This spring, I was fortunate to jet off to Jolly Ole' England. To say I was excited is an understatement. First, I lived in London 17 years ago and have not had the opportunity to be back since. Second, my husband and I had not traveled alone for more than a decade, and we were looking forward to some extended quality time together. As I packed, I pondered the etiquette of traveling abroad. Here are some things you might want to consider when traveling.
Do Your Homework ~ Before boarding the plane, you should do a bit of research on your destinations. Have an idea about general interactions, the typical weather for the time of year, current exchange rate, and a few phrases for typical conversation.
Cultural Anthropologist ~ Get ready to learn. Watch for face, space and time in the culture you are visiting. Face, meaning the facial gestures used. Smiling is not a universal! Space, meaning how close people stand to one another. Be aware of gender differences here! And time, meaning you should know if the place you are visiting is a punctual linear culture or a more relaxed one. This is important information; otherwise you will spend a lot of time waiting!
Pack Lightly ~ Fewer things brought, fewer things lost. And less packed means less to carry. Plus, you know that as you go there will be treasures to accumulate.
Mix & Match ~ Unless you have your own personal Sherpa, tourists are expected to wear the same thing over and over again. Pick one primary color and accessorize from there. One color makes it easier to pack shoes that match.
Solid Ground ~ Yours shoes may be fine walking around your hometown, but 9 hours of touring is another thing altogether. Be sure your shoes are super comfy. (On a related note, leave the bright white sneakers at home! They just scream "American Tourist!")
Relax ~ Travel is about getting away. Travel is not about everything being perfect. There will be delays and mishaps. There will be a bad meal or two and less than ideal weather. Realize that neither you, nor your travel agent, can control all. It is all just part of the adventure.
Go Local ~ While it may be tempting to visit the McDonalds, unless you have been traveling for 21 days or more, try finding a local hot-spot instead. Ask hotel staff and drivers where they eat and what they recommend. Their answers may surprise and delight you. This goes double for shopping.
Get The Picture ~ Be sure to put people in your pictures. Unless you plan to enlarge your shots to 2x3 feet, those panoramic landscapes, vistas, and historical sites are quite dull when lacking a human being.
Manners Matter, but Safety First ~ Remember to always be aware. Be highly conscious of your surroundings and of the people in those surroundings. Trust your gut. If you do not feel safe, move.
American Ambassador ~ As you know, Americans do not always have the best reputation abroad. Consider yourself a mini-missionary and show those with whom you interact that Americans do have good manners.
Now home and unpacked, I think back to my travels. My favorite memories? Walking in the sunlight through London's Hyde Park at 9:00 at night (they are further north than I am in Boston). Exploring Edinburgh Castle (an unbelievable structure built on a cliff overlooking the center of the city). And enjoying afternoon tea in an exquisitely decorated Victorian tea-room in London... Pinky tucked in, of course!