Travel Talk: Communicating Abroad

how to communicate when traveling abroad

Communicating while travelling abroad can be challenging, especially when there are language barriers and limited access to the internet. However, staying connected with friends and family back home has become much easier with the advancement of technology. Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively while travelling abroad:

- Learn basic phrases: Knowing how to say hello, yes, no, please, and thank you in the local language can go a long way. It shows respect to the locals, and they will appreciate your effort.

- Use body language and drawings: When words fail, use hand gestures, facial expressions, and drawings to convey your message. Smiling and maintaining a friendly demeanour can help lighten the mood and make communication easier.

- Utilise translation apps: Download translation apps such as Google Translate or WhatsApp, which offer offline translation features and can be lifesavers when navigating a foreign country.

- Take advantage of free Wi-Fi: Many restaurants, cafes, and public places offer free Wi-Fi. Use this to your advantage to connect with loved ones back home through messaging apps, social media, or video calls.

- Get a local SIM card: If you need constant access to the internet and making calls, consider purchasing a local SIM card. This can be more affordable than using your home network's international roaming plans.

- Be mindful of cultural differences: Remember that you are a visitor in a foreign country. Avoid getting frustrated if communication becomes challenging, and always remain respectful and polite.

Characteristics Values
Communicating with friends and family Facebook, Google Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Line, KakaoTalk, Signal, iMessage, Facetime, Messenger, WeChat, Google Translate, TunnelBear VPN, GroupMe, Find My Friends, Retractable USB Cables, Portable Chargers, Dual USB Car Chargers
Communicating with locals Google Translate, Kwikpoint card, Quick point cards, Flashcards, Drawing pictures, Hand signals, Body language
Phone plans International roaming, Local SIM cards, International phone plans, Data plans


Learn basic phrases in the local language

Learning basic phrases in the local language is essential when travelling abroad, and will make your trip much smoother. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Learn Basic Phrases

First things first, you need to figure out how you’re going to learn these phrases. You could use an online tool like Google Translate, which has a mobile app too, for instant translations in 64 different languages. Not only will you be able to hear the audio pronunciation of the word or phrase, but you’ll also see the phonetic pronunciation if you’re trying to translate something into a language with a non-Roman alphabet (like Greek or Chinese, for example).

Learn the Basics

Before you go, there are some essential basic phrases to learn in any language. These include 'please', 'thank you', 'excuse me', and the numbers 1-10. Knowing these will help in almost every travel situation, so learn those first.

Learn Phrases for Different Scenarios

There are some phrases that will be useful in different scenarios. For example, if you're in transit, it's a good idea to have some important addresses and phrases written down in the local language. If you're staying in accommodation, learn some phrases that will help make your stay more comfortable. Dining out? Make sure you know how to ask for the things you need. Shopping? Learn how to haggle and ask for what you want. Meeting new people? Learn how to introduce yourself and ask basic questions.

Learn Emergency Phrases

It's also a good idea to learn some emergency phrases, just in case. Learn each country’s respective emergency number, and some key phrases to help others help you.

Learn as You Go

The longer you plan to spend in a country, the more phrases you should know in the local language. You can also learn as you go – meeting new people and making friends is a great way to learn a local language. Carry a pocket-sized dual-language dictionary to help you along the way.


Use a translation app

Translation apps are a great way to overcome language barriers when travelling abroad. Here are some tips on how to make the most of them:

Choose the Right App for You

There are many translation apps available, each with its own unique features. Some popular options include Google Translate, iTranslate, Microsoft Translator, and TripLingo. Consider what languages you need to translate between, whether you need offline functionality, and what type of content you'll be translating (speech, text, or images).

Prepare in Advance

Some translation apps require an internet connection, so be sure to download any necessary language packs or content before your trip. Additionally, if you're planning to use an app that requires an internet connection, consider investing in a portable Wi-Fi device or purchasing a local SIM card to ensure you have a stable connection during your travels.

