6 Ways to Avoid Cultural Misunderstandings When Traveling Abroad
If you’ve ever asked friends how their recent trip abroad was, only to be met with “Oh, the (Insert People Here) are SO RUDE,” you know that it’s easy to have your day ruined by a cultural misunderstanding when you’re abroad.If you’re paying thousands of dollars to travel somewhere, the last thing you want is to inadvertently make yourself miserable.
That’s why, whenever you’re traveling, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research before you go.
Here are six ways to avoid cultural misunderstandings when traveling abroad:
1 Learn a few words of the local language, including “Please,” “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “Excuse me.”
Even if you think you speak French comme une vache espagnole (like a Spanish cow), putting a bit of effort into saying a few words in the local language will go a long way, no matter where you go.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for tourists to assume that everyone speaks English, which isn’t always the case. While you may be staying in a tourist area, it’s unlikely that the hotel maid or the busboy can converse with you. Prefacing your request by asking if they speak English in the local language will help exponentially. If the staff does speak English, they don’t necessarily feel like they should *have* to—it’s their country, after all. Remember that their ability to speak English, even a bit, is a service that they’re providing to you to make your stay easier.
If you make an effort to use a few local words, and to ask natives if they speak English before blurting out something, and they’ll appreciate your efforts, be more polite, and give you better service.
2 Read those pages on culture at the beginning of your travel guide, and do online research to see if the are any faux pas to avoid.
In every country and culture around the world, there are certain gestures and expressions that should be avoided in polite company; you don’t want to accidentally offend anyone by committing a massive cultural faux pas.
Before you go abroad, read about the customs in the country you’re visiting, and take note of any specific gestures or sayings to avoid. In Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries, for example, you should avoid touching food with your left hand, which is typically used for personal hygiene. In North Africa, you’ll want to ensure that you never show the soles of your shoes to friends.
In France, not making eye contact when clinking wine glasses for “cheers” is considered rude (and condemns you to seven years of bad sex!), as is crossing over or under the arms of two other people who are clinking glasses. Take note that in Europe, if you put your left hand on your lap while you’re eating rather than on the table, people will suspect you’re up to something.
By doing a bit of reading beforehand, you can appear open-minded and make a good impression to your hosts.
3 Try to respect and follow the advice that you read.
Even if you think a particular custom is ridiculous, sexist, racist, or worse, there are some situations where you should suck it up and follow it anyway. In some cases, the last thing you want to do is stand out like a foreigner.
If you’re going to a business meeting in China, for example, a woman will deeply offend her male Chinese colleagues if she gets on or off the elevator before them. And in many Middle Eastern countries, men and women don’t shake hands, even if they’re colleagues. If you’re trying to seal a business deal, though, these situations probably aren’t the right time to vehemently defend your feminist beliefs.
Similarly, out of respect for the locals, eat in private during the day if you’re visiting Malaysia during Ramadan, or expect to have a chat with police about what religion you are. Bring your marriage certificate if you want to rent a hotel room in Egypt, or get separate rooms if you’re not married. The hotel owner can face fines for allowing you to fraternize, and while you may think you have a “right” to do something, you won’t win any points by putting him in a difficult position.
Curse them out in your head, but smile and defer, and you’ll go a lot further towards making your stay a pleasant one with limited police encounters.
4 Keep your voice down in public.
Having lived outside of the US for several years, now, I can attest that groups of Americans tend to be louder and more rowdy than groups of people from other countries. Abroad, it’s easy to hear them from afar.
The Many Advantages and Disadvantages of Travelling Abroad
The advantages and disadvantages of travelling abroad to consider when deciding to travel or not.
Before COVID struck at the start of 2020, world travel was getting more popular every year.
Just take a look at the international tourist arrival stats in 2018:
Around 1.4 billion people spent at least one night overseas, which was a 56-fold increase from 1950!
And it’s no surprise. There are so many huge, life-changing benefits to travel that I think everyone should do it.
But don’t be fooled by all those rose-tinted travel snaps on instagram.
There are definite challenges to being on the road worth knowing about too!
Want to learn more about both the pros and cons of travel?
Keep reading to discover the primary advantages and disadvantages of travelling abroad!
[Last updated: July 2021]
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There are many benefits of travelling abroad. But there are disadvantages of travelling abroad to know about too. Here’s a list of everything to consider before you trip.
Interested in travel pros and cons? You might also like…
List of Advantages and Disadvantages of Travelling Abroad
Travelling has become popular in recent years. What are the advantages and disadvantages of travelling?
