Nowadays, before we embark on a trip, we search for information as to what we should do in guide books, travel blogs and peers recommendations. However, it’s easy to forget about things that you should not do! We often learn it the hard way and sometimes it can be very embarrassing to commit a cultural faux pas. In most cases, we just need to use our common sense, but sometimes a little bit more research can help avoid uncomfortable situations. Here are eight things you should refrain from doing while travelling abroad:
1. Criticize or Share Your Opinion About the Culture, Politics or Any Other Taboo Subject
When you’re away, you will soon realize that: no, that’s not how things are done at home! But that’s the reason why you explore the world, is it not? You travel to discover different ways of life and to get out of the environment you know so well. You might not agree with the politics or the culture of the country you’re travelling to, but as a visitor it is your duty to keep your opinion to yourself. Not only could it be interpreted as rude and insensitive, in some places, this could land you in a lot of trouble. Save your thoughts for when you go back home and share your experience with your friends and family.
2. Be Disrespectful to Your Host Country and Their Customs
We all know the saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Be conscious of your environment and follow the appropriate attire by respecting the dress code. In some more conservative areas, women are required to cover their shoulders in public. It might be okay to yell for your waiter’s attention in Korea, but it’s highly frowned upon in western countries. In Buddhist countries, the head is considered holy so it’s a serious lack of respect to touch someone’s head, even young children.
3. Leave Without Getting a Proper Travel Insurance
We don’t like to imagine the worst, but while being away it’s better to stay on the safe side and never leave without travel insurance. A good travel insurance coverage will relieve you from unnecessary stress. You can be the most careful traveller and very rarely engage in any type of extreme activities, but no one is protected against a fluke accident … at home or on the road! Look for an insurance company that can offer a travel insurance solution best suited to your needs.
4. Do Anything You Wouldn’t Do at Home
It goes without saying that it’s never a good idea to break the law. Unless you are a master of international legislation, you probably don’t comprehend the magnitude of certain offences such as drunk driving, engaging in illegal activities and even drug possession. Remember that some things might seem trivial in your home country, but that are considered a serious crime in other countries. There are Muslim countries where having physical contact such as holding hands, hugging and kissing someone from the opposite sex could land you in jail. Research prior to departure to avoid such situations.
5. Be Unaware of Your Body Language
If you are a very articulate person, this can be a bit tricky. Also, the language barrier often forces us to resort to other means of communication to get our message across. However, some hand gestures like the “okay” sign or doing a thumbs up which might be offensive in some countries. It’s important to understand those protocols before arriving to a new destination. For instance, putting your feet up and showing the soles of your feet or even pointing with your finger can be interpreted as impolite. Be considerate of local ways and learn to adapt to them.
6. Take Pictures of People Without Their Permission
Urban photography might be trending to show the “real side” of a destination, however, it’s still common curtesy to ask locals before taking their pictures. Kids love to have their picture taken but make sure that there are other adults in sight to avoid anything being misinterpreted. While you’re at it, show the people you’ve just photographed the picture you’ve taken of them. This is a wonderful way to break the culture barrier. However, don’t offer to send the pictures if you don’t think you will be able to fulfill this promise.
7. Assume Everyone Speaks English and Be Offended When They Don’t Understand
Unless you’re travelling to an English-speaking country, don’t expect everyone to be able to communicate with you. It doesn’t matter how slow or loud you speak, they won’t understand you just as you don’t understand them. Think about the reverse situation, if someone visits your country and speaks to you in a foreign language, you would also look at them dumbfounded. It is your responsibility as a visitor to try to learn a few basic words to help you communicate. This will go a long way to make the trip more agreeable and gain the respect of locals, who see that you’re making an effort.
8. Expect Restaurants to Comply with Your Dietary Restrictions and Accommodate Them
If you follow a strict diet such as no gluten, vegetarian or sugar-free, take into consideration that eating abroad might entail a certain level of difficulty. In Asia for instance, there is such a thing as “Asian vegetarian”. This means that your dish will be composed of vegetables and there won’t be pieces of meat in it. However, it is highly possible that the broth or the cooking fat is meat-based.
Certain food allergies can cause serious health complications and those are exacerbated when visiting a foreign country. When you add to the mix the language barrier, this can be downright dangerous. It is good practice to have your allergies translated in the language of the country you will be travelling to so you can easily alert restaurant staff when ordering food. Beware that some countries don’t have the same standards for their facilities so unless you cook for yourself, there is always a chance of cross-contamination.