For me, the biggest obstacle in easy travel is always the language. I'm language impaired outside Canada and the US (and even then, I've had problems) despite several combined years of scholastic effort and much travel. I can do the ridiculous pantomime thing well, and between learning a few key phrases before I go, strange gestures that are often highly entertaining to all, and the phrasebook I always have in a cargo pants pocket, I can usually make myself understood; for obscure stuff, I've been known to resort to drawing things in a crazy parody of international Pictionary (there is no phrase in Spanish meaning a portable, personal air conditioner that can be understood when uttered by a sweating, wild-eyed babbler, incidentally).
Frequently, people openly laugh at me when I speak in other countries, where I often accidentally, randomly and bizarrely combine my limited vocabulary in the three languages I have earnestly, albeit futilely, studied ("Bon giorno, senorita! Yo suis perdu."). Really, I need to carry flash cards.
I'm headed to Mexico (Puerto Vallarta and the Ujena Bikini Jam
, and Rosarito Beach
) in August, and lest I be linguistically half baked as usual, I'm brushing up with a very cool BBC language site I just found, which offers Spanish lessons for adults and a set for 8-11 year-olds, which, yes, I am taking. About.com's Spanish Guide also features a Spanish course via email, which I'm taking for the second time, and I'll be carrying at least one of my three tattered Spanish phrasebooks. Over some travel, I've learned that being able to say hello, please, thank you in other tongues works wonders for innocents abroad (during my first trip abroad, I quickly memorized "I'm sorry, I'm really, really sorry," too). Speaking gibberish more loudly and slowly does not help one be understood, either. And being able to speak at least one or two other words in an extremely beseeching manner while displaying correct change can make all the difference ("Cerveza?"
Related: Beginner's Guide to Mexico Travel | Travel and Language | Intercambio<P>
"Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages." -- Dave Barry