Personal Space Etiquette
Travel Tips

The Importance of Personal Space When Traveling

Every culture on the planet has a concept of personal space. Every being has a concept of how much personal space they require to feel at ease. Plants, too, require an ideal amount of distance to be planted from the next plant in order to grow.

When it comes to outsiders breaching my personal space, I’ve had my fair share of experiences. When taking public transit, I can understand the situation, but that is not the case here. During my travels, I nearly had a BF (b*tch fit) due to people invading my personal bubble, and believe me, it takes a lot to peeve me off.

What is personal space?

The term “personal space” refers to as an imaginary space which is theorized to surround each and everyone, such that it sets the distance between a person and somebody else. Just as body movements and facial expressions can communicate a great deal of nonverbal information, so can this physical space between individuals. Think of your personal space as the air between your body and an invisible shield, or bubble, you have formed around yourself for any relationship. But how do these invisible bubbles of space surrounding each of us come to exist in the first place, and why does it feel so icky when they overlap?

First, how big are these bubbles? According to the American anthropologist Edward Hall, whose 1960’s research on the topic still stands today, you’re actually enveloped by bubbles of four different sizes, each of which applies to a different set of potential interlopers.

  • Intimate distance: extends roughly 18 inches (46 cm) from the individual and is reserved for family, pets and very close friends. Displays of affection and comforting are commonly conducted within this space. The only strangers an individual typically accepts within his or her intimate space are health care professionals.
  • Personal distance: extends 1.5 to 4 feet (0.46–1.22 m) and is reserved for friends and acquaintances. A handshake will typically place strangers at least 2 to 4 feet (0.61–1.22 m) apart, preserving the personal distance. However, a friendly kiss on the cheek by a woman as a greeting is widely practiced.
  • Social distance: extends from about 4 to 12 feet (1.2–3.7 m) and is used for formal, business and other impersonal interactions such as meeting a client.
  • Public Space: extends more than 12 feet (3.7 m) and is not guarded.

The comfortable space between you and someone you know well will probably be much smaller than it would be if you barely knew the other person. With a stranger, it is even greater.

General Rules of Personal Space:

  1. Never touch anyone you don’t know.
  2. Don’t reach for anyone’s children, regardless of your intentions.
  3. Stand at least 4 feet away from a person unless you know him or her well.
  4. When someone leans away from you, you are probably in that person’s space that makes him or her uncomfortable.
  5. If you walk into an auditorium or theater that isn’t crowded, leave an extra seat between you and the next person. However, it is acceptable to sit next to someone if the room is crowded.
  6. Never lean over someone else’s shoulder to read something unless invited.
  7. Never go through anyone else’s personal belongings.
  8. Don’t fling your arm around someone’s shoulder or slap anyone on the back unless you know the person very well.
  9. Don’t enter a room or office without knocking first.
  10. Don’t cut in front of people in line.

What do to when someone invades your personal space?

When someone intrudes on your personal space, don’t act impulsively. They may not be aware that they are uncomfortably close. Remember, being direct may hurt the other people’s feelings so before you speak your mind, determine whether or not the issue is worth bringing up.

Ways to Deal with space intrusion:

  • Accept it.
  • Learn away or take a step back from the person, hoping he or she will take the hint.
  • Come right out and say you are uncomfortable being so close.
  • Explain by you need more space.

Etiquette is more than just eating with the right fork and knife; it is about making people feel comfortable around you and respecting other’s personal space is part of etiquette.

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Polly Amora

Polly Amora is the general manager of a privately owned corporation in Manila, Philippines. She is a life-long learner who is extroverted to the extreme, knows four languages, is loud and outspoken, and enjoys adventure in the mountains, the beach, and the city. You can throw her wherever and she'll handle it like a pro. Her weaknesses include ice cream and beer.

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25 Comments

  1. I wish more people understood personal space when traveling. It makes me so uncomfortable.

  2. rosannabailey40 says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post and I can relate so much! I know some people who should read this!

  3. blair villanueva says:

    I agree with this, I noticed that personal space are disregard during travel. Or even during open crowd concerts! But when I visited Japan last year, personal space is something that is everyone’s very mindful.

  4. I’ve had my fair deal of personal space invasion in countries where they literally grab your arm in order to get you inside a store. However, I do not agree about the auditorium part, unless you’re the very last one, because that can lead to a lot of scattered single seats and then groups and couples cannot seat together if they arrive after you.

  5. Elizabeth O says:

    Personal space sometimes people ignored and it feels so uncomfortable when traveling.

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