Solo traveling is one of the most wonderful experiences you can have. Sure, it’s daunting when you first set off, even if you’ve researched everything you can possibly think of! But once you are on your way there are so many amazing new people to meet, and so many sights and experiences to share, that you’ll forget you were ever nervous about leaving home!
One thing that helps me prepare for traveling is arming myself with a little basic language knowledge of the place I’m going to. Be it the beautiful city of Oslo in Norway, or the incredible sights of Cape Town in South Africa, there are basic words and phrases that will get you just about everywhere — and maybe even reveal new possibilities you weren’t aware of!
There are tons of resources on the internet to learn languages, so many in fact it can be overwhelming! Duolingo can be helpful if you want to learn a major language like French or Spanish, and Wikivoyage has phrasebooks for almost any language. News sites like the British BBC has language pages too. Now, if you really want to learn a language and look like a pro when you arrive, you’ll need to have a real live teacher. There are also mountains of companies offering lessons, for me the most useful one I found in Texas was Language Trainers, but have a look around and see which looks best for you. In the meantime here are some parts of the language you should be sure to learn!
The Very Basics
So what do you need to know? What universal vocabulary should you try to pick up before traveling? It is always good to start with greetings; learn hello, good morning, and even afternoon and evening if you want to.
Goodnight and goodbye will also be useful if you want to be polite. And politeness itself is different wherever you go in the world, so just be mindful of the interactions around you. Though it never hurts to learn please and thank you just in case! Yes and no are essentials, and even words like possibly, or maybe will come in useful. No thank
you is also a good phrase for any unsuspecting tourist about to be sold something they really don’t want.
You don’t need to be fluent, but it will really help if you can get some basic directions memorized or even to show people on an app. Left, right, and straight ahead are great ones to start with, and if you’re feeling adventurous try “opposite” and “over there” as well. “Where is the… ” is the basis of any direction-asking; even if you have to use an image on your phone of the place you need to get to. Help, repeat, and slowly might also be great words to keep in mind.
“How much is this?” is an essential phrase when shopping. You might also want to remember anything “cheaper” in case you feel like you’re being charged too much or want to barter. And with that in mind, perhaps a few numbers might be good to know. One to ten and then multiples of ten could be useful, though if that feels like too much to memorize there are always tools like Google Translate to jog your memory or help you out.
It probably seems daunting thinking about learning every word on the menu. It is also good to know things like vegetarian, spicy, mild, sweet, and so on, and any words for any allergies you might have. Tea, coffee, and water are good for basic drinks, and large or small might help you determine size. Lastly, phrases such as can I have the bill, this was delicious, and thank you for your help, and so on, might be a good way to wrap up your meal. It might be worth researching if the place you’re traveling has a tipping culture, so you’ll know how best to deal with that.
And finally, if all else fails, and you’re really stuck, you can always fall back on “do you speak English?” Though where’s the fun in that?!
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