Not knowing the local language is no reason not to travel. Here are some tips to get by if you don’t speak the language. There’s a huge difference between getting around France or Italy—where there is plenty of English signage and many people speak English —and getting around, say, Morocco or Cambodia. But these tips should serve you well anywhere.
- Download a Language Translation App – I generally use Google Translate, but you can always find an app that works for you. Ideally, find one that specializes in the language you need to translate especially if the language uses a character set you’re not familiar with, or have difficulty pronouncing. These apps work best when you’re trying to decipher something in writing, like a restaurant menu or a street sign, rather than in the midst of a conversation.
- Learn 10 basic words – You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish if you know how to say “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Yes,” “No,” “Please,” “Goodbye,” “Do you speak English?”, “Where is…?”, “I’m lost,” and “Help.”
- Speak with Your Hands and Head – Pointing with your hands and nodding or shaking your head are an easy way to communicate with locals in the country you’re in. Gestures are almost all universally understood. There are exceptions however. A quick web search for the country you’re visiting and “gestures” or “body language” will turn up anything you need to be aware of before you go.
- Carry your hotel’s business card in the local language – That way you can always find your way back to the hotel by showing the address to a taxi driver or to someone on the street.
- Use your smartphone camera to record your route – Especially when you can’t read street signs or numbers, use your smartphone to take pictures—of intersections, buildings, signs, and other things that might serve as landmarks along your path—so you can retrace your steps via the photos. It’s like a modern-day version of breadcrumbs. When you’re taking the subway, snap a photo of the transit system map upon entering, so you can refer to it as often as you need to, especially when changing trains or platforms.