Many people have asked me how I could just leave my job and seemingly travel perpetually. How can I afford it? How do you find places to stay for free all the time? How do you find places to volunteer? All questions I’ve received by email, and now I’m sharing the secrets in a series of posts about how The Happy Nomad Tour Rolls and what things are like behind the scenes.
I had already traveled to 40+ countries before starting The Happy Nomad Tour. I lived in The Middle East and Denmark also, though both places are essentially bilingual and I never suffered too much. But I got my fair share of language barrier issues and lost in translation situations during my previous travels.
But I basically speak Spanish. I can definitely survive, though thriving is a long off goal I don’t think I’ll reach while I’m here in Latin America. I have had periods during the trip where I really focused on Spanish, and others where everything is in English and I don’t practice at all. I don’t know what it is, but it seems like after these periods where I don’t practice at all, my Spanish is better! I guess my brain is like a muscle and I need to relax my Spanish muscle every once in a while.
In any case, I haven’t struggled as much with the language barrier as I will do once I move on to Asia and beyond. Yes, when I was in Mexico, just starting to pick up Spanish, it was pretty bad. They have their own language of slang and words with two or three meanings and it was often impossible to follow conversations. My Spanish has gotten better since then and I’m usually fine in one-on-one conversations.
When I Don’t Speak The Language
Once I get to Asia, I am guessing my trip will have to change in some ways. I will have to figure out how to go off the grid despite the language barrier. It might involve teaming up with a local student or volunteer who speaks English and the local language. Let’s see.
But in terms of dealing with the language barrier, before heading to Asia I’ll make flashcards with common phrases translated such as:
Where is the bathroom?
I am a vegetarian. I do not eat meat.
I cannot eat dairy products (cheese, cream, yogurt, milk, etc.)
I am looking for _______.
Please let me off the bus at ___________.
You get the idea. Such simple phrases can easily be handled by Google Translate and printed and laminated.
But yes, stay tuned in a couple months for what I expect will be more funny and crazy stories as a result of the language barrier!
Short Story From My Previous Life As A Traveler
I remember when I was in South Korea in 2006 I went to a local restaurant. I sat down and showed the waitress sentence in my notebook written in Korean saying “please serve me a dish with chicken.” She did and she brought about 10 small bowls of condiments like leaves, sauces, and vegetables in addition to the chicken. But it looked like the chicken was raw and there was a stove on the table.
I didn’t know how to turn on the stove and she saw I was struggling, so she cooked the chicken for me at another table’s stove to be safe. When she brought it back, I started taking a bite of the chicken, then a leaf, then a vegetable, etc.
She came back over to the table and, with a smile, took a leaf, put some chicken, vegetables, and sauce in it like a taco, brought it up to her mouth and said “Yum Yum.” For real.
Perfect example of international communication not needing words.
If you have any more questions, put it in the comments below and I’ll either answer your question there or write a new post covering it.
About Adam Pervez
In mid-2011 I left my cushy corporate job and took the plunge into a life incorporating my passions of traveling, writing, volunteering, learning, educating, and telling stories. I study what happiness means to others, offer what I can from my engineering/MBA background as a volunteer, and try to leave each place better than how I found it. Read more.