Vital Travel Etiquette Dilemmas: Solved! T+L's Definitive List of Dos and Don'ts

Vital Travel Etiquette Dilemmas: Solved! T+L's Definitive List of Dos and Don'ts

Andy Kobel
Andy Kobel

Follow T+L’s travel tips for how to cope with challenges on the road.

Any traveler knows that sinking feeling of boarding a plane only to get stuck with a less-than-desirable seatmate: someone who hogs that narrow, coveted armrest or brings an oversized duffel that encroaches on your legroom.

If you’ve ever resorted to a passive-aggressive nudge or, on the contrary, suffered through hours of transatlantic claustrophobia, you have experienced firsthand what not to do in this scenario.

It’s just one of the possible frustrations that you might encounter when you leave home. But how you react can make all the difference, whether you’re dealing with that seatmate, a reckless taxi driver, or a bad case of food poisoning.

Knowing the dos and don’ts of travel etiquette will help you go from an amateur to a sophisticated globe-trotter. You’ll feel empowered to haggle at a market abroad and be informed about what to do if you get hotel bill shock.

So before you wave your napkin to an inattentive waiter as a white flag of surrender, brush up on your etiquette with these strategic travel tips.

I Scratched My Rental Car

Do...

Alert your insurer if the damage is significant. Many require you to report accidents within a certain time frame or the coverage is void.

Document the damage. Photos will keep you from being held accountable for more damage than you inflicted.

Don’t...

Be surprised by ancillary charges. If the car needs repairs, you may be responsible for loss-of-use fees.

Fret over purely cosmetic damage. Most major rental agencies usually don’t bother with (or even notice) minor scratches and dings.

How to Drive on the Left

Do...

Mind your left-hand mirror. It’s the one that usually gets clipped.

Yield to oncoming cars when making a right-hand turn. Remember: you’re crossing traffic.

Don’t...

Skip the car insurance. Make sure you’ve got coverage. Most accidents involving foreign drivers arise from the drivers’ unfamiliarity with left-side driving.

Forget to enter roundabouts going clockwise, and give priority to cars approaching from your right.

—Amy Farley

How to Avoid Food Poisoning While Eating Adventurously

Do...

Take cues from locals. Long lines are a good sign, and high turnover means that food doesn’t sit out and spoil.

Snoop. Inspect prep stations for cleanliness. Raw foods should be stored separately; cold foods should be on ice.

Don’t...

Leave unprepared. Get a prescription for an antibiotic such as Zithromax, which can help with severe food poisoning.

Forget about the water. Even ice cubes may be suspect. Look for bottled water with the seal intact.

—Melanie Lieberman

What to Do if You Lost Your Phone

Do...

Try calling and tracking your device using a GPS-based app such as Apple’s Find My iPhone.

Change the passwords for any accounts saved on your phone, from banking apps to social media.

Don’t...

Rack up a bill. Have your service provider freeze your service, so no one else can make calls or use your data.

Forget to file an official stolen-goods report. Your mobile insurance plan may require it for reimbursement.

—Amy Farley

What to Do if Your Hotel is Overbooked

Do...

Plan ahead. Book directly with the hotel and confirm your reservation the night before.

Ask to be comped for your first night (at least) if you are moved to another hotel. You may also get restaurant or spa credits.

Don’t...

Expect much. Hotels usually move guests to properties of equal or lesser value. Your hotel doesn’t want you too happy at the competition.

Be late. If you think your hotel is overbooked, arrive early. The last guest typically loses out.

—Melanie Lieberman

How to Avoid Being Rippped off by a Cab Driver

Do...

Know the estimated cost of your trip—and confirm it with the driver before you get in.

Call your hotel or restaurant and ask someone to speak to your driver in his or her native language if it seems like you’re being taken for a ride.

Don’t...

Forget to note the medallion or license number and report the driver to the authorities if you suspect fraud.

Pay with large bills, which invites the “I don’t have change” scam. Better to use small bills and coins in local currency.

—Amy Farley

What to Do if You Missed Your Flight

Do...

Be prepared to pay a rebooking fee. For most classes of ticket, you’ll be charged to get on another flight.

