10 Phrases Every Traveler Should Know

Trying to learn a language for a trip abroad? Are those audio books stressing you out more than helping? Learning a language can be overwhelming, especially if your trip is approaching fast. While some have the option to fully learn another language before an upcoming trip, it’s not practical for all travelers.

If you find yourself in the latter camp, equip yourself with these 10 key phrases every traveler should know — you might not end up blending in with the natives, but you’ll certainly get on their good side!

Phrase #1: “Thank you.”
Nothing says a polite visitor like a heartfelt “thank you.” Whether someone’s giving you directions to the nearest coffee shop or your waiter is pouring your wine, “thank you” is a phrase that will come in handy on a daily basis and show the world that you have a few manners.

Phrase #2: “Excuse me.”
The same concept of politeness follows here. Whether you bump into someone on the street or are stopping someone for directions, saying “excuse me” is not only a good way to get a person’s attention, but it’s much more polite than poking them or yelling “Hey!”

Phrase #3: “How are you?”
Whether you’re traveling abroad on business or just greeting the concierge at your hotel, it’s always polite to ask how they are. Plus, most people in a hospitality position will probably ask you the same, so it’s also important to understand the phrase so you know to properly respond.

Phrase #4: “What did you say?”
Just as you’re likely to speak quickly in your native tongue, so too will the locals. So naturally, if you’re still new to the language, you’ll probably find yourself saying this quite a bit. Even if you pick up bits and pieces of what someone’s saying, don’t guess — let them know that you didn’t get everything so you fully understand what they mean.

Phrase #5: “I do not understand.”
This goes hand in hand with Phrase #2. Of course, in this case “I do not understand” might have less to do with not having heard certain words, and more because the English way of language construction can differ heavily from other languages. Ergo, you might know the words, but not the intent. Let your conversational partner know; he or she might be able to figure out a better way to explain what they’re saying.

Phrase #6: “Do you speak English?”
Even if you know some of the language, there will come a time where you will need to have a more in-depth conversation that you can only do in your native tongue. Shake off the embarrassment and just ask. The worst they can say is no, and if they do speak English, then you’re in luck!

Phrase #7: “Where is the bathroom?”
Sure, you might cringe at the idea of telling someone in another country that you need to go to the bathroom, but there’s a reason this phrase is commonly found in small language primers — it’s a necessity. Besides, don’t you ask waiters and waitresses at domestic restaurants the same thing from time to time? Asking about the location of the bathroom in a foreign country is no different than asking where it is at your local pub. Besides … who really wants to gesticulate about needing the bathroom? Asking is far less embarrassing.

Phrase #8: “How much is this?”
The bargain shopper in you will appreciate this phrase. Even if you don’t plan to buy much while abroad, it’s important to know how much things cost. Especially if you’re traveling somewhere with street vendors and open-air markets, it’s possible that not everything will be marked, so you’ll probably need to ask this at some point, so keep this phrase handy.

Phrase #9: “I would like…”
Unless you’re going the super-budget route and doing all of your shopping at a local grocery for picnicking later, you’ll want to be on top of this phrase. If you’re at a restaurant and can’t pronounce something on the menu, throw out “I would like…” and point to what it is you’re trying to order. It won’t fool anyone into thinking you’re a native, but you might be more comfortable with it than butchering a phrase.

Phrase #10: “Please call a doctor.”
Let’s hope you’ll never have to use this, but the necessity is pretty clear. Whether catching the flu from someone on your flight to a gastrointestinal issue from dietary changes, you might need a doctor … you’ll need to know where to go and how to get one. Saying this phrase will help you get the attention you need. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

With these key phrases in mind, you’re ready to be an international jetsetter. Add a trusty translation app to your phone, and you’ll be good to go. Enjoy the sights, sounds and culture of another world and never again worry about the language barrier.

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  • Debi Henson

    Most EU citizens are well versed not only in their native language, but in English, French and/or Spanish, German or Portuguese, etc. Because their economies are dependent upon tourism, they go the extra mile to serve visitors. They are also flattered when you at least attempt to speak their language.

  • Jen

    Unless you are in the U.S., asking someone “where is the bathroom?” will likely get you a blank stare. In other countries “Bathrooms” are rooms with actual bathtubs in them. Instead, ask politely for the Toilet.

  • Roy Houchins

    Great advise even for traveling in the US.

  • Richard Frazier

    I need to park a car in Seattle from 5/25 to 6/1 to go on cruise please
    Provide me with information on this parking . I prefer not to park at
    Richard Frazier

  • Mike

    Some of those tips are good. However, In a place like Paris you would Not want to ask, Do you speak English. You go to their country you better try to speak their language. Where ever we go I learn a few words like, please, thank you, toilet (in Japan the bathroom is where you bathe, the toilet is not the bathroom). I find that if I make an effort with the words I know that the others will often then start speaking English (if they can).