I was telling someone (not a frequent traveler) about my Romania trip. She asked if English was widely spoken there. It wasn’t. She asked: “how do you communicate?”
My response: if you’re with good people, things always work out.
We live in an age of travel miracles: if you speak English, know how to book cheap tickets, and have a mobile phone, you can affordably and independently reach a large part of the world with minimal research, to speak nothing of tour groups. In response to the demand, the world has learned English. The vast majority of places I’ve been to had easy access to at least basic English. That said, its pervasiveness is almost never a consideration in my destination prioritization. When I get to more difficult countries, perhaps I need to worry about that. But one thing I’ve learned in my travels is that language is just a tool. It’s not the heart. If you are surrounded by good heart, you’re in good hands. If you’re surrounded by greed, mutual language will just make it easier for them to scam you. Of course, you get what you put in. Attitude is everything, on both sides.
My most rewarding travel experiences have come from countries that speak the least English and subsequently have the least tourists. I like to think it’s because they have not been corrupted by the lure of “easy” money from tourists with a dollar sign on their forehead. I like seeing traditions that remain preserved in the globalized world. I’m more likely to see it when there’s not a million tourists shoving with their selfie sticks.
In most countries I’ve been to, it’s amazing how much help you receive when people see you struggling due to language barriers. Fresh from my head, I can think of instances in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Turkey, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, and Romania (I’m sure I’ve had more) where I received language assistance from strangers to buy bus tickets, find the right product, find direction, report crime, etc. It restores my faith in humanity. When you take small risks, the world opens up to you. In Romania, I took public transportation everywhere. Often I’m the only non-native on a bus. If you’re somewhat new to international travel, you may find it intimidating, but I relish the chance to see a piece of the world different from mine. Find good people, let them show you their world, and experience the miracle of communication by heart.