Going to a foreign country can be quite a culture shock to some people. It is exciting, exhilarating, scary, and terrifying, all at the same time. Because you are in a new and unfamiliar environment, you should be mindful of the local customs and traditions to avoid coming across as rude and disrespectful, or get yourself in trouble. The tips below should hopefully help you become the type of tourist that locals will welcome with open arms, and not raise their eyebrows or jeer at.
Do some research on local customs and practices.
Should you leave tips when you eat at restaurants? Is it okay to just smile or nod, rather than shake hands, when you are introduced to someone? Do you need to take your shoes off when entering people’s houses? The answers to these questions vary country to country. Tipping, for example, is not practiced in Japan, but is typical in the United States. Thus, to not make a fool out of yourself, do some reading before your trip to familiarize yourself with the appropriate things to do in different social situations.
Learn some basic greetings and phrases in the local language.
Knowing how to say a few simple words and phrases in the local language can come in handy wherever you are in the world. Do not ever assume that every person you approach will know English. What if you suddenly have a bathroom emergency? How do you ask a stranger where the nearest restrooms are? How about if you are having a hard time locating your hotel? What do you say to someone to get directions? You can get yourself a phrase book or download a language app to your phone before your trip to not have a very tough time communicating.
Mind your hygiene.
If you are used to showering only a few times a week in your home country, you may have to change that to a daily thing when you are visiting the tropics. Being out on a 30+-degree Celsius day that is also very humid can leave you very sweaty, so make sure to shower and change into clean clothes before you venture out the next day. Also brush your teeth, shampoo your hair, and wear deodorant. Think of the people who will have the misfortune of standing or sitting next to a smelly you on a crowded train or bus!
Meet new people.
Come out of your shell, and put yourself out there. Make new friends. One of the best things about travelling the world is the many opportunities to get to know people from different countries and cultures that you most likely are not very familiar with. It expands your horizon, and helps make you a better-rounded individual. A good way to accomplish this is by staying at hostels and going to shows, events, and other activities. If you are shy and reserved at home, try to set all your inhibitions aside when you are abroad!
Try the local food.
Even if you are not that big of a foodie, you should try at least a couple of dishes that are considered the local specialty of your destination city or country. If going to Spain, try paella, croquetas, or empanadas. If visiting the Netherlands, hit up the bars and drink Heineken or Grolsch. If exploring South America, put dulce de leche, platanos fritos, and chorizo on your must-eat list. If hitting up China, South Korea, Vietnam, or Japan, make sure to get a bowl of their own special noodle soups.
Do not litter.
Whether you are at home or in a different country, it is important to be mindful of your trash. Do not just throw plastic wrappers, empty bottles and cans, and other wastes anywhere. Look for a garbage bin and toss your trash in there. If caught, you might end up having to pay a fine. Be a good person, and help maintain the cleanliness of your surroundings wherever you are on the planet.
Watch out for “No Photos and Videos” signs at tourist attractions.
For many people, travelling is a way to take beautiful photos and videos of all the places they visit. However, not all attractions in the world allow photography or video recording. In many temples, shrines, churches, and other religious sites, pictures and videos are prohibited so as not to disturb the solemnity of these places. There are also museums that post “No Photos and Videos” signs all over to not ruin the valuable art pieces and exhibits on display. Make sure that it is okay to take photos or videos by looking for signs around or asking a staff member.
Do not vandalize.
Did you hear about that tourist who carved his initial into a wall in the Colosseum in Rome? He was caught and fined 20,000 Euros for damaging an important historic monument. How about that artist who painted her art on rocks in the Crater Lake National Park, Yosemite National Park, and several other national parks, and posted photos of these to her Instagram and Tumblr pages? She was caught, charged with, and pled guilty to charges of injury and depredation to government property. Do not be like these people. You can still make the most out of your trips without defacing and desecrating landmarks.
Keep an open mind.
Everyone has different backgrounds and experiences, strengths and weaknesses, struggles and triumphs. When you are travelling, you will get exposed to different lifestyles, customs, traditions, and practices that you once only just read about in books or seen on television or the movies. Be ready to embrace the unfamiliar and unknown, and realize that that is just how the world is. Do not ridicule, mock, or even try to correct. How you do things at home is not the only way things are done. Listen, pay attention, and empathize.