The Most Important Non-Verbals for Traveling

November 8, 2011 12 Comments »


Non-verbals will take you around the world!

Sometimes I feel like I speak in mime. The universal travel language doesn’t contain words; it contains gestures. When I take a step back and see how I’ve traveled to 50+ countries without ever knowing another language – I am amazed at how far a few gestures can get you.

I’ve compiled a list of the most important and universal ones that I find myself using all the time. Theses non-verbal gestures are known all over the world and will keep you communicating with locals as if you were old friends.


Thumbs Up

This gesture isn’t just for Arthur Fonzerelli – it is used all over the world
Action: put your hand in a fist and stick your thumb out straight so that it’s pointing upward….Heeyyyyyyyy.
Meaning: I’m good, it’s good, I like it, yes, great, I am ok
Generally it’s positive and goes along with raised eyebrows and a toothy smile.

Check Please!
I’ve eaten all over the world and one thing holds true if you want the check/bill, there’s only one gesture that is known throughout the world. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that even though I lived in Vietnam for a year I never did learn the word for bill or check – I simply used this gesture. Lazy…yes, but effective.
Action: Hold one hand as if it’s a notepad and the other hand should be miming writing on the notepad/hand. Hold it up high so the waiter can see it and make eye contact. You’ll have your bill in no time!
Meaning: May I have my bill please?, I’d like to pay now.

How Much?
I always recommend having a calculator within reach when you travel. It’s used constantly to bargain at markets or simply understand the price of something. But before you start to haggle with the calculator, first you have to find out a starting point.
Action: Hold your hand out with your palm facing up. Bring all of your fingers together so the tips are touching. Then with your fingers pointing upwards, rub your thumb and first two fingers together.
Meaning: How much does ‘X’cost?, What’s the price?

We had a lot of trouble finding hotels and hostels during the Mongol Rally thanks to language barriers. We would get a blank stare if we asked where a hotel was, but when we used body language to try to find a hotel – we always got a smile and an answer. Granted – I can’t say that we always found the said hotel, but we tried.
Action: Put your hands with your palms together in the prayer position and then put them on the side of your head and act as if you are laying on them like a pillow. It is most effective when you close your eyes too!
Meaning: I want to sleep., Where is s hotel?, I’m tired, I need to find a bed


Conversations with a smile

This is by far the easiest and most understood gesture in the world. A smile speaks words and is probably the easiest way to get people to open up to you.
Action: no explanation necessary!
Meaning: – I like you, Welcome!, I’m happy to be here.

With these frequently used gestures, you’ll be able to communicate around the world!

What are some of your most used nonverbal when you travel?  Have they worked or do you get blank stares?


You guys can guess what this non-verbal means!

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