No Entiendo Español en España

Okay, so I wasn’t actually in Spain. I was in Argentina. But the title has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? My name is Gillian, and I’m here to tell you that you can travel to another country without speaking that country’s language, and you can still have an incredible time! I did it, and I brought some tips home to share with you all. I spent three weeks in Argentina speaking very, very minimal Spanish. To be fair, my boyfriend is from Argentina, so he essentially acted as my personal interpreter the entire time, but I believe in you, amazing reader. You can do it with or without a hot personal translator. So, here are my promised tips. Enjoy.

Tip Numero Uno: Don’t Panic.

It can be intimidating—terrifying, even—to get on a plane knowing that when you land, you will be surrounded by strangers who speak a different language. Do not despair! There will always be someone who speaks English; maybe that person won’t speak it particularly well, but he or she will know enough to communicate. What’s more, everyone is very friendly and understanding, English speaker or not. Google Translate is your new best friend.

Find WiFi or buy an international plan.

Speaking of Google Translate being your new best friend, you’re going to need WiFi for her to work. There’s an option to download a dictionary for your language of choice for offline use. Well, let me tell you a little story about that. Being the Type-A, ball-of-stress, overprepared person that I am, I downloaded the Spanish dictionary. I then landed in the Mexico City airport for a layover, all alone. And wouldn’t you know it, my offline Spanish dictionary DID NOT WORK. Deep breaths. Re-read Tip 1. All is well. There are nice people in airports. Offline Google Translate is not one of them. But, with an international plan, you can avoid this problem! It also allows you to stay in contact with your family and friends no matter where you are. Better yet, SIM cards for a one-month plan are pretty cheap in other countries ($1.30 in Argentina).

Don’t travel alone if you can help it.

Yes, other travelers are nice. Yes, you can make it on your own. Yes, traveling alone can be a liberating experience that can help you grow a lot as a person. But having someone else to share the experience with will make it infinitely better. Having a friend to laugh with on the airplane when all the instructions are in Spanish or someone to help you pick out food on a menu in an entirely different language makes a world of difference. Being surrounded by thousands of people who speak another language can be a very isolating experience. It is very nice to have someone beside you who you can communicate with easily. If I hadn’t had my boyfriend, I would have been way more stressed out the entire time. And I probably would have accidentally ordered coffee for dinner.

Stay in contact with loved ones—they worry!

I am 100% guilty of not texting my mom enough when I was abroad. DO NOT do this to your poor mother. Text her as soon as you can when you land, text her when you make it to wherever you’re staying, call her as soon as you have time. She just wants to know that you’re safe. Text close friends when you land as well, and don’t forget to send pictures periodically to people who care about you!

Plan activities before you go or have a native friend plan it for you.

It’s always wise, no matter where you’re traveling, to have an idea of the places you want to see and the things you want to do. You don’t want to waste your limited time in another country researching and planning outings. And once you get to your destination, especially in a foreign country, it can become harder to plan activities due to limited WiFi access and language barriers. Plan early so you can enjoy your time abroad!

Learn some basic phrases.

Like "please," "thank you," "excuse me," "where is the bathroom?," "how much...?" It will be helpful to have the ability to communicate at the most basic level with natives of the country you are visiting. Not everyone is multilingual (*cough cough* me *cough cough*)! Being able to ask how much something costs at a store or restaurant and knowing simple polite words like “please” and “thank you” will come in handy.

Laugh at yourself!

When you make mistakes or say something dumb, be able to laugh at yourself! If not, you’ll be miserable the entire trip. At dinner with my boyfriend’s family one night, his sister asked me, “¿Qué es lo que mas te gusta de Rosario?”

I heard “gusta” and “Rosario,” (the city in Argentina I was visiting), and I assumed she was asking me if I liked the city. So, I replied very enthusiastically, “¡SÍ!”

She wasn’t asking if I liked the city. She was asking what my favorite part of the city was. Embarrassing. But everyone thought it was hilarious, and I laughed right along with them. Life is better when you’re laughing. Just as a forewarning, being able to laugh at yourself does not make you completely immune to the language barrier. There were several times during my trip when I felt incredibly discouraged and isolated. But that’s just human nature, and despite those few times of discouragement, I had the time of my life visiting my boyfriend and his Spanish-speaking friends and family.

Be willing to try new things!

Being in another country, there are going to be some things that are very different than what you are used to. Embrace it! I remember after lunch one day, my boyfriend pulled out a brick of cheese and something called dulce de batata—candied sweet potato. Weird. Super weird combo. He cut a sliver of the floppy, gooey, Jello-y thing, paired it with a slice of cheese, and handed it to me. His whole family was staring at me, waiting for me to try it (they did this a lot, every single time I tried something new), and I was thinking, okay, how bad can it be? Don’t think about it, just take a bite. And you know what? It was delicious. I tried all kinds of interesting new things while I was there, and I don’t regret any of them!

Except maybe the tap water in the countryside. That made me super sick. 10/10 do not recommend.

Know the customs before you go.

Or learn quickly. I would recommend researching or asking a native about common greetings in the country you’re visiting, as well as other customs that might be different from your own. For example, in Argentina friends and acquaintances greet one another by kissing on the cheek, and they do the same when they are leaving. Knowing little things like this will be helpful so that you don’t seem rude—but people will be understanding nonetheless, so don’t stress about it too much!

Know your hotel address!

Know the address of the place you’ll be staying at while you’re there and have it ready to show to immigration. They will ask. I promise. This was my first time leaving the U.S., so I had no idea that this would be something they would want to know. I also didn’t have service when I landed and couldn’t figure out how to use the WiFi. So, when the lady asked me the address of where I would be staying, I had no way of finding it. Enter panic mode. Go back to Tip 1. All is well. Immigration lady speaks English. Immigration lady connects me to WiFi. I show her a screenshot of my boyfriend’s address. She lets me into the country. Yay! I made it! I then unlock my phone to text my boyfriend—I have WiFi now! I glance at the screenshot that is still pulled up. The horror! In a joking conversation between my boyfriend and I, after he sent his address he typed, “Is that enough to come and kill me or do you need something else?” And that is the message that I showed to the immigration officer. So yeah. Life is going well. I’m feeling super safe in a country that allowed a self-professed murderer to enter. So…long story short, it was a slightly embarrassing and stressful start to the trip, but that’s why I’m here to tell you this: know the hotel address so you can avoid this situation altogether!

I hope you’ve found these tips beneficial and that you have the time of your life abroad! Chau for now.