Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could be a travel expert? Do all the right things all the time, and never make travel faux pas? No one wants to intentionally be disrespectful, rude, or offensive, but sometimes we make mistakes. I’ve compiled a list of travel faux pas during my travels to share with you so you can go into your next trip prepared!
Travel Faux Pas #1: Tipping
When you travel, make sure you know what the local tipping customs are. In some countries, people in the service industry expect tips. In other countries, tipping is a sign of excellent service, but not required. Yet in other countries, no one tips.
In countries that do expect any kind of tips, make sure you know how much of a tip is customary. Sometimes, like in the United States, 20 percent is typical. Other times, like in the United Kingdom, 10 percent is perfectly fine. In countries like Croatia, 1 or 2 kuna on a bill is fine.
Sometimes, the restaurant will include a tip on the bill. Remember to look for a tip, gratuity, or service charge on the bill. This is especially common if you have a large party, but can happen even with a small group of two people. However, don’t confuse tip with tax, and remember that “tax” isn’t always called tax. In Spain, you will probably always find “VAT” on your bill; this isn’t a tip, it’s a mandatory tax and doesn’t go to the server. If you appreciated high quality service, you should tip on top of the tax.
Travel Faux Pas #2: Taxis
Taxi safety and etiquette are different around the world. The first taxi faux pas is not speaking the local language. Most taxi drivers have limited English ability, even in big cities. Can you blame them? You’re in their country and it’s hard to learn another language! Try to make sure you can at least tell them where you want to go in their language, even if you make a mistake.
When I was in Malaga, Spain, I told the taxi driver I wanted to go to “la puerta,” which I thought meant “port.” I actually asked him to take me to “the door,” but after explaining the place on the water with boats, he realized I meant “el puerto.” (For other translation mishaps, check out Lost in Translation: Humorous Anecdotes About Mistranslations.)
In Mexico, be cautious about choosing your taxi. The government regulates most taxis so they are safe, but some taxis that aren’t associated with hotels might be less regulated. It’s safest to ask your hotel to get you a taxi or go to a taxi site where they are waiting for passengers rather than hail them off the street. And always remember the taxi number in case of a problem!
Sometimes, taxi fares are negotiable. If the cab has a meter, it’s usually a set price and will keep the price depending on time and distance. If there is no meter or if it’s turned off, you can agree on a price before you get in the cab. You can try another cab and hope for a better price if you don’t like the negotiated price. Usually, you can negotiate tip too: you can say you want to go from Point A to Point B for $5 without tip, or from Point B to Point A for $10 with tip (in the local currency, of course). In most countries, it’s almost always expected to tip your cab driver, it just depends if it’s included in the negotiated price or not.
Travel Faux Pas #3: Carrying Your Passport With You Everywhere
Major faux pas! You might be tempted to carry your passport with you wherever you go because it’s your main form of identification in case anything happens or in case you need it for some reason. But it’s more likely to get lost the more you travel around with it. If you accidentally drop it or lose a purse, your ticket out of the country and into your home country is gone.
When I was working in Cancun for spring break, a student wanted to come on his vacation with his friends but didn’t have a passport, so he snuck across the border into Mexico. Not too hard to do, it’s sneaking into the U.S. that’s the problem, which he didn’t realize. When the week was over, he couldn’t get on a plane to the U.S. and ended up staying an extra week while he figured out what to do. We ended up sending him on a 4-hour bus ride to the U.S. embassy to get a new passport at a high price. Without your passport, you’ll be lost!
The best way to avoid this faux pas is to make copies of your passport. Usually, the copies will suffice as your ID and if you lose them, no harm done. Most thieves can’t use your identity from a copy, although it’s still a good idea to let the country’s embassy know that a copy of your ID was stolen if it does happen. Keep your passport locked safe in your hotel room.
I had my American license with me in Brussels but left it in our rental car in a parking garage since I knew I wouldn’t need it. Some thieves broke into the parking garage at night when there were no attendants and stole our suitcases out of the trunk. My American license was in a purse I wasn’t using that they stole. For the rest of our time living in Spain, I couldn’t rent a car without a license. However, about a month later, my mom called me to tell me I got a letter from the Belgian consulate saying they found my license and mailed it overseas back to my home. I got lucky!
Travel Faux Pas #4: Keeping All Your Valuables Together
Keeping all your money, jewelry, and expensive things together is a recipe for disaster. If you lose a bag or someone manages to steal the bag everything is one, you’re out everything. Keep everything in multiple places so if one thing does get lost or stolen, you won’t lose everything. Especially in a hotel room, be extra careful about keeping things together.Keep your valuable possessions safe with the Travel Bra. Click To Tweet
One idea for keeping your most valuable possessions like money and credit cards is the Travel Bra. It’s lightweight with shoulder compartments, cup pockets, credit card slips, and a drop down for your passport so you can keep the things you value most close to your heart. It would be very hard for someone to steal from your bra! They also make Travel Trousers for men. For 10 percent off a Travel Bra or Travel Trousers purchase, use code Lyssie10.
Something like a hidden money belt that you can stash on your leg, in your travel bra or trousers, or in your shoe can also help conceal your valuables.
