If you’re traveling to a foreign country, it’s always preferable to know the language before you go. But if you don’t have time to actually study the language of the country you’ll be visiting, you should at least know some phrases that will come in handy on your trip. For your convenience, we’ve broken down our suggested list into categories.
The first phrases you will typically use when traveling are greetings. Try to get the time of day correct when it’s applicable. Many languages have both familiar and formal greetings, so be sure to use whichever is appropriate, depending on whether or not you know the person well.
• How are you?
• Good day.
• Good morning.
• Good afternoon.
• Good evening.
• It’s nice to meet you.
There are certain phrases that you’ll use in almost any situation, and they involve being courteous and polite during your conversations with non-English-speaking people.
• Thank you…
• Excuse me…
• Pardon me…
• It’s my pleasure…
• Have a good day…
• Travel safely…
• I’m sorry. I don’t understand.
Since it’s likely that you’ll be traveling to and between foreign countries via airplanes, we’ve focused this section on phrases you’ll need to use at an airport – although some are appropriate no matter what form of transportation you choose.
• What time does may plane depart/arrive?
• Where is the [name of airline] ticket counter?
• I would like [water, food, etc.).
• Where is the gate for [name of airline]?
• Where is the restroom?
• This baggage needs to be checked.
• This baggage is carry-on.
• What time is it?
With Customs Agents
Some phrases can be particularly useful when you go through customs. Remember to add polite phrases and be as courteous as possible to the customs agents.
• I am on vacation [or business].
• I will be taking a connecting flight.
• I will be staying for [number] of days.
• I will be visiting my family at [address].
• I will be staying at [name of hotel].
Once You Arrive
After getting through customs and arriving at your destination, there are a variety of phrases that you’ll need to know.
• Where can I find a taxi?
• Where is the bus stop?
• Where is this bus going?
• Where is the currency exchange?
• I would like to go to [hotel or destination name].
• Does my room have a private bathroom?
• How many beds are in my room?
• What floor is my room on?
• I would like [number] beds please.
• Where is the elevator?
• My room needs to be cleaned please.
• I need [clean towels, toilet paper, room service] please.
Once you’re out and about at your destination, use these phrases to help get around, have a meal, or just enjoy a short conversation with the locals.
• Where is a food market?
• Where is the closest restaurant?
• Where is the closest bar?
• Where is the bank?
• How far is it to [name of destination]?
• I need a table for [number of people] please.
• May I see a menu?
• I would like [food or beverage] please.
• May I have the check please?
Unfortunately, emergencies can happen anywhere. Use these phrases to get the help you need.
• I need help please.
• My friend needs help please.
• Where is the hospital?
• I need a doctor please.
• I have lost my passport.
• Someone stole my money.
The more familiar you are with the language of the country you’ll be visiting, the better. But even knowing several key phrases can be a huge advantage when trying to navigate in a foreign country and enjoying your visit there. Most importantly of all – be courteous and respectful toward other people and their customs and culture. Remember that when you are visiting a foreign land, you are in many ways representing the U.S., so putting your best foot forward is not only a good reflection on you as an individual, but on your country of origin as well.