Dear Heidi: I’m planning an international trip for this summer.
What do I need to have prepared in order to be culturally aware and polite while I’m there? What resources can I trust?
At this date, I assume and I hate that your plans have been postponed — for now — but when we all can travel abroad again, here are some tips to help you be culturally sensitive. Do some research. Make an effort to learn about your destination through credible websites and books. A good place to start is The US Department of State. Travel.State.Gov has several helpful websites, such as Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, (STEP), as well as country information and practical tips. One of my go-to books is When Cultures Collide, by Richard D. Lewis, whom I had the great honor of meeting when I trained at Richard Lewis Communications at Riversdown in England. You will need to learn what is acceptable and expected behavior in the country you want to visit, and understand that this can vary greatly across the globe. Learn about the culture of your particular country, how it relates to time and personal space, and be sure to be aware of any taboos. You need to research what the norm is when it comes to dress, food, dining and tipping, as well as eye contact and even taking photos. For instance, it’s actually illegal to take a picture in Dubai without permission. Be aware that some cultures have customs that are specific to gender, sexual orientation, and religious worship. It’s also great if you try to learn some of the language — hello and thank you are great words to know almost anywhere — most countries will appreciate your effort, and you’ll have a ton of fun learning. Practice with a friend. The best thing to remember when traveling abroad, is just that — you are abroad, not at home. Be kind, respectful and mindful of the host country’s customs and beliefs, and you will be rewarded with expanded horizons, new found knowledge, and maybe even a few new friends.