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The Most Helpful Words and Phrases for Traveling Abroad

Travelling to a foreign country is always a bit of a challenge, though hopefully, and in general, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Nevertheless, those challenges are often made more daunting by the language difference. That is why, regardless of where you travel, if the national language is other than your own, it will save you a lot of confusion and anxiety if you learn at least some simple phrases.

Read on to learn some of the words and phrases that will benefit you the most while travelling. Here they will obviously be in Spanish, but it’s a good list to keep in mind for any language.

Formalities

This one’s obvious, but also one of the easiest to master. People always appreciate it when you at least attempt to greet them in their language.

  • Hola (OH-lah): hello
  • Adios (ah-dee-OHS): goodbye
  • Por favor (POUR fah-VOHR): please
  • Gracias (GRAH-cee-ahs): thank you
  • ¿Cómo está?(CO-mo ess-TAH): How are you? (this is the formal conjugation, as opposed to the informal estás)
  • Yo no hablo español (YO NO AH-blow ess-pah-NYOL): I don’t speak Spanish.
  • No entiendo (NO en-tee-EN-doh) or No comprendo (NO cohm-PREN-doh): I don’t understand.

Items on a Menu

An important part of travel is eating, in case you didn’t know. And since you’ll mostly be sans kitchen, you will probably find yourself in a lot of restaurants, so knowing how to say important words or the names of your favourite meals will make your dining experience a lot less confusing and more satisfying to all involved. This is especially important if you have any dietary restrictions.

  • Entrada (en-TRAH-dah): appetizer
  • Plato fuerte (PLAH-toe FWEHR-tay): Entree
  • Postre (POH-stray): dessert
  • Carne (CAR-nay): meat
  • Pollo (POY-yo): chicken
  • Vegetales (veh-heh-TAL-es) or verduras (vehr-DOO-rahs): vegetables
  • Agua (AH-gwa): water
  • Café (cah-FAY): coffee
  • Vino (VEE-no): wine
  • Cerveza (sehr-VAY-sah): beer
  • ¿Tiene…? (tee-EH-nay): Does it have (or contain)…
  • Sin (SEEN): without

Airport Terms

Unless you’re traveling by car, boat, or on foot, you’re probably going to find yourself in at least one airport, which can be stressful enough even when you do know the language.

  • Aterrizaje (ah-tehr-ee-ZAH-hay): landing
  • Salidas (sah-LEE-dahs): departures
  • Llegadas (yeh-GAH-dahs): arrivals
  • Cinturrón de seguridad (seen-too-ROHN DAY seh-goo-ree-DAHD): seatbelt
  • ¿A qué hora sale/llega el vuelo? (AH KAY OH-rah SAH-lay/ YEH-gah ELL VWEH-lo): What time does the flight leave/arrive?

Requests

Asking for something can be one of the most frustrating experiences while traveling, for everyone involved, so even basic, polite commands can get you far. And don’t forget please and thank you!

  • Déme… (DEH-meh): Give me, as in, Give me a steak and a glass of wine. This is the respectful form, I promise.
  • Quiero… (key-EH-roh): I want…
  • Puedo pedir… (PWEH-doh peh-DEER): Can I order…
  • Necesito… (neh-seh-SEE-toe): I need…

Location & Directions

Arguably some of the most important words to know, locations and directions will allow you to direct taxi drivers to your hotel or ask passerby how to get somewhere.

  • ¿Dónde está…? (DOHN-day es-TAH): Where is…?
  • Izquierda (izz-key-EHR-dah): left
  • Derecha (deh-REH-cha): right
  • Derecho (deh-REH-cho) or recto (REK-toe): straight
  • Cuadra (KWA-drah): city block

Money

As far as I know, there’s nowhere you can travel to without having to use money, so it might be worthwhile to brush up on related words, as well as numbers.

  • Dinero (dee-NARE-oh) or plata (PLAH-tah): money
  • Monedas (moh-NAY-dahs) or sueltos (SWEL-toes): change or coins
  • ¿Cuánto cuesta…? (KWAN-toe KWES-tah): How much is…?
  • Banco (BAHN-co): bank
  • Casa de cambio (CAH-sah DAY CAHM-bee-oh): a place to exchange money
  • Cajero (ka-HAIR-oh): ATM

Time

Considering most of us carry around cell phones these days, we generally know what time it is, but it is still helpful to be able to ask what time something starts, for example. Again, knowing at least the first twenty numbers helps here as well.

  • ¿Qué hora es/son?(KAY OH-rah ESS/SOHN): What time is it?
  • Son las… (SOHN LAHS): It is… (2:30).
  • ¿A qué hora empieza/ termina…(AH KAY OH-rah em-pee-EH-zah/ tehr-MEE-nah): What time does it start/end…?

Emergency Situations

In general, nothing too bad happens while travelling, but just in case, it’s smart to know how to say things like “hospital” or know what the local emergency numbers are. If you have any health problems or allergies, make sure you know how to say these as well.

