International Travel Tips: Avoid making travel faux pas

So you are planning a vacation abroad? There are a lot of local customs and social etiquettes in the world that you as a visitor might not be aware of. And in not paying attention to these little details you can unintentionally hurt some feelings. Here’s my list of top international travel tips to prevent you from making a travel faux pas on your trips abroad.

V for Victory = *@%**$^*!! in England (Photo by Bondstudio)

V for Victory or the Peace sign is considered harmless all over the world but not in England, and even New Zealand and Australia. When you do the “V” backwards (with your palms facing in), it is equivalent of flipping one off.

The thumbs up sign is a grave insult in Iran (Photo by Anthony Kelly)

The cheery thumbs up sign is called bilakh in Iran and is an undebatable insult with a literal meaning of “sit on this!”

Not so “OK” in Turkey and Brazil (Photo by Steven H. Keys)

This commonly used “Ok” / “I’m fine” sign is considered extremely crass and rude in Turkey and Brazil. In both these countries, it is thought that by making this sign you are comparing someone with their genitals. A point to keep in mind especially if you plan to go diving into the Ilha Grande.

Finger pointing is considered rude in certain South East Asian countries. (Photo by a2gemma)

When you visit Malaysia, you should point with your thumb instead. And in Philippines refrain from pointing altogether. However, if you have to point at something, do it with your eyes or head.

Don’t show your palms in Greece (Photo by Artotem)

Next tip for international travel concerns one of the most visited Mediterranean countries. In Greece, extending your arms with your palms facing someone is called the Moutza and is probably the worst kind of travel faux pas you can commit…that is unless you have committed the double Moutza (that’s right, with both hands!)

Head is considered sacred in Thailand (Photo by Bill Stilwell)

Refrain from touching anyone’s head in Thailand…even a child’s. The head is considered to be the seat of the soul and is therefore very sacred.

Ireland is not a part of the UK! (Photo by Stacy)

Nothing causes more offense to the Irish than clubbing them up with the Brits. So next time you go to a pub in Ireland kindly avoid putting pounds on the table or asking them why they accept Euros only. Stick to complimenting the food and the prowess of the national football team, and you should be clear of any conversational pitfalls.

Hide you belly button from the Japanese thunder God (Photo by Curt Smith)

This one is not exactly a tip, just a strange custom. In case you happen to be in Japan during a thunderstorm, don’t be surprised if you see some kids clutching their bellies. The belief is, during a thunderstorm the thunder God  – Raijin is on a hunt for belly buttons. If you are looking forward to some International travel to the Orient, pay close attention to the next few tips.

The Chinese numerology (Photo by Andy Maguire)

In China, the numbers 1,4,5,7,13 and 14 are considered very unlucky and inauspicious. Avoid bringing gifts in these numbers or planning an important meeting on these days. Avoid numbers 4 and 14 like the plague. 4 signifies death and 14 signifies guaranteed death with loneliness in Chinese numerology. Similarly, Japanese don’t like the numbers 4,9 and 13 and receiving gifts in even numbers.

Flower Codes (Photo by Flor4U)

Flowers can be a very appropriate and pretty gift for your host. But be careful of the message you are trying to send. For example, flowers should always be presented unwrapped when you visit Germany, Sweden and Poland, and here Carnations are funeral flowers. So are the Chrysanthemums in Spain, Italy, Turkey, Belgium and France. In Mexico and Chile, yellow flowers signify grief and separation. Odd number of flowers in a bouquet is considered inauspicious in Indonesia and China, whereas even numbers are considered to be unlucky in Japan, Russia and Germany.

Toasting etiquettes (Photo by Hakee Chang)

The next international travel tip for you comes from Germany and Scandinavia. Always look into your host’s eyes as you say Prost! or Skal! You should drain your vodka in a single gulp in Russia. And remember that a toast can go on for hours orchestrated by the toastmaster in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Whispering to your neighbour or sipping your toast in between toasts is considered very rude.

Buying presents for your hosts (Photo of JD Hancock)

Giving and accepting gifts is quite common in the Asian and European countries. It is best to consult a local before buying a gift for your host. But here are a few absolute no-nos. Giving a wine bottle or a cognac in a pigskin bottle to an Arab host. Muslims do not drink publicly (if they do) and however pretty and sophisticated that pigskin bottle might be, the pig is considered unclean in Muslim countries. So this is like a double whammy! No clocks for your Chinese hosts. Gifts with logos are considered tacky and crass in Columbia and your Korean hosts will not appreciate any gift that is “made in Korea”. Use your right hand to give/receive gifts in the Middle east and both your hands in east Asian countries.

Handshake Rituals (Photo by SpotUs)

Be prepared for an intense handshake in Fiji. It is completely normal for your host to hold on to your hand during the entire length of the conversation. So don’t pull your hands back. Make sure you shake each and every person’s hands in a room in Austria. In Russia, it is extremely rude to shake hands over the threshold. Wait till you are invited inside. It is rude in Morocco to just greet and walk away without asking about one’s family and friends. In Middle Eastern countries do not initiate an inter gender handshake. Observe and follow what your host does.

These were some of the top international travel tips I could find out that might save you from making cultural/travel faux pas. Try to read up more about the place you plan to visit and the local customs and beliefs and you will be ok.  Hope you had fun reading this. Did I miss out something? Have you ever committed a faux pas or a social blunder abroad? Please share your stories, views, comments and any additional tip you can think of. Stay happy and keep rocking!


Debangana’s love for travel goes beyond her usual poring over the wallpapers of Ireland. When not doing that, she’s busy planning her next trip.