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13 Travel Etiquette Rules you Must Know

Table of Contents

  1. LEARN LOCAL CUSTOMS AND RULES ANDD FOLLOW THEM
  2. LEARN CLOTHING RULES
  3. ALWAYS ASK BEFORE SNAPPING PHOTOS
  4. LEARN LOCAL TIPPING RULES
  5. DON’T BARGAIN IF NOT APPROPRIATE
  6. LEARN SOME LOCAL LANGUAGE
  7. BE CAREFUL WHEN KISSING IN PUBLIC
  8. NEVER LITTER
  9. REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE A GUEST
  10. FIND OUT HOW LOCALS DO BUSINESS
  11. LEARN GREETINGS LOCALS USE
  12. LEARN LOCAL RULES FOR BUSINESS ATTIRE
  13. IF GOING ON BUSINESS LUNCH FOLLOW LOCAL ETIQUETTE

Every time you travel, you have an amazing opportunity to experience a different culture. You also have a chance of showing your manners. Behaving properly can be hard if you're in a foreign country, so read our guide and learn modern travel etiquette tips and stats.

What is Travel Etiquette?

If you look up the travel etiquette definition, you'll learn that it refers to a set of rules you should follow to look and behave properly when you're in a foreign country. These actions and behaviors are accepted by the whole society, but the rules vary from country to country. It could get quite tricky to behave properly if you’re in a country with a culture opposite to yours. Being late to an appointment can make you look bad in one part of the world and it can be expected of you in another. 

Important Travel Etiquette Rules

1. Learn local customs and rules and follow them

On a daily basis, we don't have to think if our facial expressions and hand gestures are considered to be polite. This changes when you visit a foreign country, especially the one that has a different culture than yours. Learn some of the unique cultural traditions around the world so that you won't be considered disrespectful when you're in another country.

Photo by diGital Sennin on Unsplash

  • Slurping is acceptable in Japan. Making noisy sounds while consuming food means you enjoy it!
  • Don't ask for salt in Egypt. It's taken as an insinuation that you don't like the taste of the food.
  • Don't clink your glasses in Hungary. You can say cheers but should avoid clink them.
  • Socialize in a sauna while in Finland. A trip to the sauna is a popular way to relax and relieve stress.
  • Should you be early or late? Depends on where you are. In countries like Venezuela, Malaysia, and Morocco it's acceptable and even polite to be late. In countries like Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the USA it's a norm to be punctual.

2. Learn clothing rules

In most Western countries no laws are prescribing which clothing is required to be worn. You only need to be careful when entering religious buildings, such as churches and monasteries. Out of respect, it's expected to cover your shoulders and don't wear short shorts or mini skirts. Some Eastern cultures, on the other hand, have a dress code that needs to be adhered to.

Photo by Muhammad Faiz Zulkeflee on Unsplash

  • Indonesia - When in contact with the locals, leave revealing clothes at home.
  • Dubai - In touristy places, you can wear almost anything you want. Closed shoes for men in fancy restaurants are advisable.
  • Iran - As in any Muslim country, cover as much of your skin as possible to avoid getting too much attention.
  • Thailand - When visiting temples, remember to cover up with a scarf.
  • Saudi Arabia - Women are not expected to wear abayas, except in very traditional and religious places. It’s advisable to cover your cleavage.
  • India - Bring baggy clothes to cover your arms and legs when visiting temples.

3. Always ask before snapping photos

Today, everybody who travels takes at least a couple of photos, it doesn't matter if with a DSLR or an iPhone. Everybody wants to document fascinating things they witness around the world. Most touristy places are prepared for that, and places like museums will have clear signs if it's not allowed to take photos. You're probably good with taking classic touristy pics of monuments and landscapes. Things get tricky when you step outside tourist zones and start photographing personal situations.

Remember to always be respectful and ask for permission to take a photo. If not with words, then with your eyes or a hand gesture. Also, try to engage with the people you're photographing, especially if you’re taking pics of kids in developing countries.

4. Learn local tipping rules

Travel etiquette around the world varies a lot when it comes to tipping. Some countries think of leaving a tip as a respectful gesture, somewhere it's considered offending, and somewhere welcomed but not necessary. Take a look at the tipping table below.


Taxi

Hotel

Restaurant

Chile

Round up the fare

$1-$2 per bag

5-10%

China

Unnecessary

10 yuan per bag

No tipping

France

Unnecessary

€1 per bag

Included in bill

Germany

Round to next euro

€2 per bag

10% for a full meal

India

Tell to “keep the change”

50 rupees per bag

10% in nicer places

Japan

No tipping policy

No tipping policy

No tipping policy

Mexico

Unnecessary

10-20 pesos per bag

10-15% cash preferred

United Kingdom

Small change

1-2 pounds per bag

10% for sit-down meals

United States

About 20%

$1-2 per bag

18-20%

5. Don’t bargain if not appropriate

Where is it ok to bargain?

