Breaking Language Barriers When Traveling


There’s a reason everybody is hooking on travel and drooling over their next vacation. Traveling abroad is super exciting no matter where you’re going. All those new sights to see, things to do, people to meet, pictures to take, and best of all: things to eat. However, overcoming language barriers when traveling can sometimes be a challenge.

Overcoming Language Barriers When Traveling

As someone who has really specific needs when it comes to food (Hello allergies! What’s up, celiac!), it’s super important that I be able to communicate with folks who are native to the area – especially since they often play a big role in the creation of tasty food. Language barriers when traveling could make me sick!

Communicating with locals isn’t always at the forefront of your mind when it comes to upcoming travel. Usually, we’re thinking more about making sure the cutest outfits get packed, getting an outlet converter so you can keep your phone charged, figuring out where that must-see museum is… It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the fun parts of travel and forget about the other stuff.

Learning a new language might not sound as fun, but I promise they payoff is big. Talking to each other and understanding each other is something we all take for granted daily – and it’s incredible how weird it can feel when you’re cut off from those around you.

Let’s examine the pros of learning a new language: ask a passerby for directions instead of staring at signs you can’t read. Find the hidden gems only the locals know. Don’t pee your pants trying to find the bathroom. Don’t get arrested trying to access a bathroom for free, when it actually costs money. Don’t swell up like a balloon when you accidentally eat shellfish.

As someone lucky enough to have the chance to travel the world, I’ve seen my fair share of new places. So trust me – being able to speak the local language is a game changer.

Not sure where to start? Don’t even worry. I’ve got some tips that will prep you for the trip of your life.

Take a Crash Course

The longer your trip is going to be, the more you’ll want to know before you go. Especially if you plan to go off the beaten path and escape the crowds of tourists. In this modern day and age, there’s no excuse not to know at least a sentence or two in another language – even if it’s just “Where is the bathroom?”

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Lucky for us, the modern age has tons of options to learn new languages.  Try an app like Babbel, where you can choose from the most common languages. So instead of scrolling through social media on your ride to work, you can work on getting ready for your trip instead.

Master the Minimum

If taking the time to learn a whole new language is too much, or too hard (I feel you!), it’s not the end of the world. You can still get by just fine in most situations by learning a few keywords that are most important to you. Keep these pretty basic, like: Thank you, bathroom, water, how much does this cost, gluten, hello, nice dog. Words and phrases you’ll have to use on a daily basis. It might not feel as cool as speaking a full sentence, but it’s better than nothing! These basics can really assist with overcoming language barriers when traveling.

Combine your handful of words a healthy dose of hand gestures, and you’ll be good to go. Sometimes traveling feels like one long, on-again-off-again game of charades just trying to talk to people – and I love charades. Having a few words will give context to your goofy gestures, especially if you’re  not so good with your hands.

Find a Guide

Wouldn’t it be sweet if, when you got to your destination, there was someone who knew their way around who could speak the language and help you out?

If you hook yourself up with an international pen pal, this could be a game changer for your trip! I think this has to be the best solution for overcoming language barriers.

Lots of folks in other countries want someone to practice their English with. Once you connect with them and start talking, you’ll have a person to help you practice your new language too. Plus, new friends are never a bad thing.

Of course, that’s not going to work for everyone. Time, internet access, or social anxiety can build walls that prevent that from happening.  So if a pen pal isn’t in the cards for you, don’t sweat. Maybe you can make a friend who happens to speak that language in your hometown! Or maybe you can just direct your attention to the other parts of this blog post.

You might also like 8 Reasons Why I Love Audiobooks, Spring Glacier Kayaking or The Perfect Compact Travel Camera.

Phone a Friend – or Befriend a Phone.

Ending up lost, or unable to communicate, are real possibilities when you travel abroad. Not all who wander are lost, but all who have Google Maps in hand are never lost. With your phone you can pull up directions to that vegan restaurant in a matter of seconds. Maybe peep that menu too!

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My phone has saved me tons of times when there has been language barriers when traveling. Before you leave on your trip, make sure you’ve got a smartphone in hand and charged. Don’t forget to contact your provider to ensure you’ll have service and data wherever you go!

And in a pinch, a translating app can let the other person know what you need. There’s even a picture translator for signs – just snap a pic and it will convert the text for you. This super comes in handy when you’re trying to avoid the wrong kind of massage parlor.

Another bonus: you can also use it to phone someone who speaks the language. I once got caught up in a cab in Italy, back and forth with a driver who had no idea what I was saying. Scary, right? Luckily, I was able to call my dad and he translated for us. It’s kind of weird not always an option, but it’s not everyday you get to do something like that!

If all of these, and everything else fails, I mean…Let’s be real: you probably didn’t try that hard. But don’t sweat it! The best part of travel is doing new things, going outside your comfort zone, creating adventure. Not being able to have a flowing conversation about fancy local cheese won’t ruin your trip. Just go with the flow – laugh at yourself, do your best, and most of all have fun! A few minutes of weirdness can turn into memories of a trip that last your whole life.

Have language barriers when traveling ever been an issue for you?


xoxoBella is a popular travel and lifestyle blog featuring travel inspiration, fashion, recipes, dog mom tips and fitness motivation. Bella Bucchiotti lives with and advocates for Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease awareness.

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6 Comments

  1. One of the things I love about traveling is trying to communicate with locals even if my pronunciation is way off. Great tips!

    Posted 6.16.20 Reply
  2. I love this, I’m italian and I’ve learned english on my own, so I usually use that when travelling

    Posted 6.16.20 Reply
  3. AiringMyLaundry wrote:

    I always try to learn the language when I go to other countries. If not, I use a language app. I never expect everyone to speak English. That just looks tacky on my part.

    Posted 6.16.20 Reply
  4. Janeane Davis wrote:

    One of the things I enjoy about traveling is speaking and interacting with people in the places I visit. I enjoy being able to speak with people in their native language. There are so many apps and technology is so amazing these days it makes it easier to communicate when I travel.

    Posted 6.16.20 Reply
  5. Msimpson wrote:

    I’ve always dreamed of going to France. Thankfully my husband is fluent in the language so we won’t have any trouble.

    Posted 6.16.20 Reply
  6. Tisha Voigts wrote:

    This is so fantastic! I definitely want to learn a new language.

    Posted 6.17.20 Reply

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