When it comes to traveling, it always pays to take notice of local customs and beliefs if you want to make sure your trip stays the trip of a lifetime, rather than turning rapidly into a disaster.

Indeed, if you ever consider heading to Vanuatu to visit the tiny island of Yaohnanen, you probably don’t want to start saying anything negative about Prince Philip; to the islanders on this tiny island, he is considered a god! This may well be one of the more unusual examples of local customs and beliefs you might encounter when heading abroad, but it certainly isn’t the only one that exists.

The peculiar case of Prince Philip shows that, while there are enjoyable quirks to travel, like the idea of heading to Scotland to try to spot the Loch Ness Monster (or other parts of the globe to spot a mythical beast), as well as less pleasant aspects to travel that you need to be aware of (such as protecting yourself against the latest travel scams), being prepared is key. Reading your guidebook and going online to find out more about local customs and beliefs should still be a vital part of your trip preparation if you want to avoid upsetting the individuals living in the country you’re visiting.

Japan: Staying polite

In Japan, they may well love cat cafes (to such an extent there are now over 150 in the country) and eating raw seafood, but what about other local customs and beliefs? One of the most important aspects of Japanese culture is politeness. In fact, there are lots of rules to follow if you want to come across as polite in Japan. Get the basics right and you’ll really endear yourself to the locals. This includes not leaving your chopsticks pointing upwards in any remaining food after you’ve finished your meal; this can cause serious offense.

That said, it should be remembered that, while the Japanese expect the very highest standards of politeness from each other, they are much more forgiving of those who are just visiting Japan. If you have the misfortune to develop a cold during your trip to the country, do make sure you pick up a face mask, though, and please don’t put your muddy shoes on your host’s tatami mat!

The UK: A land of quirky customs

The UK is a nation where quirks, customs, and beliefs always seem to be bubbling away in the background ready to be whipped out at the first sign of awkward conversation. Indeed, you can tell how rebellious a British person may be simply from checking out whether they travel exclusively with British Airways or are prepared to be a bit riskier by using trendier airlines like Virgin Atlantic.

While breaking a mirror may bring you seven years of bad luck in the UK, the number seven isn’t all bad for those with a British mindset. In fact, 25% of those questioned in a survey by Betway Casino said that the number seven is their lucky number (and it doesn’t all have to do with David Beckham!). 67% of those asked, meanwhile, found that the number three had brought them luck, despite the fact that the same survey revealed that, worldwide, it is far easier to understand the rule of three in relation to bad luck.

Africa: A continent of superstition

Africa is one of the most exciting, if not more logistically difficult continents to explore. It is vast in size and doesn’t boast any of the world’s longest roads, like Highway 1 in Australia, which covers 9,000 miles and would take three months to drive along, to help you traverse the continent from top to bottom. The continent is a place full of custom and superstition, including the use of shamans and curses, such as the one that soccer star Yaya Toure’s agent has invoked against his former coach, Pep Guardiola. Furthermore, if you’re looking through your copy of National Geographic trying to find pictures of owls in Egypt, you may not find many, since hearing an owl hoot there is seen as being an omen that terrible news is coming your way.

Worry not, however, as one of the easier to follow superstitions on the continent involves avoiding sleeping with your head facing west (this is a big no-no in a lot of Africa!).

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when you are traveling is that, if you see locals avoiding something or behaving in a certain manner, it usually pays to fall in line and stay on your guard. Given the fact that some of these superstitions and customs can bring great shame upon you or those you are traveling with, it counts to keep your travel guidebook handy as well at all times. Don’t let any of this stop you from having fun; just exercise caution and you should be able to have the time of your lives when you head overseas.