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International Travel Etiquette

With National Etiquette Week just around the corner (May 12-16), now seems like a good time to take a cue from past news stories and look at the dos and don'ts of how to behave when traveling abroad.
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Summer is nearly upon us. For many that can mean only one thing: summer vacation is nearly here. And with National Etiquette Week just around the corner (May 12-16), now seems like a good time to take a cue from past news stories and look at the dos and don'ts of how to behave when traveling abroad.

Every culture has a stereotype. Given that I am British, I am well aware that the English are often thought to be reserved in their manners, speech and (sometimes) dress. Although I am not sure how accurate this perception is today -- especially when you consider the actions of some of my traveling compatriots, such as the young woman who was on a Virgin Atlantic flight to Las Vegas this week. But it is not just bad behavior on planes that can get you into trouble.

As the world continues to become more accessible, travelers need to be even more observant and respectful of the cultures and traditions of others.

Minding your P's and Q's

"Mind your P's and Q's" was an expression that I heard a lot growing up in England. Essentially it means watch your manners. And while one would hope that we all have an idea of how to behave correctly in our everyday lives, good manners when traveling can sometimes take us out of our comfort zone. Here are three ways to push your own boundaries:

No. 1: Learn a few phrases in advance
This gem was one that my dad drilled into me from a very young age. You would be amazed at how well a simple "please" and "thank you" (in the native language) will be received. People appreciate effort and, as a result, you may find that you will get a lot more help, not to mention a better travel experience, because of it. Just don't ask my dad to loan you a phrase book, because it could be an outdated 1950s issue that will have the locals in hysterics (true story). Instead, look up a few phrases on the Internet before you go. There are lots of free online translation sites out there.

No. 2: Be gracious
Over the years I have had some amazing food experiences, especially on my travels... and some that were, well, not quite so amazing. Despite that, I always accept and try (with a smile) new foods that are offered to me -- even when it is the last thing I want to eat.

No. 3: Remember your behavior reflects upon your country
This one seems obvious, but I do think it is worth a mention. Like Olympic athletes, when you travel abroad you are representing your country. As such, just because you do something a certain way at home, does not mean that it is necessarily acceptable elsewhere. For instance, line cutting in some countries is considered the norm, but in other countries it is considered incredibly rude. The same is true of things like spitting.

Local Customs

When I lived in Japan there were several customs that I had to get onboard with quickly. For instance, I always took my shoes off before entering someone's home. And I also learned that it was absolutely not okay to stick my chopsticks in my rice. My point is that, wherever you go, there will always be traditions that you should try and adhere to -- whether it is covering your shoulders when entering a Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia or how to tip in restaurants. With this in mind, be observant of the behaviors of local residents and try to follow their lead. Even better, do a little research before you leave.


As airlines continue to look for ways to pack in even more seats, it is more important than ever to be mindful of others. When you are trapped in a small shared space with strangers, there is nothing worse than obnoxious behavior. So, next time you find yourself on a plane, be sure to get out of the aisle as soon as you have found your seat so that others can get past you; refrain from bringing smelly foods on board; and try not to leave tiny personal items and coats in the overhead bin when others are wandering the aisles looking for space.

Have some etiquette tips or pet peeves of your own? Please share your comments.

Happy travels!

Michelle Erickson is the director of public relations at and is based in California. A British native, Michelle has lived on three continents and is an avid traveler.