30 things you shouldn’t do abroad
These blunders will embarrass you no matter what country you’re in
If you’re looking for a way to announce that you’re a tourist — and a rude one at that — committing these travel faux pas is a surefire way to do that. Read on to find 30 things you shouldn’t do abroad to save yourself from potentially offending an entire country.
Ignoring local customs
Even celebrities have committed faux pas when it comes to conforming to local customs. Actress Jennifer Lawrence, for example, scratched her butt on sacred rocks in Hawaii while filming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in 2012. One she scratched on came loose, creating a landslide, writes Elle Hunt in The Guardian.
A blog post by Wendy Perrin on the travel website TripAdvisor emphasizes learning local customs before traveling. There are a couple of pages on its website with information about local customs.
NEXT: Not only is it rude, but it also makes you a target for pickpockets.
Flaunting your wealth
Foreign currency is very exciting, but refrain from showing it off while traveling — it’s just one of those things you shouldn’t do abroad. A blog post in BudgetTravel.com says flashing your cash isn’t endearing to the locals, just like it wouldn’t be acceptable in the U.S., either. Having cash on deck is helpful, especially if credit cards aren’t readily accepted.
However, indiscreetly unloading wads of cash from an ATM in full view of others will make you a target for pickpockets, reads the blog post. ATMs themselves might be rigged by pickpockets too, Elizabeth Finan from the Bureau of Consular Affairs told BudgetTravel.com.
NEXT: These outfit choices scream “I’M A TOURIST!”
Wearing inappropriate clothing
As I scrolled through various travel websites’ articles about “embarrassing things Americans do abroad,” I noticed that nearly all of them mention the tacky white travel socks many U.S. tourists favor. There are also the baseball caps and fanny packs that seem to annoy European locals.
There are some clothing items that might not just annoy, but seriously offend, citizens in foreign countries. (See slide number one regarding local customs.) For example, many Middle Eastern countries don’t appreciate showing lots of skin. When in doubt, do your research before packing a bag.
NEXT: Even Americans get annoyed by this.
Clapping at everything
Apparently, us Americans clap at everything. The especially annoying over-clapping moment has to be when planes land. Take this skit that actor Patrick Stewart did for Jimmy Kimmel Live. Expedia did a survey to find out the most annoying things people do on flights.
If you guessed “clapping on a plane” was one of them, you’re correct. Stewart’s fellow actors act annoyed at his clapping during the skit, but that annoyance is much alive IRL. Apparently Greeks are guilty of clapping on planes as well … We’re not alone, y’all!
NEXT: Leave the entitlement at home.
Assuming people are there to wait on you
“Being a little bit patient and not assuming that everybody here is here to clamor over your tourist dollars is important,” Anna Post told BudgetTravel.com. She’d know — she’s the co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition. Apparently U.S. tourists have long had a bad reputation …
Emily Post wrote the chapter “Europe’s Unflattering Opinion of Us” in 1922. BudgetTravel quotes her as writing: “For years, we Americans have swarmed over the face of the world, taking it for granted that the earth’s surface belongs to us because we can pay for it.”
NEXT: Please sit down, Brenda.
Eating while walking
Takeout food in Europe isn’t as common as it is in the U.S., and neither is eating on the go. Europeans, like the French, for instance, like to sit down for all three of their daily meals instead of scarfing coffee on their way to work as we do.
“It’s rare to see people eating while walking,” reads a post in Mbgfood regarding France. “There are no cup holders on caddies, or even in most cars.” In Japan, it might be considered rude depending on the circumstances, according to Quora user Ryo Yokoe.
NEXT: Everything in the U.S. is bigger, they say.
Taking up too much space
It’s not uncommon to see tourists become unaware of how much space they’re taking up. It might be when they’re walking absentmindedly or taking photos with those dreaded selfie sticks. Locals that aren’t on vacation might not appreciate the spatial unawareness.
