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The Scary World of Solo Travel (6th ed): I only speak English!

Updated: Jan 14

For newbie travellers, and especially for solo travellers, there is often a concern about being able to communicate with the locals at our destination. We worry that we will be unable to manage simple things like ordering food or giving instructions to a driver. We're concerned that our inability to speak the language may put us in dodgy situations where we would have difficulty seeking assistance. These are valid concerns and it is wise to gather resources and develop strategies. For many years I travelled as a uni-lingual person. Sometimes I was lucky to have my brilliant polyglot ATB along, other times I was on my own. I didn't begin learning languages until after I retired and have since wondered why I waited (I know... I didn't have time!). I have managed a lifetime of travel only speaking English and you can, too!

If you only speak English and you are planning a trip, there are still many places that you can visit where English is widely spoken. Beyond North America, countries in Western Europe, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, and the Netherlands, either use English as their official language or as a widely-spoken second language.

First, to put most travellers' minds at ease; you will find most people outside of North America speak at least two languages. In (most) tourist areas, English will be spoken at some level of proficiency. English is the #1 Travel Language around the globe. Many young people have learned English in school and are highly motivated by social media, entertainment, and employment to practice. A general rule is that English is more likely to be spoken in tourist areas and larger population centers.

That being said, it is always a good idea to do some research on the destination you are planning to visit to see what the language situation is like. Even if English is not the primary language, there may still be many people who speak it, particularly in tourist areas or in larger cities. It can also be helpful to learn a few basic phrases in the local language, as a gesture of respect and as a way to communicate with people who may not speak English.