Packing for a trip can be a stressful time for travelers. We have created an easy to use checklist to ensure you have everything you need:
Make Your Trip a Safe One
In the ninth inning of an Olympic baseball playoff game, the batter on the Japanese team cracked a towering fly ball deep into left field. It dropped just short of the low fence but then bounced over. When the runner pulled up at second base, half the crowd rose to its feet, screaming for him to keep going around the bases.
He stopped because he knew that the ground rules limited him to a double. Think how foolish he would have appeared if he had kept running or argued with the umpire. In the same way, it’s the job of every traveler to learn local ground rules. Here are some useful examples.
Some of our familiar gestures don’t travel well. For example, the thumb touching forefinger “OK” sign is a friendly gesture in Atlanta but in Brazil it refers to an intimate part of the anatomy. In England, giving someone a “V” sign with your palm facing inward is the equivalent of the middle-finger sign here.
Beckoning someone by crooking your finger at them can be an insult in Asia and the Middle East. In parts of South America and Europe, slapping the back of one fist with the other hand conveys your wish that the other person engage in an improbable activity.
In Greece an upward nod of the head means “No,” while tilting the head to one side means “Yes.” If you raise an open hand to refuse something offered to you in Greece, your gesture may be understood as “go to hell.” (In that connection, be warned that a Greek may smile when very angry.)
In India, emphatic wagging of the head side-to-side might mean “Yes” or any number of other things. What you need to know is that it doesn’t mean “No.” In parts of Southeast Asia, standing with hands on hips as you address someone projects hostility. That makes it a good posture to avoid when dealing with an armed official.
In many places—and Arabic cultures are good examples—hospitality is taken very seriously. You risk giving offense if you don’t accept a sincere offer of food, shelter, or assistance. At the same time, males must be circumspect when talking to or about someone’s wife or female relative. Hospitality does not extend that far. If the penalty for thieves is losing a hand... well, think about it.
Also be cautious about expressing excessive admiration for someone’s property, like a piece or jewelry or artwork. The owner may insist that you accept it as a gift. If you refuse, you risk giving offense. If you accept, you may be expected to reciprocate.
The way a traveler dresses, in terms of modesty, should be consistent with local standards. Look carefully at how local people dress. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet some travelers either don’t know or don’t care.
Not surprisingly, restrictions on dress affect women more than men. For women, local standards of modesty often mean dressing in loose clothing and covering shoulders and legs. In some Muslim countries, such as Jordan, the back of the neck is considered especially provocative and is usually covered by a scarf. In many temples the head must be covered and feet must be free of shoes.
It’s unusual to see local men or women wearing shorts in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Male travelers can wear shorts without giving offense (although they won’t be admitted into some temples), but female travelers in shorts would attract unwanted attention. Yes, the double standard is international.
In some countries, it is the custom to finish everything on your plate. In others, you’re expected to leave a bit, indicating that the host was so generous you couldn’t finish.
A guest who samples some of everything always pleases the host. However, if something doesn’t look palatable, better not ask what it is. The reply is likely to make the situation worse, maybe much worse.
In less-developed countries do not eat with your left hand. If you forget, other diners will consider you unclean and perhaps uncivilized. If you don’t understand why, trust me on this one.
Publicly embarrassing a person can give grave offense, especially in Asia, Mediterranean Europe, and Latin America. “Face” is taken seriously and offenses are not lightly forgiven. That means avoiding a public display of temper. It might work once in a while but most of the time it would make matters worse.
In Thailand and other countries where Buddhism is prevalent, it is offensive to point the sole of your foot, with or without a shoe on, toward another person. Speaking of feet, step carefully over the low sill at temple doorways because good spirits are believed to live under the sill. I guess they don’t like the noise.
It’s common in the non-Western world to remove ones shoes prior to entering homes and temples. Watch what others do. If in doubt, slip your shoes off at the door.
Punctuality is, how shall I say, less prized throughout Latin America than in Europe and North America. Even though it’s hard to generalize about punctuality in the rest of the world, two tips will see you through. First, if you arrive at the scheduled time you may surprise but you’re unlikely to give offense. Second, if the other person arrives significantly later than you did, hold your tongue and temper. His or her arrival may be consistent with local protocol.
Public displays of affection are uncommon in many countries. This inhibition is diminishing but travelers should respect local custom. Holding hands is fine but holding more than that may not be.
A traveler who learns and respects the traditions and customs of others will be treated as a favorite guest, always welcome to return. In this time of heightened tension in many parts of the world, avoiding provoking trouble and attracting attention—by observing the standards of local behavior—can be more than a matter of courtesy.
Hi, Hello: Salut, Bonjour
Goodbye: Au revoir
Please: S'il vous plait
Thank you: Merci
Excuse me: Excusez-moi
Where is the bathroom?: Où se trouve les toilettes?
Do you speak English?: Parlez-vous anglais?
Hi, Hello: Ciao, Buon giorno
Please: Per favore
Thank you: Grazie
Excuse me: Scusa
Where is the bathroom?: Dovè il bagno?
Do you speak English?: Parli inglese?
Hi, Hello: Hola
Please: Por favor
Thank you: Gracias
Excuse me: Perdòn
Where is the bathroom?: Donde esta banos?