Make a run for it, if you’re already checked in and only have a carry-on. At some airports, gates close as late as 15 minutes before departure.

Don’t...

Wait to alert your airline. The sooner you call, the more likely they’ll be able to get you on the next flight—if there’s space.

Expect to be rebooked on a different carrier. For that, you’ll have to purchase an entirely new ticket.

—Melanie Lieberman

How to Cope With Noisy Hotel Neighbors

Do...

...call the manager on duty. He can dispatch security. He’ll also know when your rowdy floor mates are checking out.

...ask for earplugs. Most hotels expect some type of noise pollution, be it from tropical birds, traffic, or a wailing toddler.

Don’t

...take matters into your own hands. You want the hotel to be involved early on in case the culprit is uncooperative.

...demand that other guests move for your sake. If you want a quieter space, expect to switch rooms yourself.

—Amy Farley

What to Do When You Order Wine You Don't Like

Do...

...speak up. A lot of customers feel intimidated by big wine lists and sommeliers, but it’s okay to trust your palate.

...snap a photo of the label and add it to an album of wines you’ve loved or loathed; use it to guide you on future selections.

Don’t...

...judge too early. As the wine opens up, you might change your mind.

...suffer through a poor choice. The sommelier’s goal is for you to be happy with your selection.

—Amy Farley

How to Cope With an Aggressive Masseuse

Do...

…lay down the law before the lights dim. Share your preferences, and if you’re ticklish or injured.

…use body language. Raising your hand or finger tells your therapist to pause, and is less awkward than breaking the silence.

Don’t...

…leave things to chance. When booking, request a therapist with a lighter touch, or specify a gender.

…be vague. Using a 1–10 scale will ensure the right pressure, e.g., 6 (moderate) rather than 9 (very intense).

—Amy Farley

How to Cope With a Reckless Taxi Driver

Do...

…pay the fare. Your receipt may be helpful in reporting the driver. Tipping, however, is optional.

…record the medallion or car number. Local authorities rely on passenger feedback to keep unsafe drivers off the streets.

Don’t...

…yell. Your driver is a professional. Phrase your complaint as a personal preference—not an attack.

…stay in a cab if you feel unsafe. If your driver doesn’t respond to feedback, ask him to pull over and then find another ride.

—Amy Farley

How to Cope With an Overzealous Tour Member

Do...

…book trips where multiple guides are present at all times. One is there to handle special situations just like this.

…talk to your guide, not to the traveler in question. Guides are trained to handle a variety of personalities.

Don’t...

…isolate the individual. That will only make him more likely to further monopolize your guide’s attention.

…be too quick to judge. As the group dynamic shakes out, needy travelers tend to settle down.

—Amy Farley

How to Cope With a Space-Hogging Seatmate

Do...

…assert your territory early on: claim your overhead and under-seat space, and put the armrests down.

…be sensitive about passengers of size. Alert your flight attendant discreetly; you may be able to switch seats.

Don’t...

…resort to dirty looks, or subtle little pushes. Being passive-aggressive only escalates the problem.

…be greedy. Airplane etiquette says that the middle-seat passenger has rights to both inner armrests.

–Nikki Ekstein

How to Deal with Hotel Bill Shock

Do...

…heed the warnings. If the hotel informed you of resort fees and the like, you share some of the blame.

…play up your loyalty. Point out that you are a member of the hotel’s program, or a repeat customer.

Don’t...

…accept responsibility for fees buried in fine print. They should be clearly presented to guests.

…be afraid to stand your ground. If the front desk can’t help, ask for the general manager or guest services director.

—Amy Farley

How to Deal With Food Poisoning While Traveling

Do...

…ask the local pharmacist for a loperamide-based drug (like Imodium), to prevent dehydration.

…seek medical attention if you experience signs of dehydration, such as dizziness or dry mouth.

Don’t...

…jump back to solid food. Start with electrolyte-fortified liquids (coconut water), then move on to rice and bananas.

…kiss your entire vacation good-bye. Food poisoning usually subsides within two to four days.

—Amy Farley

How to Make a Tight Flight Connection

Do...

…ask to be moved closer to the front of the cabin just before landing, so you can make a quick exit.

