Travel Etiquette 101: A Class in Manners in the Air and Abroad

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A woman prepares to eat a potato dish with ant sauce in Barichara
Eating what's served, and often without utensils, is just one guideline to follow when learning travel etiquette.

Almost every traveler can go on a rant about the person on the plane who took frequent bathroom breaks from the window seat or the screaming children on a long bus ride. However, most aren't using the dying word etiquette.

Etiquette may seem old fashioned to some. Most picture someone forming posture by balancing books or setting a table with way too many forks. Etiquette goes farther than that. Having good travel manners can get better service on planes and appreciation from locals.

Knowing the right etiquette rules can vary by country, so make sure to do your research before wearing your shoes into a house in Japan, eating with your left hand in Saudi Arabia, or stepping over someone's stretched-out legs in Nepal. 

This etiquette guide will at least get you off the plane and give you some general rules before you head out on an adventure to explore the individual customs of each culture.

Here are some easy guidelines to follow in order to avoid being that person in seat 21D people are talking about for the rest of their vacation.

Plane/ Train/ Transportation

1.       Personal Space

Personal space during a flight seems to deteriorate as passengers are now packing a week's worth of vacation items in a carry-on. Everyone wants to save money, but your seatmate won't appreciate miscellaneous items ending up on their lap. UK-based Web site Travel Etiquette recommends that you give your seatmate at least 9in of personal space for a comfortable trip.

The arm rest goes to the person in the middle seat. Come on you have to give them something - who want the middle seat anyway?

Another important factor of space is noise. The person sitting next to you may not appreciate blasting Rap music. A good idea is to take your headphones off, to hear if the music it too loud.

2.       Hygiene

Personal hygiene may seem like an obvious point. Yes, try to take a shower and wear deodorant before getting on a plane. What's not so obvious, though, may be your perfume or cologne. Not everyone has the same taste. And certainly if you've been in your sneakers for the last couple hours, please keep them on and save everyone on the plane from the stink!

3.       Reclining the seat

Your first instinct may be to crank back the seat into a comfortable position, but true travel etiquette insists you wait (on a plane you have to anyway). Allow the person behind you to get settled and glance back to see what they are doing. Perhaps, they are on their laptop or eating. If so, it is polite to not recline your seat. When putting your seat down, gently lower it back, rather than abruptly jolting the back of the seat into the knees of the passenger behind you.

4.       Respect for elders

Respecting elders is a manner that goes beyond borders. For example, in Japan and many other Asian countries, customs dictate giving up your seat on the bus or subway; sometimes you can even catch younger generations pretending to sleep to avoid giving up their seat. In many cases, older citizens are surprised when tourists give up their seat. You'll feel good with the appreciation they give even if you can't understand the local language.

Traveling with kids

Traveling with young children can be especially hard. The screaming baby may not always be the fault of the parents, so for those around families, lighten up and put your headphones on. Tips for parents include sitting near bathrooms or at the back of a plane where there's more room to get up and move around. Also, make sure to bring a few quiet activities and travel-sized snacks to keep kids occupied and happy on long-hauls.

Dress

The best advice for dress is just to wear whatever the majority of locals are wearing. Dressing similarly to locals makes a tourist stand out less, which means less hassle and more glances into local daily life. When entering temples and major historical sights, dress code often becomes strict. For example, women entering mosques in Egypt need to be covered from head to toe with only face, hands, and feet showing. Most scarfs can be turned into a makeshift hijab to be worn inside a mosque.

Eating

Finally, the foo. One of the best parts of traveling to any new country is trying out new delicacies. Every country has different rules governing meals, but in general avoid eating or passing items with the left hand, it's considered unsanitary in many countries. It's also usually best to try whatever's offered, to not offend.

In Buddhist temples in Korea, guests must eat everything they put on their plate (usually in buffet style) in silence, as it encourages people to simply eat what they need to. There are also some great and fun food etiquette suggestions, for example in Mexico if you catch someone's eye while their eating, say provecho (the Mexican version of bon appétit).

Have any more suggestions? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

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