Let’s take a look! Here are all the pros and cons of travelling that you can expect to encounter on the road.
The Advantages of Travelling Abroad
Travelling’s packed full of advantages. In no particular order, here are the main ones…
1. You Meet Incredible People
Of all the benefits to traveling, it’s often the people you meet that make the experience of travel so unforgettable.
You meet people from all walks of life, with totally different values, stories, and aspirations.
Moreover, you meet people with whom you’d never usually cross paths. Personal differences don’t matter as much on the road though. You’re all doing the same thing: having an adventure and seeing the world.
You can make friends in an instant on that foundation alone.
Many people dislike the idea of solo travel for fear of getting lonely.
Yet the reality is that it’s all too easy to meet like-minded, lovely people to spend time with! All told, a major travel benefit is the lifelong friendships you earn along the way. Whether you stay in touch or not, they’ll walk with you forever in memory.
2. You Explore Somewhere New
One of the biggest benefits of travel is that you get to visit beautiful places that you’ve never been to before!
You grow up hearing about distant lands and exotic cultures in stories like these; watching TV shows about intrepid adventurers, ancient ruins, and natural wonders of the world.
And then you go travelling and see it with your own eyes! This, for me, is one of the primary reasons for travelling in the first place.
Without travel, your world’s limited to your house, friends, family, and local neighbourhood. Travelling bursts that bubble. You step outside the norm and realize how much there is to see.
Ironically, the more you travel, the bigger the world seems to get.
3. You Have an Adventure
My own wanderlust is driven by a desire for adventure.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always yearned for it, ever since I was a kid!
It’s a central reason why travelling is important to me. It’s about independence, taking control of my life, getting out there and doing something different.
For me, travel is really living. It gets to the very heart of what it is to live life in a vibrant, engaged, intense way.
Go travelling and forge memories that will last forever. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
4. You Witness Immense Beauty
Another reason why you should travel is that it takes you to some of the world’s most beautiful places.
Beauty’s everywhere and you don’t have to travel a thousand miles to find it. But there’s no denying that travel lays it on a plate for you!
You find yourself in places of such sublime beauty that it defies belief.
It gets to a point where you actually start losing touch with it. You find yourself thinking “oh, another waterfall”, or “ah yep, another snow-capped mountain”
In other words, you get spoiled!
Quick N.B.: With all that beauty on offer you’ll want a camera to picture it! Here’s a list of the best backpacking cameras out there!
Wondering why travel is important? Of the many advantages of travelling abroad, witnessing immense beauty, in new parts of the world, has to be one of my favourites.
5. Make Unforgettable Memories
Another key reason to travel is for the amazing memories you make along the way.
Trust me, if you go away for any reasonable period of time and immerse yourself in the experience, you’re 100% guaranteed to come back with stories you’ll never forget.
And that’s a big deal! I’ve heard it said that, as people, all we really are is a system of memories.
Our very identity’s built upon the things we’ve seen, heard, read about, and committed to memory.
In the same way, we can look at the process of making memories as a fundamental way of learning who we are, and/or becoming someone new.
Click here to read some more interesting facts about travelling!
6. Do Something Different
It’s clichéd to say, but you really never know how much time you’re going to get.
I love this quote:
Who’s more likely to be scared of dying:
The person who spends their life behind a desk for 40 years, or someone who takes a leap of faith, explores the world, and gets stuck into an adventure?
The purpose of life isn’t to take the less trodden path. But the less trodden path will most definitely help you find purpose in life.
It’s one reason I see travel as more than just a hobby. Travelling is fun, but it also has a profound impact on the way you see yourself and the world.
Of all the advantages of foreign travel, this is up there with the best of them.
7. Build Your Confidence
Why is traveling good? In part, because travel is hard.
Obviously, I’m not talking about “a week on the beach” kind of travel.
I’m talking weeks, months, or years spent away from home, far from friends and family, exploring distant lands, living with minimal funds, and so on.
it’s natural to experience hardship when you travel like that! Among the many challenges (which I’ll talk more about in the next section), you’ll get lost, lonely, homesick, and question what you’re doing.
Yet, one way or another, you get through it all!
And overcoming adversity like that’s a sure-fire way to grow your confidence. The meekest, most insecure, and mothered person in the world can come away from travelling with heaps of newfound confidence.
8. Learn About Yourself
Your confidence on the road grows at about the same rate as your self-understanding!
It’s another of the most invaluable benefits of world travel.
