In order to see everything the world has to offer, you are most likely going to travel to countries where you don’t speak the same language. To some people, the thought of this might be paralyzing and cause them not to explore some really incredible countries.
But don’t let the language barrier stop you, it is completely worth it to push yourself out of your comfort zone and go. You would be surprised how much you can communicate, especially with the help of today’s technology.
How to travel to a country where you don’t know the language
Cover the basics
Look up and learn 10 of the most common phrases you’ll need to know. Also, take a moment to look up any special customs or ways people interact with each other in the country you will be visiting. Politeness and a few key words can go a long way! Here are a few phrases to have handy:
- Thank you
- Excuse me
- How much?
- Where is …?
- Speak English? (for example, habla ingles? this way you can try to find someone who speaks English to converse with)
Nonverbal communication goes a long way
Pointing to a menu item to show a waiter what you would like to order, smiling when someone greets you, and gesturing to ask for directions will help you get your point across. Just make sure you know what a culture finds offensive.
There are many “American” gestures that are taken as friendly at home but are an insult in other cultures. For instance, a thumbs up gesture means, “good job” or “yes, I agree” here in the states. But in the Middle East, Latin America, Western Africa, Russia, and Greece, it is basically flicking someone off.
Use the Google Translate app
This app is amazing you can translate basically from any language to any language by typing in words, handwriting them on your screen, saying them into your phone’s microphone, or even by taking a picture of a sign. Not only that but you can download entire libraries of languages to your phone so that you don’t need the Internet to translate. Just think your in an adorable Italian village and would like to ask someone where you can find a specific shop or restaurant. You can just pull out your phone, speak into it, translate it, and have your phone “speak it” back to a local. Incredible!
Carry your hotel’s business card
Before you head out on to explore the village or city you are staying in. I find it is always a good idea to grab the hotel’s business card from the front desk. Most will have it sitting out but you may have to ask the receptionist or concierge. This way in case I get lost or need to hop in a cab to get back, I can just hand the card over to help explain where I am trying to go.
Proactively set up transportation from airport to hotel
One of the last things I want to do when coming off a long flight, especially if it’s an overnight one, is try to figure transportation from the airport to my hotel – and that’s not just in countries where I don’t speak the language! It is a good rule of thumb to do some research ahead of your trip and set up exactly how you’ll be getting from the airport to your hotel.
A lot of times hotels will have shuttle services or can set you up with a driver that will be waiting for you. It may cost more than a typical taxi (though sometimes it’s cheaper), but you can rest assure that the driver knows where you need to go and since it is usually a fixed rate, they won’t drive you around the block a few times trying to get additional fare from a tourist.