Travel Etiquette Mini Handbook for the Adventurous International Traveler

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Greetings globetrotters looking for travel etiquette insights! As a connoisseur of the refined, your travel escapades involve more than just sightseeing. They’re an exquisite dance through diverse cultures and fine dining. To ensure you waltz gracefully through the world’s wonders, here’s your handbook, sprinkled with a touch of wit and charm.

General Etiquette

  • Research Before You Go: Before jetting off to your next adventure, take a moment to research local customs. Think of it as your cultural GPS, guiding you through the twists and turns of traditions and evolving travel etiquette.
  • Gestures: Include cultural gesture differences in that research! Getting it wrong can mean and you can unintentionally offend. For example, the North American OK symbol (thumb and forefinger pressed together) means “great, I like that!.” However, refrain from using it in Brazil, Greece, Spain and Turkey! There it’s considered offensive.
  • Handshakes: Another sacred American and British tradition is the firm handshake. However the same gesture can trigger a recoil in Russia. They consider it unlucky! And in Italy, a handshake is the opening act, not a wrestling match.
  • Bowing: In Japan, bow slightly, but not like you’re auditioning for Swan Lake.

  • Dress Appropriately: Don’t let your wardrobe be the travel faux pas of the century. Respect local dress codes, and remember, no one wants to see your beach attire at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

    Once, when visiting a temple in Bali my arms and knees were covered. However this wasn’t good enough. (I think exposing my ankles may have been the issue.) Luckily voluminous scarves were on sale to create a make-do long skirt right on the spot. Myself and other female tourists were all enrobing our legs in these colorful swaths of material. Luckily this unexpected, but small expense, was worth it for the interesting guided tour.

Example: In Dubai, cover those shoulders and knees when visiting a mosque. And in Paris, dressing well isn’t just for the runway; it’s the passport to upscale dining respectability.

  • Learn Basic Phrases: A few words can open doors and hearts. So, why not sprinkle your conversations with local flavors? A ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way, and who knows, you might end up with a dinner invite!

Example: In China, a simple ‘ni hao’ or ‘xie xie’ shows you’re not just wandering aimlessly through the language.

  • Greeting Customs: Say hello the right way. In some places, it’s a bow, in others, it’s a handshake. Just don’t confuse the two; a bow-limp handshake combo can lead to some awkward choreography.

Example: Italians like cheek kisses; Japanese prefer bowing. It’s like a cultural dance-off, but with more politeness.

Fine Dining Etiquette

  1. Reservations and Punctuality: Make reservations, because walking into a Michelin-starred restaurant unannounced is so last season. And don’t be fashionably late; punctuality is the trend here.

Example: In Switzerland, be on Swiss time – punctual. In Spain, you can fashionably stroll in after sunset; the night is still young, darling.

  • Understanding the Menu: Know your menu; it’s not a script you can improvise. Ask for recommendations; it’s like having a personal food critic whispering in your ear.

Example: In Japan, slurping noodles is encouraged. But in Paris, loud slurping may earn you a raised eyebrow, not a Michelin star.

  • Table Manners: Master the art of table manners. It’s not a jigsaw puzzle; there’s a method to the napkin-fork-knife tango.

Example: In France, keep those hands on the table. In the Middle East, the left hand is a no-no. It’s like a culinary dance class, but with fewer waltzes.

  • Tipping Etiquette: Tip like you’re leaving a good review on Yelp. But be aware, the tipping script changes from country to country.

Example: In the U.S., tipping is practically an Olympic sport. In Japan, it’s more like a graceful bow – discreet and appreciated. However it isn’t necessary. In most restaurants in Tokyo, for example, service is already included in the bill and staff are generally paid well. If you’d really like to show your appreciation, you can say “arigatou gozaimasu” (thank you very much) when leaving. Alternatively, you could say: “gochisousama deshita” (it was a feast).

Tipping is also not expected in Tokyo bars. Again, the service is include in the bill. However, as working hard is a cultural point of pride in Japan, you could say: “otsukaresama desu.” It means: you’ve worked hard. The Japanese version of “Cheers?” “Kanpai.”

