Travel Etiquette Tips for Your Next Vacation

Every culture has a stereotype. Given that I am British, I am well aware that the English are often thought to be reserved in their manners, speech and (sometimes) dress. To be honest I am not sure how accurate this perception really is today. However, for this article, I am going to try and embrace my heritage, as well as channel the etiquette prowess of the late Emily Post.

But let me start with a question: have you ever marveled at how accessible the world is today?

Only a few decades ago a trip abroad quite often required multiple flights because there were far fewer direct routes available. And, even then, the places you visited were normally economic hubs versus smaller, more remote locations. Yet today, it is possible to travel to virtually any part of the world.

However, as the world opens up, there comes a sense of responsibility to observe and respect the cultures and traditions of others.

Minding your P’s and Q’s

Mind your P’s and Q’s” was an expression I heard a lot growing up in England. Essentially it means watch your manners. And, while one would hope that we all have an idea of how to behave correctly in our everyday lives, good manners while traveling can sometimes take us out of our comfort zone. Here are a couple of examples:

Learn a few basic foreign phrases in advance

This gem was one that my dad drilled into me from a very young age. You would be amazed at how well a simple “please” and “thank you” (in the native language) will be received. People appreciate effort and, as a result, you may find that you will get a lot more help/service because of it. Just don’t ask my dad to loan you a phrase book because it could be an outdated 1950’s issue that will have the locals in hysterics (true story). Instead look up a few phrases on the internet before you go. There are tons of free online translation sites out there.

Be gracious

Over the years I have had some amazing foodie experiences while on my travels…and some not so much. But, despite that, I will always accept and at least try (with a smile) new foods that are offered to me – even when it is the last thing I want to eat.

Remember your behavior reflects upon your countrymen

O.K. so this one seems obvious and doesn’t really take you out of your comfort zone, but I do think it is worth a mention. Like Olympic athletes, when you travel abroad you are representing your country. As such, just because you do something a certain way at home, does not mean that it is necessarily acceptable elsewhere. For instance line cutting in some countries is considered the norm, but in other countries it is considered incredibly rude. The same is true with speaking too loudly.

Local Customs

When I lived in Japan there were several customs that I had to get onboard with quickly. For instance I always took my shoes off before entering someone’s home. And I also learned that it was absolutely not alright to stick my chopsticks in my food. My point is that, wherever you go, there will always be traditions that you should try and adhere to – whether it is covering your shoulders while entering a Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia or how you should tip in restaurants. With this in mind be observant of the behaviors of local residents and try to follow their lead. Even better, do a little research before you board the plane.


Did you see the recent news about how airline seats are shrinking? I literally groaned when I saw it because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in a middle seat with two people either side of me who have taken it upon themselves to hog the dividing armrests. As a result I typically end up sitting for most of my flight with my arms wedged at my side. I guess my point is that when you are in a small, shared space with a bunch of other people you don’t know, it is important to be mindful of others. That includes getting out of the airplane aisles as soon as you have found your seat, so that others can get past you; or refraining from bringing smelly foods on board; or leaving small personal items in the overhead bins while others are wandering the aisles looking for space.


Have some etiquette tips or pet peeves of your own? Please share your comments.

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Showing 6 Comments

  1. Cole 11:45 AM on October 24th, 2012 |

    Great article! My partner & me love to travel & have been to many places all over the world. It is so true about learning a few phrases in the native language or learning as a bit about the country you are visiting on your trip. Learning a phrase can sometimes be a bit of a challenge for me, but it can be fun trying & getting to know the local people. We both love to wander into more local areas & get a better flavor of the country & even using local transportation. Try it! & enjoy!!!

  2. DCMilwaukee 7:54 AM on October 18th, 2012 |

    Regarding plane travel it should be illegal for an airline to have a middle seat without one armrest that is not shared. People need to have their government step in and refine laws, because the airlines sure aren’t doing it.

  3. Harry Kuheim 11:11 AM on October 16th, 2012 |

    The French have utter contempt for Americans…why go or give them good tips?

    • Suzy Castles 11:49 AM on October 16th, 2012 |

      That’s a pretty ignorant statment.

    • GU 12:31 PM on October 16th, 2012 |

      the French are a lovely people. have you ever even been to France?

    • Purejustice 10:09 AM on October 17th, 2012 |

      Really, have you ever been to France.  You must believe what the media shows you!  I have found with my many trips to France, that if you speak a little of their language and understand their culture, you’ll find them a very polite and engaging people.  Yes, you’ll find the occasional rude one, but have you ever been to New York City?  Rude doesn’t describe a lot of people I’ve met there!  American’s, for the most part are loud and obnoxious, especially when traveling!  Before you condemn a whole country of people, you might want to look in the mirror!