Travel Etiquette Guide: 11 Rules for Traveling Abroad

Travel Etiquette Rules Lisa Lyons 2 Travel Etiquette Guide: 11 Rules for Traveling Abroad
Travel Etiquette Guide: 11 Rules for Traveling Abroad 3 Travel Etiquette

We leave for South Africa tomorrow and as I have been preparing, travel etiquette has been on my mind! 

I believe we can all agree that some of the worst faux pas you will ever encounter happen when traveling. The Instagram page, @passengershaming, exists for a reason – view at your own risk, my friends!

Read on for my top 11 travel etiquette tips.  

Before Your Trip

1. Learn a few key phrases. 

Learning a few important words and phrases, such as “hello,” “good morning,” “please,” and “thank you” can have tangible benefits in addition to showing respect. In fact, in many places (France, in particular) servers will be kinder to you for having shown the effort and not simply expecting them to speak English.

2. Research local customs. 

Take a moment to do some research before your trip regarding the etiquette and local customs of the place you plan to visit. Some might surprise you, such as: 

  • Tipping after a meal in Japan can be considered rude or insulting to the server. 
  • Showing the sole of your foot or shoe is considered disrespectful in many Asian countries.
  • Giving a “thumbs up” with your hand equates to a rude gesture in Turkey. 
  • Eating with your hands is common in India and the Middle East, but using your left hand, which is viewed as unclean, is impolite.
  • Visiting Buddhist monuments in Nepal? Do not take photos unless given permission.

3. Consider the local religion and sensibility when packing. 

Some places are more conservative than others and we should aim to dress respectfully when sightseeing and experiencing their cities and towns. 

For example, in Muslim-majority countries and cities, even those which specialize in tourism such as Dubai, it is important to dress more conservatively. Covering the arms and legs will help you and the locals feel more comfortable. 

Similarly, when visiting temples in Asia or Catholic churches in Italy, the shoulders must be covered.

Getting There…

4. Choose a “pulled together” look. 

Please, please, for the love of all that is holy, can we put an end to pajamas at the airport? On my last flight I saw not one, but *two* pairs of Spongebob pajama pants!  

Of course, we all want to feel comfortable on a long-haul flight. But seeking comfort does not have to come at the expense of polite society. I assure you, it is possible to look both pulled together and be comfortable. 

Kindly join me in the classy comfort of a chic airport travel outfit!

5. Be prepared for the security line. 

We all know the drill by now: you must take your phone, laptop, and bag of toiletries out of your bag and put them in the trays provided. You will likely need to remove your belt, shoes, or hat. 

Be ready for this before you get to the front of the line to keep things moving smoothly.

6. The person in the middle gets both armrests. 

This debate has been closed for quite some time and the general rule is as follows: 

  • The window seat gets the armrest nearest the window. 
  • The aisle seat gets the armrest nearest the aisle. 
  • The middle seat gets both the center armrests. 

The middle seat is arguably the least pleasant to be in, they deserve both armrests.

7. Be mindful of your fellow passengers. 

Further to the above, mind your airplane behavior. General rules to take note of include: 

  • Always use headphones when watching something or listening to music. Consider a headphone splitter if your children are watching something together. 
  • Avoid reclining your seat during mealtimes. 
  • Keep an eye on your children’s behavior. Children on airplanes is an inherent challenge but do your best to keep them from kicking the seat in front of them and bring activities to keep them quietly occupied.
  • If you know you will need to get up a lot during your flight, try to book an aisle seat in advance. 
  • Face masks and mists have become a trendy activity on flights, but in my opinion, these are best left to before and after your journey. This is especially true of mists which are hard to contain and can disturb other passengers.

8. Avoid heavily scented perfumes or strong-smelling foods on the plane. 

Airplanes are confined spaces that have the added problem of closed-loop air systems. Because planes rely on a pressurized environment to keep us safe, air must be continually recycled within the cabin. Thus, strong smells do not dissipate easily. 

Smelly foods and strong perfumes are inconsiderate to other passengers who are unable to escape the scent, especially those sitting closest to you.  And do not get me started on using nail polish on the plane – yes this happened to me on a flight once and the entire plane had to suffer the consequences of one person’s inconsiderate decision.

Travel Etiquette Rules Lisa Lyons Travel Etiquette Guide: 11 Rules for Traveling Abroad
Travel Etiquette Guide: 11 Rules for Traveling Abroad 4 Travel Etiquette

At your Destination

9. Be Respectful.

Remember, you are a guest in this place. Treat the land and its people with the utmost respect. That means cleaning up after yourself in public spaces, treating people with courtesy, and offering praise, never criticism, of a location and its cuisine.  

Furthermore, if offered a local delicacy as part of an experience or excursion, it is impolite to refuse. Unless you have a genuine dietary requirement or allergy, try the item and show that you enjoyed it, so as not to offend. It should go without saying that you should never turn your nose up when offered local cuisine.

10. Do not leave your hotel room or rental in an overly messy state. 

When checking out, make sure to leave the room in good condition. For example, you do not need to make the bed but pull the covers up. Place trash in the receptacles rather than leaving it on countertops and dressers. Leave towels as indicated on the card provided (usually the floor). Remember to leave a tip if it is customary in your location.

11. Do not expect the place you’re visiting to be like the place you came from. 

A brief PSA to all our American friends complaining about the lack of iced coffee in Europe right now… Try something new! You’re in a beautiful country with beautiful traditions, customs, and cuisine. The purpose of travel is to experience a different culture so “do as the Romans do!”

Would you like more etiquette advice?

I hope you enjoyed these travel etiquette tips! Follow along here or on my Instagram for more etiquette tips and mindful manners to help you live more elegantly and gracefully.



Lisa Lyons is a renowned wedding and event designer, and owner of Lisa Lyons Events & Etiquette based in Winter Park, Florida. As an eagerly sought-after event stylist, Lisa Lyons has created extraordinary celebrations for an astute roster of clients, including copious celebrity sports figures, five star corporations and respected private individuals since 2003.





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