By Vicky Anscombe on 29 June 2015

Columbus Direct has spoken to ABTA about cultural differences, and how you can avoid coming unstuck during your summer holiday by following a few simple rules.

If you're reading this in the UK, you'll be aware that as a rule, we're a pretty tolerant country. However, there are some countries where you'll have to modify your behaviour and your dress to avoid causing offence, or being the subject of any unwanted attention. 

We spoke to Sean Tipton at ABTA to get some hints and tips on how to make the most of your holiday in a country where cultural differences may pose a problem.

"The first thing to point out here is that we're talking about cultural differences, not sexism," Sean said. "If you're on holiday, relax - but be aware of expectations. You might think your behaviour is innocuous - so, you think kissing your wife in public is OK - but others might not see it that way."

Here's Sean's advice for savvy holidaymakers:

  • Before you go, look at the FCO website for up-to-date advice on the country you're travelling to. Cultural differences will vary from country to country; as a rule, Muslim countries follow the same set of guidelines, so be modest and discreet in North Africa, southern parts of Africa and Arabic countries.
  • Don't generalise countries. In Egypt, Red Sea resorts are westernised, but dress carefully for the rest of the country
  • Unwanted attention isn't just directed at women. In places like Abu Dhabi, a man and a woman kissing can cause offence - keep public displays of affection to a minimum.
  • If you're travelling out of Western Europe, North America or Australasia, it's worth checking the FCO website; however, even within Europe, it's best to be aware of behavioural expectations. For example, in some parts of Spain, the locals are getting fed up with people strolling around in bikinis. In Barcelona, you can be fined for dressing immodestly.
  • In some cases, you have to weigh up the pros and cons; is it sensible for you to be travelling around a certain country alone? It may seem unfair that your travels are limited by others' expectations, but that's how the world works. There are tour operators who can help solo travellers find groups to travel with.
  • Gay travellers should also do their research - even in countries where homosexuality is legal, you might find that it's 'culturally offensive'. Ask around, spend a few hours on Google and hunt down resorts and areas where you know you'll be welcomed, and local people will treat you well.

Women and girls in Morocco

Here are a few hints and tips to help you stay safe:


  • Always cover your head, arms and legs when visiting churches, temples or sites which are important to local people. Don't scream and shout. Be respectful.
  • Lots of cultures value marriage, and showing you're taken will put people off; if it makes you feel safer, wear a ring and tell anyone who hassles you that you're married.
  • If you're in doubt, ask the front desk at your hotel what the dress code should be, which places are best for tourists, and if there are any places you should avoid.
  • Exercise discretion when you're out and out. Blondes may find they get less hassle if they cover their heads.
  • If you're in an area which doesn't feel tourist-friendly, just leave.


  • Take unnecessary risks, such as walking around alone at night in skimpy outfits.
  • Don't angrily challenge people who may comment on your clothes or looks. They won't be aware that what they're doing is wrong, and you're in their space; just move away, and cover up.
  • Never, ever, ever have sex in public, or on the beach. Stick to your hotel room.
  • Don't drink too much, talk too loudly and make a spectacle of yourself when you're out and about.
  • Finally, remember that some places won't take kindly to you wearing swimwear away from the beach or the pool. Always bring a long-sleeved t-shirt and a sarong out with you.

Image credit: Flickr, with thanks to Stockografie and Feliciano Guimarães

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