Carry a Map. GPS is great, but it may not always be a viable option. Whether a map is on your smartphone or on paper, having an image of your location at your fingertips can make it a whole lot easier to get around in an unfamiliar place. If you are lost or trying to find a specific location, you can always ask a passerby to show you the route on your map.
If you are traveling in most areas of the world and you happen to speak English, you probably will be able to communicate fairly well with local residents. After all, English is a common second language in many countries. There are places, however, where the majority of people do not speak or understand English. With the right preparation, you can get by even when nobody speaks English and you are not fluent in the native tongue.
Here are a few practical travel tips for destinations where you do not speak the local language.
Make use of technology. If you are able to use your smartphone in a location, take advantage of the many helpful and pretty amazing language apps available. You can ask someone who does not speak English to say something into your phone and get an audio translation via an app. You also can take a photo of a street sign, menu, or any other written text and have that translated as well. Some apps are even able to help out when there is no Internet access available. Most apps work on tablets/iPads as well as phones. Remember to be prepared with backup if your battery runs down.
Point a finger and use hand gestures. Sometimes, the easiest way to get something across to someone who speaks a different language is to use a simple action like pointing a figure or gesturing with a hand. Just keep in mind that some hand gestures mean different things to different cultures. It is a good idea to check into local customs before you start using hand gestures so you don't do anything that might come across as disrespectful.
Learn a few general phrases. Even in spots where people do speak English, it is nice to know some of the basics. Before you go, learn words and phrases like “Hello” and “Goodbye” as well as “Please” and “Thank you" along with “Do you speak English? and “Where is the restroom?”
Bring along a phrase book. Phrase books come in all languages and all sizes. A pocket-size book is most convenient. If you don’t have access to a smartphone or have chosen to put yours down for the duration of your vacation, a phrase book is a must. You will be able to find just about anything you might want to say somewhere in its pages.
Tuck a small notepad in your bag or pocket. When words and gestures fail, a simple picture may offer the solution. If you are trying to communicate or need some information, pull out your notepad and start drawing. Even if you are not an artist, people will probably be able to decipher your images well enough to get the idea. If you don’t have a notepad, you can always find something to use to draw your picture in the dirt on the ground below your feet.