The Dos and Don’ts of Travel Etiquette.

Khao San Road Bangkok

Do you know the do’s and don’ts of travel etiquette? Are you a thoughtful traveller? Or are you one of those annoying tourists who bumble around the world blissfully ignorant of your surroundings and the culture you are in and insulting almost everyone you meet?

When travelling, there are certain rules of etiquette that everyone should adhere to. Not everyone does of course, and some travellers push the very boundaries of respect and decency and give everyone a bad name. But you don’t have to join them. You can be one of those travellers who others will have no annoying stories about just because you were pleasant to be around. How do you become one of those travellers? Read on to find out.

Learn A Few Phrases.

“Please”, “thank you”, and “where is the bathroom” are three obviously necessary phrases, but keeping a few others in your back pocket and learning just a tiny bit of the local language not only helps you better navigate a foreign country, but also shows a greater level of respect to the locals and makes a lot of your travels a little easier.

You don’t have to be fluent in any given language but a trying to get the basics down makes a huge difference, people everywhere generally appreciate when a visitor makes an attempt to communicate in their tongue. When they see that you took the time to learn some of their language, they’ll be much more willing to lend a hand if you’re in need of help.

According to Ludwig Wittgenstein, “The limits of your language are the limits of your world”, and the Austrian philosopher was spot on. Knowing more than one language opens up a vast world of travel possibilities, and you can use it as an excuse to meet new people and practice your language skills with them.

Research Local Customs.

This should be common sense, but it is surprising just how much naivety is out there amongst travellers. You don’t want to accidentally offend your hosts or people on the long distance bus by unknowingly committing some heinous social faux pas.

For example, in Japan you always take your shoes off before entering someone’s home (so make sure you’ve got clean socks on, you filthy animal). Avoid thanking someone in Russia with yellow flowers, as they symbolise that you’re breaking up with them. On the other hand, red flowers are traditionally used for gravesites and war veterans. In fact, just play it safe and don’t gift flowers in Russia. It’s rude to add salt to your meal in Egypt. That’s like telling the chef they didn’t season it right (so just deal with it). Don’t talk business at the table in Bolivia, make sure you show up fashionably late to dinner in Venezuela, and if you find yourself eating with certain Inuit families up in Canada, feel free to fart afterwards as a display of your appreciation.

There are so many local idiosyncrasies and customs around the world that locals really don’t expect you to instantly know and understand every single one as a traveller. As long as you are coming from a place of general respect, and are making an effort but still manage to slip up a little bit, people generally don’t mind. You may get a polite reminder at most or people will try and help you understand in a friendly way, and it can actually be a fantastic learning experience and a way to connect with local culture. You are a guest there after all, and in my experience many people can be quite forgiving of most faux pas as long as you are making the effort to try and be respectful. That is the key, respect.

It is when travellers don’t have that respect that locals can get offended, and rightfully so.

Respect Local Norms And Don’t Act Like A Tourist.

Travelling the world is still technically a holiday of sorts, and you are still out there to have fun. That is fine and completely understandable, to an extent. But all that doesn’t mean that your gap year is an 18 – 30 party resort in Benidorm where lewd, drunken behaviour is the norm and you can get away with doing what you want, when you want. You still have to show respect!

All that means is just respecting the norms of the country you are in. If you are in a relatively conservative country, don’t swan around in a bikini top and hotpants or a beer chang singlet and shorts all the time. That dress has a time and a place of course, but just be sensible about it and look at what locals and expats are wearing. If you are visiting a temple, holy site or area of outstanding natural beauty, be aware that getting naked for a selfie is most likely a dick move.

Just because you are technically on holiday, that doesn’t mean you should act like a fool on a permanent drunken party all of the time. By all means enjoy yourself from time to time but remember there is a time and a place for it.

Your ‘holiday’ status does not give you the automatic right to behave how you want and impose your own norms onto the places you are visiting. Be a traveller, not a tourist.

Always Be Polite.

Again, this really should go without saying. I mean this is the stuff we all get taught in primary school so we can function as normal human beings in society, right? Like it or not, when you’re travelling abroad you’re also representing your home country. Remember that because you’re a foreigner, you’re also an ambassador. Make sure you do your country proud by always being mindful of others, and gracious toward their gifts and offerings of strange food. Don’t be that idiot drunken tourist everyone shoots looks of disgust at, don’t be rude or crude in your behaviour by disrespecting local customs and norms, and don’t forget to smile and thank your host for their stinkbug stew in Zimbabwe or for their lutefisk in Norway, regardless of how it looks or tastes.

Be The Bigger Person.

By that we mean try as hard as you can to not physically assault the mouth-breathing, armrest-hogging, close-talking, no-concept-of-personal-space seat buddy you find yourself next to.

And regardless of how selfish, moronic and downright rude the person in front of you who reclines the full way for the entire flight, violence is never the answer. Never.

No, really. Never.

I mean it.

Just breath, I know it is tempting.

Airplanes, trains, and buses are a great cross-sectional representation of humanity. A human zoo, if you will. Since you’re going to be trapped in a tube for anything from 30 minutes to 24 or more hours, it’s important that you try your hardest to not be “that one”.

You know the one we’re talking about: That one who loiters in the aisle like they’re waiting in line at Starbucks and think you really want their arse that close to your face the whole flight. That one who decides that an enclosed recycled air system is the perfect place to eat their garlic sauce covered fried garlic with a side of garlic bites. That one who plays their music without the headphones in (what is wrong with you people?!). That one who doesn’t let others go ahead of them when exiting the plane/bus/train, and instead tries to leap over everyone like a panicked lemur.

You can spot this one even before you get on your choice of transportation. They’re the one taking up multiple seats in the crowded terminal – one for their bag, one for their newspaper, and one for their jacket. They’re the one that, no matter what section is boarding, will try to get on before you, like it makes such a difference that they get on first. They’re the one who yells at the gate agent, driver or conductor for a late departure, as if it was that person’s incompetence that has resulted in them being late. They are the one who hold an entire line up at security by waiting until they reach the very end to decide to remove their belt, empty their pockets and sort all their crap out. You’ve been waiting for half an hour, why not do that beforehand?

And finally, they’ll be the dick who reclines their seat on the plane as soon as possible.

Please, don’t be “that one.”

These may seem like ‘common sense’ tips, but why do we see so many people regularly committing these mistakes while travelling? Because we forget to be mindful of one another. It’s all about respect. Remember, everyone is just trying to get somewhere, so do your best to stick to these simple but profound tips while you’re also trying to get somewhere yourself.

Did you like this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

10 Commandments Of Jetiquette. (Or How To Behave On A Flight!)

Lost in Translation.

The 10 Most Annoying Things About Flying.

The Importance Of Respect When You Travel.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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2 comments on “The Dos and Don’ts of Travel Etiquette.
  1. Chloe Gunner says:

    Love these! So many travellers need to read this.

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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