Travellers don't mean to be rude, but they are

Many Australian travellers don't mean to be rude, but when they don't do their research they run the risk of being unwittingly offensive.

Sydneysider Kerry Lorimer runs a business promoting sustainable travelling, which she says covers "authentic and respectful cultural interaction".

Lorimer says many Aussies don't realise they are breaking the rules with some actions that come naturally.

"From the point of view of an Australian travelling overseas there are so many innocuous gestures that we wouldn't think twice about, but which can be offensive to other people," she says.

"Some cultures find it rude if you touch people on the head ... or you don't show the soles of your feet ... it's those sorts of innocuous gestures where travellers can be unwittingly offensive

"I don't think travellers intentionally intend to insult other people, it's quite often the unintentional gestures that can cause affront."

Lorimer says that there is one very important rule to stick to as a traveller.

"It comes down to the most basic principal of do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

"It's showing respect to people and their beliefs and understanding that while they may be different it's not better or worse, it's just different."

The best way to get on top of the local customs is to do your research. Scour guidebooks and the internet, and when you arrive follow the example set by the locals.

"You can kind of take your cue from the behaviour of the local people," Lorimer says.

"For example with beggars ... you feel assaulted on all sides from people demanding money from you, who do you choose to give to?

"Obviously you can't give to everybody, so how do you make that choice of who's legitimate or who's deserving ... and often you can take the cue from the local people."

Lorimer also suggests taking hints from locals to decide what is appropriate clothing.

"If the women have their shoulders or their heads covered or if they're not wearing short skirts, then it's a pretty good indicator of how you should dress as well," she says.

And how you eat - "(You'll notice) what's right and what's rude and whether you use your hands or whether you use a knife and fork.

"Have an understanding of religious customs so that you don't create offence."

Being mindful of local customs will not only stop you from being offensive, red-faced or possibly punished, it also has it's benefits for the traveller.

"If you do respect the local customs and rules of etiquette it really makes a huge difference in crossing those cultural divides to really connect with people on a more authentic level," Lorimer says.

"It really enriches your own travel experience and on much bigger picture level it crosses a lot of those cultural divides and aids a mutual understanding and insight.

"If you have an insight and a better understanding of the culture and the different religions it's much less confronting."

Some intriguing local customs to be mindful of:

- In many Muslim countries public displays of affection, like holding hands, cuddling and kissing can be punishable by law. It is also considered rude showing the soles of your shoes or feet to others, and is advisable to accept something with your right hand.

- In Bali touching someone on the head is taboo as it is regarded by Hindus as the abode of the soul and is therefore sacred.

- In India leaving a small amount of food on your plate indicates that you are satisfied. Finishing all your food means that you are still hungry.

- In Singapore failure to flush a public toilet after use carries a hefty fine but apparently is not enforced. There's also fines for littering, smoking or spitting in the street.

- In Egypt expect to be offered coffee or tea whenever you meet someone, as this demonstrates hospitality. Even if you do not take a sip, always accept the beverage, as declining the offer is viewed as rejecting the person.

- In Iran the thumbs-up gesture is considered an offensive insult.

- In Indonesia you are not allowed to carry the pungent smelling durian fruit on any public transport or in hotels.