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Traveling Well: What to Know Before You Go

United Kingdom citizens—despite their love for America as a tourist destination—lack general knowledge about the United States. A recent survey discovered that 61 percent of people from Southampton thought Washington, D.C., was the capital of Washington. A quarter of Cambridge thought Kim Kardashian's father was a former president of the United States. A quarter of citizens under the age of 25 credited the Declaration of Independence to John F. Kennedy.

The survey results got us thinking: When we travel to other countries, we might be certain to know what affects us as tourists—the exchange rate, any security issues, and what we should see and do while we're there. But what else should we (and our clients) know about a country before we set foot on their land?

Key Historical, Geographical and Political Facts

It's a good idea to know a basic history of each country and some key historical events. Who are important historical figures—and what are they known for? Know the capital of the country, its different regions and some key characteristics about each. It's especially important to know what's going on in the political arena. Know the country's system of government, and try to be familiar with a few pivotal names. (Knowing the name of the president or prime minister isn't a bad idea.)

It's also a good idea to be aware of your nation's relationship, past and present, with the nation you're visiting—and be prepared to answer any questions.

Cultural Characteristics

Read up on the culture before visiting. Know the population's favorite sports and popular music. Know who the cultural icons are. Know the religions the population observes. Know the country's popular dishes and what you should try while you're there.

Local Language

At least learn the basics: "Hello!" "Please." "Thank you." "Could you help me?" Try to learn more. It'll help you navigate better, and you'll create goodwill along the way.

Local Traditions and Taboos

If it's scandalous to show your ankles, don't show your ankles. It's disrespectful—and you're going to give someone the wrong idea. Learn what's disrespectful, and what could potentially cause a scene.

On the positive side: Local traditions are fun to take in part in. If you know about them beforehand, you're more likely to engage in them while you're there.

Find country profiles on the New Internationalist and BBC for some key characteristic of countries. Knowing more about a country before visiting will not only show respect to another country and culture, but will offer a more transformative experience by allowing the you to notice more, ask more questions and learn more.

Written by Cassie Westrate, Groups Today staff writer.


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