Traveling when you don’t know the language can be intimidating and daunting but don’t let it keep you from going. Just because you haven't spoken Spanish or French (or God forbid, Latin) since high school, doesn't mean you can't be the explorer you always wanted. A little effort, a couple tools, and a sense of humor will get you a long way. Here are five tips that will make your travels a little easier.
Know a Little Bit
If you’re going to spend the money to go to another country, it might be wise to put in some effort on the front end so that you can spend your precious vacation time enjoying yourself instead of trying to figure out the closest place to go to the bathroom. Learn basic phrases that will make day to day functioning and interacting with locals easier. From greetings and how to ask for the bathroom to ordering a beer or knowing what “chicken” is called, a few key words or phrases will let you better enjoy the country you are in. It’s also good to learn words that could be useful in case of emergency, like how to ask for help, what a country’s exit signs might look like, or maybe what to look for if you have allergies.
Use Your Hands
If you’re having trouble finding the right word, try mimicking the word or action to get the result you want. Don’t be shy. You’d rather get to the salsa club or to the library and show off a couple moves or act like you’re reading a book than waste time wandering around. People also respond to effort. If you are trying hard to communicate, they will try hard to help you. And just have fun with it – no one is going to mistake you for a local anyway. If you end up flapping your arms or moo-ing at your server, it’ll be a funny story later.
Bring a Notepad
If charades just isn’t your game, a notepad will be doubly important for you. A notepad is one of the most useful things that you can have. In addition to communicating with pictures, it’s good for writing down all your vital information like your hotel address, people you might need to contact, and useful phrases. Phrase books are great and I suggest you have one but it can be very time consuming digging through one to find the right phrase while someone is waiting for you to speak. Having a place to write down the 30 or 40 most relevant phrases will save loads of time and stress. Plus, they don’t run out of battery.
Find Your Apps
Travel apps can be very useful and convenient but they should not replace preparation. So many things (and often, the best things) happen on the spur-of-the-moment when traveling and you never know whether you will be able to charge your phone or be in an area with service. Also, part of the fun of traveling is the disconnectedness – if you turn to your phone with all of your problems, you can lose out on the immersion aspect that is part of the value of travel. That said, having an app with that locates you and displays the country’s emergency numbers or one that tells you if it thinks your flight is going to be delayed can be quite useful. This link has some apps that may be good resources.
The most important thing you can bring abroad to make life easier is your smile. People are generally friendly, appreciate what tourism does for their country, and want to share their home with you. If you appear nice and friendly, you are much more likely to receive nice and friendly in return. If you’re in a stressful situation trying to figure out how to get somewhere or what in the world is on the menu, even a forced smile will calm you down and make people more willing to help you. Plus, you’re there to have fun, and while traveling can be stressful, you shouldn’t let the language barrier keep you from having a great time.
So smile, grab a notepad, and download an app so you can buy a ticket to your next adventure.