10 Tips to Survive Culture Shock

by Janice Waugh /
Janice Waugh's picture
Mar 17, 2010 / 0 comments

When you travel alone, it is important to slip into the scene rather than stand out as a
foreigner. Doing so, increases your safety and typically means that you
are more respectful and, therefore, more accepted by the local culture.

In the film Cairo Time, Patricia Clarkson plays the wife of
an NGO worker. She travels alone to Egypt to meet him but he’s delayed
so she must spend time in Cairo alone. Her first days are very
uncomfortable. Men are always looking at her. But, in a country where women cover their bodies, she wanders about in a
sleeveless top and then goes into a coffee shop for men only. This film
drove me crazy because one would expect a woman of her background to
know better. Her cultural clumsiness was a painful story-telling
convenience in the film but, for my purpose here, it points nicely to
the fact that everyone is happier when you respect local customs and

So, I give you: 10 tips to survive culture shock when you travel alone.

  1. Do your research before you go. Travel guides offer good
    information. You may also want to check out Kwintessential . It’s a global guide to customs,
    culture and etiquette.
  2. Ask friends and family to see if you can get a local contact. It’s
    especially wonderful to receive a personal introduction to a new culture
    when you travel alone.
    If you’re a woman, you could use Journeywoman’s hermail.net.
  3. Pack carefully to ensure that you have the appropriate clothes for
    your destination. You will feel more comfortable if you are properly
  4. Check the calendar for local festivals, celebrations and national
    days that may be taking place while you are there and get a bit of
    information on them before you go. Knowledge can help you adapt and
    enjoy a new culture more easily.
  5. Watch carefully how people greet each other, whether they line up
    for a bus, how they buy fruit… there are nuances in every aspect of a
    society. Look for them.
  6. Observe how people interact in groups large and small including
    where they stand, how they speak, where their eyes land…
  7. Start with an overview of the city by taking a local tour. A walking
    tour will give you a close-up look at the culture but bus tours can be
    helpful too.
  8. Befriend your hotel desk clerk or coffee shop owner – anyone who you
    can see on a regular basis and can become your local go-to person for
  9. Be patient with yourself. If you are feeling culture shock, find a
    quiet place to relax and regroup.
  10. No matter how hard you try, it is likely that you will still stand
    out as a tourist. Guard your passport and other documents carefully.
    Don’t flash expensive jewelery or technology. Act conservatively so as
    not to attract the wrong sort of attention.

Typically, you’ll earn more respect and make more friends by focusing
on the people you meet, their traditions, culture and customs. But, at a
certain point and based on questions or cues, it may be acceptable to
share a bit about your culture. I usually travel with some small
Canadian gifts for these opportunities.


Janice Waugh is the Solo Travel Editor for Wandering Educators. You can find her at http://solotravelerblog.com/