traveling with others

presse agent Karen Cleveland

there’s nothing quite like traveling together to accelerate a relationship. as the gloves can come off, so to speak, via jet lag, nick-of-time connecting flights, language barriers, and currency jumbles… true colours can reveal themselves in unabashed ways. particularly when traveling with a new boyfriend, girlfriend, or multiple mates. so i suggest some navel gazing on your travel etiquette, as well as taking an assessment on those of your trip companion(s), to ensure you all land on common ground.

set expectations in advance …most letdowns can be quelled with some discussions on how you see things shaking out. go for a pre-departure coffee or cocktail with your travel buddies to chat about the big picture stuff. will you be sharing sleeping quarters? if so, what is the set up, and who is fronting the deposit on their credit card? will you travel together the entire time, or are you hoping to break off for a few days by yourself? this is the time, well before the trip, to discuss these particulars.

be the most relaxed version of yourself …hours on a plane, lack of sleep, and the other less sexy elements of traveling, can deplete even the most chipper chaps and chicas. don’t take things too personally, and remember that the trip has an end date. take it easy on your companions. be the first to help them out and they’ll do the same for you.

do not overschedule …if there are places to visit, sites to see, or restaurants to eat at – that the group is collectively interested in hitting – plan to pepper them throughout the trip. if you are accustomed to traveling alone, leave some time for solo exploring. that way you can check out the things that your friends aren’t keen on doing, and simply meet up afterwards over lunch or dinner. inevitably, not everyone will share the same interests, and breaking apart for a day or two will make for some great stories over a bottle of wine when you do reconvene.

respect shared space …by all means settle into relaxed vacation mode, but be mindful of the spaces you share with your travel companions. the vanity isn’t your own personal primping area. your iPod isn’t necessarily the soundtrack for the group. the teeny tiny closet isn’t just for your belongings.

avoid quibbling over cash …don’t fret over petty spending. a coffee here, or a taxi ride there, isn’t worth quibbling over and will only put a damper on your trip. in the grand scheme of things, the cost doesn’t matter. instead, consider it a karmic deposit. in fact, you might want to establish a convivial vibe from the start by offering to pick up the first round of celebratory drinks. hopefully, your friends will pick up on this and one of them will get the next round. if not, fear not…you’ve treated some friends to a cocktail to kick off your trip. a good thing, right?

based in Toronto, Karen Cleveland tackles all things etiquette, from the traditional to the taboo. follow her on Twitter @SchoolFinishing and visit

(First published for The Travel Press, June 2012)

How to charm a local host: the Finishing School guide to dinner parties abroad

Dinner in South Africa | Tintswalo lodge

Karen Cleveland – Smith guest blogger and Canada-based doyenne of decorum – follows up her first post on Italian etiquette (How to… fare bella figura) with another manners-minding missive, this time on dinner-party protocol for globetrotting guests…


Well done, you savvy traveller, you: your charm and witty banter has earned you a dinner invitation at a lovely local’s home. By all means, accept it. Making friends when travelling is one of life’s pleasant surprises and may very well take your trip to another level – a true glimpse into your host country.

Finishing School travel tips | flowers by Wild At HeartBefore you jump in the shower, polish yourself up and put on your Sunday best, it behooves you to give some thought to, and do some quick research on, what to bring along to dinner. Because, of course, a good guest never arrives empty-handed.

If you are lucky enough to score a dinner invitation on your travels in Asia or parts of the Middle East, don’t take it personally if your host doesn’t open up your gift in front of you: tradition is such that gifts are not opened in front of the gift-bearer (in case it is a terrible present: the gift giver is therefore spared the humiliation). Likewise, if you are presented with a gift, do not open it unless invited to.

One might think that sending flowers in advanced of dinner is a sure bet, but regional traditions covet certain blooms for special occasions. While an arrangement of white flowers is a lovely gesture to a dinner host in Mexico, a bouquet of white chrysanthemums is more appropriate for funerals in Japan and France. In Asia, odd numbers are ominous while many Europeans still follow the custom of sending an uneven number of flowers, suggesting inseparability — though please, don’t sent an inauspicious thirteen stems.

Regardless of wherever on this great wide world you are dining, take note that showing up with an armload of cut stems might actually pull your host away from their meal preparations. Best to come with flowers already arranged, or better yet, leave it to the professionals and have an arrangement sent earlier that day. In China, gifts are often presented in pairs, so if bringing along of bottle of wine, bring along a second.

Dinner in China | Homa Chateau

Some traditionalists suggest that bringing wine to dinner might imply that the host’s cellar is inadequate, particularly in countries that are proud of their local wine production. If that is of concern, a great bourbon or scotch might be more fitting. Also be mindful of larger cultural implications of a well-intentioned gift: bringing alcohol to a Muslim home is in poor form.

Whatever thoughtful gift you bring to dinner, be sure to thank your host following the meal. And reciprocate with an invitation to host them when they are on your home soil.

Based in Toronto, Karen Cleveland tackles all things etiquette, from traditional to taboo. Follow her on Twitter or drop by for a visit.

(First published on Mr & Mrs Smith, June 2012)

Guest List Etiquette: How To Solve The Plus-One Dilemma

Invitation by Weddingstar

Etiquette expert Karen Cleveland has joined Weddingbells as a guest blogger solving all of your decorum dilemmas. Read on for tips on how to retain poise from the minute he proposes.

Partners or spouses of friends or family members are a cinch when it comes to sending out invites, but what about your single guests? There is often pressure to address invitations to a single recipient with “and guest”, but are you obliged to? While it is a thoughtful gesture to allow a single guest to bring a date, it is not required. Before making a decision, here are three careful considerations to keep in mind:

· The same rule should apply to all guests, so either all single guests are welcomed to bring a date, or no one is. It is only fair.