Familiarise Yourself with the App

Take some time to explore the app's features before you need to use it. This will help you navigate it more efficiently when you're on the go. Many translation apps offer features like phrasebooks, conversation modes, and image translation, so it's worth understanding how these work ahead of time.

Be Aware of Limitations

While translation apps can be incredibly helpful, it's important to recognise their limitations. For example, translations may not always be entirely accurate, and certain languages or dialects may not be supported. In some cases, the app may provide a literal translation that doesn't capture the correct idiomatic expression in the target language.

Combine with Other Communication Methods

Translation apps can be used alongside other communication methods for greater effectiveness. For example, you could use a translation app to type or speak a phrase and then show the translated text to a local, who can then provide further clarification or corrections if needed. Drawing pictures or using simple gestures can also help reinforce your message.

Keep it Simple

When using translation apps, it's best to keep your sentences short and simple. This will help improve the accuracy of the translation and make it easier for both you and the person you're communicating with to understand. Focus on conveying the essential information clearly.

By following these tips and choosing the right translation app for your needs, you can effectively overcome language barriers and enhance your communication while travelling abroad.


Use hand signals and gestures

When travelling abroad, it's important to be aware of the different meanings that hand signals and gestures can convey in other countries. Here are some tips on how to use hand signals and gestures effectively when travelling:

  • In some countries, the "OK" sign, formed by connecting the thumb and index finger in a circle, is considered offensive or vulgar. For example, in Venezuela, Turkey, and Brazil, this gesture is considered rude and should be avoided.
  • The peace sign, formed by holding up the index and middle fingers in a "V" shape, can be offensive in certain countries if the palm is facing inward. In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, this gesture is equivalent to giving someone the middle finger.
  • The thumbs-up signal, which often signifies approval or a job well done in the United States, can have negative connotations in other parts of the world. In Afghanistan, Iran, parts of Italy, Greece, and Iraq, this gesture means "up yours."
  • In France, forming a circle with the index finger and thumb is considered offensive, as it means "zero" or "worthless."
  • In the Philippines, Singapore, and Japan, using a curled index finger to summon someone is considered rude, as it is typically used to call dogs.
  • In Thailand, touching someone's head or hair is considered a faux pas due to the Buddhist faith, which considers the head the most sacred part of the body.
  • In Vietnam, crossing the index and middle fingers is seen as rude, as it symbolizes a part of the female anatomy.
  • In Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and Colombia, the "hook 'em horns" hand gesture, formed by extending the index and pinky fingers with the hand in a fist, is offensive and can indicate that someone's wife has been unfaithful.

Being mindful of these cultural differences in hand signals and gestures can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure respectful communication when travelling abroad.


Draw pictures to communicate

Drawing pictures is a great way to communicate when travelling abroad. It can be a fun and effective way to get your message across, especially if you are unable to speak the local language. Here are some tips on how to communicate through drawing:

Always carry a pen and paper

Having a pen and paper handy can be very useful when travelling. If you are unable to speak the local language, you can try drawing a picture to communicate your message. For example, if you are looking for a restaurant, you can draw a picture of a plate and cutlery. This simple method can help you get your point across without needing to speak the language.

Use your phone

If you don't have a pen and paper, you can use your phone's notes app to draw with your finger. This can be a good backup option if you don't always carry a pen and paper with you. Additionally, there are translation apps available that can translate text or pictures, such as Google Translate. These apps can be very helpful when travelling abroad and can increase your chances of being understood.

Play charades

Using your hands to communicate is another option when travelling abroad. For example, if you are looking for a restaurant, you can act like you are eating and drinking. This method can be more interactive and engaging than simply drawing a picture. However, be careful not to be obscene when miming for a toilet!

