Six Tips to Embarrass Yourself Abroad

January 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We hate to admit it, but it’s no secret that we Americans have a reputation for being, well, a little embarrassing abroad. While this is only as true as other stereotypes you encounter (i.e. not much), it’s still a stigma that should make American travelers a little more aware of their behavior when visiting other countries.

No matter where you’re from or what country you visit, it’s always a good idea to keep your manners in check when traveling abroad. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of six sure-fire ways to embarrass yourself abroad.

1. Not being able to say ‘thank you’

While you probably don’t have the time to become fluent in Italian before visiting Italy, you should at least know enough to be polite. Before you travel, take some time to learn the obvious phrases. After all, if someone came up to you on a street in America saying, “Dov’è il bagno?” (where’s the bathroom?), you’d have no idea what they meant, and keep walking.

2. Wearing sweatpants

In America, we love to wear sweatpants, yoga pants and hoodies when running errands. If you do so in many other countries, be prepared to stick out like a sore thumb. When visiting another country, it’s a good idea to put your best foot forward – and make sure that foot isn’t wearing flip flops.

3. Complaining

English: A bicyclist in Amsterdam, the Netherl...

A bicyclist in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No matter where you go, you’re going to find plenty of things that are very different than America. While you may instinctively want to comment on the differences, don’t. When in doubt, act as if you’re in someone else’s home. Some things may seem a little strange, but it would be rude to mention it, right?

4. Getting impatient

We Americans have a need for speed. However, many countries move at a slower pace and enjoying a relaxing meal at a restaurant is the norm. If your waiter is moving a bit slower than you’d like, don’t get frustrated — use it as an opportunity to r-e-l-a-x.

5. Not eating the local fare

We recently heard about a young woman who spent two weeks in Europe and only ate pizza or hamburgers everywhere she went. Don’t turn your nose up at the local cuisine or ask a restaurant if they can ‘Americanize’ a dish. Take a risk and order something new – you just may like it. And if you don’t, refer to #3.

6. Being ignorant to local etiquette

Did you know that in Hawaii, it’s rude to surf at the locals’ beach, and in Bali, it’s impolite to visit a temple without a ‘blessing’ such as a basket of flower petals? Before you travel, always do your research. With so much information at our fingertips online, you have no excuse not to.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you have anything that you’d add to this list? Tell us in the comments section below, or post your comment on our Facebook page.

What To Pack When Backpacking Europe

May 26, 2011 by · 7 Comments 

You’ve decided to fulfill a lifelong dream by backpacking Europe. Congratulations on your ambition and sense of adventure. Obviously, such an undertaking requires proper preparation. In the words of renowned European travel expert, Rick Steves, the key to success is “packing light and right.”

Group of American tourists encounter Rick Stev...

Image via Wikipedia. A group of American tourists encounter Rick Steves.

Whether you’re traveling with a backpack or rollaboard luggage, Steves strongly recommends limiting yourself to one bag. By doing so, you eliminate the hassles of checking and retrieving extra luggage, paying excess and oversized baggage fees, and dragging multiple bags through security checkpoints and around the countryside.

So, how do you fit a whole trip’s worth of belongings into one backpack or carry-on? According to Steves, you “bring very little.”

“Don’t pack for the worst case scenario,” writes Steves in his article Packing Light And Right, available at “Pack for the best case scenario, and simply buy yourself out of any jams.”

Some valuable tips include:

  • Review the Transportation Security Administration’s website for a current list the goods allowed and not allowed in carry-on luggage.
  • Don’t pack more clothing than you need and be sure to take neutral colored clothes that mix and match, so you have a variety of outfits. This will reduce the weight of your luggage and avoid overweight bag fees.
  • Pack using the “bundle” method. Wrap clothes around large objects (such as bags of toiletries or pairs of shoes), rather than folding or rolling clothes. The bundle method saves the most space and also prevents wrinkling.
  • Minimize the number of items that require electricity, as converters can be costly, heavy and space consuming.
  • Consider taking these travel accessories available from Austin House: portable laundry lines, travel laundry kits, sewing kits (a limited wardrobe can go a long way when you’re able to regularly wash and maintain it.
  • For your safety, don’t dress in a way that would mark you as an affluent tourist. Limiting yourself to one bag also enhances personal security, since con artists prey on people carrying excess luggage.

As Steves points out, you can’t travel heavy, happy and cheap. You have to pick two.

How Can I Save Money On My Trip?

December 15, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Beyond getting the lowest airfare possible, savvy travelers are always looking for tips on reducing the overall cost of their trip, especially when traveling overseas.

Noted travel expert Rick Steves published 50 ways to “Stretch Your Dollar” when traveling in Europe. Listed below are some of our favorite tips that apply not only to Europe, but to all international travel:

  • Travel off-season: October through April is generally the off-season in Europe. Off-season means cheaper air fare, find cheaper rooms, and avoid all those tourists. And if you’re visiting the bigger cities, there’s always something going on, even if you’re not hitting any of the traditional festivals.
  • Don’t let frequent flier miles cloud your judgment. The temptation is to take the plane ticket, car rental, or hotel for some extra frequent flier miles. But you’re paying for those miles in terms of a higher cost. Save the money and skip the miles. Sometimes, the extra you spend in earning all those miles could have paid for another day of vacation.
  • Use a guidebook. Rick Steves says “guidebooks are $20 tools for $3,000 experiences.” This is not the place to cheap out. Buy a guidebook and study it beforehand, then keep it with you as you visit your destination. Also, Moleskine has begun offering city guide notebooks. You can record the highlights of your vacations in the book and refer to the handy map inside.
  • Use ATMs rather than travelers checks, but use credit cards whenever possible. Get your cash from ATMs. Exchange rates are more favorable, although you will get hit with transaction fees. Keep the fees low by making bigger withdrawals. Use credit cards when you can, so you can avoid carrying cash and worrying about the exchange rate. Just make sure an establishment takes plastic before you go inside.
  • Avoid touristy restaurants. You’re there to experience the real culture, not the touristy expectations. If a sign says “we speak English” and has multilingual menus, you’re not getting the real experience. Go to the ones where your menu is in the local language. Rick Steves recommends the daily specials if you don’t want to eat something. . . unexpected. If you’re not sure, make sure you have a translation dictionary with you, or memorize the words of things you will and won’t eat.
  • Don’t over-tip. The Europeans get annoyed with Americans, because we tip 15 – 20%, and they do not. The wait staff gets paid a full salary, unlike American waiters and waitresses who live on tips. Ask some locals for advice, and not the wait staff (because, really, who’s going to say “no, you shouldn’t give me so much money?”)
  • Family-run businesses offer the best values. They’re run and staffed by family members, to avoid the costly European labor regulations. Plus, the people care about their reputation and customers, so the service is usually better too.
  • Make the most of public transit. If there’s anything Europe knows, it’s public transportation. It’s cheaper, easier, more reliable, and less harrowing than driving a rental car in a new country with different driving rules and expectations.

By using your head when planning overseas travel, you’ll be able to open your heart to more of the world.