  • Hospital (oh-spee-TAHL): hospital
  • Ambulancia (ahm-boo-LAN-see-ah): ambulance
  • Policía (poh-lih-SEE-ah): police
  • Emergencia (eh-mare-HEN-see-ah): emergency
  • Embajada (em-bah-HA-dah): embassy

What other words or phrases have you found helpful while traveling? Share below!

9 Responses

    1. “Permiso” for passing someone or walking between two parties is perfect. I’m not sure of the context you’re trying to apply the other words/phrases. In general, “disculpe” is a way of saying you’re sorry for something you did (disculpen for more than one person, or “disculpA” for someone you’re on informal terms with.) I don’t think the words in the last phrase quite fit together. I would go with “perdón la molestia.”

  1. Ayuda mucho ese articulo…es importante que el que viene se le note el interes por aprender ALGO del idioma de donde esta… Aspiro a convertir eso en mi oficio, cuando vuelva a Ecuador. Por ahora , trato de hacerlo por Internet, desde Venezuela usando Skype y un sitio GRATIS para intercambiar idiomas que se llama mylanguage exchange….No es facil…lo mas duro es dejar las amistades de muchos años. Soy de Venezuela y quizas vaya a vivir al Ecuador.. Es agradable el clima, la gente es cariñosa, casi todos y no han desarrollado xenofobias…Ojala que no aparezca….

  2. This is a really good list to start with and I think it will get us motivated to learn even more phrases. You can’t list them all, but to go along with the “Money” category, be sure you know your numbers. I think we all learned Spanish numbers 1-10 via Sesame Street, but you will need to know the Spanish numbers at least to 100. When you go to the markets and want to negotiate/buy something, those higher numbers will really come in handy.

  3. While baño may be an easy one seeing HHSS might be as confusing as for asking for toilet paper at the tienda. My first try at papel para baño didn’t work so well the first time until I learned the proper papel hygeineco which wasn’t too easy to say at first. Pointing at things worked for a while. Six years in and still learning a lot of new words and a lot of words that just do not stick to my brain.

  4. I hope the author doesn’t mine, but I’d like to add a few observations to the list of words and phrases above:

    “Adios” is a perfectly good word, but I think I’ve heard it used in Cuenca maybe three times in nearly eight years. I think it’s used more for when the parting is going to be very long time, or perhaps permanently. At least in these parts, the more common word used upon parting is “chao,” though that seems to be more appropriate for people you know well, and you are going to be separated from that person for at a small chunk of the day. If you’re making a short trip to the corner tienda, ‘Ya vengo!” works well, and essentially means “I’ll be right back”. For those you don’t know well/personally, “hasta luego” always works in a pinch.

    “Carne” can apply to any sort of animal flesh, but in the Cuenca area it seems to be used mostly when referring to beef. If you just walk into Supermaxi and ask where the carne is, you’re most likely going to point you to the beef case.

    You don’t have to use “yo” in a conjugated sentence until you’re doing so for emphasis. The conjugated verb in your sentence and the context is usually more than enough to identify who’s being referred to. In other words, “Yo quiero ir al mall” (unless you’re emphasizing the fact that you, yourself, alone, are going to the mall), is redundant. In most cases you can and should omit the “yo.”

    “Cajero/a, alone, simply mean “cashier.” ATM is “cajero automático.”

    Under “emergency” words/phrases, I’d add “¡auxilio!”, which is what you should be yellowing out if you’re being robbed/attacked. In fact, there are a lot of individual phrases that one might need if they’re out and about, and you suddenly fall ill or get injured, like “El pecho me duele” (my chest hurts), or “Mis pastillas están en la mochila” (my pills are in the backpack). This topic could fill an entire article.

    More confusing is “derecho.” It can mean “right” (as in the direction), “right” (as in your personal rights), or “straight” as a directional indication. Same story for “izquierdo.” These two adjectives/adverbs always change to match the gender of the associated noun. For instance, “La iglesia está arriba en el lado derecho” means that “the church is up and on the right. “Lado” is a masculine noun, so you use “derecho” with it. But if you’re in a taxi and telling the driver to “turn right,” you would say “a la izquierda,”(to the left), which includes the implied feminine noun, “dirección.” Whether stated or implied, you still have to use the proper gender-form of the adjective. As for using the word “derecho” in the Cuenca area to mean “straight,” I’ve only heard it used this way a few times in nearly eight years; even then, it was only from one taxi driver and one Venezuelan friend.

    When giving the time, remember that when it’s within the one o’clock hour (am or pm), the “1” is a singular number, so you’d never use the plural “son” when telling the time during that hour. For giving the time when it’s between the hours of 1:00 and 1.59, you’d say “ES la una.” Remember that it’s the only singular number on the clock face, so this is an exception when giving the time.

    In the ordering food section, using “Qué tiene?” regarding your order will usually result in an answer telling you what all comes with the meal (fries, a drink, menestra, etc.) When asking about ingredients, the more common local form of asking what ingredients a meal item contains is “¿Qué lleva el/la ______? ”

    If any of this sounds “off” to you, remember that Spanish can sometimes be very different, depending on where you hear it spoken. All of the above is common usage in the Cuenca area, and probably most of Ecuador.

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