Tourist to Traveler: 3 Essential Travel Etiquette Tips


As much as we may or may not love our home and chosen career, the time inevitably comes when we just need a break from the everyday. When this occasion strikes, air tickets are purchased, suitcases are jam-packed like a butcher stuffs a sausage casing, and the tired masses eagerly board planes due for a destination where they anticipate a week or two of rejuvenation under a tropical sun.

However, all too many go through these motions with nary a thought for the locals and fellow travelers that they are about to besiege with their off-base behavior. The tragic part of all this is that they often don’t realize that they are doing anything wrong. While we don’t aim to tar and feather anybody out there, it doesn’t hurt to examine your actions from time to time and analyze how it affects other people.

If you’re up for it, here are a few travel etiquette tips to take your actions and shift them from those of a tourist to those of a culturally attuned traveler.

1) Research the culture of your destination before going

If you have lived, worked and played in a Western country throughout your entire life, and you are about to jump on a plane to experience the wonders of Thailand for the first time, congratulations! Before you depart though, you’ll want to do a little research on the culture you’ll be entering, as countries on the other side of the world have developed traditions, symbolism, and rules of propriety that are often completely different and foreign to us.

Walking through a house with shoes on is on perfectly acceptable of many Westerners, while it is strictly forbidden in many Asian cultures, as the feet are considered to be the dirtiest part of the body. Certain hand gestures, like a thumbs up, is also considered to be like giving somebody the finger in certain nations (Greece, Italy), so do your homework before heading overseas.

2) Learn greetings, pleasantries and other key words in your destination’s language

Despite the fact that you have been inundated in the English language since birth, don’t expect that people in your chosen destination will be just the same as you. While people in the tourism industry will know at least some English, many others won’t speak a word.

While we certainly don’t expect you to be fluent in your chosen countries’ language before departure, learning how to say words and phrases like “hello”, “thank you” and “goodbye”, along with other basic situational words (for food, chicken = gai, pork = moo in Thai) will endear you to your hosts in a hurry. Do NOT yell in English or speak it slower in a vain attempt to get a non-English speaker to understand you … it doesn’t work and makes you look like a complete buffoon!

3) Be considerate of locals, and your fellow travelers

This tip is essentially the Golden Rule: if you were the local resident/business owner, or the traveler in the bunk/seat beside you, would you do what you are about to do? Example: if you were about to barter down the price of your 30 baht ($1) Pad Thai to 10 baht ($0.33), how would you feel if you were the food cart operator, who is lucky make $10 a day?

Similarly, what would your fellow hostel mates think if you flicked on the main lights at 3 am in the morning, especially as some struggle with sleep in a snore-filled room? Consider this maxim regularly throughout your travels, and act accordingly.

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