Etiquette for travellers: Ten rules you should follow

Ask etiquette expert Anna Musson how Australians rate as travellers in terms of that old-fashioned concept of manners and the answer is damning.

"We're about a four [out of 10] ," she says. "However, it varies. On budget airlines, it can be more like minus five." As the author of Etiquette Secrets and the founder of The Good Manners Company (goodmanners.com.au), Musson naturally cares about etiquette. 

The question is, nowadays, does anyone else? The answer appears to be a definitive yes. 

Qantas may have aroused controversy by introducing  an airport lounge dress code,  but talk to any traveller and it won't be long before they start complaining about issues of etiquette: anything from the person in the seat next to you playing their video game at full volume or the cruise passenger who loads all the most tempting treats from the buffet onto their plate. 

Before we complain, however, we should examine our own behaviour. "Our behaviour helps the environment we live in,"  Musson says. 

Good manners make a difference in any setting, but particularly when travelling, where the way you are greeted – in a hotel, a shop, a bar – probably reflects how well, or badly, the previous travellers behaved. 

Your actions create ripples that affect people you will never meet.

With that in mind, we asked Musson to help define the essential rules for 21st-century travel. 

Her commandments, which cover everything from dress codes to hotel behaviour, have  at  their essence, a single concept: respect.

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"Respect your fellow travellers, respect the culture you are visiting, and always consider how your behaviour will affect others," Musson says.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE

RULE ONE : LEAVE THE CUT-OFFS AT HOME

Qantas's introduction of a dress code for its business and first-class lounges caused some controversy, but  Musson thinks it does not go far enough. She is adamant that people should make an effort to dress appropriately on a plane, just as they would when going to an office. 

"A dress code on tickets would go a long way to making travel more pleasant," Musson says. "People seem to think, 'What is the least amount of effort I can get away with?', which leads to many crimes against good taste.

"I'd include proper shoes, long trousers and dress shirts, and collared shirts. Singlets are revolting. And it is simply not appropriate to get on a plane in slippers and a tracksuit."

That applies when you get to your destination, too. "What may be fine in your neighbourhood is not appropriate elsewhere. Cut-off denim shorts, for example, are only appropriate for the beach; just leave them at home."

AT THE AIRPORT

RULE TWO: DON'T DITHER

There's a lot of queuing involved in travel, from the check-in counter to the security scan. Use that time to prepare for what you know is coming.

"People who arrive at the counter and then start fumbling for their passport and boarding pass are just annoying," says Musson. 

Similarly, as you wait in the security queue, you can start to get ready by undoing your belt, checking whether you have coins in your pocket, finishing that bottle of water, or unzipping your laptop case. It makes things easier for you and for everyone waiting in line behind you.

RULE THREE: DON'T PLUCK YOUR EYEBROWS

Everyone has their own favourite way of passing the time while waiting to board.

Some people read. Some send emails. And some catch up on their personal grooming. Traveller's spies have seen everything from toenail clipping to eyebrow plucking and even pimple squeezing. We have even seen it happening during the flight. 

"It is so revolting!" declares Musson. "I sat near a woman on the plane who was doing her nails, until the flight attendant told her she wasn't allowed to have nail polish because it is flammable. If you would normally do it in the privacy of your bathroom, don't do it elsewhere."

RULE FOUR: WAIT YOUR TURN

Pushing your way forward – whether in the security queue or when trying to board – is an absolute no-no. That also applies at the other end, when you are waiting for your luggage.

"Behaviour at baggage carousels is appalling," says Musson. "If we all just took a step back, everyone would have a clear view of the bags as they descend onto the carousel." Musson says she has developed a technique to exact revenge on those crowding closest to the carousel. "When I grab my bag, I give it a good swing, so they have to scatter. I'm not punishing them," she says with a smile, "I'm helping them learn how to be better travellers."

