Travel etiquette are guidelines and customs that will advise the traveler on how to behave during their trip. Basically, rules for being a good tourist. That being said, travel etiquette will mean different things to different people. The basics, though, are fundamental. So while every destination may be unique, these are my etiquette tips regardless of where you’re going.
1. Research Your Destination
Is it a Geek Girl Travel top 10 tips if I don’t mention research? Seriously, though, every trip for me starts with research. Even spontaneous travel means studying as much information as possible prior to setting foot on new-to-me soil. My number one rule of travel is respect where you’re going. You will be far better prepared to do so with adequate research about your destination.
Researching the customs, culture and history of the places you’re traveling to is definitely part of the experience for me. It can totally be a fun exercise, as well, as you feel more and more connected to the trip you’re planning. In particular, I enjoy learning unexpected trivia to share with friends and family later. Being better prepared will also reduce potential stress once you’ve arrived. Landing in a new locale and feeling comfortable enough to hit the ground running makes for a better trip.
2. Know the Law
Before traveling to a new destination, make sure you know the rules. Obviously, it’s not reasonable to expect you to know every law, but you can definitely be more mindful of laws that pertain to you. We always make sure we’re familiar with any road laws that differ from what we’re used to here in the States. No one wants to deal with a ticket or worse. Keep in mind, there are likely things that are totally legal when you’re from that are considered illegal elsewhere. Being knowledgeable will save you in the long run.
Also, be mindful of signs posted around. If a sign says something is against the rules, it’s against the rules. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll see tourists look at a sign and then do the exact thing the sign says not to do. Most of the time, those same tourists are also putting themselves (and sometimes others) at risk. If you aren’t sure if something is against the rules, ask.
3. You are a Guest
Wherever you travel, always remember that you are a guest. You don’t live there. No matter how much you research, you will still be a guest. Albeit a knowledgeable one. Use that same knowledge to make sure you honor local customs and respect the land and the people. The locals you are interacting with aren’t also on vacation. They are going about their daily lives. Keep that in mind as you go about your business as a tourist in their home.
4. Learn a Little of the Language
Travel should be accessible to everyone. Learning the language of the destination you’re traveling to isn’t a requirement. Not everyone can just up and learn a whole ass language for a trip. That being said, learning a bit of the lingo before landing in your new-to-you destination will be a huge advantage. Start with the basics, such as “hello”, “goodbye”, “please”, and “thank you”. I recommend also learning “excuse me”, “I’m sorry”, “how much does this cost?”, “where is the bathroom?” and “I don’t understand” since they will all come in handy.
While you’re learning about language, don’t forget to research traditional greetings, as well. Some places are all about a handshake and some places find physical contact with strangers to be totally inappropriate. Be prepared to know how to best communicate, verbally and physically.
5. Be Knowledgeable of Dining Etiquette
First, let me say that even if you are the pickiest eater out there, eating local cuisine is such a big part of the travel experience for me, so I hope you’ll try as many tastes as possible. That being said, even if you think you know the cuisine well, what you’ve been eating at home might not be as similar to the authentic food of that culture as you thought. Try new things with an open mind. That doesn’t mean you’ll like every single thing you try. Hell, I still hate coleslaw no matter how many BBQ joints in Texas tell me it’s a really good side dish. I’m not going to begrudge anyone else who loves it, though. It’s just not for me. Appreciate and respect the local cuisine.
Also, remember to research dining and tipping etiquette prior to your trip. This way, you are prepared to adhere to the customs of the place you’re visiting. Some places think that cleaning your plate is rude. Some places find gratuity to be rude. Be mindful of these things while planning your trip.
6. Know When to Haggle
I’m not going to lie — I love to haggle. I often see the initial price as the starting point of a sacred shopper and seller dance where we mambo our way to the real price. Remember, though, that you need to make sure haggling is something that is customary in that culture. There are some places where haggling will be seen as rude. There are other places where not haggling will get you laughed out of the market.
In the end, these are likely people who rely on tourism for their income. Be respectful of them, their wares, and come in knowing how much that item is worth to you. For me, I put a premium on art and, because of that, I’m willing to pay sticker price. More mass manufactured souvenir type items are always fun to work out a deal on. And if you want multiple items, always ask if there’s a discount for buying more than one item.
7. Dress Appropriately
Every place you visit will have customs regarding how you dress. Now, I’m not saying don’t be true to your own aesthetic. You do need to be respectful of local customs, though. Don’t presume you know the rules, either. I definitely recommend spending some pre-trip time researching dress code to make sure you’re prepared. While dress codes of other cultures might not fit into your style, keep in mind that this isn’t just about being respectful (which is important). Not adhering to customary dress standards may also impede your ability to enter certain attractions you’re interested in seeing.
8. Ask Consent Before Taking That Photo
We’re all shutterbugs now. Taking photos is so easy with our cellphones at the ready. You know I’m always going to support taking all the photos, but you also need to make sure you’re asking for consent if you want to take photos of strangers. Additionally, places will have their own customs and rules when it comes to photography. If you plan on taking photos along the way, make sure you know the rules. Many places don’t allow flash photography when indoors. Some cultures don’t allow posing for photos. You need to know this and be prepared before you land in this new-to-you destination.
It’s also important to discuss being respectful of other people’s space and time. Don’t use your selfie stick to get your photo if that means spoiling someone else’s photo. Really, in general, leave the selfie stick at home if you know you’re going to be in crowded spaces. Take the time to get your shot, but don’t take so much time that you create a huge line of people behind you. By coming prepared with a shot list ahead of time, it will make you far more efficient when the time comes to take your photos.
9. Be Patient
When you’re traveling, it’s really common to hear the tick of the clock faintly in the background reminding you that your time there will soon be up. We often try to cram as much into each day as possible. Now, I totally travel this way. I create to-the-minute itineraries so I can try to see as much as possible. That being said, your desire to move faster doesn’t give you the right to be rude to folks who are taking their time. Be respectful and patient as you are exploring your destination.
This is especially true when dealing with more touristed areas. Getting angry or frustrated because someone else isn’t as prepared as you will likely ruin your day more than anyone else’s day. One of my pet peeves is when someone tries to get on an elevator right away instead of being patient and letting folks off the elevator first. Don’t be that person.
10. Just Be a Good Human
Just. Be. A. Good. Human. When in doubt, be your best self. You are representing more than just yourself while traveling. You represent your own culture. There are so many ways you can be a better human while traveling. Don’t get into political fights with locals about their politics because you watched CNN a couple times. Don’t tear apart their customs because they differ from your own. Respect the destination you’re visiting. Especially if you are visiting a more touristed place, be mindful of the impact your visit might have on that destination. Don’t litter, don’t be rude, don’t leave the place worse off than when you got there.
These are my top 10 travel etiquette tips, but I know it’s not the definitive list. Have a tip you highly recommend? Did you learn it the hard way? Comment below.