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Things to Remember When Traveling Abroad (That Nobody Tells You)

I am an expat living in Japan. Every day is an adventure and a blessing. Here are some of my most memorable experiences.

Samurai warrior display in Arima, Japan

Samurai warrior display in Arima, Japan

Tourists and expats alike

When we think of travel tips we think "safety first." For good reason, tourists are just as likely as the locals to get in all sorts of trouble.

At the same time there are a few things we don't think about because it seems like second nature back home or because we just want to have fun.

I didn't care much for traveling until I joined the Army. As a soldier I had no problems with getting as far away from post as I could whenever I had leave.

I haven't seen as many places as I would have liked but I definitely saw much more than I would have if I was a civilian. All this changed when I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Before I knew it I was disabled. To this day, I'm on medication and under the careful eye of a neurologist.

I'm not in the Army anymore but I won't let epilepsy stop me from seeing the world. Not only would I travel overseas, I was determined to live overseas. My first stop was Japan and I've been here ever since. As an expat safety becomes second nature. The expat will never be a native but will get used to his new community and make new friends.

Over time, new rules emerge. They become front and center. The expat is no longer a tourist, so there is no excuse for him to embarrass himself. Whether you decide to live abroad or just to visit, there's no reason to learn any of this the hard way like I did.

The Tribute Memoral Wall at the Marine's Memorial Club in San Francisco

The Tribute Memoral Wall at the Marine's Memorial Club in San Francisco

You represent your country

This is the most important thing that tourists seem to forget but it is absolutely vital to remember. You represent your country wherever you go.

Even in your own country, you represent your city/state. If you don't tell the locals where you are from, they will guess (fairly accurately) and they will remember how you handle yourself.

This shouldn't be much pressure on you as long as you don't act like a jerk. Yes, you are on vacation. Yes, it cost you a lot of money to be here. Yes, you could have gone anywhere else in the world.

But you are still a guest. The local service sector appreciates tourists and are happy to help you but this doesn't mean everyone owes you something.

Even I forget this sometimes. My Japanese is very bad for someone who has lived here as long as I have. When it seems like communication is a lost cause, I'll ask if they speak English. That's right. I sometimes ask Japanese people living in Japan whether they speak my native language.

Often times they do, to my relief. But, knowing I'm an expat, this makes me look like a lazy idiot. Shouldn't I make more of an effort to pick up the local language?

It would be helpful to know a few words or phrases of the language of the place you're going but this isn't about that. Don't forget where you are from. You represent your country.

Leave the politics at home

It keeps happening and it's easy to see why. Today people and information move at unprecedented speed. The world is getting smaller. The policies of a country can easily affect others.

What does this have to do with travel? This depends on where you are going. I live in Japan. It's a great place to live with great people. However I'm not a particular fan of this... or this. But I'm not here to judge anyone. I'm a guest so I have to leave the politics at home.

As strong as the relationship between America and Japan is, many locals have expressed concerns about American policy. The biggest issues are probably the US military bases in Japan and the V-22 Osprey. These are things I do not talk about. Ever.

Another example? Take a look at the video below. The Tore-Tore Ichiba Market is not a time to wail loudly about animal rights. If you don't like what you see anywhere, vote with your feet.

Make friends: It's easy if you try

This is not vital but you will have a lot more fun. Of course when you meet someone in a new country you have to keep your guard up, especially if they approach you. After all, it's safety first.

When I was stationed in Fort Sam Houston (by San Antonio) I went to Austin for the weekend. I met this guy from Germany who was backpacking in the Southwest. Within minutes (minutes!) we met a couple girls who were in town for some live jazz.

But none of us knew that the Aggies (Texas A&M football team) were in town. The huge rivalry between the Aggies and the Longhorns (University of Texas, Austin football team) had the whole city going wild. It was a blast.

About a year later I was in Chicago on Memorial Day leave when I met a girl on a bus. She was an au pair from Sweden and had a few days off too. By coincidence we got off at the same stop. I asked her to take a picture of me and we ended up spending the weekend together.

First it was the famous Magnificent Mile and then Navy Pier. We kept in touch for years. By the way, it gets cold in Chicago, especially by Lake Michigan. So dress warm!

This happens almost everywhere I go: Boston, Knoxville, Louisville, San Antonio, San Francisco... If you want a secret, here are two: travel alone and stay at (or near) a hostel. Most people staying at a hostel are in town only for a few days so they will hit the biggest sites and attractions.

My experience is that they are usually friendly, they are travelers just like you but hesitant to talk to someone who in a group.

Try the local tours - They're fun!