ON THE PLANE

RULE FIVE: SAY HELLO

Humans don't do well in confined spaces. On a plane, as is the case in a lift,  we rarely acknowledge each other, an etiquette fail according to Musson.

"Saying hello is the very minimum social interaction that qualifies as polite," she says. "It establishes a baseline, telling your neighbour that the person who they will be sitting next to for several hours is a reasonable person."

For the same reason, Musson advises that people travelling with children should ensure that, when making the rules clear to their children (no kicking the seat in front, no playing with the tray, and so on), they do so loud enough for people around them to hear.

"If people know you are monitoring your children, they can relax a bit, rather than spending the flight worrying about how badly your children might behave," Musson says. "Travel is stressful enough; help make it easier on everyone."

RULE SIX: THE SEAT RECLINE

Few issues make tempers flare as quickly, but Musson says this one is actually fairly black and white. "Don't recline your seat unless the flight is over three hours long," she says.  "If it is a long flight, you can recline your seat, but not until after drinks service. And always recline slowly."

RULE SEVEN: BE MINDFUL 

Some people like to watch movies. Some people catch up with work. Others read or play games. Whichever you choose, remember that you are in a public space.

"If you are playing a video game, turn the sound off, so you don't disturb the comfort of your fellow passengers," says Musson. "If you are on a flight on which you can make calls, do so quietly."

Conversely, if you choose to work on a confidential document, do so at your own peril. "One of the most fun things you can do on  a flight is read over someone else's shoulder,"  Musson says. "If you don't want people to know just how large this year's losses are, wait until you are in your hotel room before working on that spreadsheet." 

ON THE ROAD

RULE EIGHT: TIP APPROPRIATELY

Some Australians still struggle with the intricacies of tipping around the world, but Musson says the rule is simple.

 "Check the customs for that country. In America, the standard is 17 per cent, but you have to remember that these people are earning seven dollars an hour."

Tipping takes various forms, from putting money aside for a staff member who has given you excellent service, to pressing a few dollars into the hands of the doorman who has hailed you a cab. Musson counsels not to forget the people you never meet. 

"It is appropriate to leave a tip in an envelope next to the television for your room attendant." 

RULE NINE: KEEP QUIET

Most of us know the feeling of lying awake in a foreign hotel room, strung out with jet lag and waiting for the sleeping pill to kick in.

Most of us also know the frustration of finally dropping off to sleep, only to be woken by a slamming door as another guest heads off for an early flight.

"You are leaving early; the rest of the hotel isn't," says Musson. "Yes, you are probably wrangling bags, but you can still close that door without slamming it." 

The same applies to revellers coming home from a good night out: continuing your conversation in the corridor can wake up a dozen or more people. 

Keeping quiet when things go wrong is also important, according to Musson. 

Of course you should complain to a manager if something is wrong with your room, but few things can put a downer on your holiday as quickly as a fellow traveller constantly reciting their litany of complaints.

"Keep it to yourself," advises Musson. "There is a difference between quietly discussing what has gone wrong with your travel companion, and airing it to other people. They don't want to know."

RULE 10: BE A WORLD TRAVELLER

Travel is challenging. Things go wrong; foreigners do things differently to how they are done at home, says Musson.

 "Keeping an open attitude is an important part of being a good traveller. Be open to learning new things; don't fret if there is no Vegemite on the buffet, and accept that things won't always go the way you would like them to." 

Flying school: frequent flyers' pet peeves

GAIL ELLIOTT,  CO-FOUNDER AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR, LITTLE JOE WOMAN BY GAIL ELLIOTT

PET PEEVE: Wearing a tracksuit while travelling is more than just a fashion crime. It also identifies you as a clueless traveller, which means you will be an easy mark. The aim is to blend in with locals, so don't fly off to New York wearing thongs.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH ... KIDS RUNNING WILD AROUND THE RESORT POOL?

Don't stress, we were all kids once! Order a chilled glass of rose wine, grab your headphones, turn up the Plan B or Chet Faker tunes and immerse yourself in the latest Net-A-Porter magazine.

