Research Local Customs
Traveling to a place that is outside of your comfort zone can be an exhilarating experience, and a great way to broaden your cultural horizons. However, it is important to recognize that every country, city, or region has its unique customs and traditions that you must understand and respect. It’s not enough to simply venture somewhere and go with the flow – without any research into local customs, you may find yourself offending the locals or engaging in activities that are frowned upon. Before you book your plane tickets, here’s what you should know about researching local customs for travel.
Do detailed research on the country or region
The best way to start researching local customs is to do some detailed research on the country or region to which you plan to travel. Look up information on the local religious practices, as well as the cultural and historical customs of the area. Read up on the local language so that you can attempt to communicate with locals (it’s polite to learn a few words and phrases before you arrive, and this may make locals more open to interacting with you). Familiarize yourself with the political and social landscape – and if your destination is experiencing civil unrest or a high crime rate, take the necessary precautions.
Be mindful of touristic areas
Touristic areas may generally be a little more open and tolerant of visitors who are unfamiliar with local customs, since the locals may expect that visitors may be ignorant of the local etiquette. However, this does not give you a full license to run around and behave recklessly. You should still take the time to familiarize yourself with the local customs and behaviors, both to avoid embarrassing yourself and to ensure that you are respectful.
Use cultural mediators to your advantage
A great way to ensure that you are fully aware of the local customs to which you should adhere is to hire a cultural mediator. Depending on the region, this may also be called a cultural consultant, who will be a local to the area and will be able to better educate you on the specifics of the customs of that locale.
Cultural mediators often have experience in diplomacy and etiquette, and have an excellent grasp of the cultural nuances of the region, so they can provide comprehensive advice and guidance on how to behave. Even if you don’t think you need a cultural mediator (perhaps you’ve been to the region several times before and feel comfortable with the local customs and traditions), it doesn’t hurt to use one as an extra precaution.
Learn which topics are considered taboo
Oftentimes, certain topics of conversation may be considered taboo in certain regions – and while the rules may be more relaxed when it comes to touristic areas, it’s important to not talk too much about sensitive political or religious topics with locals if they look uncomfortable. Go out of your way to be a respectful guest, and talk about things that are seen as non-confrontational.
Pay attention to body language
Sometimes, the most important custom that certain regions adhere to is instilled through body language and attitude. Pay attention to how people move and interact with one another when you’re out and about – this will give you an idea of the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that locals expect from one another. Additionally, try to remain calm, be polite, and always give locals the benefit of the doubt.
Respect any dress codes
Different regions have different laws when it comes to dress codes, and it’s important to be aware of what’s appropriate or inappropriate to wear in specific places – especially if you plan to explore religious or culturally important sites. Most sites will have dress codes listed on their websites, but if you’re ever unsure, err on the side of caution and cover up. This is especially true for women, who should to adhere to cultural expectations of modesty in order to be respectful.
Be aware of public behavior
In some areas, public displays of affection may not be acceptable in public – and this also goes for any displays of anger or other strong emotions. Be aware of what kind of behavior is acceptable, and try to keep your emotions in check (for your own safety, as well as for the safety of the locals).
Learn about local superstitions and beliefs
Many regions have their own superstitions and beliefs, which often will inform what people expect from visitors. Learning about local superstitions and beliefs is especially important if you are visiting sacred sites or religious sites – as these often have very specific etiquette guidelines – but it’s also good to generally familiarize yourself with the kinds of beliefs that are held by the locals for your own benefit.
Be open and friendly
Finally, the best way to ensure that you have a positive experience while traveling to a new region is to be open and friendly – locals can often tell when visitors are genuine and friendly, and this can often create a more enjoyable experience for everyone. A smile and a “hello” can go a long way, and you’ll often find that locals are more than happy to help you out and give you advice on the best places to visit.
Researching local customs before you begin your travels can go a long way in ensuring that you have a more enjoyable experience. Don’t simply assume that you will be able to “wing it” – take the time to do the necessary research on customs and etiquette, and you’ll find that locals are much more likely to welcome you with open arms.