Ise Grand Shrine at Mie Prefecture Japan

Ise Grand Shrine at Mie Prefecture Japan

What you see is the main building of the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. The shrine of shrines, it is the most sacred building of the Shinto religion. This is about the closest a person can get to take a picture.

Just inside the massive gate is as close as anyone can get unless they are staff. Mie is a bit far from Osaka but taking a tour I saved me a lot of time and money.

I don't know why so many people insist on "roughing it" when traveling. Had I decided to come here on my own, I would have had to take a train then take a bus. It would have taken much longer. A car is faster but then I'd have to worry about tolls and parking--which would have cost more than the tour itself.

But before all that, I'd have to do my own research to find out how amazing this place is and how lucky I was to be there. Taking a tour, I was there and back in a day. The tour guide was amazing (but only spoke Japanese). I'd recommend it to anyone.

If you have no idea where to start or if you run out of ideas, consider taking a tour. Ask the hotel you're staying at to recommend one. They may even be able to arrange a discount.

Yes, the locals will know immediately that you are a tourist but who cares? You'll still have fun and you'll also meet other tourists from all over the world. It beats watching TV in your hotel room because there's nothing else to do.

Don't forget to have fun!

Meoto Iwa or the "wedded rocks" at the Futami, Japan

Meoto Iwa or the "wedded rocks" at the Futami, Japan

While traveling, you will see some amazing things. In the image above, you see the Meoto Iwa. This sacred site is right off the shore of the Okitama Shrine in Futami--a small town in the Mie Prefecture.

In the front of that is a stone frog. The frog is the sacred animal of the Okitama Shrine and there are countless frog statues of all sizes throughout the grounds.

I took this picture (along with many others) of Meoto Iwa but walked away feeling like I missed something. To this day I don't feel like I really saw it.

In the moment, I was more interested in getting the right picture with the perfect camera. Then I had to get the perfect postcard. By the way, Okitama Shrine doesn't sell postcards.

I didn't go to Meoto Iwa just to get a nice picture of it. I went there to see it in person. This has happened before. I spent too much time taking pictures or something that I forgot to relax and enjoy myself.

People travel for different reasons. When you're on vacation, don't forget to have fun.

For more information - Check out these sites

Do you love to travel? - Where have you been?

What do you think? - Did I miss anything?

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on June 30, 2019:

Wonderful hub ! I am a traveler and lived in Italy for two years. I always have said whats in your hub that u are representing where you are from so I try to follow the local vibe :)

MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on March 13, 2014:

I travel locally, someday will get farther away. Great lens. Congrats. on your purple star.

M. Victor Kilgore on February 19, 2014:

I love to travel...don't do it enough. Nice lens

Amine from Doha, Qatar on February 17, 2014:

Thanks for the info, i liked them all specially "leave politics at home" it's totally in the chest

Mommie-Moola on February 16, 2014:

Great travel info!

meggingmad on February 16, 2014:

Embrace the local cuisine (unless it`s still moving). You can always have a "Big Mac" at home.

Nithya Venkat aka Vellur from Dubai on February 15, 2014:

Great lens with important points to remember.

Ioannavlachos on February 14, 2014:

Nice topic!

Joanie Ruppel from Keller, Texas on February 14, 2014:

I am an advocate of speaking English when in America so I agree with you all the way. If you are going to be in another country, try to learn a bit of the language to show you are trying. If you are going to live in another country, by all means get yourself in some language classes! You will fit in better and feel better about being an ex-pat. Good thoughts here that you shared.

StrongMay on February 14, 2014:

I know the French have a bad reputation for snubbing people who don't speak their language. The only French people I've come across (in France and out) are super nice and friendly, and I do try my best to speak their language. I remember my first trip to France as a kid, my mom was still learning, and she walked around with a dictionary. People smiled and waited patiently while she built her sentences.

Besides that, I love to travel. I have been in and out of my country more times than I am old.

TedWritesStuff on February 13, 2014:

Avoid tours like the plague... Except of course if you wan't the same old cliches rehashed and to be rushed through whatever it is you are seeing..

Linda F Correa from Spring Hill Florida on February 13, 2014:

Nice travel lens and really good tips. I found the people in Greece very friendly. Had no problem in Bermuda either. Ifb you respect people, they will respect you back

writerkath on February 11, 2014:

My husband and I love traveling and meeting locals as much as possible. We get the best ideas for places to visit, foods to try, and also what to avoid. We agree with you, that we represent our country every day, and do our best to be good guests. After all, we want to be welcomed back! Great ideas here. And, by the way, thank you for your service to our country!