There’s nothing quite like stepping out of your bubble to realise who you actually are.
I can vouch for this one. Self-awareness is a lifelong process, but I always arrive home from travel feeling far more aligned with who I am.
It’s difficult not to!
All those new people you meet, ideas you come across, cultures you learn from, things you see, and experiences you have…it all leads to self-discovery.
You get home from travel feeling distinctly different from the person who left it months before.
Here’s another top article about the role of travel in self-development!
9. You Recoup, Unwind, De-Stress, Move On…Heal
Here’s another of the main reasons to travel more:
There’s something inherently healing about it.
Throughout time, people have gone travelling to explore, learn, see, and live.
But there’s often deep pain, and the need to escape from it, lurking somewhere in the background.
If you need an opportunity to stop, move on, recover your energy, and generally lick your wounds, then consider going travelling.
You don’t need a plan, you just need time. You don’t need a goal, you just need to be open to the experience.
I don’t know how it works, but travel offers a soothing balm to the cuts and bruises that life can throw at you.
Quick point of interest: Some travellers take crystals with them for good luck! To learn more, here’s a guide to the best crystals for travel.
10. Expand Your CV
One of the final benefits of traveling abroad is to do with getting a job!
Many people baulk at the idea of travel because it means creating a gap on their CV.
“How could you possibly explain that year abroad to a prospective employer?”
Yet the reality’s that travel can actually make you more employable. After all, it demands maturity, tenacity, problem-solving, independence, language skills, time-keeping ability, people skills, and more.
What employer wouldn’t want a team member with those qualities?
Remember, we don’t live in the 1950s.
Travel’s so common now that most employers are used to it. They may even be surprised if you haven’t been away!
Secondly, the way we’re working is changing too. More and more of us are pushing against the typical “one-career-for-life” mentality.
Gaps, random roles, periods of unemployment, and travel, just go hand in hand with that!
Can you articulate the value of your time overseas? Then you can justify it to a future employer.
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It might not look like it, but there are genuine disadvantages of travel as well!
The Disadvantages of Travel
As much as I love being on the road, there are both travelling advantages and disadvantages you encounter along the way.
Let’s move onto the disadvantages of travelling abroad.
1. It’s Expensive
First thing’s first: travel requires money!
Sure, there are ways to travel for less, and having limited funds doesn’t have to stop you from doing it.
But, in reality, without money in your bank account, travel becomes far trickier.
In exactly the same way, going travelling depletes your bank balance! That nice nest egg you’d built? Expect it to shrivel up before your eyes! Unless you can make money as you go, there’s normally not a lot left when you get home.
And, speaking from experience, this isn’t easy to handle.
You look at your mates who’ve been working while you’ve been away. They’re buying cars, houses, and doing cool stuff and you have barely a penny to your name!
You might have to live back with your parents and/or get a menial job to pay the bills or rent.
2. You’re Out of the Loop
Unless you’re travelling locally, hitting the road can take you thousands of miles away from home.
After an initial teething period, you get used to it, become immersed in the experience, and being away from loved ones feels easier.
But life goes on without you there too!
You don’t go to the parties, you miss out on the latest gossip, and you aren’t privy to the general goings-on. You can get home and find that you’re no longer up to speed with the group.
It can be easy to feel alienated and on the outskirts when you first get back.
3. You Miss Important Events at Home
A related disadvantage of travel is that you’ll almost certainly miss out on important events back home.
For example, I missed my Dad’s 60th birthday a couple of years ago because I was travelling. I was painfully aware of my family being together while I was on the other side of the world!
I’ve also missed family holidays, my brothers’ birthdays, friends’ weddings, and multiple Christmas days.
I’m doing cool stuff all the time, which is a definite silver lining, but missing these events are always makes me question if travel’s really worth it! They’re some of the loneliest times on the road.
4. You Feel Homesick
Almost everyone gets homesick on the road.
And for good reason!
You’re miles away from your nearest and dearest, missing all those big events I talked about above. You’re often lonely, out of your comfort zone, and missing your mum’s cooking.
Feeling homesick’ entirely understandable, but still never fun. It can sap the enjoyment from any trip for as long as it lasts.
Homesickness is a common struggle when you travel. As far as disadvantages of travelling go, it definitely isn’t fun.
5. You Fall Behind on the Career Ladder
Travel’s good for your CV, as we’ve seen.
But you undeniably get home and have some “career-catch-up” to do (…assuming you want a certain career).
