How-To Get Past Language Barriers When Traveling

Travelling with a food allergy or dietary restrictions can be difficult. You forgot your translation dining cards.

You also forgot to download a dining app, and you cannot seem to find WiFi. It is just sensible to expect that this can happen and will be a difficult situation.

For this reason, I always have a backup plan or two in mind. I had this issue–both the language barrier and forgetting my dining cards–in Southeast Asia, Turkey and China.

In Turkey, even my salads had bread or breaded something.

While staying in Istanbul, I ordered a fruit salad thinking it would be “safe.” Oh! Was I wrong.

My fruit salad came with bread crumbs sprinkled all over. (I'm not joking.) I avoided the obvious gluten-containing elements of the meze (like bread and filled filo pastry parcels). I quickly learned not to be fooled by stews as many contain wheat to thicken; Bulgur Pilav is another tricky one since cracked wheat is added to some dishes but not apparent. When you see it, it is usually in the form of tiny grains (polygons) of cracked wheat tinted red from having been cooked in tomato sauce. Lucky for me, Gregg is Turkish and speaks the language, but even then, we still we had to be super careful.

What happens if you cannot get past a language barrier when traveling internationally?

Over the years, I have quickly learned that sometimes things may not go according to plan. When traveling internationally gluten-free dining options may be limited.

Always be on the lookout for a grocery store or market near your hotel, or ask for the nearest one when you check-in. You will typically be able to find something that you can eat at a store, particularly natural, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts which can be stored in your hotel room.

From past experiences, I have learned that this can be a lifesaver from when travel dining adventures leave you hungry. Most recently, this happened to me at the airport in Hong Kong. I was limited to Starbucks and chocolate. And, while that all sounds great, I was starving for real food.

I don’t know about you, but it is the menu reading that can bog you down.

If reading a menu becomes too complicated and frustrating, ask if they can make you something special that includes ingredients and foods from the menu that you can eat.

While experiencing a variety of dining options is part of the fun of travelling, be prepared and willing to revisit restaurants more than once if you know they can cater yo your needs.

Bottom line–and trick–psychologically prepare yourself for possible encounters with language barriers. By being open to this expectation, you can become proactive and look for alternative plans that can get you out of difficult situations.

How do you get past the language barrier?