How I Navigate Cultural Norms During Travel

Often, the questions I receive become an inspiration for a blog topic so let’s get to it…


How do you navigate cultural norms outside of America?

– RG

I love this question because it points to what I find most appealing about travel. Humans around the world have cobbled together vastly different solutions in response to a universal problem: How to live.

I’ve seen a wide range of collective stances on:

– Family

– Gender roles

– Dating

– Sex

– Governance

– Personal Freedom

– Privacy Protection

– Socialism

– Money

You name it…

My curiosity leads me to choose to experience someone else’s culture myself instead of passing judgement on their lifestyle from afar.

Recently, I wrote about my slow travel method which involves planting myself at a single location for months at a time. When you have the chance, give it a quick read to see why it’s my favorite way to travel.

A one-week vacation isn’t enough time to feel a place out, and the typical nature of a short visit is touristic. Hop on a plane. See this. Snap photos. Do that. Snap photos. Hop on a plane.

I enjoy being a tourist. But I couldn’t tell you with a straight-face that I know a culture after lounging in a resort for a week. That’s a sure way to lose all credibility!

Back to the question at hand, how do I navigate social norms?

I start with observation. I use all of my senses to see, smell, touch, hear, and so on without any judgment of what’s happening. If something seems peculiar, I’ll take note, but I won’t attempt to make on-the-spot comparisons.

I shove my bias aside for 1-2 weeks.

Next, I switch to empathy by walking in the shoes of someone else. I’ll admit this now, I refuse to be a one-eyed beggar in the streets of Amman if I have a choice in the matter, but I’ll roleplay inline with the interactions occurring around me.

In all cultures, there are written and unwritten rules, and yes, this phenomenon exists in America too. I’ve spoken to many foreigners who’ve visited the States and left confused about our way of living. It just happens…

Role-play is a shortcut for exposure to the unwritten rules because the interactions provide immediate feedback from the responses you receive.

However, there is a slight limitation to this approach. If it’s obvious to all locals that you’re a foreigner, you might not receive a negative response for offensive behavior.

Make a local friend who can offer guidance on the matter. They’ll help you avoid behavior that presents you in a negative light.

I prefer to not offend the locals because I want to connect with them.

And finally, observation and empathy prep my mind for acceptance:

“Their way is the right way.”

I’m interested in hearing what you think about this topic.

Freedom is a Choice,



  1. Alex J Cusack October 8, 2019 at 18:59

    These are some great points! I remember being told prior to visiting Japan that they’re a very disciplined and structured society and don’t put up with any BS.
    This was good to keep in mind after drinking too much and only having a tiny Japanese dinner. Helped me keep my Ps and Qs in line and avoid acting like a drunken American … cause they like to drink, but definitely aren’t up for any drunken antics:)

    1. Lee Miles October 10, 2019 at 11:25

      Big Al on his best behavior. I have to see it, to believe it. Hahaha

      Thanks for checking in bro!

  2. Melanie June 23, 2021 at 00:29

    I definitely have some thoughts, but I’m going to check out your slow method of traveling before I dive in. I do have to say – I agree with your perspective about being on resorts and only having a week for travel. Even with a week, especially if traveling solo, I feel less pressure to “do all the things”. When I’m alone, I try to live like how I would in my home city. Yes, I’ll go to museums and tourist spots, but I also love to hang out at coffee shops and the park and just people watch. I always go to the mall and walk around and observe. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Lee Miles June 23, 2021 at 12:04

      It’s so worth it! There are times when I want to go fast but I learned that it’s tough for me to sustain it for months and still have those deep and rich experience that I prefer.


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