After all, your peers have had a decent head-start! While you’ve been away, they’ve been working.
They’re getting promotions, pay-rises, and progressing up the ladder while you have to start from the bottom.
And the longer you travel? The bigger that gap gets.
When you eventually come home, looking upwards at your friends’ success isn’t easy. And, with your travels now just a memory, it can be difficult to feel great about your decision-making…
6. It’s Tiring
This is a big one for me: travelling is bloody tiring!
You don’t expect it.
You’re used to vacations where the sole purpose is to rest up and relax. You come away feeling rejuvenated.
By contrast, travelling is food for the soul, but it’s rarely a relaxing affair.
You’re on the go all the time, moving from one place to the next, eager not to miss out on anything. All those new foods, people, languages, sounds, smells and places are there to experience!
You can easily burn out if you aren’t careful.
7. There’s (Potential) Danger
The potential for harm is a common reason many people decide against travel.
And yep, the prospect of long-term (especially solo) travel is daunting. It requires a leap into the unknown that goes against all of our innate survival instincts.
It’d be a flagrant lie to say there’s no danger out there.
Every year you hear awful stories of innocent travellers going missing, or being mugged or killed overseas. Those stories are awful and frightening and fuel the idea that travelling’s dangerous.
It can be, clearly! However, with appropriate precautions and general common sense, you have to be unlucky to come into harm’s way.
It can’t prevent the bad stuff from happening. But it will relieve the practical and financial implications if it does.
As much as anything else, though, travel insurance gives you peace of mind. Even if you never need it, you know that it’s there- just in case you get unlucky. The result? You can get back to enjoying your time away.
One of the main travel disadvantages? You’re faced with your own fears, issues and insecurities…
8. You’re Forced to Confront Your Issues
We all have our insecurities, weaknesses, neuroses, prejudices, and vices. But at home, surrounded by everything we know and everyone who loves us, it’s difficult to face up to them.
Often, it takes a change of environment and a novel context to showcase our problems.
Remember that advantage of learning more about who you are on the road? Well, sometimes that newfound insight has a sting in the tail.
I’ve realised a huge amount of stuff about myself that it would have been easier to ignore!
To name a few: how ignorant I am of the world, how insecure I can be, how anxious I can get, how entitled I can be at times…the list goes on.
This is how travel humbles you. It holds a mirror up and forces you to take note.
It hurts, but I actually count this as a major advantage of travel.
It’s exactly what makes you become a better person (you have to know what needs fixing before you can do it). However, not everyone wants to find out their bad bits, so I’ll leave it in the disadvantages section for now!
9. It Can Be Lonely
I’ve been born and raised in cities.
And I’ve always been struck by the irony that you can feel so lonely in such a mass of people.
The same is true when you travel. There may be times when you are genuinely by yourself. But as I’ve already mentioned, more often than not you’re surrounded by fellow travellers.
That’s almost always the case on the tourist trails.
Yet loneliness can develop anyway.
Exploring the world has a habit of highlighting just how small you are. It can crumble your desire to travel, wring the joy from the experience and have you yearning for the comfort of home.
And it’s all part of the experience.
Everyone should learn how to be alone. Creativity, discovery, and self-awareness develop in the silence of solitude and travel’s king at forcing you into it.
10. Coming Home’s Hard
Last but not least, the hardest part of travel is often coming home!
It’s ironic. Saying goodbye at the start of your trip is hard.
Then getting back to that very same place, with the very same people, is even harder. You end up mourning your time on the road.
Coming home’s a shock to the system after all your adventures.
You feel different, yet everything else is the same. It’s the same bed, the same four walls, the same conversations, the same meals in the evenings, the same mundane concerns…It’s hard to wrap your head around.
How has nothing at home changed when you’ve had this profound, life-changing time?
It can take a while to readjust back into home-life. I’ve found that you never want to travel more than in the weeks following your return home.
Now You Know the Benefits of Travelling Abroad (and Its Downsides!)
There you have it: a comprehensive list of advantages and disadvantages of travelling abroad.
Pre-COVID, tens of millions of people would travel in some shape or form each year. And you can only imagine that the same will be the case when this pandemic eventually eases its grip.
You may well be thinking of doing it too!
And, if so, I’d always encourage that decision. Travel will change your life.
However, it’s still a big call! Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of foreign travel may help you decide what to do. Hopefully, this list has given you everything you need to choose the path that’s right for you.
Now I’d love to get your thoughts on this piece! Are you thinking of travelling? What do you think would be the biggest advantage and/or disadvantage for you?
