24 Travel Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make Abroad

While traveling is exciting, understanding local customs can significantly improve your experience. Navigating through different landscapes requires more than just a passport. From tipping practices to dress codes, knowing what to do and what to avoid can save you from uncomfortable situations. Here’s how you can respectfully engage with the cultures you visit.

Mind Your Manners, Not Your Maps

Editorial credit: Twinsterphoto / Shutterstock

When you’re overseas, the excitement of exploring can sometimes lead to tunnel vision. Remember to look up from your navigation app and engage with the locals. Making eye contact, smiling, and a friendly nod show respect for the culture you’re visiting.

Keep Your Compliments Classy

Editorial credit: BearFotos / Shutterstock.

It’s natural to admire the beauty or uniqueness of people you meet while traveling. But remember, complimenting someone’s appearance can sometimes be seen as forward or inappropriate. Instead, focus on praising cultural sites, cuisine, or local traditions.

Tread Lightly on Sensitive Topics

Editorial credit: LightField Studios / Shutterstock.

Only dive into political or religious discussions if you know your audience well. These topics can be very sensitive, and it’s easy to offend someone if you’re unaware of the local context or nuances.

Don’t Assume Everyone Speaks English

Editorial credit: Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock.

While English is widely spoken, don’t assume that everyone you meet has the same comfort level with the language. Learn a few phrases in the local language, not just “Hello” and “Thank you,” but also “Please” and “Excuse me.”

Skip the Spicy Jokes

Editorial Credit: iona didishvili / Shutterstock.

Humor varies widely from culture to culture. What’s funny in one country can be offensive in another. When traveling, save your spicy or sarcastic jokes until you’re sure they’ll be appreciated.

Respect the Dress Code

Editorial credit:Andrzej Lisowski Travel / Shutterstock.

Research the dress codes of the places you’re visiting. For example, visiting religious sites in India often requires covering your head, shoulders, and legs. At the Vatican, sleeveless tops and shorts are frowned upon.

Eating Etiquette Matters

Editorial credit: Chay_Tee/ Shutterstock.

Dining etiquette varies by destination, so know before you go. In Japan, don’t stick your chopsticks upright in rice. And in certain Middle Eastern areas, you’re expected to eat with your hands.

Don’t Criticize the Food

Editorial credit: Prostock-studio / Shutterstock.

Avoid making faces or negative comments even if you find a local delicacy unappetizing. Expressing curiosity and appreciation for the chance to try something new is a more respectful approach.

Photography Is Not Always Welcome

Editorial credit: 19 STUDIO / Shutterstock.

Always ask before taking photos of people, including children. In some cultures, it’s considered very rude to snap pictures without permission.

Don’t Play the Rich Tourist

Editorial credit: ElenaR / Shutterstock.

Flashing large amounts of cash or bragging about your spending power can be distasteful and unsafe. Keep a low profile and respect the economic disparities in the places you visit.

Haggle with Respect

Editorial credit: Mystic Stock Photography / Shutterstock.

While bargaining can be part of the shopping experience in many places, remember to do so respectfully and understand when to stop. The few dollars you save might mean more to the seller than you.

Be Mindful of Tipping

Editorial credit: lunopark / Shutterstock.

In the United States, tipping is customary and constitutes a significant portion of service workers’ incomes. But it’s generally not practiced in places like Japan and South Korea. It can even be considered rude, as good service is expected as the standard.

Silence Your Phone in Sacred Spaces

Editorial credit: PATCHARIN.IN / Shutterstock.

Turning off your phone in sacred spaces is a widespread expectation to honor the solemnity of these sites. Silencing your phone in places like a church in Italy or a temple in Thailand prevents disturbances during religious ceremonies and shows your respect for cultural and spiritual practices.

Participate Politely

Editorial credit: ooo.photography / Shutterstock.

If you’re invited to participate in local traditions or celebrations, do so with enthusiasm and respect. Follow the lead of those around you.

Know Your Limits

Editorial credit: Pormezz / Shutterstock.

Understand the local drinking etiquette and know your limits to avoid embarrassment or even arrest. You want to avoid becoming that tourist who made the news in 2023 for drunkenly confusing the Eiffel Tower with a hotel.

Respect Local Wildlife

Editorial credit: bluestork / Shutterstock.

Respecting local wildlife is crucial when visiting natural habitats. Feeding animals can harm their diet and behavior while teasing or trying to capture them can cause stress and injury. Always observe wildlife from a distance to avoid disrupting their natural activities.

Handle Haggling with Humor

Editorial credit: DC Studio / Shutterstock.

Approaching haggling with humor can transform a tense negotiation into a pleasant interaction. Southeast Asian markets encourage a bit of light-hearted negotiation as part of the shopping experience. Smiling and joking can ease the bargaining process, making you and the seller more likely to stay on good terms.

The Art of Appreciation

Editorial credit: antoniodiaz / Shutterstock.

Instead of criticizing unfamiliar customs, embrace the chance to learn. Appreciating local traditions can enrich your travel experience and lead to deeper understanding and acceptance.

Space Is Precious

Editorial credit: DGLimages / Shutterstock.

Be conscious of the space you occupy in crowded cities or on public transportation. For example, backpacks should be kept at your feet on trains and buses to avoid bumping into others.

Keep Political Opinions Private

Editorial credit: Mangostar / Shutterstock.

While sharing your views on local or international politics might be tempting, it’s safer and more polite to keep those opinions to yourself when traveling. Stick to discussing those topics with friends and family members at home.

Conserve Like a Local

Editorial credit: Karolina_Marcinkowska / Shutterstock.

Many places face water shortages or energy crises. Follow locals’ lead and take shorter showers, turn off lights when not in use, and recycle if facilities are available.

Gesture with Care

Editorial credit: sutadimages / Shutterstock.

Be mindful of your hand gestures and their meaning when abroad. For instance, the thumbs-up gesture may be positive in many Western cultures. Still, it can be offensive in parts of the Middle East and South America. Similarly, if shown with the palm facing inward, the peace sign can be considered rude in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Take Local Laws Seriously

Editorial credit: Billion Photos/ Shutterstock.

Unfamiliar laws may seem trivial or unnecessary, but they are important locally. Understanding and adhering to these rules, whether they involve dress codes, public behavior, or restricted areas, ensures you avoid penalties and respect local customs.

Show Gratitude, Not Attitude

Editorial credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.

Expressing gratitude through simple gestures like saying “thank you” in the local language is a great way to connect with people while traveling. Even if you struggle with other aspects of the language, basic polite phrases can endear you to locals.

About the author
Lori Meek

Leave a Comment