Tips on traveling abroad for the first time

Whether it’s a European vacation or the beaches of Thailand, a friend suggested I write about a few things to know if you are traveling outside of the continent for the first time. I gently shared some tips on her first European trip and she found it super informative and said I should share my knowledge.

Also check out this hilarious – yet so true – unwritten rule to follow when flying.

I hope you find these tips helpful and I would love to hear if you have traveled and have tips to share!

Language/Culture

  • Learn how to say hello, goodbye, and thank you in the language the country speaks. It is courteous and appreciated (how would you feel about people visiting and not speaking to you in English?). Don’t be shy about the way you say it, you can even ask if you are pronouncing it correctly, locals love that! And I promise you will feel more connected to the country if you jump in and try to speak their language.
  • Know if you need to remove your shoes before you enter a store. This applies to Thailand.
  • Ask. If you’re on a plane with someone who is a national or knows the culture, ask if there’s anything you should know, or ask them your questions.
  • Know ahead of time the rules about discussing the dictator, king or anyone in leadership. Know what are cultural taboos that can get you in serious trouble – and we’re talking serious trouble that might get you locked up, beaten up or worse. Don’t talk badly about the king in Thailand, or if you’re in North Korea (if you were to ever visit…) like this student who came back in a coma after being sentenced to prison for 15 years for trying to steal propaganda poster of Kim Jong Un. It’s unfortunate he passed away shortly after making it back to the US.

Don’t be that American who…

  • Don’t put feet up on furniture, chairs, your seat or anywhere else. You will get dirty looks, older women giving you nasty glares talking about you in another language, and locals hitting your feet to get them off. I personally don’t think feet belong on any furniture other than a foot stool, but you are free to do this in your own home but avoid doing this on furniture you don’t own.
  • Don’t talk too loudly. Don’t be obnoxious during dinner. Have a good time, but don’t get crazy and draw too much attention to yourself.
  • Don’t complain about customer service. No one there cares and it’s different there than it is in America (I had to learn this haha). See “Restaurant” below.

In other countries, your waiter doesn’t check in with you constantly like America – they want to let you have conversation and not rush you out the door. You need to ask for the bill.

Restaurants

  • Restaurant service is slower and wait staff doesn’t check in. Servers don’t check in on you during your meal – to let you enjoy your meal and conversation. You must ask for the check, because again they do not bother you and don’t want you to feel rushed to leave. I prefer this method if you ask me – I wish my American waiter would stop checking in on me 12 times while I’m trying to catch up with my friend.
  • Don’t ask for your meal in a box. Unless the restaurant says “take away.” In France they prefer meals to be enjoyed at the restaurant as is. Some places won’t have boxes or anything!
  • Find out how much is appropriate to tip. In Thailand it was about 30 baht per person if you stayed at the hotel, and in Switzerland it was 10% of the bill. Other times you do not have to tip for services. I asked a guy who sat on the plane with me who was a local.
  • Ice is not normal. Ask for it if you want it. I’ve never felt more American and obsessed with iced drinks until I left America.
  • Flat or sparking water. There is no tap water, so you pay for bottled water, sorry. Expect the $6 charge.

Currency

  • Spend all coin currency in that country. Banks here won’t exchange coins, only cash. I came back with over $25 worth of Swiss Franks only to not be able to exchange it. Use it at the airport or on snacks, just find ways to spend it!

Their culture is not necessarily wrong, or you think is common sense – it’s different.

Your Attitude

  • Their culture is not wrong, it’s different. It’s easy for us to think manners are second nature, they aren’t if your culture is different. If you live in China and there are billions of people in your country, maybe being quick without letting people out is just how it happens. If you find this difficult, you may consider staying home and traveling America instead.
  • Laugh about it. My friend almost got shoved off a bus with her luggage at a stop by an old woman. It was horrific yet funny at the same time – funny because she’s OK. But oddly strange for sure.
  • Let it go. I have been guilty of being furious at a Dublin bus driver, a Switzerland Holiday Inn bus driver who told me, “This isn’t Uber, this is a bus” and overcharged me. Don’t forget the Beijing driver who charged me 3x the amount to get to the Forbidden City. Sometimes it still makes me a bit peeved but don’t let one person ruin your vacation. Remember in America we have rude people too and things that are out of our control.

A suggestion if you’re traveling with a friend – turn on Find my Friends App so if you get separated you can find each other. Or another idea is to have a meeting spot in case you get separated but you should get a SIM card when you arrive to the new country and have an international phone number.

If you are on your way to another country, congratulations on an exciting adventure that awaits! May you fall in love with other cultures and find an appreciation for exploring and discovering the world. And also, may you be a good American tourist with an open mind and be a courteous traveler in other countries. *wink*

Where are you headed? Check out my Thailand Phi Phi Island trip here, and my other travel posts – Switzerland, France, Thailand, Ireland, and more – here.

What advice would you give to someone going to another country for the first time? Where are you headed next?