Bargaining, also called haggling, is common in Latin America, Asia, and North Africa. In most flea markets and tourist shops, you'll most likely pay more than necessary if you don't bargain. Vendors expect a bit of bargaining, so the initial price is higher than they expect to receive. In such situations, try to get the idea of a medium price, learn to say "it is still expensive" in a local language, and try to learn if it's expected of you to be relaxed and playful (like in Marrakech) or keep a poker face (Egypt).

Where is it not ok to bargain?

In Western societies, bargaining is expected only when making big purchases with no fixed price, like real estate or used cars.

6. Learn some local language

Knowing a few local phrases can go a long way when visiting another country. Not only it shows your respect, but it also makes getting around easier and it gets you closer to local culture. You don't have to be fluent, you can just pick up the most common words and expressions you'll use when traveling, like greetings, travel vocabulary, ordering a meal, taking a taxi, booking a hotel room, etc. Take a look at our mini-guide on the best languages to learn for travel and find out how to quickly master the basics of a new language.

7. Be careful when kissing in public

If you're planning a trip with your significant other, learn where you can smooch on the street freely and where you should not even hold hands.

  • Buddhist countries (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia) - Avoid PDA when you're in the countryside and especially when visiting famous temples.
  • Eastern Asia - In China, PDA is a cultural taboo. The same goes for Japan, where most PDAs will be met with disapproving stares.
  • India - PDA is prohibited in India. You can get a large fine or go to prison for up to three months.
  • Nepal - Hugging, hand-holding, and public kissing are offensive.
  • Middle East - Keep your hands and lips to yourself when visiting Dubai and UAE.
  • Eastern Europe - PDA is ok, but these countries tend to be more conservative, so try not to exaggerate.
  • Europe - In major cities like London, Paris, and Madrid PDA is widely accepted.

8. Never litter

Littering has a big effect on the environment. While traveling, try to be a responsible tourist and dispose of your trash properly. Many tourist places will have trash bins, but in case there aren't any, you can follow a few tricks to keep green.

  • Always keep trash bags with you.
    • If you don't have any, reuse plastic bags that came with the packaging of something you bought.
    • You can also use newspaper to wrap trash and throw it away or keep it in your bag until you find a proper trash can.

    9. Remember that you are a guest

    Either you’re visiting a neighboring country or other part of the world, remember to be polite and respectful when you're there. Do your research before you get there and adapt your behavior and looks to the local culture.

    Business Travel Etiquette

    1. Find out how locals do business

    Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

    Being on time, giving a firm handshake, and wearing business casual are the three rules to follow when doing business in most Western societies. Business travel etiquette varies in other parts of the world. For example, in China, you should give a light handshake with a nod. When receiving a business card in Asia, carefully read it then put it in your shirt pocket. If you're in Mexico, a business meeting set for 1 pm may begin at 2. In Japan, you should be ready by 12:45 pm. Learn those details before you start to do business in foreign countries.

    2. Learn greetings locals use

    Should you use a firm or a light handshake? Maybe a quick eye contact? Should you nod or not? Here are a few business greeting rules that will show that you understand local customs.

    • Australia - Right-handed handshake and brief eye contact.
    • China - Bowing or shaking hands is acceptable. Follow the lead of others if not sure.
    • France - Consequent meetings may involve a light kiss on the cheek.
    • Hong Kong - A light handshake plus lowered eyes.
    • Germany - A quick, firm handshake plus a formal form of address (doctor, Herr).

    3. Learn local rules for business attire

    It’s not only important how you behave, but also how you look. Here are some of the rules to follow.

    • China - Full suits in muted colors and closed-toe shoes. For women: skirts/dresses that go below the knee.
    • Russia - Stay conservative and formal.
    • India - During summer, people tend to dress more casually. You can ditch jackets and ties.
    • Europe - Formal attire is expected only in certain industries like finance or very important meetings.
    • The USA - You can't go wrong with business casual in most situations.
    • South America - Dress conservatively, but add a bit of flair with jewelry or a nice watch.

    4. If going on business lunch follow local etiquette

    Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

    Last but not least, you should know dining etiquette before going to lunch with your foreign colleagues. Here are a few rules.

    • Slurp your food in Japan when eating soups and noodles. It's a sign of you enjoying the food.
    • Eat only with your right hand when you're in India and the Middle East.
    • Don't offer to split the bill in France. Either pay for the whole meal or someone else will.
    • In Mexico, eat with your hands. It's considered almost snobby to use utensils.

    No matter where you go, travel etiquette requires you to be polite, thankful, and respectful, to do a bit of research before visiting a new place, to be patient and wait your turn, to learn and respect local customs and traditions.


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