Do you speak English?: Habla Ingles?
Hi, Hello: Hallo, Guten tag
Goodbye: Auf wiedersehen
Thank you: Danke
Excuse me: Entschuldigung sie bitte
Where is the bathroom?: Wo sind die toiletten
Do you speak English?: Spredhen sie Englisch
Hi, Hello: Dag, Hallo
Thank you: Dank je/u
Excuse me: Neem me niet kwalijk
Where is the bathroom?: Waar is de toilet
Do you speak English?: Spreekt u het Engels
Hi, Hello: Gia, Yassou
Thank you: Efcharisto
Excuse me: Signomi
Where is the bathroom?: Pou einai to mapanio
Do you speak English?: Milate Anglika
Hi, Hello: Olá
Please: Por favor
Thank you: obrigado
Excuse me: Com licenca, Desculpe
Where is the bathroom?: Onde é o banheiro
Do you speak English?: Você fala Inglês
Hi, Hello: privet
Thank you: spaseeba
Excuse me: isveeneetyuh
Where is the bathroom?: Gdeh Tuahlet
Do you speak English?: Vwee guhvahryeetya pahn angleeski
Hi, Hello: Konichiwa
Please: onegai shimasu
Thank you: Arigato
Excuse me: Su Mi
Where is the bathroom?: Toyre wa doko deska?
Do you speak English?: Eigo ga dekimasu ka
Hi, Hello: Ni hao
Goodbye: Zai jian
Thank you: Xie xie
Excuse me: Qing ni
Where is the bathroom?: Xi shou jian zai na er?
Do you speak English?: Ni shuo ying yu ma?
Asia and the Pacific: Special care must be taken to ensure that your well-meaning gesture is not taken as insulting. If you are unsure, it is best not to tip. If possible, observe the locals and follow their lead.
Central/South America: Many hotels and restaurants add a service charge to the bill, and an additional tip is unnecessary. If not, 10% is the general rule for restaurant service, and a dollar per bag will be appreciated.
Europe: Many hotels and restaurants add a service charge to the bill. In most cases, an additional tip is unnecessary. If no service charge is added to your bill, 10% is the general rule for restaurant service, a dollar per bag will be appreciated.
Middle East/Africa: While your tip will not be seen as insulting, it may be unnecessary. Once again, the best bet is to do as the locals do.
Hanukkah: a lesser Jewish festival, lasting eight days from the 25th day of Kislev (in December) and commemorating the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians. It is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights.
St. Lucia Day: Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia's Day (or St. Lucy's Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304.
Christmas: the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ's birth, held on December 25 in the Western Church.
Kwanzaa: a secular festival observed by many African Americans from December 26 to January 1 as a celebration of their cultural heritage and traditional values.
New Year: New Year is the time at which a new calendar year begins and the calendar's year count increments by one. Many cultures celebrate the event in some manner and the 1st day of January is often marked as a national holiday.
Chinese New Year: Chinese New Year marks the first day of the New Year in the Chinese calendar, which differs from the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year. Every year is represented by a zodiac animal sign.
Mardi Gras: also called Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, in English, refers to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday.
Basant Kite Festival (Punjab): has been a historic spring time kite flying event during the Basant Panchami festival in the Punjab region in India and Pakistan. It is held in late January or early February marking the start of spring.
Holi: is a Hindu spring festival celebrated in India and Nepal, also known as the "festival of colours" or the "festival of love".
Songkran: a festival celebrating the traditional Thai New Year, held in April and marked by the throwing and sprinkling of water.
Aboakyere: a bushbuck hunting festival celebrated by the people of Winneba in the Central Region of Ghana.
Easter: the most important and oldest festival of the Christian Church, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and held (in the Western Church) between March 21 and April 25, on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern spring equinox.
Passover: the major Jewish spring festival that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, lasting seven or eight days from the 15th day of Nisan.
May Day: a public holiday usually celebrated on May 1. It is an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival. It is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures.
Midsummer Day: The sun continues to shine long after midnight in Scandinavia when Midsummer Day is celebrated in late June. To celebrate, Swedish villagers decorate a spruce trunk — called a najstang — like a maypole. In Norway, families light bonfires along the fjords.
O-Bon: Falling on August 15, it is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one's ancestors.
Arapaho Sun Dance: a distinctive 7 day long ceremony with the last four days being dedicated to dancing around the Sun Dance Pole that is central to the religious identity of the Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains. It developed among the horse-mounted, bisonhunting nations who populated the Great Plains in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Ramadan: During this holy time, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar year, Muslims do not eat, drink, or smoke from sunrise to sunset for an entire month. Instead, they spend their days in worship, praying in mosques. At the end of Ramadan, people celebrate with a festival known as Id-ul-Fitr.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: Rosh Hashanah is the first day of that month according to the Hebrew calendar. On this day forgiveness of sins is also asked of God. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora'im that commences with Rosh Hashanah.
Labor Day: a public holiday or day of festivities held in honor of working people, in the US and Canada on the first Monday in September, in many other countries on May 1.
Day of the Dead: (Dia de los Muertos), a Mexican celebration, is a day to celebrate, remember and prepare special foods in honor of those who have departed. It is believed that the spirit of the dead visit their families on October 31 and leave on November 2.