6 Tips for Traveling to a Country Where You Don't Speak the Language
Keep calm and prepare
International travel is fun and exciting and eye-opening. It’s also, in some cases, nerve-racking.Especially if you’re headed to a country where you don’t speak the native tongue. Luckily, there are a few ways to prepare for such trips so you don’t have a panic attack in the middle of an open-air market in Kathmandu.
Learn the Basics
No, you don’t have to become fluent in Greek in two months, but knowing a handful of usable words and phrases will get you a lot further than you might think. Simple greetings,“please” and “thank you” and “Do you speak English?” should make you at least a little more comfortable than going in with zero idea of what you’re doing. (Oh, and FYI, “toilet” is pretty much universal, so don’t waste your time learning that one.)
Download a Translation App
Ahh, technology, what would we do without you? Have to carry around a dictionary, for one. Apps like Google Translate, Ultralingua and Yan
Don't Underestimate the Power of Pointing
At menus, at places on maps, at things on your phone, whatever. Gesturing is often more efficient than trying to speak a language you’re not entirely comfortable with. One caveat here, though: Be sure to do some research ahead of time on common gestures in the country where you’ll be traveling. The last thing you want to do is wildly offend a local when you were just trying to give a thumbs-up.
It’s simple, but it goes a long way. If you mess up (which, let’s be honest, you probably will), people will be much more forgiving when you’re gracious about it. This is an instance where you should swallow your pride and not be afraid to drum up a little sympathy.
Hire a Local to Show You Around
Want in on all the under-the-radar sights and restaurants but can’t blend in language-wise? Consult ToursByLocals, which does exactly what its name suggests: matches you with an English-speaking local who will take you around and let you experience the country a bit more personally than you would with a guidebook.
If You Think You'll Be Nervous, Plan, Plan, Plan
Let’s say you’re a person who gets flustered in unfamiliar settings (it’s totally OK—we’re right there with you). In that case, chart out as much of your trip as possible before you leave home. This means scheduling tours and making as many reservations as you can in English. Bless you, Internet.