Colin323 on February 11, 2014:

Good advice. I try to avoid tours with my fellow Brits, who, collectively, are a pain in the rear end on holiday together, and always try and use public transport, as you suggest, in the country concerned.

It is much cheaper and more interesting, but slower ... but who cares if you are on holiday.

joanagarcia on February 10, 2014:

I'm a jetsetter and I really love traveling! I usually don't get a package on my trips abroad. I honestly do my own research on places to visit and things to remember (for safety)!

I definitely agree with 'Try the local tour' and ' Don't forget to have fun' tips ;)

Really great lens! Love this!

Max Globe on February 10, 2014:

Good work, you made a pretty straight-to-the-point list of essential tips! Cool lens, thanks)

Fiona Carroll from Sydney, Australia on February 10, 2014:

Lucky living in Japan! Did love keep u there? :) Live and an adventurous heart. it's always the best motivator .

anonymous on February 09, 2014:

don't forget the insurance! Yes, some tourists are shocking

Tanya Jones from Texas USA on February 07, 2014:

it's always admirable to see someone not letting hurdles keep them from setting goals and meeting them. i wish you well in your travels.

Stanley Green from Czech Republic on February 07, 2014:

Thanks for the tips! I love to travel and I've met naughty tourists several times... Well... All depends on the manners we take from our home...

harish-kumar on February 07, 2014:

very useful information

thank

news4you.co.in

Dawn Romine from Nebraska on February 07, 2014:

I love to travel and have been to England, France, Germany and the Czech Republic in addition to almost all 50 states in the US. I want to do more and can't wait to retire so I can.

Mike Hey from UK on February 07, 2014:

Great lens. Living in the UK means I get to travel to many different countries across Europe but there are always those tourists that you see and give you a bad impression of the entire nation!

Aibrean82 on February 06, 2014:

Good advice! I know a few people from my country (Norway) who should read this, ha ha! I especially like the point you made that even though you have chosen to come to this particular place to spend your vacation, and will end up spending a lot of money there, does not mean that the people there owe you anything. It's a nice way of putting it. Good job!

RestlessKnights on February 06, 2014:

Nice tips for sure.

Lozola on February 05, 2014:

Good points, it can be hard to remember that you represent your country and sometimes you might be the first person someone has met from that country, good thing to remember.

Jackson Thom from West of Left South Lucky on February 05, 2014:

These are some great tips, especially the one about being a decent rep for your country. I'd also add to be respectful of other tourists. There may be others on a vaca too, and they'd like to enjoy it as well. I've been on vacations where people barged through lines or stepped in front of others for the perfect picture. It can be very annoying when you're trying to relax. Great article!

shoputopian on February 05, 2014:

Enjoyed reading this especially the beautiful pictures you included.

Genesis Davies from Guatemala on February 05, 2014:

I'm a Canadian expat living in Guatemala and totally agree with you on all points here. I've met people who have been here a decade or longer and still don't speak more than a few words of Spanish. While my Spanish grammar is not perfect, I can communicate easily with anyone around here.

I made so many friends while traveling down here, in hostels, on buses and even just hanging out in the park. Travel is amazing and someday, I hope to do a lot more of it with my sons.

Something else I would add . . . yelling in English doesn't help anyone understand you if they don't speak the language. So many tourists seem to think that raising their voices will make a non-English speaker get it. Try drawing a picture or acting out what you need instead . . . or bring a phrase book.

Lynn Klobuchar on February 04, 2014:

Interesting take on travel etiquette. Everything tends to go more smoothly when you are open minded and respectful.

SteveKaye on February 04, 2014:

We can also be good hosts for people who visit. I meet people from everywhere who have come to tour our National Parks. Thank you for publishing this lens.

IanTease on February 04, 2014:

Great lens, enjoyed it.

RoadMonkey on February 04, 2014:

Good points there - especially - have fun!

Eugene Samuel Monaco from Lakewood New York on February 04, 2014:

All wonderful advise thanks for sharing all of this, and really great pictures!!

savateuse on February 04, 2014:

Some really good ideas here, thanks!

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on February 03, 2014:

I was getting off a plane in Aruba, in one man from the plane was ranting and raving that he wouldn't "give two cents for this country" as the baggage handlers and transport people were moving too slow for him and he wanted to get to his hotel. A woman standing nearby heard him and said she had lived there for 5 years and the first thing you need to know is to "go with the flow". Life is slower. Learn to relax. I always remember this. In another country "go with the flow".

Fay Favored from USA on February 03, 2014:

You actually covered some things people really should remember. We tend to forget we are the visitor's don't we? Very good points.