A Newbie’s Guide to Basic Travel Etiquette

I’ve been harping on a lot about certain topics lately, but some of them bear repeating, especially for those of you who have never traveled outside the country before. So, to start, I’m going to let Youtube superstar, Jenna Marbles, kick things off by telling you what you should, or in this case, shouldn’t wear at the airport.

Warning: Video contains offensive language. Watch at your own discretion.

Getting Through Security

So far, I’ve found that only upon departure from the United States do they ask you to remove your shoes when you go through security. In the interest of a more efficient security screening and out of respect to your fellow passengers, please do the following in line before you reach the metal detectors:

  • Take off your shoes, jacket, belt, and jewelry
  • Take your electronics out of their bags
  • Remove all the coins from your pockets or better yet, just don’t carry any coins in your pockets
  • Tuck your passport and boarding pass away somewhere easily accessible
  • Avoid standing in line behind a family of 4 or more
  • Push your bags onto the moving conveyor belt yourself

Once your bags are cleared, grab everything and move to a nearby bench or table to put everything back where it belongs, instead of creating a backup at the receiving end. Before you leave the area, do a quick scan to make sure you have everything.

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Passport Control

The passport control experience will differ everywhere you go. Some counters might question you for 15-20 minutes (Hi, Israel!), others will take your picture, and some might take a scan of your fingerprints. What’s important here is to answer all questions honestly, and have a hard copy of your itinerary on hand. Before arriving to certain destinations (i.e. Japan and Australia), you need to have proof that you’re moving on aka no one-way tickets.

Some things to remember after you’ve handed over your passport and boarding pass include no fidgeting and no reaching over the counter to the attendant. Also, dress appropriately. No need to look like you just rolled out of bed or are dressed up for the ball. Find a comfortable in-between. When they stamp your passport and hand it back, always say thank you. Bonus points for saying thank you in the local language.

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Currency Exchange

When it comes to exchanging currencies, wait until you’ve arrived at your destination. You’ll often find better deals at the other end than you would at home.

Whatever you do, don’t exchange currencies at the airport. Instead, go to a non-commissioned stand closer to the city center. Bring up the XE app on your smartphone to see the latest exchange rates, and negotiate with the teller. When haggling, be polite, and if one teller doesn’t offer you a good price, go to another.

Better yet, let your bank do the currency exchange for you. You might not always get the best rate, but if your haggling skills aren’t up to par, it’s more convenient using a debit card at an ATM. If you rely on your debit card abroad, take out sufficient amounts so you don’t keep getting dinged with foreign transaction fees.

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On Board

Other than finding space for luggage in the overhead compartment, I never understand why people are in such a rush to board the plane. You’re going to be sitting for the next 10 hours so spend the extra 15-20 minutes in the waiting area where you can move and stretch your legs.

With the 2 feet of space you’re allocated on the aircraft, you have to get creative in staying comfortable on the long haul flight. An art nobody has yet perfected. Personal space is not a universal concept so if you don’t want people encroaching on your personal space then don’t invade theirs. Don’t hog the armrests with your elbows OR feet, don’t lean your seat so far back that the person behind you barely has room to move, and don’t stick your foot out in the aisle so that drink carts can’t get by.

Out of respect to your neighbors, tuck your bags ALL THE WAY under your seat, don’t get inebriated, and don’t blast music through your headphones especially when your neighbor is trying to sleep. If I can hear your music over mine, we have a problem. Also, if you don’t want to be the next internet sensation, save your makeout sessions and lusty feelings for your hotel room. Nobody wants to see that nor do they want to be on the news for when the plane has to make an unexpected layover because you couldn’t control your sexual desires.

Before you leave the plane, the least you can do is make sure your seat is neat and tidy. Show some courtesy to the flight attendants who don’t get paid enough for putting up with you, and take your leftover trash with you.

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Make the Effort With Manners

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. I cannot impress upon you enough the importance of research. Keeping in line with cultural customs can make your time in a country go from good to great. For instance, should you accept gifts with both hands or one? In what scenarios should you bow and how low? Is it customary to remove your shoes in someone’s home or visiting religious sites? Is it rude to blow your nose in public? Is it offensive to reject food/drinks when offered? Knowing these things beforehand helps you blend in better and shows respect for the people around you.

You’re in a new country to learn not impose your ways upon others. Traveling is a privilege not a right. Be a gracious guest, say please and thank you ALWAYS, and keep your manners in check.

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Eating Out

Across the board, no matter where you are, here are a few things you should or shouldn’t do when eating out.

  • Don’t chew with your mouth open
  • Don’t inhale your food, enjoy it
  • Unless noted otherwise, don’t seat yourself at a restaurant
  • Wait until everyone at your table has their meal to start eating
  • Learn where/when it’s okay to slurp your food
  • Find out whether it’s polite to eat all the food on your plate or leave some behind
  • Learn in what order foods should be eaten
  • Clean up after yourself including any spills

Gratitude

There are a myriad of ways to show your appreciation to the people of the country for having you as their guest. Tipping is one of those options, but be careful because in some places, mainly in Asia, tipping is perceived as offensive. When you are invited to someone’s home, it’s customary to bring a small gift like sweets. For tour guides, you can either tip them or give them a small gift as well like a snack or cigarettes. If you couchsurf with someone, buy them lunch or pay for their admission to an attraction. Send postcards or souvenirs from your home country to your new friends. Be creative and spread the kindness.

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Don’t Listen to the Media

If you spend too much time watching the news, you’ll never leave. The media paints broad strokes of places they’ve never been. Be your own newscaster and go out into the world with a blank canvas with which to paint your impressions. Let the people of the country tell you about their homeland instead of vice versa, and destroy stereotypes.

American media is difficult to get away from even abroad because we’re always in the spotlight. So when you’re walking down a street lined with newspaper stands, go for the local newspaper instead. Even if it’s not in English, all the better, then you can start learning a new language.

No matter what kind of trip you’re dreaming of, you can either jump in or ease your way in but the common thread is action. It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you don’t stop. Don’t overthink it, stay flexible, leave room for spontaneity, and above all, HAVE FUN!

What recommendations do you have for newbie travelers?

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