· Just how many single guests will there be at your wedding? If it is a matter of adding two or three guests, it might be a feasible, and very kind, gesture.

· Are you comfortable meeting someone for the first time at your wedding? Such an intimate occasion might not be the ideal setting to be making introductions.

If you are put on the spot and a guest asks about bringing along a date, you can politely decline by explaining you have limited seating, or aren’t comfortable meeting new people on such a monumental day. And if there are many guests coming solo to your wedding, perhaps use the opportunity to suggest they save a dance for a certain other guest? Romance will be in the air after all.

Karen Cleveland is a Toronto-based etiquette advisor and writer. For more on her column, Finishing School, find her on Twitter or send her your questions and conundrums here.

(Published first on Weddingbells, June 2012)

How to delegate bridal party duties

Now that you’ve chosen your attendants you’ll probably soon start receiving questions from these chosen few on what their responsibilities will be on (and before) your big day. To help you get organized we’ve compiled a complete list of who does what.

The maid or matron of honour
· Plays the role of bride’s air traffic controller, helping to ensure the bridesmaid dresses (and required shoes or accessories) are purchased, invitations are addressed and shower gifts are tracked so thank you cards can be swiftly sent.
· Helpfully communicates registry information and assists with the seating chart.
· Helps the bride shop for a dress and other wearables for the wedding.
· Hosts (or co-hosts) a shower for the bride.
· On the wedding day helps the bride with her veil, dress, bustle and other sartorial needs.
· Holds the groom’s ring before the ceremony and holds the bride’s bouquet during her vows.
· Signs the registry, along with the best man.
· Graciously gives a thoughtful toast to the bride and groom.
· Works alongside the best man on the wedding day to assist with vendors and safely storing gifts at the reception.
· After the reception, offers to store the wedding gown until the bride can make arrangements for it.

The best man
· Is the groom’s right hand man, ensuring other groomsmen have their outfits sorted out and that any decorations that need to be taken down from the ceremony are swiftly removed.
· Hosts (or co-hosts along with the other groomsmen) a special day or night for the groom.
· Works alongside the maid of honour on the wedding day to assist with vendors and safely storing gifts at the reception
· On the wedding day, takes the officiant’s payment from the groom and gives it to the officiant.
· Holds the bride’s ring before the ceremony.
· Helps coordinate travel for the wedding day including getting the couple to and from the reception, as well as arranging their honeymoon luggage if the couple is whisking off immediately after the reception.
· Signs the registry, along with the maid of honour.
· Gives the first toast of the reception to the bride and groom.

The entire bridal party
· Lavishes the special couple with love, attention and warm wishes ─ their chief responsibility.
· Attends wedding-related activities including the shower, the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, the wedding (of course) and post-wedding festivities like a next-day brunch or lunch.
· Pays for their attire, with the exception of flowers. The cost of bouquets and boutonnieres are not the responsibility of the bridal party.  If pre-wedding primping is arranged, each attendant pays for their own hair, makeup, nails and such.
· Arranges and foots the bill for their own transportation, though it is a nice gesture for the bride or groom to host them if they are from out of town.
· Stands in the receiving line and is generally helpful at the wedding, directing people to the guest book, bar, gifts table and so on.

(First published on Weddingbells, March 2012)

Tips for choosing your bridal party without hurting anyone’s feelings

Whether you choose to have one attendant or six, the decision of who will be your supporting cast for the big day is a great one. Your wedding party will not only play a key role in the activities leading up to the wedding (and of course, behind the scenes at the wedding) their presence is also very sentimental: these are the people that you and your fiancé have chosen to have closest to you on the day you officially start your life together. Heavy stuff, right?

There are no rules when it comes to choosing your bridal party, though it makes sense that its scale fits your wedding ─ a grand bridal party of a dozen attendants on either side might seem out of place at a casual, intimate wedding, for example. Beyond the two witnesses that will sign your registry (traditionally the maid of honour and best man) your wedding party can take whatever shape you’d like it to.

Guilt, fear of hurt feelings and a sense of obligation can often creep into decisions of selecting your wedding party, so be mindful to really take emotional inventory. Perhaps you were a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding, that does not mean that you are obligated to ask them to stand in yours. If there are no small children in your family that you are close with, do not feel compelled to wrangle two toddlers to serve as a flower girl or ring bearer, just for the sake of having them. The decisions you make should sincere and heartfelt, rather than couched in obligations.

As to concerns of having an equal number of bridesmaids and groomsmen, it is a notion that serves to produce a good deal of stress and little else, it seems. If your best friend is a man, then who better suited to being your right hand? If you are extremely close to two friends and your fiancé is one of four brothers, then have at it ─ a perfect posse! The point is not to produce symmetrical photos. Do a gut-check: the crux is to mark a major milestone with those you can’t imagine not sharing it with.

Questions to ask yourself:
· How long has this friend been in your life? Has the relationship stood the test of time?

· Have they consistently been a solid, rather than fickle, friend?

· Is your friendship a soulful one, or are you more social co-partiers?

· What is their relationship to your fiancé? Do they see all the great things in each other that you see in each of them?

· How logistically feasible is their bridesmaidship? Have they just embarked on six months of travelling? Do they have a baby due when you’re getting married?

If this friend is a true blue, longstanding comrade that knows you as an individual, appreciates your soon-to-be-other half, and they’re free when you’re getting hitched, it sounds like they are just the person for the job. If there is someone you love dearly, but circumstances preclude them from being in the wedding party, they can absolutely still play a role leading up to the wedding. You could invite them to sit with your family and do a reading at the ceremony, include them in some special photos together or acknowledge them in a toast.

(First published on Weddingbells, February 2012)