August 2012

As my husband and I have been on a bit of a travel sabbatical lately, I’ve found myself banging my head on the table as news reports have come in the last few weeks about some fellow travelers.  Now I have a better appreciation for sidelined athletes frustratedly yelling at their teammates from the bench.

When traveling, one is automatically an ambassador of his or her home country. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want that responsibility, or if you don’t take the role seriously. Much like the raunchy pop stars of our day who decry the fact that young girls tend to follow their behavior, travelers are a reflection of their homeland.  Like or not.

After the news of Representative Yoder going skinny dipping in Israel on an official trip hit the press, I became even more convinced that Washington lawmakers should be required to undergo “cultural etiquette” training to teach them how to behave when traveling.  And when photos of Prince Harry cavorting nude in Las Vegas were circulated (what is it with naked guys lately?), it came to mind that perhaps Buckingham Palace and the United Nations ought to consider having seminars as well.  Anything to prevent more unwarranted exposure for travelers (no pun intended).

Which brings us to travel etiquette.  It’s not rocket science to conduct yourself in a foreign country with a bit of propriety.  The general rule of thumb is as follows:  If you would not engage in a particular behavior at your grandmother’s house, don’t do it overseas.  Unfortunately, in the name of “vacation” or “letting loose,” travelers often commit stupid, drunken, or plain rude (or all of the above) actions.  More often than not, it leads to personal embarrassment (Facebook and Twitter are a 24-hour ticker tape blasting out many a person’s indiscretions for the world to see), irreversible damage, and a perpetuated negative stereotype of one’s nationality.

Etiquette is unfortunately a dying art, but it can certainly be revived.  If more travelers would take seriously the reality that their actions are watched closely by locals, it seems logical to suggest that less instances of drunken disorder, nudity (in any public place), or other diplomatic kerfuffles would take place.  It just takes some thought and discipline.

Some thoughts on avoiding conduct unbecoming of a traveler:

–If you would not want your behavior broadcast through social media, don’t do it.

–If you’re not sure whether or not you’d want your behavior broadcast through social media, ask yourself if you would be okay engaging in that behavior at your grandmother’s house.

–Don’t assume, when you’re being loud/drunk/obnoxious, that locals are laughing with you. Au contraire.

–Read up on the local customs of your destination before you go, so you at least have prior warning and can try to avoid committing faux pas (i.e. crossing your legs and showing the bottom of your foot to individuals in the Middle East).

–We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Traveling is an opportunity to listen and learn from the place you’re visiting, not to barge in and announce your presence.  Quiet, respectful graciousness never goes out of style.

–Lastly, in the name of diplomatic decency, keep your clothes on.  Please.





As a traveler, the last few months were heaven on earth.  Amidst planning a June 2nd wedding and looking forward to honeymooning in Bora Bora, there was a hen do (bachelorette party) with friends in London, as well as various weddings for friends and family.  Weekends were booked for months at a time, and it felt like I should have given the post office Ronald Reagan Airport as a forwarding address.

Then suddenly everything just…stopped.  After returning from our honeymoon and then attending my cousin’s early July wedding in Texas, Leon and I looked at the calendar and were amazed that weekends were actually open.  That was a new feeling, to be sure.  We were now able to sit down and draw out plans–a budget for the upcoming months, what post-wedding errands to run, what needed to be done around the house, and so forth.

As a normal newly married couple, we knew that we needed to tighten our belts and try to plan responsibly for the future.  It was time to work hard, save as much as we could, and use the weekends as time to catch up on domestic duties and touch base with friends.  In other words, for at least a few months, travel would have to be put on the back burner.

Just because travel is on pause, however, does not mean that travelers must tap their foot and feel endlessly restless.  A sabbatical from travel is a great time to perform some “routine maintenance.”  After all, the mind can continue to travel, even when the body cannot.

My goals for the near future are to brush up on languages that I haven’t been able to practice lately, and to reconnect with cultures that are sorely missed.  This will be a great time to dust off the Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese dictionaries that have sat neglected on the bookshelf, for instance.  I’ve also finally started to watch the Korean drama “The Coffee Prince,” which my friend Hae Chin recommended ages ago.  I’m only on the first episode, but the show has already made me miss Seoul and brought back some great memories.  And, of course, there are great ethnic restaurants in D.C. that provide a taste of the exotic at home.

Life consists of ebbs and flows, and travel falls into that.  Whenever or wherever the next trip is, the next flow will certainly be appreciated.  But for now, it’s time to have a bit of an off-season.  Just as the Olympic athletes don’t slow up on training, though, a traveler is wise to work on some maintenance during homebound periods.