The Language of Travel

The language of travel

Other than the obvious dangers of travel that can put some people off, one of the most amusing ones has to be the language barriers. Quite often not being able to communicate what we want and need can really put us in a situation filled with stress and anxiety, and I totally understand this logic as I too have been in situations during my travels where I’ve had absolutely no idea what the people on the tannoy were saying at train/ bus stations, or when random people were trying to speak to me.

But quite often body language and gestures can get you through a lot of these situations; failing that, pictures are also helpful.


On my way to Frankfurt on a bus from Berlin there was a young guy fiddling with his phone. I couldn’t quite work out what he was trying to do or what he needed but people around me started to look around in their bags to no avail. The poor guy just sat there disappointed.

I tried to look at his actions to see if I could be of any help but everything that he was doing looked rather complicated. Eventually I gathered that he needed some sort of long thin object to reset his phone. I could only think of my tiny screwdriver which was in my larger backpack housed under the bus. I couldn’t think of what else I could have.

Eventually the man next to me drew a picture of a paperclip on a piece of paper and asked me what it was called in English and asked if I had one. I did, I had forgotten that for some reason there was one attached to my passport that I had discarded into the depths of my day pack during passport control in Brussels and I was now searching for it.

I pulled it out and gave it to the guy who managed to fix whatever he was doing. Apparently he had been asking the bus driver what it was called in English as nobody knew the word. It was a great end to a comical predicament. The guy was certainly grateful and his facial expression and hand gestures confirmed it.

The idea that language is a barrier can almost be laughed at in this instance. People have been travelling for thousands of years; selling their goods to other countries or other cities where they spoke a different language or even sailing to foreign lands where everything was strange to them. People managed it then and people manage now.

If the language barrier is a fear, then it is a fear you must try to overcome because who knew that the sight of a paperclip could improve one person’s day.

They have a saying in Germany: “Du kannst die Hände und die Fueße nehmen. Und dann wird es schon klappen.”

It’s all we really need.

K x

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