Travel Faux Pas #5: Wearing Your Best Clothes
In fashion capitals of the world like New York or Paris, people might value individuality or high-end clothes. In expensive cities, it’s a status symbol to wear shoes that cost over $1000 or a bag that costs more than your whole outfit. But most of the world isn’t like that. Wearing expensive clothes in many other cities that don’t pride themselves on their fashion sense could even be offensive. Expensive clothes and flashy jewelry also make you a walking target for pick-pockets and thieves. Generally, it’s a travel faux pas to stand out. Save your fashionably expensive taste for impressing those at home and go with a more boring, less personality style while traveling.
Travel Faux Pas #6: Using Your Phone on Roaming
Big mistake! Many people find their phones still work when they travel abroad. It’s not uncommon, but foreign phones use local providers to give you service. This means you get roaming charges from your cell phone provider and charges from the local provider. Between international charges and roaming charges, your bill will skyrocket when you get home.
I had an emergency in Aruba and needed to call my doctor in America. It was only a 5-minute conversation, but it cost me almost $100. Be careful of using your phone abroad, even if it works! Click To Tweet
The solution? Get a local SIM card. In most countries, they’re cheap and easy. In Spain, you can buy a local SIM card in any town no matter how small, even in my small town of Olvera with 8,000 residents, far from any major city. It cost 5 euros for 500mb of data, 20 texts, and 20 minutes of talking. I upgraded to 10 euros for 1 gb of data, 50 texts, and 50 minutes. I never used texts or minutes because everyone uses WhatsApp, which uses data. For a week, the 5-euro plan would have been great. For a month, the 10-euro plan was perfect!
Also, make sure to connect your phone to WiFi whenever possible. WiFi costs nothing and almost every business has free WiFi. You can use any service that uses data on WiFi, including WhatsApp, iMessage, Facetime, Facetime audio, Internet – basically anything! WiFi won’t charge you roaming or foreign fees or use minutes or data. When in doubt, put your phone in airplane mode and turn on WiFi – you’ll never use roaming or get charged.
Travel Faux Pas #7: Not Saying “Hello” in the Local Language
It's a sign of respect to make sure you know at least a greeting in the local language. Click To Tweet A big travel faux pas is assuming everyone speaks your language or wants to speak to you in your language. Speaking a foreign language to a native speaker is intimidating for anyone, but the native speaker always appreciates even a few words in their language. Don’t you appreciate a few words in English? If there’s one thing you do before you travel, make sure it’s learning a friendly greeting like hello in the local language.
Travel Faux Pas #8: Not Knowing the Appropriate Greeting
Similar to learning “hello” in the local tongue, familiarize yourself with physical greetings. In Spain, a kiss on each cheek for men and women is common. In New York, a kiss on one cheek when greeting a woman is common. Sometimes, like in Greece, expect a hug. Sometimes, just a handshake will suffice. Other times, a handshake might be inappropriate. Make sure you know who to address first, or if there are times when you shouldn’t address a specific person, like a wife. It can get awkward if you make a greeting faux pas.
Travel Faux Pas #9: Wearing Inappropriate Clothing
Before you travel somewhere exotic, make sure you know what the culture or religion is. Some religions, like Islam, don’t allow women to show much of their body or wear tight Western clothing. It’s common in Morocco to see women completely covered except their eyes. That’s not to say visitors must cover completely except their eyes, but make sure your clothes aren’t insulting the Islamic religion, even if it’s hot out. A good solution is to go to the markets and buy traditional garb. Not only will you make sure you’re wearing appropriate clothing, you’ll have a souvenir to take home with you.
Italy is a very religious country. Vatican City, home of the Pope, is right next to Rome! You can imagine most people are very Catholic. While Catholicism doesn’t have the strict restrictions of Islam, cathedrals and basilicas in Italy do enforce strict dress codes for all visitors. If you’re visiting Italy, odds are you definitely want to visit some of those amazing sacred sites. Make sure your shoulders, midriffs, and sometimes feet aren’t showing. It’s a sign of disrespect to the culture and religion and guards won’t let you in.
Travel Faux Pas #10: Asking Someone Out to a Meal
In Europe, inviting someone out to a meal means you’re offering to pay the bill. Even something as simple as a “do you want to walk down to the café with me to grab a coffee” means “I will buy you a coffee.” And if you try to pay anyway, it’s insulting!
In Croatia, James and I rented two rooms in a local house on Airbnb (for $40 off your first Airbnb rental, click the link!) Our hosts picked us up at the airport (for an additional fee), sat down with us to give us recommendations on activities and restaurants. They were cool and in their Airbnb ad, they said they’d go out to dinner with their guests if desired. So we invited them out to dinner our first night. When the bill came, they didn’t reach for their wallets, so we paid the bill. We learned later that it’s customary to pay the bill when you invite someone to a meal in Europe. We avoided the travel faux pas by paying the bill, but lesson learned!
Travel Faux Pas #11: Only Knowing About Your Own Country in Conversations
I’ve had many conversations with non-Americans about America. They all seem to know plenty about our President, our economy, American football, and so many other things about my own country. Embarrassingly, I didn’t know much at all about other countries. It’s a good practice to know basics about other major countries in the world whether you’re traveling there or not just so you’re well-informed and able to hold a casual conversation with anyone from anywhere.
Have you made any of these travel faux pas? Do you have any others to add to my list? Leave me a note in the comments!
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