Tue, December 4th, 2012 - By

Common Cultural Goofs Made Travelling Abroad

Travelling abroad on your next trip?  Fantastic!  But when we are travelling abroad, we need to remember that we are a guest of another country – and their rules apply.   There are consequences for not knowing the laws and cultural norms when travelling to a foreign country, whether that’s a fine for dropping chewing gum on the pavement or – oops – getting put in jail for having sex on a public beach.

While hopefully your travels will be a little less adventurous, here are some of the most common cultural goofs I’ve witnessed on my trips – and how those could be avoided.

Dressing Appropriately

We’ll save the discussion about blinding white trainers and other tourist fashion faux pas for next time  – I’m talking about not ugly, but inappropriate, dress.  This requires just a quick bit of research to know – for example, I’ve seen people upset about waiting in line to see the Vatican, then be turned away for showing up in their swimming shorts.   It seems to be a quick check can really resolve most of these problems, even when travelling to places like the Middle East, where clothing norms are certainly to be respected.

Ladies, this is really important if you plan on being by yourself at any point and want to avoid unwanted attention.  When in doubt, go conservative.

Hand Gestures

Even presidents and prime ministers have gotten this one wrong, so while you’ll probably be forgiven, it’s still embarrassing.  Bottom line?  Don’t hold up any fingers when gesturing.  A whole hand works for waving down a taxi or the bus, and that will cover you for most other situations.    You’re on  your own if you try anything else – don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Don’t Touch

I don’t know about you, but I cannot stand it when someone touches me that I don’t know.  I understand that for some, this is a way to build rapport and try to “make a connection,” but if I don’t know you, to me it is rude and a total violation of my ‘personal space.’   In many foreign culture, touching ranges from rude and disrespectful to down right sacrilegious.   This applies to both adults and children (and pets, while I might add – don’t get bitten, literally).  The safe advice is to stick to handshakes – that’s enough.


Drinking yourself into a hot mess is not so cool, even though a quick check of Tumblr on the weekend will certainly highlight that this is exactly what everyone has been up to.  Overindulging is not only a bit reckless in the cultural sense, it’s all dangerous – who knows where you will end up, and whether or not you, your cash, and your passport will end up there with you.

Closing Advice: For the most part, I think most countries are pretty flexible and happy to “laugh off” any awkward incidents.  But why bother?  Save yourself the displeasure and take 15 minutes to research your destination beforehand.  It’s one less thing to worry about.

Photo by dustpuppy

Andy Hayes

Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Seattle, Washington. When not soaking up the Pacific Northwest lifestyle or enjoying life on the road, he is spending time hanging out on his own travel lifestyle magazine, Sharing Travel Experiences.

Posted : Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 at 10:00
Category : Holiday Tips
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