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7 Tips to Stay Safe When Travelling Abroad

Declan Mulkeen

9 Jan 2017

Kissing on the beach in a Muslim country, profaning a religious relic while travelling in South East Asia or insulting your Kazakh colleagues with (bad) British toilet humour. We’ve all read these stories and seen the sad tales of tourists and expats fined, arrested or escorted to a plane with their head hung in shame.

For expats or business travellers, you are abroad on business representing your organisation. You can ill afford to put a foot wrong if you want to keep your job and ensure your employer keeps their reputation. We’ve put together some tips for you to stay safe when travelling aboard. Read them well and let’s hope we don’t see you in the newspaper!

Prepare Yourself to Stay Safe When Travelling Abroad

stay safe when travelling abroad

1. Read Up and Get Ready 

Time is often against you when planning your next overseas trip or international assignment. But just like regular business travellers become experts in packing/unpacking and navigating airports across the globe, you can also become an expert in navigating the different cultures of the world.

Go online and learn more about the culture you are travelling to, read up and explore in more detail the country (and region) you are travelling to. Don’t take one source as correct. Gather information from different sources and question the differences. There are plenty of good sites which discuss country cultures in more detail.

2. It’s Who You Know

Nothing beats talking to someone who has been to the same country, region or city. Ask around in the office. Who else has been there? What was their experience? Does your organisation have any form of knowledge base where experiences are recorded and shared? If not, suggest it!

Intercultural training is much more than describing the best way to greet a businesswoman or to avoid using your left hand in certain situations.  It also explains core values of the destination country – not only what they are but also why they are so important to that culture.

3. Get Some Training

Taking the time to learn about the destination country with an expert is invaluable. Getting under the skin of the country and culture and discovering why things are how they are can make all the difference to stay safe when travelling abroad.

Intercultural training is much more than describing the best way to greet a businesswoman or to avoid using your left hand in certain situations.  It also explains core values of the destination country – not only what they are but also why they are so important to that culture.

It’s important to note that being prepared and getting some training can ultimately keep you safe when working or travelling abroad.

We urge you to watch this video on how intercultural training can keep your employees safe

4. Everything is Not What it Seems

Cross-cultural training often uses the iceberg model when describing the importance of understanding cultural values.  This model highlights that the values most important to a culture are hidden.

Whilst an employee may be aware of some of these values, they may also be inaccurately or incompletely understood. Other values may be completely transparent to another culture and thus may be completely unaware of each other’s values.

iceberg model

5. Learn Some of the Lingo

A little language goes a long way. With the internet, Apps and guide books galore available there is no excuse not to learn a few basics in the language. Focus on some key phrases that can help you stay safe when travelling abroad. Learn how to say “Yes”, “No”, “Please”, “Thank you”, “I don’t understand”, “Can you help me?”, etc.

6. Press for Clarification 

Host country nationals may speak your language fluently; however, they may not speak it in the same way. Hearing ‘don’t worry, my friend’ or ‘everything is ok’ or interpreting silence incorrectly is much more difficult.

Some cultures, for example, believe that bad news attracts bad karma or causes a loss of face.  In other cultures, information is withheld simply out of respect for hierarchy and status. It may well be that your safety could be threatened by not interpreting these communication challenges correctly.

 

7. Avoid Cultural Faux Pas

Cultural faux pas can also put you in danger by missing the importance of a significant date, location, local person or ceremony.

Whereas some cultures may be tolerant of culturally ignorant behaviour of a minor nature, the same behaviour may be deemed completely unacceptable by other cultures

Reading up, speaking to others and taking some intercultural training can start you on a journey of developing and trusting your instincts and help you to stay safe when travelling abroad.