The thoughtful traveler: Etiquette tips for international travel

Wherever we go in the world, our actions can make or break someone else’s day as well as our own. Friendly interactions and thoughtfulness have ripple effects that continue long past the initial encounter. Saying hello to a stranger, moving aside to let someone pass and helping a person who is struggling with a heavy bag – all of these actions can pay dividends. We feel better, and so does the person with whom we’ve connected.

When we travel to another country, we are effectively ambassadors for our home country, whether we like it or not. These travel etiquette tips, gleaned from travel experts, can help international travelers have a more pleasant journey and leave a positive impression behind.

It starts before you board the plane

If you’ve ever counted the seats at the gate, you’ll have noticed there are fewer seats there than on the plane. Being aware of your surroundings helps you notice that another passenger could sit if you moved your carry-on onto the floor rather than taking up an empty seat. And, waiting to stand until your zone is called helps keep congestion and jostling down for all parties.

Be fair in the air

Do you really need to recline? On a long, overseas journey, maybe. But only if you are trying to sleep. Check behind you before reclining so you don’t spill someone’s beverage or slam their laptop cover down on their fingers. And remember, it’s one armrest per person. Look for the one that contains the media outlets, because that one is yours. When it’s time to deplane, allow the people who are seated in front of you get off first and be patient while they wrestle with their items.

Use good sense upon arrival

If your destination airport features moving walkways, stay to the right if you plan to stand, and keep your luggage in front of you rather than at your side. The lane on the left is for people in a hurry. Once you get to the baggage claim area, be patient. Jockeying for position at the baggage carousel never makes the bags come faster and makes it harder for everyone else to see their bags.

Know your own noise level

Noise is relative, and whether or not it’s irritating depends on where you are and the others around you. At a hotel, the person in the room next door may need to get up for an early flight, be ill or have a sleeping infant. Be a good sport and close your door quietly, keep voices down in the hallway and avoid loud television. If staying at a vacation rental by owner, be aware that the neighbors are just regular people who have to get up for work in the morning. Boisterous backyard partying is best avoided.

Learn the rules for tipping at your destination

In many countries, tipping is not customary. But it’s best to find out ahead of time. Appropriate tipping helps those who serve you and can also help you have a more pleasant stay by ensuring even more attentive service. Travel guidebooks are an excellent source of guidance on tipping customs. And wherever you stay, it’s never a bad idea to leave behind a tip for the person who has been caring for your room.

Enjoy the differences where you are

Focus on everything that’s good about the place you are visiting. Instead of comparing things with your experience at home, learn from the cultural differences. Expect breakfast to be different. Don’t sweat it if there’s no air-conditioning. Get used to beverages without ice and unfamiliar laundry facilities. Forgo making demands and forget about complaining. These differences are why we travel.

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