Five phrases a traveler should never use

Smarter Travel

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"Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word, before you let it fall," said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Thinking before you speak is an excellent strategy for anyone, but it's especially appropriate for the traveling set. To fend off foot-in-mouth syndrome while on the road, banish the following five phrases from your lexicon.

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Do You Speak English?

There are basic foreign-language expressions that every international traveler should learn before crossing borders, and this is one of them. Even if you're light-years away from fluency, a rudimentary grasp of simple phrases in the regional tongue—like "please," "hello," "thank you," "no thank you," and "where is the bathroom?"—will work wonders. Add to this list "Do you speak English?" to be stated in the applicable language. It's a show of respect. And locals will likely be more responsive and helpful to anyone who doesn't behave as if all citizens of the world ought to speak his or her native language.

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Do You Have Change for a $20?

This phrase shouldn't be spoken to your bellman, tour guide, airport-shuttle driver, hotel housekeeper, or any other serviceperson not stationed behind a cash register. Travel and tipping go together like Lewis and Clark. Thus, road warriors should make a point of obtaining small bills in the local currency at the beginning of every trip. Don't put your service person in the position of awkwardly fumbling through his or her wallet in order to receive due recompense.

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Can You Help Me? I'm Lost, and I'm Staying at [Name of Hotel].


Have you seen the movie Taken? It's about a girl who gets kidnapped in Paris after human traffickers have found out where she is staying. Yes, it's Hollywood. But, to some degree, art imitates life. Many criminals target unsuspecting travelers—especially in popular tourist destinations—and it's not a smart idea to tell a stranger that you're from out of town or to publicize where you're bunking down for the night. You might not get sold into sex slavery, but you could get robbed, especially if your hotel lacks top-notch security.

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I Don't Want To Go There; There Aren't Any Reviews!

While we appreciate the power and practicality of user-generated reviews, they have their limits. New establishments, locals-only joints, tiny B&B's, and less-traveled hideaways often get left off the reviews grid. Developing a dependence on the aggregated opinions of the faceless masses will prevent you from discovering anything remotely, well, undiscovered.

One traveler told our sister site IndependentTraveler.com, "Some great travel memories I have are from exploring Switzerland by train. I stopped over in many towns [without] knowing anything about the place or where I would end up staying. It was liberating to fend for myself and discover all things with new eyes."

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Geez. It's Not Like I Have A Bomb.

Airport security can often seem like a joke—especially when young children get pat-downs or Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents steal from passengers. But that doesn't mean you should play the part of the comedian when going through the metal detector. Travelers have been arrested for making jokes about terrorism in the airport. According to the TSA, "Belligerence, inappropriate jokes, and threats are not tolerated. Jokes and/or comments about threats to passengers or the aircraft will be taken seriously and can result in criminal or civil penalties for the passenger." Be on the safe side and save the jokes for after you've left the airport.

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