Locals need to get to work and they can’t do that if you’re taking up the entire sidewalk. Also, “manspreading” or taking up room with your bags on public transportation is a big no-no.
NEXT: Takeout is a thing in the U.S., not so much abroad.
Asking for coffee or food ‘to go’
It might seem like a strange thing to add to a list of things you shouldn’t do abroad, but it’s real, y’all. “In France, as in Austria, it’s generally understood that coffee isn’t to be consumed in a hurry … but if you’re really in a hurry, you can do as you would in Italy, and throw back an espresso shot at the bar,” writes Chris Ciolli in AFAR Magazine.
Some places might give you coffee to go, but it’ll likely be in a flimsy plastic cup instead of those sturdy ones Starbucks gives you. Food to go isn’t a huge thing either. But no one will get upset if you eat a falafel by the Rhine river in Germany.
NEXT: This custom exists in U.S. restaurants but not in all restaurants abroad.
Tipping your server
Whether your country of arrival tips is something that should come up in your research. (See slide number one for information about why researching local customs is important.) Tipping isn’t commonplace in some countries like China, Japan, Denmark, or Belgium, according to a 2019 report in U.S. News & World Report.
In some cultures, tipping might even be an insult! Tipping is A-OK in the U.S., of course, even encouraged if you feel the service was good. Though you’re not required to tip in the U.S., especially if your service was subpar.
NEXT: This might frighten any new foreign friends you make on your trip abroad.
Compared to other cultures, Americans are much more chatty. Taking that chattiness to other countries might not be well received. “If you unload on a total stranger about how (your) marriage is stalling, they’re going to peg you for a Yank right off the bat,” reads an article in ALOT Travel.
Some Americans question this oversharing claim. “I wonder what the differences are in some of the fellows’ countries, where the Internet might be slower and everyone probably doesn’t have a smartphone,” reads a blog post on the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s website.
NEXT: Learn a couple of common phrases at least.
Speaking English to non-English speakers
“There’s even a joke: What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual,” Leah Ginsburg from Yahoo! Travel writes. “What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.” You don’t have to learn a whole new language.
Just a couple of common phrases that are good to know are: “Do you speak English?” “Hello” and “thank you.” The rudest? Walking up to any ole person on the street and immediately speaking English, whether you’re unsure if they understand you or not.
NEXT: Now’s the time to portion control.
Eating massive portions or drinking too much
There can be major consequences in foreign countries that you might not expect. For example, getting way too drunk can get you a huge fine in Australia. A disorderly drunk patron can get busted with a maximum penalty of $10,676, reads an entry on the Queensland Government website.
Some countries love to make fun of Americans for our fine country’s obesity problem (93.3 million Americans were affected by obesity in 2015-16, says the CDC), so overeating in public might give them more fuel for that fire. (The word for #BodyPositivity doesn’t exist in all languages.)
NEXT: Always ask for permission before doing this.
Taking pictures of locals without asking
“At least in Asia, Americans are always taking pictures of the locals. And not in the National Geographic kind of way — more like how I take photos of animals at the zoo on my iPhone,” Dan from Vietnam told Thrillist writer Brooke Sager in 2016.
If you want to take photos of someone, please ask. Some people might be OK with it, but some people won’t be. If those that aren’t catch you in the act of hitting that shutter button, better watch out!
NEXT: Just shut up!
While gathering folks from other countries’ impressions of U.S. tourists, Thrillist writer Brooke Sager got a resounding opinion on Americans’ volume. “‘Americans are loud.’ — Everyone,” wrote Sager. Sometimes it’s OK to stand out, but it can also make you a pickpocket’s target.
So shut your trap! Joking, just watch the volume on that mouth of yours. In some countries, like Sweden or Japan, citizens are more reserved than what some Americans might be used to.
NEXT: This should be a given considering the precarious political situation.
It’s safe to say plenty of other countries may not like the United States’ current administration. Unfortunately, who is leading our country might already have shaped foreigners’ opinions of us regardless of if we voted for him or not. Politics shouldn’t prevent you from making new friends, however.
