How Much of a Foreign Language Should You Know when Traveling?

by Alex Schnee
( August 19th, 2014 )

Language Travel Phrases

I used to be fairly good at speaking Italian. After my three months abroad when I was nineteen, I felt at least conversational—I could hold my own whenever I was chatting with a resident from Venice. It was great to have this skill as a traveler, because you learn so much more about whatever culture you have immersed yourself in by talking with locals; you get the true flavor of that place.

Unfortunately, my Italian’s kind of gone downhill (I plan to take lessons again when I return in October), but it made me think about how much of a language you need to know when you are traveling and immersing yourself in a new society. It’s not always possible to have an in-depth conversation with someone you meet at the hole-in-the-wall bar down the street from your hostel, but at least being able to say a polite hello can make a world of difference.

Specifically in Venice, greeting shop owners and waiters with a confident “ciao” and being about to order in Italian gained more respect than stumbling through the menu with mispronounced words. In a prickly town like Venice, you were much more likely to have good service or get accurate directions from the people there if you spoke a spattering of Italian.

Which isn’t to say that just because you don’t know the language that you shouldn’t take opportunities to visit places where you might be completely clueless. I loved going to Barcelona and not being able to decipher Catalan—the conglomeration of Spanish with French and Italian influences made it almost impossible to understand. Also, luckily, the Barcelonans are a lot more welcoming to tourists than Venetians.

With English so widely spoken in the world now, the chances of finding someone who can point you in the right direction when you are lost are that much higher—so you don’t need to feel as though you need to be fluent in order to get around. You might not have the deep, philosophical conversation over a glass of ouzo that you wanted, but at least you can find a place where they serve it.

I’ve made it a new travel goal to know a few essential sayings of whatever language is most prominent in the country I’m headed to. A simple greeting can transform you from a bumbling tourist to a competent traveler. I just won’t be surprised when the locals continue to speak to me in their native language instead of switching to English!

Image courtesy of Kat.

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Keeping in Touch with Friends through Technology

by Alex Schnee
( August 14th, 2014 )

Letters Contact Friends

I’ve recently been thinking about keeping in touch with friends when you are abroad or when they are off on their own adventures. One of my best friends is headed off to Japan in about a month, and as I head back to Europe in a few months, it can be hard to keep in contact with one another. The good thing? As Generation Y travelers, we have the skills to use technology to our full advantage—which makes it so much easier to talk to friends and family far away. Here are some tips I’ve found work for me:

Have a Facebook

Honestly, I am not a big fan of Facebook, but it does make chatting with people I care about a lot easier. It also helps keep me posted on what is going on with their lives. I can still feel like I am there, or I can at least get an idea of what has been important to them while I have been away. The chat feature has also been a lifesaver for me since I don’t have access to texting and I’m not able to call. I downloaded the app to my iPhone so when I have Wi-Fi I can do a quick check-up on the people who matter the most.


That’s why you bought your fancy smartphone, right? With apps like Whatsapp and Viber, you can make phone calls to cell phones in the States for a cheap price (I think Viber is 5 cents a minute). You can also text for free anytime you have a Wi-Fi connection, so it’s almost like having cell phone service for a lot cheaper and you can use it pretty much anywhere now that most restaurants or coffee shops have a connection you can often join.

SIM Cards

Another benefit to your brand new phone: you can buy SIM cards which allow you to have cell service internationally—oftentimes for a cheaper price than what you pay with a cell phone service provider. You might have to pay a fee to unlock your phone and to be able to use a certain kind of SIM card that you want, but it’s often worth it if you want to have the ability to call. Another great thing about a SIM card is that you can buy ones with certain packages, so if you need to use Google Maps or another application that requires data you’re able to. They’re also pretty cheap—some international SIMs price-check at around 30 USD.

Do you use technology to stay in touch while you are away? Any apps you would recommend?

Image courtesy of liz west.

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A Visit to Yellowstone: Sights Worth Seeing

by Alex Schnee
( August 12th, 2014 )

Yellowstone Falls Trail

One of the perks of having an adventurous family is that I can often meet up with them in certain locations. My Aunt Shirley was working in Yellowstone Park this summer, so I thought I would go down and visit her and get the true “Jellystone” experience. I hadn’t been there for a few years, and since that was my first time, our family had rushed around trying to see all of the famous tourist sights and tried not to be attacked by bison (which is—no joke—a concern at this park).

Here are some places I visited—maybe you will want to check them out on your next trip to Yellowstone:

Victoria Falls

This is definitely a bit off the tourist path. My aunt had never been here before, so we approached a little hesitantly. Though it wasn’t quite what we were expecting (it was mostly a lovely campground in a blooming meadow), it was still a good place to keep in mind for future camping trips and if you would like to enjoy the park for more than a day or two. A little ways away from the campground we found two falls, but they were a bit of a letdown considering what we were about to see next.

Falls Water Yellowstone

Artist Point

Overlooking the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is Artist Point. Although a bit more touristy than some long-time visitors of the park might like, it has a gorgeous view of the falls and the surrounding rocks. Many believe that this point was named so by Thomas Moran after he created his famous painting of the canyon, but most believe it wasn’t named so until later by the park photographer F. Jay Haynes. None of this really matters—it’s a beautiful view and they often have park rangers posted there to offer information about the wildlife or the point.

Uncle Tom’s Trail

If you want and up close and personal view of the falls, you might want to consider strapping on your hiking boots and bringing a bottle of water. Uncle Tom’s trail is probably one of the most popular in the park. In the 1890s, Tom’s trail was navigated by using ladders and pulleys. Now it’s more than three hundred steps down to the base—no matter how great of shape you are in, you will be breathing by the time you reach the top again. I recommend keeping some water and some huckleberry chocolate in your car. (Just make sure it’s locked! You don’t want some friendly bears to grab it!)

Where have you gone in Yellowstone?

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