Traveling abroad to a foreign country where you don’t know the language or the culture can be quite daunting. You are probably going to ask your friends or read a few travel books before you hop on the plane. But no matter where you go, here are five tips I recommend you follow and keep for life.

1. Research cultural norms and etiquettes: Read up on what is appropriate clothing and behavior in the country you are traveling to. While traveling alone is safe, as a woman, you have to be especially careful of not attracting undue attention because you packed the wrong wardrobe. When needed to dress conservatively, follow the rules. If the culture does not encourage making direct eye contact with men, do not feel you need to express your freedom of speech. Sometimes it is best to obey the cultural norms rather than get into trouble later on.

2. Accept the culture: Rather than questioning or fighting cultural norms, accept them for what they are. Often times, I have heard tourists say, “Why are things done this way?” and “Why should I have to do them too?” If you are asked to remove your shoes before entering a Japanese home, just do so without arrogance. Each country is different when it comes to food, traditions, dressing style, mannerism and etiquettes. A good traveler learns to respect the traditions of a foreign land and enjoy the uniqueness during his/her time abroad.

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Gina wearing a sari at a wedding in India

3. Learn a few foreign words: People respond positively when they see that you have taken the initiative to learn a few words from their language in order to communicate better with them. If you can master  a few basics like hello, please, thank you, goodbye, where is the toilet, you would come across as an intelligent globe trotter.

4. Be flexible: International traveling, even for vacation, has its own inconvenience. You may not always get on time departures, 24-hours high-speed internet, quiet hotel rooms, or even mosquito nets. While people working in the hospitality industry try to meet your every demand, sometimes things are beyond their control. To avoid frustration during such situations, try to be flexible and adapt to the circumstances. Tell yourself that this is only temporary and you will return to the comforts of your home in just a few days.

5. Be grateful to your hosts. We often get overwhelmed with the newness of the place and getting accustomed to it that we forget about our hosts, guides or people who create the enriching experiences for us. Every journey we take adds to your knowledge base and personal growth, whether you realize it in that moment or not. Whenever you meet people during your travels, take a moment to thank them for sharing their country and culture with you. Return the favors of your hosts by taking them out for a meal, sending them a thank-you card, and inviting them to your home.

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Yara and Luca showing me around Rio de Janeiro

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