You might assume that all of Europe is a “liberal utopia,” but there are still plenty of places that have a conservative government, writes Scott Hartbeck in TravelPulse. In short, don’t assume someone’s political leanings, and avoid offending by not talking about politics.
NEXT: You can eat this at home and abroad.
Going to McDonald’s instead of trying local cuisine
Here’s Carla’s (the author of this fine piece of literature) personal opinion: McDonald’s makes a great rest spot for travelers. Think about it — it’s got fries, a bathroom, and Wi-Fi. Basically, everything you need to regroup before adventuring again. But it’s a waste of money to only eat at Mickey D’s abroad.
You could have put that $3.99 you spent on a Big Mac toward sampling a crepe with Nutella in Paris, or trying a falafel in Berlin, or wolfing down pierogies in Eastern Europe. And just because it ain’t McDonald’s doesn’t mean it’s expensive!
NEXT: Some things aren’t meant to be souvenirs.
Bringing back a souvenir you’re not supposed to
So this story features French tourists, not Americans (see, anyone can be a bad tourist!): A French couple tried to take 90 pounds of sand from the Italian island of Sardinia in 2019. (Why they couldn’t settle on a T-shirt or magnet, we do not know.)
The couple would possibly face jail time, wrote Lauren Frias in an INSIDER report from August 2019. Stealing sand has been illegal since 2017, but the couple claims they didn’t know. See — taking random things can get you in HUGE trouble.
NEXT: Some people want to be left alone.
Talking to strangers
“Ask a bunch of foreigners how to spot an American abroad, and this is the one that comes up the most often. In fact, our outgoing personalities are often startling to more reserved types like Germans and Brits,” Leah Ginsberg from Yahoo! Travel writes.
Ginsberg quotes one Swede as saying: “We don’t talk to people here.” Americans are known for having a friendly disposition, but that mindset doesn’t always fare well in other countries.
NEXT: It looks tacky and takes up too much space. So, just stop.
Busting out the dreaded selfie stick
Selfie sticks may be useful for, well, taking selfies, but they’re equally hated around the world. Tourists are already more likely to take up too much space, so practicing self-awareness with those selfie sticks before you put someone’s eye out is a good idea.
Millennial Magazine has several tips for proper selfie etiquette: 1) Watch where you stick your stick. 2) Don’t selfie while walking. 3) Be aware if your selfie stick annoys others. 4) Don’t selfie in dangerous situations.
NEXT: Leave this at home.
Engaging in major PDA
This is tacky even in the U.S., but in some countries, you can even be arrested for it. In the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), for instance, “Public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public,” reads the U.K. government’s travel advice.
Being in love is cool, but being in a foreign jail isn’t. In U.A.E. and other Middle Eastern countries, staying with your significant other in the same hotel room if you’re not married is a major no-no as well.
NEXT: Some places run on cash.
Using your credit card for everything
“Credit cards are not widely accepted in some countries,” Elizabeth Finan of the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs tells Budget Travel. “Although it is a good idea to bring a credit card or two, leave all unnecessary credit cards at home.” That being said, bring cash!
This should be obvious, but don’t bring only U.S. dollars — other countries have different currencies from us. Usually, airports have currency exchanges or you can exchange some dough at currency exchanges at your local mall.
NEXT: A French person tells Thrillist about his interaction with American tourists.
“I generally find the stereotype about Americans being uncouth and ignorant a bit tired, but their behavior abroad often seems to confirm … it,” Jean-Luc from France told Brooke Sage from Thrillist. One time, a voluble American couple was on the Metro, and the husband asked the wife the same question each time they crawled into a station.
“‘Why is every station in this city called sortie?’ He had to be politely told that ‘sortie’ means ‘exit’ in French.” Moral of the story: Try to understand a little bit about the country you’re going to before boarding that flight.
