Travel Like a Pro: Etiquette On the Trail - Backpacker

Travel Like a Pro: Etiquette On the Trail

Verse yourself in proper cultural etiquette to avoid being just another rude tourist (hint: keep your hands to yourself).

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Cultural Etiquette


Women traveling in Muslim or developing countries (such as in Central or South America, Nepal, and India) should cover up: "Err on the side of less visible skin," advises Mary Brust, director of the student travel group Global Village Project. Wear T-shirts instead of tank tops and lightweight pants or capris instead of shorts. Men: Pants are generally considered more respectful than shorts.


Always eat (and shake hands) with your right hand in India and Nepal–the left is reserved for "personal hygiene." But don't eat with your hands at all in Brazil. Never stick your chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice or pass food from your chopsticks to someone else's in Asia (it's only done in funeral rites). And never clean your plate in Thailand–that means there wasn't enough food.


In Great Britain, never stick your index and middle finger up with your palm facing out. Waving with an open palm is the ultimate insult in Greece. Never make the "OK" symbol (in some places, it's an obscene reference to a body part) or beckon someone with a crooked finger (use a doggy-paddle-like motion instead) worldwide, just to be safe.


Touching someone else's body with your foot is the highest form of insult in Asia–also refrain from pointing at people with your toes or propping feet up on chairs or tables. Don't touch anyone's head or hair, either (it's considered the body's spiritual high point). Never step over someone's outstretched legs in Nepal, and move your own legs so others can pass. Always ask before taking someone's picture (some cultures believe it steals the soul).