-on luggage specifically to avoid dealing with the overhead compartment. Tough.
Although there are many common airplane offenders — crying babies, seat kickers, armrest hogs — the most egregious is the chatty seat mate. A pleasant "hello" is fine, but heed social cues. If your seat partner keeps looking for their Eye Mask or their book, they are really looking for the mute button. On you.
Try to Speak the Language if You Want
Some travel guides warn against speaking the local language unless you’re fluent, but we say go for it. It’s true – certain cities famously don’t like hearing their language butchered by Americans (cough, Paris, cough), but many appreciate the effort. You deserve to immerse yourself in the culture, language included.
Don’t Get Hit by a Car
If you’re from the United States, you likely walk on the left side of the street even if there is no sidewalk so that you are facing oncoming traffic. You probably also do this escalators, etc. That is the correct instinct. Thus, if you are in a place where cars drive on the left side of the street (e.g. England), you should walk on the right side of the street when there is no sidewalk. Along those lines (zing!), be mindful of traffic patterns and customs in the place you are visiting. Don’t be afraid to ask a local about the proper pedestrian flow.
Tip the Housekeeper
You probably know to tip the bellhop (or he will never leave your room), but you may not know to tip the housekeeper. Just a couple of bucks a day does the trick. Pro tip: Leave $5 on your first night to ingratiate yourself right off the bat.
Don’t Be Rude
Research the cultural faux pas of your destination, particularly as they relate to bodily functions and eating or drinking. In China, for example, sneezing in public is considered vulgar. And in Russia, turning down vodka is like refusing to shake hands. So learn a little bit about local etiquette before you go. (Or at the very least, learn to say, "I’m so sorry!")
Avoid Being Phone-y
In the U.S. (horrifyingly), talking out loud on your phone is deemed appropriate in pretty much any situation. But abroad, that isn’t always the case, so learn the phone etiquette of the country you’re visiting. Better yet, disconnect.
But at the Hotel, You Can Be "Demanding"
Don’t feel sheepish if you need to call the front desk to ask for an adapter, fresh linens, late checkout, etc. The people at your hotel are used to international travelers, and they want to make your stay pleasant so you’ll come back. Or so you’ll leave a positive TripAdvisor review.
Most importantly, accept that no matter how much you prepare, you will still have miscommunications. Sometimes people will be jerks about it, but laugh it off and move on. The fun of travel isn’t being "perfect" or passing for a local. It’s being curious, open and getting out of your comfort zone. Bon voyage!
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