NEXT: This relates to our McDonald’s slide.
Ordering American food abroad
Like you should resist the urge to eat at McDonald’s every darn meal, you should try something else besides ordering the food from back home you know so well (i.e., hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, french fries, etc.). Why not try a nice borscht soup in Russia or sushi in Japan?
It’s a good idea to blend in while traveling to become less of a target and less of a nuisance. Ordering what’s considered a “stereotypical American meal” could be one of those things that makes you stand out to the discerning restaurant patron.
NEXT: Now this is rude in the U.S. and other countries.
Leaving a mess in your hotel or rental accommodations
Sure, you might not ever see the people that work in the hotel that you’re staying at ever again, but leaving a giant mess behind might shape their view of American tourists. (Don’t you want to be liked?!) When it comes to Airbnb, there’s a benefit to being tidy.
Not only can you leave a review for Airbnbs that you stay at, but Airbnb hosts can also review you. That review goes on your profile for other Airbnb-ers to see.
NEXT: This is often one of the first things they bring you in a U.S. restaurant — not in many restaurants around the world!
Asking for tap water
Restaurants outside of the U.S. typically don’t bring tap water as soon as you sit down at a restaurant. In some countries, they might not even serve you tap water. “It’s simply not part of the culture,” a Dutch citizen told writer Leah Ginsberg from Yahoo! Travel.
If you want water in Europe, for instance, they might ask you if you want “sparkling” or “flat.” That means exactly what it sounds like — either sparkling water or just plain, flat water. Both will come in a bottle.
NEXT: You can be arrested for this in Singapore.
You shouldn’t do this in any country, but in some countries, it can get you a crazy fine. (Destroy the environment and your wallet? No thanks!) “You shouldn’t litter in any country and it isn’t uncommon for littering to be against the law,” writes Talia Avakian in Business Insider.
“But in Singapore, you’ll find yourself paying a $1,000 fine for it.” Add the confusing aspects of dealing with paying fines abroad and you’ll find it’s just not worth the risks.
NEXT: This isn’t commonplace in restaurants outside of the U.S.
Asking for drinks with ice
True story: I once ordered an “iced coffee” in Berlin, Germany, and received a coffee with ice cream in it. That’s a real dish you can order — an affogato — but when it’s 8:00 in the morning, few people might want to eat such a dessert.
Ice isn’t a common thing for restaurants in Europe to have on deck. Other places — like countries in Southeast Asia — put ice in drinks WE normally wouldn’t put ice in (e.g., ice in beer).
NEXT: Research this before boarding a plane into and out of your destination.
Failing to understand import or export restrictions
Different countries will have different import and export restrictions, writes Alex Miller in UpgradedPoints.com. Research countries’ requirements before boarding that airplane. If you bring something you’re not supposed to, it can get thrown away.
Miller writes that these are commonly restricted items: religious artifacts, precious metals, ivory, animal skins, antiques, fresh produce, certain medications, etc.
NEXT: Click “Next” if you care what the rest of the world thinks of the U.S.
Forgetting you’re representing the rest of the U.S.
“Americans, in general, have a pretty bad reputation to try to live down,” Anna Post, co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition, told BudgetTravel.com. “Any time you can go the extra effort to use every courtesy that’s available to you to show appreciation … ”
“ … I think that that is part of what it means to be an ambassador for your country when you travel.” True, you cannot fix the mistakes the Americans before you have made, but you have power over what you do today.
NEXT: At least get an app that converts it for you.
Failing to try to understand the metric system
Very few countries DON’T use the metric system — Myanmar, Liberia, and the U.S., says Mental Floss. Unless you’re traveling to those countries, you’re going to have to figure out what a meter is in feet or temperature in Celsius is. But, you can totally cheat and get an app for that!
There’s one called Metric Conversion and then another called Unit Converter; both have favorable ratings. But really, any ole conversion app will do — just make sure it has good reviews, because getting the wrong measurement for something might be embarrassing …