2 Easy Ways to Improve Your International Travel

Rev. 4/24/20

Occasionally I may break out some friendly tourist do’s and don’ts – little travel etiquette tidbits that go a long way in helping us all be a better solo traveler, especially in a foreign country.  In fact, this piece is geared towards the international traveler.  I originally thought of titling it, “Please don’t be that tourist”, but I don’t want to sound preachy (ha, ha).  So, bear with me as I provide international travel tips and etiquette advise of “learning the local language basics” or at least using technology to assist.

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International Travel Tips

Now, I’m not trying to betray my own here.  I notice this occurring from a lot of tourists, not just Americans.  It happens in front of me as well as to me. 

In any case, because I do see this happen I feel this piece should be written, and while I do, I’m going to use “English” as the language example because I am from the U.S. and, hey, it makes it easier to write. 

Please take this piece as meant in the best of spirit for us all.  I cannot express how providing an effort to speak the country’s local language first goes a long way – not only in making our lives easier while traveling but also in putting our best selves forward as we represent our country while in another.

1 – Learn the local language basics

Yes, English is very popular.  It is considered the universal language.  Yet, just because it is doesn’t mean everyone knows it or wants to speak it if they do.  Therefore, in your planning phase, learning the most common, foreign language words and phrases is going to help you greatly in your international travels.

Say you’re in Germany. What if you’re lost or need assistance? What if you’re ordering a meal in a restaurant?  What if you’re trying to buy a ticket in a bus station or rent a car?  In any and all of these situations, you’re the one who needs help, right?  The people working don’t need help. 

How do you get the best help possible?  Simple:  be courteous. Therefore, it is courteous not to address a stranger by just speaking English (or your primary language).  It’s…well… how do I say this?  It’s rude.

Tourists shopping Verona Italy market
Shopping is a great way to practice the local language

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Remembering two simple things will help:

  1. You are not in your country so do not expect people to speak your language (e.g., English).
  2. If the locals do know English, they don’t have to speak it. If they do, they are doing so out of courtesy.

What to do?  At minimum, learning simple phrases like, “Excuse me, do you speak English?”, or “Excuse me, do you know how to get to ….” in their language (more on this in tip 2 below), lends major good will on your end, and you’ll also find people will be more apt to help you.  Truly.  Not to mention, you’re more apt to avoid receiving any irritated looks from the locals. Or from other tourists!

If you want a good example, see my A Little Italiano Goes a Long Way. If it helps, put the shoe on the other foot:  how would you react in your hometown of Anywhere, USA if someone came up to and spoke, say, German?

Verona market stand food signs in Italian
Verona market
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2 – The alternative:  Use a translation app!

Thank goodness for technology!  In our era of easily accessible information, there are now a multitude of translation apps, like Google Translate, you can take with you.  Note:  make sure you can use them in all situations – will you have Wi-Fi?  Is the app able to work without Wi-Fi?

These apps make conversing while abroad really easy.  You can either speak the English phrases into the app and have it translate verbally, or you can simply show the written translation to whomever you are speaking.  I had this experience when I was renting a room in Verona, Italy.  The landlady I met spoke no English and I was able to check into her apartment all through the use of her iPhone’s translation app!  Don’t you just love technology?

Il Campo Siena Italy cityscape and people
Use the local language in restaurants
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If you have the app but may not be able to use it when you think you’ll need it (i.e., no Wi-Fi availability), you can always prepare by taking screenshots of the translated phrases in advance and have them on your phone on the ready to show.

If you still wish to go with Rule 1 above and try to learn the language (good on ya!), you can find many language apps that try to make that education as easy as possible, apps like Babbel, Duolingo or Rosetta Stone.  Trust me, there are many.  I have personally used Babbel to pick up my Spanish again.

I find Babbel very easy to use, it’s inexpensive, and lessons are short – around 10 minutes a piece.  You can start at the “beginner” level or, skip to the “intermediate” level if you have a little of the language already under your belt.  You’ll be surprised how much you can learn with an app like Babbel.  You don’t need to be fluent in a foreign language to travel but learning key conversational words really can improve your travel experience.

No matter what your method, this shows your respect of trying to communicate in the local language, which is bound to improve your international travel experience by offering good will, increasing your chance of opening up your circle of friends, and increasing your safety factor.  Bonus points for you!  Plus, it makes the rest of us (Americans) look good, too (wink, wink).

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Gwen is the Founder of CORR Travel and a global traveler and photographer with over 25 years of solo travel experience. She is also the Founder of the www.CORRConcepts.com sustainability blog. Travel is her passion and environmental sustainability and biodiversity protection is her "religion".

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