One great thing about traveling is that you get to talk to strangers all the time. Often this will be in English or any mix of languages and single words you have picked up. In general this works well enough and is great fun.

Sometimes it is a good idea to invest some time in language skills. For example in Russia, it helps a lot to learn to the Cyrillic alphabet, and it's not very difficult. In Iran we didn't try. However, for most of us, acquiring language skills for the countries to be crossed will only work up to a certain point. But beyond that there are a couple of ways and means helpful to facilitate communication.

The Cyrillic alphabet confusing at first, but not so hard to learn.

The Cyrillic alphabet confusing at first, but not so hard to learn.

Many times people will come up to you and just want to know where you are from and where you are heading. If you carry copies of a map showing your route people can easily relate. A screenshot from a routing software will do. Some traveling bikers have a map on their panniers.

Clear messages: Coming from Germany, going to Japan, loving it!

Clear messages: Coming from Germany, going to Japan, loving it!

Instagram is great to share your experience across language-barriers. We met an astonishing amount of users in Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Russia. We also carry "business cards" with all our contact information (Instagram, website, mail) to hand them out to people we meet on the road. Very helpful, also to avoid lengthy procedures of typing or writing down addresses. In addition, some travelers carry their own stickers to hand them out as souvenirs or to leave a trace. 

As a predominantly visual platform Instagram works great for travelers.

As a predominantly visual platform Instagram works great for travelers.

We had 500 cards printed and thought we would never give them away - they are gone.

We had 500 cards printed and thought we would never give them away - they are gone.

If you need food, gas, shelter or any piece of information, you need to get a point across. You usually pick up some key-words sooner or later. In addition there are visual dictionaries, books containing little pictures you can point at. We have hardly used the ones we brought, though. Mostly we used translation-apps that have proven to be very helpful. We and many people we talked to used Google translation. In order to use its online-features it is a good idea to get a local Sim-Card, which we did in Russia.

There is one very special communicative situation you encounter on trips like ours from time to time: traffic police demanding money because you were speeding or whatever - they will come up with something. Highest fine we were asked to pay was $150 per Person. However, we have never paid anything, this is how to proceed. 

Looks magic, doesn't it? Google translation also recognizes spoken language, very helpful.

Looks magic, doesn't it? Google translation also recognizes spoken language, very helpful.

It is very important to stay friendly, calm and self-confident, remember you have more time than they do. And you need to leave the door open for everyone to exit the situation with a smile.

Encounters with traffic police are not always as pleasant as this one in Iran. These officers only wanted to chat and take a photo.

Encounters with traffic police are not always as pleasant as this one in Iran. These officers only wanted to chat and take a photo.

Behave like you do not understand what they are talking about and that you do not know why you should pay. Create realistic misunderstandings. At some point they will lower the fine because they are getting tired of the discussions. Don't pay now because they have just admitted that there is no legal basis for the fine. Also, just a little more frustration and they will let you go. Others have made good experiences with cameras on their helmet (GoPro or similar, even fake ones) and a little story about making a movie about the country.

However, these kinds of encounters are rare exceptions, most of the time it's exciting and surprisingly successful to cross language barriers!

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