What is the best travel tip for overseas volunteer team members and short-term team participants abroad? Sure, you can find plenty of lists of the best travel tips ever and travel tips for volunteers on gap-year or travel advice for volunteers going overseas, but this one tip will rise above all the rest of those lists as you travel the globe and meet different people and cultures, and as you struggle to find your way through confusing airports or learning a local language.
What is the one single best travel tip ever for overseas volunteers and team members traveling abroad?
Ask for help. Learn the phrase “Can you help me?” in both English and a few other languages, including of the people who live in the place you are traveling to. Americans and westerners are notorious for doing things on their own. However, in the rest of the world, this limits opportunities to meet people and allow others to show hospitality and be friendly and get to know you. It also limits your ability to understand, or learn, the language well.
The first phrase you should learn in any language, even before you go, or after getting on the plane, sitting next to a native language speaker should be “excuse me, I need help.” or “I’m sorry, can you help me?”
The first phrase you should learn in any language, even before you go, or getting on the plane, sitting next to a native language speaker should be “excuse me, I need help.” or “I’m sorry, can you help me?” Now, in each language and culture it will be said slightly different, but ask how you should say it, then write it down, practice it with them a few times to get the accent right, and then ask them how and when local people might use the phrase, and how local people might respond to you. This is a great way to be introduced to the culture from a “friend,” and insider’s point-of-view.
Then learn how to say “Thank you.” and a greeting or two.
This “language tool” (Part of the older LAMP method of language learning) and travel tip will help you start to learn any language. Followed by the next phrase, you can ask anyone you meet to become your temporary language tutor and cause them happiness when they see your respect for their language (and culture) and attempt to learn it, as well as your appreciation to them for their help.
The next phrase you ask how to say might be “How do I say ____ in your language?”
followed by “I am new here/just got here/am visiting ___ and am trying to learn ___ (the language spoken there). Is this correct? Did I say this correct?”
“My name is _____. I am from ______. I am glad to meet you (or “I am pleased to meet you”).”
“Do you know where ____ is? How do I go (walk) to ____? I am going to _____. Is this the right way?”
Use your imagination. Can you find a restroom? Can you find a good recommendation to local places to see? Can you ask them ow much the bus or a taxi should cost?
Better than any other travel tip about what to pack, how to travel light, how to stay safe overseas, how to travel as a single or travel as a woman, this tip will open doors for you to the culture and to people’s hearts guaranteed.
Since most everyone worldwide either speaks a few phrases of English or knows someone who does, this form of quick language learning is used by travelers worldwide all the time, every time, without thought. It has never failed me over two decades of traveling the world. On many airplanes I have used it to learn 2-3 pages of closely written phrases in a local language and even received addresses and invites to dinner and introductions to people I needed to meet upon arrival. I have even used it, speaking a foreign language (and alphabet) with a local businessperson, to learn a third language that I needed to learn, that the local businessperson spoke.
As a volunteer
If you are volunteering with a charity or working overseas for a part of your summer as a volunteer with kids, you will immediately have more language helpers than you know what to do with! They will easily drill you and help correct accents and seemingly never grow tired of being helpful. I have seen this even with some street kids very intent to rob me in Moscow, that typically harass and try to pickpocket tourists. Not only did it turn the tables and make some new local friends, but they helped my find the way to my next appointment so I arrived on time and didn’t get lost.
The moment you start speaking in their language, almost immediately, you’ll see walls come down and smiling people, happy to take a moment to help you.
Part of this best ever travel tip, is seeing people as people, and taking time for them. engaging and wanting to connect. Sometimes, with stopping someone on the street, this can be a very brief exchange. But even then, when you start by speaking in their language, almost immediately, walls come down and people are happy to take a moment to help you.
Lastly, keep this in mind…
How much better is following this travel tip, rather than asking SIRI or using Google Maps or some other program! Rather than relying on a device and staying anonymous, try relying on local hospitality and helpfulness and see how many more friends you make and how many more doors are opened to you. So ditch the phone and ask for help. Not having such an expensive phone in your hand might make you less attractive to thieves as well. I understand that in some places in the world, and some times of day/night, it might not be appropriate (even downright dangerous) to make it too obvious that you are a stranger, or lost, or needing help. But overall, local people can also inform you where those areas are, what places and times of day you should avoid, and may even cause them to escort you personally or arrange for friends or family to help you get where you need to go without being ripped off, or at the mercy of a dicey taxi driver in a poor area of town. Even the local concierge might take their precious time off from work to take you around and show you the best sights – It has happened to me many, many times.
Whether you are going overseas on vacation, traveling to volunteer abroad for the summer, joining an organization to work overseas for a year or two, this tip works and can be mastered in minutes.