JENNIFER VANDEKREEKE, VICE PRESIDENT, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES AUSTRALIA

PET PEEVE: Overindulgence. I was on a flight where a gentleman drank so much he ended up on the floor. He moaned about how his wife didn't understand him until he passed out.  

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH ... THE PERSON IN THE NEXT SEAT PLUCKING THEIR EYEBROWS?

I'd ask them if they wanted one of my facial wipes to clean off any stray hairs.  Who knows what's going on in their life?  Perhaps the only free time they have for personal grooming is on the plane and they have a hot date waiting on the other end.

ANNE-MARIE ZAMBELLI, GENERAL MANAGER, AFRICAN WILDLIFE SAFARIS

PET PEEVE: People who stand up or talk loudly on safari. Although animals are fairly relaxed around the vehicles, this can startle or scare the wildlife. Not only will that ruin the experience; it is also potentially dangerous.  

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH ... THE PERSON IN THE NEXT SEAT PLAYING A LOUD VIDEO GAME?

I'd ask them politely to turn the sound down or off, or try to find them a set of ear buds. If that didn't work, I'd ask the cabin crew for assistance, or ask to be moved. If none of those worked, I'd try to find a way to disable their device.  

JAMES BAILLIE, OWNER, BAILLIE LODGES

PET PEEVE: I have no time for parents who tune out and expect staff and other guests to look after their outrageously behaved darlings. With four boys of my own, I feel that I have earned the right to preach on this subject.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH... AN OVERHEAD LOCKER FULL OF OTHER PEOPLE'S LUGGAGE?

You see so much bad travel etiquette these days, especially on budget carriers: the parade of singlets and thongs, people for whom deodorant seems to be a foreign substance. Compared with that, excess hand luggage is a minor irritant. I would ask an attendant to find somewhere to put my bags.  

CHRIS BUYKX, DOMESTIC MANAGER, WORLD EXPEDITIONS

PET PEEVE: Not bringing the right equipment, or equipment that's too old.  If you bring your favourite 10-year old hiking boots, the sole may fall off on day two. Even high quality gear has a shelf life. 

HOW WOULD YOU DEAL WITH ... A CHILD SITTING BEHIND YOU KICKING YOUR SEAT REPEATEDLY?

Economy seating on a long-haul flight tests the composure of even the most hardened traveller. A small child kicking your seat back with annoying frequency and surprising force could push you over the edge. Get up and speak directly to the child and their parent about how the seat kicking affects you, and ask them to please stop. If that fails, then look for sleeping tablets (for yourself, not the kid).

On the road rules

For travellers, even something as simple as eating a meal can be a minefield. In some countries it is polite to finish everything on your plate; in others, it is an insult to your host. Here are some more customs  to bear in mind.

KOREA

Blowing your nose during a meal is considered very rude. Excuse yourself and do it in the bathroom.

ARGENTINA

Kissing on the cheeks is a normal greeting, even among men.

INDIA

 Traditional food is eaten with the hands; only use your right hand, as the left is considered unclean.

VIETNAM

Although bare feet are customary in houses and temples, never expose the soles of your feet to another person, or towards a sacred image.

ITALY

If a dish requires Parmesan, a bowl of it will be placed on the table. Asking for Parmesan if it isn't provided is insulting to the chef.

DUBAI

Most visitors realise that public displays of affection, even between married couples, are a no-no; fewer realise that swearing and rude hand gestures are also illegal.

JAPAN 

Tattoos are associated with yakuza gangsters; people baring them in onsen baths may be asked to leave.

FRANCE

Always greet the salesperson when entering or leaving a small shop.

NEPAL

It is impolite to point with your fingers; use your chin instead.

CHINA

Finishing everything on your plate is insulting; it suggests your host hasn't offered you enough food.

See also: The questions every airline passenger wants answered
See also: Mathematician creates the formula for the perfect flight

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