Every place has its own culture and lifestyle.
These customs may be different from what we’re used to, or they may feel familiar.
Either way, learning about the culture of your specific destination is essential if you don’t want to break any rules or offend anyone.
Traveling abroad is fun, but it also comes with the responsibility to be a mindful traveler, respectful of other cultures.
Keep these 11 rules in mind for respectful, mindful travel abroad:
Study your destination.
Being prepared never hurt anyone. It’s preferable to get ready for the world that you are going to explore, rather than fully immersing yourself into foreign waters without preparation and then doing something inappropriate.
It’s normal to learn from our mistakes, but learning the dos and don’ts beforehand is also a way of respecting the culture you are going to visit. Fewer mistakes mean more time to enjoy the rest of the trip.
Besides, isn’t it fun to learn facts and trivia about a particular place? It’s good to gain extra knowledge, especially if you are a frequent traveler.
Stick to the rules.
The rules are there for a reason, and you have no right to disregard them.
Signage will often let you know what to do and what not to do. If the signs are in a language you don’t understand, you can ask a local or your tour guide to help you decipher what they mean. You can also try to learn the basics of the local language, which, by the way, happens to be the next tip.
Brush up on your language skills.
As mentioned above, some signs are only written in the local language, so you might want to learn some basic phrases to avoid embarrassing or even law-breaking moments.
Basic language skills are also helpful for simple travel needs like asking for directions, or simply saying thank you or hello. Some locals may speak English, but we can never assume that they do. Since you’re the visitor, you have to adapt.
If you have no time to learn the language, there are apps available that can translate for you in a snap. That may be the easiest option, and you will learn while you use them.
Be careful with gestures.
You have to be careful with your gestures. Sometimes, body language can send a different message than the one you intend, so you have to watch what you’re doing. You might be accidentally sending offensive signals, so it’s best to get to know the cues in your host culture.
To avoid misinterpretation, you can always ask politely about what to do and what not to do in specific situations.
If you are landing from a different time zone, this might be a slight hurdle for you. Jetlag is the worst, especially if you are traveling for business and have an important meeting to attend in the morning.
Punctuality is a big deal in some countries. In Japan, for instance, when they say you have to arrive at eight in the morning, you have to really be there at eight in the morning. They value their time so much, and we should respect that.
It’s also good to understand that different cultures mean different schedules. In some places, parties may happen during the day, while you are used to celebrating at night. Or specific times of the day may be blocked off for rituals and prayers.
You may be on holiday, but you still have to consider the culture of the place you are visiting. Dressing appropriately is one way of showing respect to your host culture. Load up your luggage with the right clothing for the place you’re visiting.
Dressing the way that a culture requires you to doesn’t mean you lose comfort. In some places, you can’t enter a temple or a mosque showing your shoulders or your knees; however, you can always wear something comfortable as long as you don’t disrespect the culture.
Stay mindful when taking photos.
Taking photos is part of traveling. We really can’t help ourselves sometimes, especially if the place is too beautiful to ignore.
However, you should be mindful of your background. It may not be allowed to include certain spots in the photo. So you have to be observant. You don’t want to miss signage that says photos are not permitted in certain areas.
Only bargain when appropriate.
Haggling when shopping is fun, but only if it’s appropriate. Some markets allow this type of bargaining, while others are strict about set pricing. It may be considered embarrassing for some sellers, so be careful to investigate the customs before bargaining.
When did littering become acceptable in any country? It’s never going to be a thing, so you should know how to properly dispose of your trash.
There may be some countries that are strict about their separation of waste, so learn about and follow their rules for trash.
Be polite, always.
Being polite wherever you go is an excellent way to gain the respect of others. You don’t need to strike up a conversation with everyone, but learning how to say thank you to people who help you find your way when you are lost in a foreign country is an act of basic courtesy, and it doesn’t cost anything.
Another way of showing politeness is to be graceful when you decline an offer or invitation. It may be a special food or a tour around a particular place. If you don’t feel like doing it, you can politely say no and go on your way without offending anyone.
Traffic and queues can easily annoy us. But when you’re traveling abroad, lines are inevitable, especially for train rides and other attractions, so you have to bring a lot of patience with you.
Breathe in and out; you’ll get to your destination in no time. As they say, patience is a virtue.