Cultural Awareness

Culture shock can often kick in the minute you leave the arrivals hall of the destination airport. Like a good scout it’s best to be prepared!

Until this point much about your journey, most likely, will be pretty familiar.  Doing battle with printing luggage tags and knowing what needs to be taken out of your carry-on luggage before hitting the x-ray conveyor belt becomes second nature to the seasoned traveller.  As does trying to act ‘normal’ at passport control and not over-doing it at duty free.  Even arriving in foreign airports there is still a familiarity about them. 

As you step from the relative safety of the arrival’s hall; BOOM it hits you.

The sea of faces. The smells. The colours. The noise. The general hustle and bustle will give you sensory overload.

Arriving into a new culture can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a familiar face to meet you, or even an unfamiliar face but holding a name board with a familiar name. The trick is not to compensate with being over-confidence as you may come off as arrogant.  You also don’t need to be completely reserved as that too can draw attention that you are unsure what you are doing or where you are going. 

Just take your time, be observant of your surrounds and try to follow the crowd and fit in.

A general rule of thumb when adjusting to a new culture is, if you don’t see the locals doing it, make damned sure you’re not doing it either! Just do and be your best.

You won’t know all the subtle customs and rules of etiquette and you may well unintentionally do or say the wrong thing which could be seen as offensive. When in doubt, just apologise and explain that you’re a beginner. Most people will be forgiving, some will even find your mistake humorous.

If you go into it with an open mind and the ability to laugh at your mistakes, you will be a winner.


make your mum proud of you

Every culture has different rules for etiquette and manners, it is impossible to learn all of them. However, a simple Google search will at least give you a foundation of what is considered rude in your host country.  For Aussies a great website to have a quick read of before departure to a new destination is

At the bare minimum educate yourself about the etiquette around greeting someone, eating, tipping, appearance and beliefs.  That’s not too much to ask.

Learn a few words in the local language; the basics like hello, goodbye, please, thank-you and location appropriate names, however bad you are at it, the effort is appreciated.  And if you make a mistake it will elicit anything from a wry smile to a belly laugh – but hey, at least you gave it a go. 

What’s the worst that can happen? Well we’ll answer that one for you.  Be careful when saying Machu Picchu (pronounced Mat-choo Peek-choo) which means Old Mountain, if pronounced Mat-choo Pee-choo, you’ve immediately changed the translation to Old Penis.  You’ve been warned!


snap 'em up

We encourage taking lots of pictures of all the amazing places you go to, just make sure that the photos you take are in good taste. Also, before you whip the camera or phone out to start snapping, be in the moment, mentally absorb what you are seeing first, a photo should be a reminder of how you felt, as well as what you saw, at that particular moment. 

For example, please visit the memorial at Ground Zero in New York, but don’t be disrespectful and take a photo of anyone smiling with thumbs up. Instead consider taking the time to mentally absorb what the memorial represents and pay your respects.  If you do want to take a photo, do it tastefully and subtly. 

Every site will have rules around photography, anything from a blanket ban, to no flash photography, to go your hardest.  Please be a responsible traveller and respect and adhere to the rules.


those bucket list locations

A cultural site is a place of great significance to the local people based on their beliefs, or for historical or environmental reasons. 

It is often the cultural site which is the drawcard for tourists to many locations around the world.  It is up to you, the visitor, to be respectful both to the site and the people. 

Follow the lead of the locals, or check with your guide, about expected behaviour, eg hushed voices or taking your turn, if photos are permitted

If you are travelling with children explain to them the significance of the site and how people are expected to act differently in them.  You’ll probably find the kids are more interested in people-watching than being amazed about where they are.  But it’s okay, take photos of them at the location and one day they will appreciate it for what it is. 

If they are like a certain little girl you’ll see on the Our Story page who could not remember visiting the world-renowned Natural History Museum of London, but she could remember she was allowed to share a can of coke in the cafe, that’s okay . . . no really it is! 


don't make others cringe

The dress code at home may well be different to your travel destination, it doesn’t mean you should continue to wear what you do at home, just because you can.  You are a guest in their country, be respectful and dress according to the dress code of the locals.  If that means covering parts of your body you normally have exposed, please do so. 

Often there will be an expected dress code for people entering a significant site, eg removing shoes, covering legs and arms, women covering their heads etc, please make yourself aware of these rules, your local guide will advise you before attending so you do not cause offence or get barred from entry.

Sometimes the rules seem a little quirky but run with it. One of the highlights of a trip to Japan was the acceptance that you can wear the hotel-provided pajamas and dressing gown to dinner in the hotel restaurant in the evenings.  This custom was a lot easier to embrace than sharing a naked bath with your fellow travellers in an onsen!


support the locals

A great way to be reminded of your time in a destination is to purchase souvenirs and we certainly encourage this; it also helps the local economy.

Seek out locally made products from traditional artisans to help keep their traditional skills alive. Your local guide will be a great assistance in this, they will know where it’s better to shop.  They don’t want to support organisations that exploit locals, the environment, animals or the economy any more than you do.

In many cultures haggling/bargaining is also part of the culture.  Before you start haggling though, have a price in mind that you are willing to pay for the item, if the seller meets that price, accept it and exchange money, do not try and push for a lower price.

If they do not meet the price decide how much you really want it, you can always walk away and try elsewhere or come back later.  Just think about it though, if they come close to your price do a quick conversion into your own currency, you may find yourself haggling over 50cents.  Is it worth it?  Maybe say to yourself, ‘Hang the expense, I’m going to buy it anyway!’  You’d hate to miss out on something which is going to give you pleasure for the cost of loose change.  That loose change might buy dinner for the seller’s family.  Just be mindful, please!


take it all in

Every culture has its own unique practices and traditions. The chances are some of these are so very different to your own ‘norm’ they may fascinate you, make you uncomfortable or even amuse you.

Consider the Haka in NZ or traditional dancing in Ethiopia, to the locals they are important and therefore should be respected. 

You may be asked to participate or just observe. If you travel with us to Ethiopia we may take you to a bar or live local music venue, where we may be the only ferenji  (white foreigners). They often enjoy including us in the entertainment, it’s always in good humour and a great way to connect with the locals.