Cultural Attractions

When traveling to countries with different cultures to your own, do a little research beforehand. You don’t want to make any foreigner faux pas. Here’s a book that delves into the topic for a few countries:

  1. Respect Sacred Spaces: When entering sacred spaces, think of it as stepping onto a cultural catwalk. Dress modestly, remove those shoes, and assume your most respectful demeanor.

Example: In Thailand, it’s shoes off before entering a temple. Because walking on sacred ground in stilettos is so not a reverent look.

  • Photography Etiquette: Capture the moment, but not at the cost of cultural sensitivity. Always ask before snapping; or keep your distance and use a telephoto lens!

Example: In some Native American communities, the camera flash is a cultural no-no. So, take mental snapshots, not Instagram-worthy ones.

  • Local Guided Tours: Go local or go home. Opt for local guides who can weave tales about historical wonders with the finesse of a seasoned storyteller. It will make your vacation memories so much richer.

Example: In Egypt, a local guide turns a history lesson into a cultural epic. It’s like having a tour guide and stand-up comedian in one.

  • Support Local Artisans: Buy local, like you’re shopping on Rodeo Drive. Support local artisans; it’s the fashion-forward move of a conscientious traveler.

Example: In Morocco, haggling is an art form. But in upscale boutiques, think of it as a stylish investment, not a clearance sale.

Social Travel Etiquette

  1. Respect Personal Space: Personal space is the VIP section of social interactions. In some places, it’s a roomy VIP lounge; in others, it’s more of a cozy jazz club.

Example: In Japan, think ‘personal space zen garden.’ In Italy, embrace the proximity; it’s like a friendly tango.

  • Gift Giving: Gifts are the souvenirs of social grace. When invited, a thoughtful gift is your golden ticket to cultural connection.

Example: In China, present and receive gifts with both hands, not like you’re exchanging business cards. It’s a gift, not a boardroom negotiation.

  • Engage with Locals: Mix and mingle like a social maestro. Whether through guided tours or impromptu conversations, it’s the cultural symphony of your journey.

Example: In India, locals may invite you for tea. Say yes; it’s not just tea, it’s a cultural invitation to the VIP lounge of friendship. And despite the frenetic atmosphere of the busy streets, when socializing, cast off all worries and just relax. Trying to adhere to strict timetables here is folly. Traffic obstructed by a herd of cattle, trains delayed by hours, etc. You just have to roll with it.

  • Problems: Flexibility is not usually considered in travel etiquette advice. However, perhaps it should be, especially when circumstances try your patience. Instead, adopt a flexible nature. Think of it as the travel yoga of cultural exploration. Once you do, impatience and tempers subside. Face minor setbacks with an attitude of: “Isn’t that interesting” and then calmly set about finding a solution. So much better than losing your cool.
  • Romance: While public displays of affection are totally fine in Paris and Rome. In fact, the double cheek kiss is de rigour! Hugs abound. Not so much in the UAE. There, travel etiquette requires saving those passionate embraces for the hotel room.

Travel Etiquette for Safety and Health

  1. Health Precautions: Stay healthy, because a sick day is not the vacation scenario you envisioned. Respect local health guidelines and throw on a mask if the situation calls for it.

Example: In many Asian countries, wearing a mask when unwell is the superhero cape of the responsible traveler. It’s like protecting the city from the common cold villains.

  • Safety Concerns: Navigate the urban jungle with caution. Know the safety beats of your destination and avoid flaunting your travel bling to minimize the risk of unwanted attention.

Example: In some African countries, keep the flashy jewelry under wraps. It’s not a fashion statement; it’s the travel ninja move of blending into the cultural shadows.

And there you have it! By blending these guidelines with your sophisticated charm, your journey will be a cultural symphony with you as the lead conductor. Happy travels, maestro! 🌍✈️

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Susan Cooper

I'm a "woman of a certain age" who loves to travel, preferably in style! There's something exciting about exploring new places, meeting fellow travelers, and experiencing local cuisine. But I also really enjoy relaxing at a cafe. And it's always fun to absorb a little culture and history along the way!


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