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From Filthy Hotel Rooms to Seat Reclining: Iconic Etiquette Expert on ALL the Travel Do’s and Don’ts

The granddaughter of etiquette expert, Emily Post, shares the ins and outs of travel etiquette in today's crazy world, from tipping to airplane manners to her ultimate travel pet peeve.

Is it okay to wear pajamas on an airplane? How messy should you leave a hotel room? What if you don’t agree with the human rights stance of a country you’re visiting? As the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post—the doyenne of etiquette, famed for her 1922 book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home—Lizzie Post has all the answers and more. Her fresh, hard-hitting, taboo-tackling style demonstrates that etiquette is not a stodgy, dusty thing of the past. Instead, it helps us get along with others, even in today’s seemingly no-holds-barred world.

“Etiquette can be something people choose to use that is judgmental and elitist and exclusive as a way to separate people,” Lizzie Post tells Fodor’s. “At Emily Post, we really try to encourage people to be aware of themselves and the people around them, and be aware of how their behavior affects people.”

And she has the platform to do it—she is co-president of the Emily Post Institute, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast, and co-author of the recently published, best-selling, centennial edition of The Book (as the family calls Emily Post’s Etiquette), among a host of other responsibilities. We caught up with Post to get her take on some of the world’s most baffling travel etiquette questions.

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FODOR’S: What are the keys to airplane etiquette? There has been a lot of fury in the air. How do you ensure a peaceful journey?

LIZZIE POST: Preparing yourself for the crowds and other people behaving badly is important. A lot of mental preparation is helpful when it comes to airline travel. If you go back to read the section on travel etiquette in Emily Post’s 1922 book, she says the best traveler is one who is patient and humorous in their thinking, who takes things as they come, and is ready to go when they’re supposed to be. All these things are applicable today, no matter the method of travel.

In general, we want to remember our line manners—no cutting; keep belongings close to us; prepare ahead of time for security, like removing shoes and recognizing when it might be best to step aside and allow others to go first.

Should you recline or not recline your seat?

I’m not a fan of reclining, but it is a function that seats have. There’s not enough room, especially in coach seats, for reclining without invading someone else’s space. Sometimes, especially overnight in coach, you see everyone recline. There are certain times when that function is still worth having. You don’t have to recline all the way to get the back release you’re looking for; sometimes, an inch can make a difference. Recognize that, too.

What about plane fashion? Are pajamas okay for long-haul flights?

It’s important to be in the category of presentable. That comes in a lot of different forms. If your pajamas are presentable and you’re not wearing them halfway down your butt, and you don’t have holes everywhere, that could be something people could lean into that doesn’t offend others. In the same way, t-shirts aren’t bad, but a ratty smelly t-shirt is not a good presentation when you’re in close quarters with other people for half a day or longer.

Smoke, perfume, and cologne are three things to be very aware of. It’s recognizing that some people have strong physical reactions to the scents people bring with us. If you smoke in your home, sometimes it’s ensuring you have an outfit that you air out or keep in a separate area before boarding your flight. That can be a gracious thing to do for people around you.

And then there’s classic stuff like tuna, don’t bring strong-smelling food. Some say bananas are a triggering smell—that one surprised me! But it’s important to be aware of all the different aromas.

What should you do if you’re planning to visit a country where you don’t agree with a government’s stance on human rights?

It’s not so much etiquette as determining your own values and morals and, in some instances, sense of safety. It’s important to ask, how safe is it to travel to a country based on my identity? That’s a question more and more travelers are asking these days.

The etiquette decision might be how you talk to a boss or a company about your reservations of visiting a place. They might be asking you to compromise if you go on a trip. You can’t ask certain people to travel to certain places if it might harm them.

An age-old question is how much to tip. Different countries have different standards. How do you know you’re leaving enough?

Our immediate answer is that you do the tipping research. You should research the country’s currency and the tipping practices because they vary worldwide. It’s important to do the research.

When you’re leaving your tip in your hotel room, I would make it clear it’s a tip by writing a little note. Leaving anywhere between a couple of dollars and $5 per person [in the United States] is standard. This should be given every day, not at the end, because the same person might not be cleaning daily.

How messy should you leave a hotel room?

I think this definitely varies. Some people feel like they have to do all the work for the cleaning person, and you don’t. Some people leave it in such an atrocious state that they should be made to come back and clean it up themselves.

We at Emily Post get all the garbage in the receptacle. If you have takeout, package that up nice and neatly so it’s easy for the cleaner to put it into their large garbage bag. Same thing with dirty diapers. If a sign says to leave the towels on the floor, then do that. Get your clothes back into the suitcase or on the chair or in the drawer. Make it easy for people coming in to do their checklist.

The Emily Post Institute

Americans can sometimes have a pretty bad reputation when traveling abroad. How does one travel respectfully and responsibly?

First, research before you go. Look up the area’s customs and understand how people behave. That will do a world of wonder in terms of your own ability to think about your behavior. That research so educates you. Even if customs may be new to you, if you do the research, you can do them with confidence—removing shoes is the proper move, doing a bow in certain places.

Second, spend a little more time being more self-reflective and aware of how your behavior affects others. It’s hard when we encounter differences. I go to Italy every few years. I don’t speak Italian, and I have a hard time doing real simple things. I’m struggling to place an order or how to buy this item. It’s humbling.

It’s one of those spaces where a good attitude and the ability for that attitude to be resilient and not get punctured the first time something goes wrong are the best things you can cultivate for yourself.

What’s your pet peeve when it comes to travel etiquette?

It is definitely people listening to their phones without headphones. That one kills me. We are so far into our phones at this point that we should know better. We should know that’s a collectively annoying thing.

What’s the golden rule when it comes to travel etiquette?

I think it is keeping your impact on other people to a minimum as much as possible. The more you do that, the more you contribute to a good experience for everyone around you. This etiquette thing could save the world!