There are some etiquette rules to being a tourist that are obvious, like being respectful and well-mannered to locals. But other rules are less obvious, and yet totally crucial to not only being a good tourist, but also a good human. There are pieces of travel etiquette that every tourist should follow no matter where they go. Regardless of whether you’re going to a low-key beach town or a historic religious institution, there are ways that you, as a visitor, should behave to not only show respect, but also represent your character and where you come from glowingly.
You should always remember that it is a privilege to be able to visit another country. When you’re in a new country, you should think of yourself in a stranger’s home, even if you’re in the local coffee shop. The same kinds of manners and considerations you’d make if you were in someone’s private space should be your behavioral standard when it’s not obvious how to behave. Being a polite tourist isn’t just about remembering your please’s and thanks you’s. It’s about ensuring that the country hosting you is aware of just how grateful you are to be there, and just how much respect you have for their way of living — even, and especially if it’s very different from your own.
Know Where You’re Going
Before you travel anywhere, you should do a little bit of preliminary research. Get a general idea of what the area is like, what important historic events have occurred there, and what the culture is comprised of. Was there recently a war there? Are the locals conservative? Are you traveling there during a holy time? To ensure you’re not being unintentionally disrespectful, and to be a good travel student, do a little homework, it will only enrich your time there and help you relate to the people better.
Don’t Take People’s Pictures without Asking
People don’t want to feel like they’re a human zoo. You should never take someone’s picture from up close without asking for permission. If the person is far away, it might be OK to snap a quick photo — but, and this will be relevant if you’re visiting a memorial site or a cemetery, remember that under no circumstances is it ever OK to take a photo of someone grieving. If you’d like to take someone’s picture, go up to them and ask if they will permit it, and if they do not, be understanding and back down immediately.
Be Mindful At Memorials & Religious Places
If you really want to take a picture of a memorial or religious place, do your best to ensure there’s no one in the photo, as people who have come to grieve deserve privacy and respect. Places like concentration camps and cemeteries should be no photo zones, if possible. While you’re there, make sure that you’re also respectful of the tone. Aka, these are not the places to make phone calls, to laugh with friends, or to speak loudly.
Prepare To Dress Conservatively If the Culture Calls For It
If you’re going to a conservative country, respect the culture. Dress as close to the locals as you can, both to show them that you respect their dress code, and also for your own safety. If everyone else has their shoulder’s covered, you should have yours covered, too. If you’re unsure of how to dress, get in touch with a travel agency or tour guide to get some reliable advice.
Try To Translate, If Possible
No one expects you to learn a new language before visiting a new country, but having some knowledge of the language will only help you. At the very least, do some research to find out the best way to greet people, so that you don’t offend anyone with an outdated phrase. When in doubt, use Google Translate.
Do As Others Do
Before you open up your laptop at a cafe or make a phone call in a museum, look around to see if anyone else is on their phone or computer. If you’re tempted to take a photo of something but no one is taking pictures, perhaps there’s a reason. Always scan a room for clues before you make yourself too comfortable.
Be Polite, Always
For instance: If you don’t like the local food, you don’t have to eat it. But you do have to be gracious, and at the very least take a small bite and pretend to like it. Insulting food is insulting a culture in many cases. In the same way that you wouldn’t spit out something your grandmother made special for you, you shouldn’t crinkle up your face or turn up your nose at another culture’s food, drink, dress, music, or lifestyle.
Even when you are in a rush, make sure that you are being careful and polite. If you’re used to a metropolitan life or travel often, it’s easy to forget that you’re a visitor. But when you’re visiting a new country or culture, it’s important to hold the door for people, walk at a respectful distance and pace, and not show signs of frustration when waiting for food or other services. Even if you are jet lagged, even if you are late for an important event, even if everyone around you is slow, or distracted, find patience, as you are a guest and it’s not your place to demand fast service or the right of way. Reminding yourself that it’s an honor to be there is a good way to put things into perspective.
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