As novelist James Michener once said, "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might as well stay home." Being a successful traveler means jumping into a culture with both feet, not to mention heart and mind. But it also means banishing "ugly American" stereotypes. You'll be a better ambassador to the world, says Peggy Post, director of the Emily Post Institute, when you "keep respect front and center" when you travel — whether you're dealing with a taxi driver, your hosts or anyone in between. Here are other ways to ensure your harmonious place in the world as a successful tourist.
Dress to Blend in, Not to Stand Out
Dressing inappropriately in any foreign country ensures that you stand out — and not in a good way. In general, Americans dress more casually than people from other cultures. "Even in Europe, people don't walk around in shorts like Americans do," says Post. Consider local customs as well: Modest dress, of course, is a hot-button issue in places like the Middle East.
Do Your Homework
The point of travel, for many, is to learn about the world. If you visit another culture, study the basics before you go. It could be something as simple as learning the correct pronunciation of places or streets, or converting the currency in advance.
Mind Your Manners
Ignore that moldy "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" conceit. "Traveling doesn't mean your values change when you leave home," says Post. "The world is a lot smaller these days, and your behavior can come back to you in an unpleasant way. Be the ethical you at home and on the road." And don't keep comparing everything to how it is back home.
When in Rome, Eat like a Roman
Eating local fare is key to understanding a place's culture and traditions. This doesn't mean you have to dive headfirst into the most exotic dishes or sample something that turns your stomach — it just means trying out that local noodle shop or kebab stand instead of a generic hotel restaurant or international fast-food chain.
Try to Speak the Language
It's not essential to speak fluently, but most locals appreciate visitors who make an effort to speak the simple common phrases that communicate essentials.
Talk to the Locals
You will learn more about a new part of the world, and enrich your travel experience, by simply engaging the locals in conversation. "Ask questions," says Post. "People love to talk about their lives." Inquire about day-to-day issues — what's familiar to a local can be thrillingly novel to you. Get the lowdown on favorite restaurants and shops. Talking (and, more important, listening) is your ticket to the genuine heart of a place.