Tips for Traveling without Knowing the Language

Discover the best communication tips and tricks to make your overseas journeys more enjoyable when you’re traveling without knowing the language of the locals.

Use Body Language

Body language is an important tool when you’re trying to make yourself understood by someone who doesn’t speak your language. For example, when you enter a restaurant and can’t read the menu, look for pictures or a display case so you can point to the food you’d like to eat, or check out what the table next to you is having—if it looks good, you can order the same thing.

Beware of Using Gestures in Different Parts of the World

You should be aware that some gestures can have different meanings around the world, however. For example, The Huffington Post says the thumbs-up sign, which signifies approval in many countries, is considered to be rude and offensive in Latin America, West Africa, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Eye Contact

Even broad patterns of body language can carry different meanings depending on where you are. Eye contact, for example, gets different treatment in China versus the United States.

In the U.S., people often view direct eye contact as a sign that you’re paying attention and respect to the person you’re looking at. In China, however, people view the same level of eye contact as aggressive and challenging.

Physical Touch

Physical touch is also treated differently depending on which country you’re in. Some cultures, like those found in Latin America or in Arab nations, value person-to-person contact, and physical touch is a large part of interpersonal communication.

Other cultures, including Scandinavian and Japanese cultures, are much more “hands-off.” A simple handshake, for example, may be taboo in some “non-contact” cultures whose people prefer to bow rather than shake hands.


Related to physical touch is the concept of proximity, or how close people get to one another in different social settings. Different countries have different unwritten rules about how close you get to someone when you speak to them or stand next to them on public transportation.

Invest in Maps or a GPS

You’ll spend less time asking for directions if you have a good, current street map or a global positioning system (GPS). The simplified maps you might find at a hotel usually aren’t adequate. When planning your trip, check in advance to make sure the countries you plan to visit have mapping data available for your GPS device.

Show More

Related Articles

Check Also
Back to top button