In my travels around Latin America, I am often told “¡Hablas muy bien español!” (You speak Spanish very well). To be completely honest with you, though, mi español no es muy bueno (my Spanish isn’t very good). I just love traveling, learning about different cultures, and meeting people. This has led me to achieve a good “survival” level of a few different languages. That’s primarily because I prefer viaje independiente (independent travel) to grupos turísticos (tour groups)! In this post, I’d like to share with you a bit of survival Spanish for traveling.
First thing’s first – you’ve got to be equipped with a variety of different greetings in Spanish. After two years of traveling in Latin America, I’m still amazed by the amount of gringos I encounter who can’t even muster a simple “Hola… ¿Cómo estás?” Even if your Spanish kind of sucks, it’s a nice gesture to at least greet people in their native language.
Here’s a handy dandy table with a few of the most common Spanish greetings to get you started:
¿Cómo te va?
How are you?
How’s it going?
Nice to meet you!
See you later
See you soon
See you tomorrow
You’ll find these and a few others in a short video I made with my teacher when I was studying Spanish in Puerto Vallarta. Check it out and practice along with us!
I’ll add to this list a few words that aren’t greetings, but are quite necessary for day-to-day life on the road:
De nada/con gusto
Excuse me/pardon me
To be honest, I’m still not 100% clear on when to use disculpe vs. perdón. I use both when I need to pass someone, get their attention, or that sort of thing. I even heard a girl today get a quick Spanish lesson from someone on the street. She said “Excuse me” for bumping into someone, and was told by her local friend that it’s better to say “Disculpe.” Either way, I find that I use these words every day when traveling.
As a tourist, you’re often confused and/or lost. This problem is only exacerbated with a language barrier! As such, you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable asking some basic questions in Spanish. Let’s start with the question words:
Here’s an example of each question word in action with some questions that are very common while traveling:
¿Qué es esto?
¿Cuándo vamos a llegar?
¿Dónde está el baño?
¿A dónde viajas?
¿Cómo puedo llegar a la estación de autobuses?
¿Quién quiere bailar?
¿Por qué te gusta la comida mexicana?
What is this?
When are we going to arrive?
Where is the bathroom?
To where are you traveling?
How can I get to the bus station?
Who wants to dance??
Why do you like Mexican food?
How much is it?
One easy thing you can always do to practice your Spanish on the road is introduce yourself and ask other people some basic get-to-know-you questions.
Here’s a whole bunch of simple introductory questions and answers you can practice before hitting the road:
¿Cuál es tu nombre?/¿Como se llama?
Mi nombre es…/Me llamo…
¿De dónde eres?
¿Cuantos años tienes?
¿Cuál es tu trabajo?
Sí, tengo… hermanos/hijos.
No, no tengo hermanos/hijos.
¿Qué te gusta hacer?
What’s your name?
My name is…
Where are you from?
How old are you?
I’m… years old.
What’s your job?
Do you have any siblings/children?
Yes, I have… siblings/children.
No, I don’t have any siblings/children.
What do you like to do?
Now go ahead and practice! I’ll even go first. Here’s a very brief introduction that I’ve made several times over the years:
¡Hola! Mi nombre es Sasha. Soy de los Estados Unidos, pero vivo en México. Soy un maestro de ingles. Tengo treinta y tres años. Soy casado. No tengo hijos. Mis pasatiempos son viajar, escuchar música y aprender español.
Hello! My name is Sasha. I’m from the United States, but I live in Mexico. I’m an English teacher. I’m thirty-three years old. I’m married. I don’t have children. My hobbies are traveling, listening to music, and learning Spanish.
In my first Spanish course, we just focused on learning power verbs for a few weeks. While this didn’t help me really converse with people, it definitely made my life easier! If you’re learning Spanish to travel, I highly recommend spending some time to focus on some important verbs that you’ll need to use constantly.
I’ve already put together a few posts on power verbs in Spanish to help you out:
With these power verbs, you can start to express yourself more and more. Just look at these super useful sentences you can make with them:
- Necesito ir al baño. (I need to go to the bathroom.)
- Quiero comer más tacos. (I want to eat more tacos.)
- Me gusta bailar salsa. (I like to dance salsa.)
If you want some more practice, you can also check out Laura’s beginner listening posts on the verb gustar: Part One and Part Two.
Before we go, I’ll add a post on survival phrases in Spanish that I put together a while back. This is another one I worked on with my awesome teacher in Puerto Vallarta, so go ahead and watch the video to practice at home:
Spanish can definitely be an intimidating language to learn. You’ve got the different verbs “to be” (ser and estar) and the whole masculine/feminine thing. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that there are 21 different Spanish-speaking countries around the world, each with its own unique accent and vocabulary.
That being said, I’ve found people in Spanish-speaking countries to be very friendly, patient, and encouraging. In the past two years, I’ve traveled in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and now Costa Rica. The Spanish that’s spoken is a little different in every country, but I’ve managed to get by with my basic survival level.
I would say the key is to put yourself out there and not be afraid to sound like an idiot, which I’m sure I do on a daily basis! I always try to make small talk with people, whether it’s a cab driver, a waitress, a barber, or whoever is sitting next to me. After all, language is a tool, and it gets rusty if you don’t use it!
What are your experiences like using Spanish as you travel? I’d love to hear some stories, tips, or whatever else you’d care to add to the discussion here. Just leave a comment below! ¡Muchas gracias a todos!
About the Author:sasha
Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they’re currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.
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