…run straight to the gate for your connection—even if it’s past your departure time.

Don’t...

…despair. A flight won’t wait for one passenger, but system-wide delays might result in a lucky break.

…book tight connections through large airports. Anything less than a 90-minute window is unrealistic.

—Amy Farley

What to Do When You’ve Accidentally Damaged Your Hotel Room

Do...

…assess the mess. One that only requires cleanup costs less than one that calls for replacing broken furniture and fixtures.

…fess up. The hotel will find out regardless—and you’ll want to be there to plead your case.

Don’t...

…fret if the damage is small and unintentional. Hotels will often let you go without penalty.

…assume you can walk away scot-free. If the damage is major, you could be responsible for repairs and lost revenue.

—Amy Farley

How to Photograph Locals Without Offending Them

Do...

…ask for permission. If words fail, show your camera and wait for a reaction before shooting.

…strike up a conversation. Compliment the subject’s family, ask a question, or share a laugh.

Don’t...

…push too hard. If the subject says no, find someone else to photograph.

…try to be sneaky. You risk affronting someone who’d rather not be photographed.

—Amy Farley

How to Cope With an Inattentive Waiter

Do...

…get the attention of another waiter or waitress and ask for help tracking down your server.

…ask for the manager. If you feel you are being ignored, it’s important to speak up.

Don’t...

…snap your fingers, wave your napkin in the air, or try to draw attention in any flagrant way.

…assume it’s bad service. In some cultures it’s customary for guests to signal to waiters when they are ready for the check.

—Amy Farley

How to Haggle

Do...

…determine what you’d like to pay. Ask trusted locals what they’d spend.

…enjoy yourself. A sense of humor and patience are equally important.

Don’t...

…be afraid of lowballing. Make your starting offer at one-third of the price.

…indicate how badly you want an item. Be willing to walk away, and you’ll almost always get a better deal.

—Amy Farley

How to Cope With a Snoring Seatmate

Do...

…ask for earplugs—most flight attendants will have them on hand.

…rouse the snorer gently. A subtle trick: open an air vent.

Don’t...

…expect your flight attendant to wake anyone up. Each flier has the same right to rest.

…feel trapped. If another seat is available, you may be able to move to a quieter spot.

—Amy Farley

What to Do When You’ve Been Pickpocketed

Do...

…find the nearest Western Union. You can get cash wired to you within the hour.

…report a stolen passport to police and consular authorities; a replacement may be issued within 24 hours.

Don’t...

…expect a new bank or credit card to arrive immediately. It could take a few days to reach you abroad.

…forget to cancel all cards immediately. Some card providers charge fees for fraudulent use.

—Melanie Lieberman

What To Do If Something Goes Missing From Your Hotel Room

Do...

Report any theft immediately. Authorities may still be able to recover lost goods, and a hotel’s insurance may cover the damages.

Check state laws. If a hotel doesn’t provide notice of its limits to liability or offer private safes, you may be entitled to full compensation.

Don’t...

Jump to conclusions. Search your room thoroughly before making accusations.

Be irresponsible. If your room had a safe—and you chose not to use it—the hotel is most likely not responsible for your loss.

—Amy Farley

What to Do if Your Airplane Seat is Broken

Do...

Speak up. Even when the problem seems minor. A single loose screw could become a major safety concern.

Prepare for delays. If the seat is deemed unsafe, maintenance must be called and you may be bumped.

Don’t...

Despair. Flight attendants may have a solution (e.g., a portable DVD player to replace a broken seatback system).

Walk away empty-handed. When inconvenienced, ask for compensatory miles—or at least a free drink.

—Amy Farley

What to Do if You Get Seasick, But Still Want to Cruise

Do...

Avoid rough waters (the Bay of Biscay; around South America’s Cape Horn). Instead, try river cruises or tours of the Norwegian fjords.

Book a room at the ship's center and on a mid-level deck, where you’re less likely to feel movement.

Don’t...

Be deterred. Most new ships have stabilizers for extra steady sailing.

Forget your remedy of choice: ginger; Sea-Bands; Dramamine. When in distress, go to the top deck and look toward the horizon.

—Amy Farley

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