Wear pictures

If you are not confident in your drawing skills, you can try carrying a picture book or wearing a t-shirt with common travel icons on it. This way, you can simply point to what you are asking for. For example, the "Wordless Travel Book" is a small book of common travel icons such as the bank, restaurants, and train stations. Alternatively, the "Iconspeak T-shirt" has similar icons printed on it, which can be very helpful when trying to communicate with locals.

Use gestures and body language

In addition to drawing pictures, using gestures and body language can also help you communicate when travelling abroad. Basic gestures, such as pointing or waving, can be universally understood and can help you get your message across. Combining drawings with gestures can increase your chances of being understood and make for a more interactive conversation.

By using these methods, you can effectively communicate when travelling abroad, even if you don't speak the local language. Drawing pictures, using gestures, and carrying visual aids can help you get your message across and make for a more enjoyable travel experience.

McKinley's Foreign Travels as President

You may want to see also


Use social media to stay connected

Social media can be a great way to stay connected with friends and family while travelling abroad. However, it is important to keep in mind that maintaining your privacy and the security of your social media accounts and devices can be more difficult when abroad. Here are some tips for staying connected on social media while travelling:


Facebook is a great way to communicate with friends and family while travelling. It is likely that older family members are using it, unlike other social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. To keep everyone updated, post a few photos throughout the day and check into your hotel or hostel when you arrive at a new destination. This will save you from having to send individual messages and will prevent you from receiving concerned messages from family members. Before you go abroad, educate your older family members on how Facebook works. Tell them that they may not see every post you publish, show them how to check your profile page, what a check-in means, and how to message you privately.


Instagram is a helpful tool for sharing photos with everyone back home. If you are not a Facebook user, you can set up your Instagram to share your new posts to Facebook with just one tap on the Instagram app.


Snapchat is great for keeping your friends updated on your activities. Post videos and photos throughout the day to show them what you're up to and where you are.


Twitter is a good way to stay up to date with the best travel tips and tricks from the experts. Before you leave home, be sure to look up a few travel accounts and follow them for advice. Additionally, you can follow accounts that are local to the area that you’ll be staying in for emergency alerts. Follow the local fire department, police department, and more to access important information that can help keep you safe when you’re in an unfamiliar place.


WhatsApp is a messaging app that can be used by people all over the world. Download WhatsApp before you go abroad—it's used by millions of people around the world, so when you meet new travel friends, you can be pretty sure that you’ll be able to connect with each other.


Skype is a great way to speak to your family and friends while travelling, especially if you get a little homesick or have parents that worry too much. You can also use Skype to call toll-free numbers for businesses in the US or elsewhere.

Safety Tips

While using social media to stay connected while travelling is a great idea, there are a few safety tips you should be aware of:

  • Never share your flight information on social media.
  • Keep your daily plans to yourself.
  • Post videos or photos after you’ve already left each location.
  • Keep local meetups private.
  • Make sure your accounts are secure by changing your passwords before leaving home.
  • Always think before you post.
  • Avoid sharing your personal information.
  • Be wary of bad actors that may be impersonating institutions such as banks or utility companies.
  • Only download applications from reliable online stores.
  • Be cautious of using public Wi-Fi networks.

Frequently asked questions

There are many apps that can be used to stay connected while travelling abroad. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Snapchat are some of the most popular ones. You can also use Google Maps and Google Translate to help you navigate and communicate.

Learning some basic phrases like "hello", "yes", "no", "please", and "thank you" can be helpful. Using hand signals, smiling, and drawing pictures can also help get your point across. Carrying a small notebook to draw pictures or using Google Translate can also be useful.

Turning off data roaming, using free Wi-Fi hotspots, and downloading free communication apps like WhatsApp or Skype can help save money. Buying a local SIM card or using an international roaming plan can also be more affordable than using your regular phone plan.

Make sure your phone is fully charged and keep your charger and converter with you. Be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your phone to prevent theft. Use a VPN to protect your information and privacy when using public Wi-Fi.

Written by
Reviewed by
Share this post
Did this article help you?

Leave a comment