11 Ways to Get Around In a Country If You Don’t Know the Language 

        A lot of people get scared or nervous to go overseas because of the language barrier. What if I get lost and can’t find my way back? What if the taxi driver brings me to the wrong place? Well, fear no more. These 10 tips will allow you to get around with ease, no matter where you are!

1. If you have a smartphone or tablet, download a translation or dictionary app in the language of the country that you will be in. Google Translate has been updated to work offline now, is available in over 60 languages on Android and iPhone, and best of all it’s FREE! 


2. If you aren’t up to speed with technology, bring a good old-fashioned phrasebook! I personally enjoy these more because they are more comprehensive and, usually, the translation is a bit more accurate. Most guidebooks like Lonely Planet or Rough Guides have phrasebooks in the back, near the index. These will give you all of the most important phrases that you should know. You can simply point to the phrase that you want to communicate.  



3. Screenshot or print out the address of where you want to go… before you get there! Make sure to have your hotel’s information, including phone number saved (in the local language) before you arrive at the airport. You can grab your bags, hop in a taxi, show them the information and they’ll… a) know exactly where it is, or b) be able to call the hotel and figure it out. 



4. Save pictures of places where you want to go. Some places, like ancient monuments, might not have a specific address you can show a cab driver. For example, Machu Picchu is not 52 Machu Picchu Drive but if you show a driver a picture of it, they will know where to take you. If you show them some saved Google pictures of the building or area they will probably know where to go.


5. Grab a business card from your hotel. This one is important to consistently get to and from your hotel easily! The hotel’s card will have their address and phone number in the local language, and more often than not, it will also have a map showing their location. Just show it to your driver or someone on the street and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.


6. Pick up or download a city map. If your hotel staff speaks a little English, have them show you where they are on the map, so you have some reference.  


7. Learn some basic phrases in the local language. Even if you absolutely butcher the pronunciation, the effort will be much appreciated. Some great phrases to learn are; ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘this one/that one’, the numbers from 1-10, and especially ‘how much?’. People are less likely to give you the ‘tourist price’ if you ask how much it is in the local language. 


8. Translate vital information and carry it with you everywhere. If you have something serious you need to constantly communicate, such as a life threatening peanut allergy, have someone who knows the language write it on an index card and bring it with you everywhere so you can show it to restaurants, etc. You could even use Google Translate and before you go, print out the translation to carry with you. If you go to http://www.allergytranslation.com you can customize allergy cards with your specific allergens and severity. You can then translate it into the language you will need and print out as many as you need right away. The cards are $8.00, but definitely worth it if your allergy is very severe. Another great site is http://www.selectwisely.com because they have allergy cards, gluten-free cards, medical emergency cards, and drug allergy cards. For example, if you are a diabetic and feeling a low sugar reaction coming on, you can pull out this card telling someone what is happening and you require sugar quickly. You can order these in about 30 different languages and they are about $14.99 per card. Expensive, but definitely worth it for the peace of mind. Brokerfish.com is another site that has FREE cards but they only cover 8 allergens and 6 languages. If your allergies and language are common then this site would be good for you. 



9. Can’t beat a good game of charades! When all else fails, pointing, miming, and acting will help get your point across. If anything it’s more fun!  


10. Don’t be scared to start randomly asking people if they speak English! You will be surprised at the kindness of people. English is the most common second language in the world. No matter where you are SOMEONE is bound to speak a little English. Look for younger people as they are more likely to have learned English in school. If you’re in a bus station just getting really frustrated because the desk staff doesn’t understand what you want, you can ask the people in line behind you if anyone speaks English. If you’re lost on the street, start asking people walking by you if anyone can help you. The generosity of people never ceases to amaze me. 


11. Lastly, be friendly!!! In many countries, extreme emotions like anger and frustration will make you lose face and respect. If you smile and go with the flow, you will attract a lot more people’s help and generosity. What’s that saying? You catch more flies with honey than vinegar? Well, its true… especially with traveling overseas!


       I hope these have been helpful to you and given you more confidence to travel overseas without fear! Always remember, a smile is the same in every language. Don’t be scared of not knowing how to communicate. Get out there and experience this beautiful world and all it’s different cultures/languages! Let me know in the comments if you have another way you like to get around in foreign places! Happy traveling!

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