8 Reasons to Travel Abroad
There will come a time when you will have the chance to travel abroad or live in another country. I am here to tell you to take that opportunity and never look back. No matter what happens, you won’t regret stretching the limits of your comfort zone and your passport.
So, why you should ditch America for a few months (or years) to experience life outside of the USA? Maybe you are a new graduate or you are about to start college and thinking about studying abroad. Maybe you are stuck in a dead-end job, unsure of where to go next. Either way, there will never be a perfect time and there will always be reasons not to go, so now is the time to take the plunge.
As long as you have a passport and a good pair of walking shoes, you can take advantage of the millions of adventures available at your fingertips. If money is an issue (and it usually is), you can cut back on expenses by participating in a cultural exchange, volunteering with a group, earning your way by teaching English or helping out a farm, or even joining the Peace Corps. The point is, if you want it bad enough, you will find a way.
Consider these 8 reasons why you should travel abroad:
By traveling you get to learn about different cultures first-hand. While you can always read a book about Thailand, there is something special about breathing in the stench of Durian fruit in person. Once you experience cultural differences firsthand, you can begin to understand where other people are coming from.
How could it not be fun to drag multiple bags through train stations?! You’re young and independent right now. Other than a significant other, you don’t really have any other people depending on you. So, why not pack up right now? The adventuring possibilities are endless. You can travel to Guatemala and work on a coffee farm, climb the Austrian Alps, cycle across India, or visit the ancient pyramids in Egypt.
Along with learning about a culture’s traditions and foods you can also immerse yourself in their language. Perhaps you studied French in school or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn Swahili. This is your time to go learn it and use it!
Studies have shown that people would rather spend their money on experiences that create lasting memories than on material things. Wouldn’t you rather spend $100 to go cliff diving in Costa Rica or on medical supplies for village children than of on a new pair of sneakers to add to your growing Air Jordan collection? By choosing to spend that money on an experience of adventure or serving others, you will undoubtedly create a unique memory that can’t be rivaled by material souveneirs.
5) Looks Good On a Resume:
To add a more corporate twist to this list, remember that future employers love this kind of thing. Most employers view traveling as a great way to become more knowledgeable about world cultures. Traveling also shows them that you are a responsible and mature individual with an ability to quickly adapt to different situations.
6) Opportunities and Connections:
If you move abroad, you won’t be stuck at the desk job you’ve been too afraid to quit for the last six months. Instead you can work anywhere you want. Maybe you get a job at a hip cafe or working on a cocoa farm or maybe you earn your keep being an au pair and traveling the world as a nanny. The point is, you now have the courage and opportunity to do whatever you want. You can choose to use your degree or not. Maybe you have always wanted to be a writer, a poet, a musician, a photographer – now is the time. Do it!
When Are You Actually an Adult?
7) Find Yourself:
Moving abroad allows you to make new friends and connections. You no longer have to be Water Polo William or Bad Test-Taker Bobby. You can now be who you want to be. You get to choose your passions and don’t have to fit in any niche of who people think you are or were. You might feel pressure from your family or friends to be someone you don’t want to be. But all of your new friends will only know you as William and Bobby, then you get to show them your true colors.
8) Gain Perspective:
Remember that fancy iPhone you are waiting for? Or maybe you want to buy some sweet new wheels with your graduation money? While moving abroad won’t solve all your problems, you’ll have a different perspective after trying to fit your life essentials into two suitcases. Let me break it to you, only the practical clothes and two pairs of shoes will end up fitting. No fancy, ankle-breaking Louboutin heels or three different kinds of formalwear. Trust me, you don’t want to be lugging five bags of luggage As our parents would say, “It builds character.” So will witnessing different standards of living outside of our American comfort zone, visiting international churches we can learn from and seeing what God is doing on a greater level throughout the world.
While you will inevitably miss your family and friends when you’re away, you will be busy creating new memories. Also, friends and family will find visiting you is the perfect excuse for them to go on an adventure of their own.
If you even have the tiniest urge to live abroad, I encourage you to look into how you can make that a possibility. You will learn invaluable lessons, grow into a more responsible and mature person and, undeniably, create some priceless memories. You will be challenged to reevaluate your own values and cultural norms. And when you come back home, you’ll bring a widened perspective of the world with you.
Natalie Thomas is a 24-year-old writer and journalist from Southern California currently living abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband. She regularly travels around the world and updates her blog frequently with her latest musings and adventures.