No matter how well you prepare, plan, and pack for your trip abroad, there will always be something that may surprise you about traveling abroad. Whether it’s the food, local customs, or the way people dress, you are certain to see something you were not expecting. This is a good thing, in fact, this is part of why travel is so amazing! The best way to handle cultural differences is to just roll with it… Be curious. Ask polite questions, if it’s appropriate. Don’t stare. Enjoy!
Here are some of the most common things that surprise Americans when they travel abroad and how to prepare yourself for them.
9 Things That May Surprise You About Traveling Abroad
1. They don’t speak your language
This should be a no-brainer. But a surprising number of travel agents say their clients expect to speak English with the locals wherever they go. Yes, many people who work in the tourism industry do speak English as a second language. But don’t expect it! Try and learn a few words in the local language before you go. Don’t get frustrated by communication barriers. Sometimes it can be fun to learn to communicate with just a few words!
2. Portion sizes will be smaller
American portion sizes are famously much larger than what one person should consume for a meal. If you travel abroad, you may find portion sizes to be a bit scaled back. This just means that you won’t have any leftovers to bring back to your hotel. Or, if you are in the habit of splitting with a family member, you may want to order separate meals.
3. You will have less options
Right along with smaller portion sizes, you will notice that there are simply less options on a restaurant menu. American restaurants often cater to every possible whim imaginable — food preferences, allergies, kids’ menus, and more! If you have allergies or food sensitivities you will want to be very careful to do your restaurant research ahead of time. As far as food preferences, we recommend being as adventurous as possible when you travel. A smaller menu often means the chef is offering you a few specific recipes they have spent years perfecting.
4. You will have to ask for ice
In most countries, ice is typically not served with your beverage. In fact, if you ask for ice at a restaurant, you may receive a funny look. There are many reasons the use of ice is not common abroad. One to be aware of is that the concept of free refills is also a bit foreign for other countries. If you have to pay for each drink individually, why waste space on ice?
5. Air conditioning is not as common
Ice and air conditioning are not common abroad like they are in the US. By now you may be wondering what other countries have against staying cool! But like anything, your body can adjust. In fact, people lived without the ability to control indoor temperature for most of history. Air conditioning is a relatively new phenomenon. If you are traveling during a warmer part of the year and feel you will have trouble sleeping in a warm hotel room, you may want to check with the hotel about a fan or see if you will be able to open your windows at night.
6. Things move a bit slower
If you’re used to fast food, quick conversations, and things starting on time you may be surprised by the relaxed attitude other countries have towards schedules. In some countries, people shut down businesses during the afternoon and rest. In other, meals are eaten very slowly and leisurely. Go with the flow and enjoy a slower pace!
7. Bathrooms may look different
Even something as seemingly basic as a bathroom can look drastically different in a new country. Bathrooms in Italy or Portugal may come equipped with a bidet. You may find toilets with no privacy stalls, squatty potties, or locations where you must throw toilet paper instead of flushing. Once again, go with the… flow, so to speak.
8. American football is not a big deal
Football as we know it in America is not nearly as popular overseas. It is a distinctly North American sport. If you were to mention football in Europe or South America, for instance, a local would assume you are talking about soccer. Ask a few questions to find out about the local favorite football teams. Maybe you can even catch a nearby game!
9. Unit systems are different
Americans just do things a little differently. As soon as you leave home, you might find it hard to understand basic things like temperature, distance, weight, etc. Many other countries use the metric system for units of measurement. Make sure you have a unit converter app before you leave for your trip!