Spanish Phrases For Travel

…just enough to get you started…

Spanish is a difficult language. Just ask anyone who is trying to learn it.

I have been living in Mexico for a number of years; I still can’t speak Spanish to save my life!

I know three words: cervezas, tacos, and mamasitas. These three words can get you just about anywhere in Mexico –  and they’re all best in the plural! (NOTE: Switch out “mamasita” and replace it with “papasito” if you are a girl.)

However, if you want to be really Hollywood with your conversations (and converse in style), make sure you memorize some of the following Spanish phrases for travel.

Here are a few tips to accelerate the learning process:

  • Drink lots of cocktails and beer while you are practicing! Confidence is 50% of everything – not just when learning Spanish, but with life in general. A little “liquid courage”  will exponentially improve your Spanish speaking skills.
  • Practice a LOT!  Anything that you are good at, you were once bad at.  Think about walking.  You couldn’t do it when you were born,  but now it’s easy for you!  It was practice that made you better. It is the same with learning another language. Practice will make you better.
  • Work with native speakers. If you learn from a native, you can hear the subtle differences that you might otherwise miss.  Anything else would be like asking a dolphin to teach you how to run! Huh?
  • And a special thanks to my neighbor Candy for helping me with these translations – who is also a native speaker!

Good luck with the following travel phrases, and please let me know how you do during your vacation here!

Included Sections:

Riviera Maya Names and Nearby Attractions

If there is one area of pronunciation that I see badly butchered and battered by tourists, it is the names of the areas and attractions surrounding Playa Del Carmen. Moreover, even the name “Playa Del Carmen” gets killed in most conversations I hear.

In the following list, I am going to give you the name of all the major cities in the area. I’ve also included a few of the major attractions that are most often mispronounced. Believe me when I say that you will stand out like an expert if you can pronounce all of these places correctly. Moreover, the scammers here will be much less likely to try to take advantage of you – they will think you are not a tourist!

So, here it goes. If you remember one section of this entire page, try memorizing this section first.

 

Being Polite / Starting a Conversation In Spanish

Politeness is a universally attractive quality that some of us have – and (unfortunately) some of us don’t.

Because of the slow pace of life here, and the fact that you are a tourist in a foreign country, a little bit of politeness goes a long way.

Please make sure that you are not shy about using the following travel phrases in Spanish!

 

Numbers In Spanish

Doce?……Trece?……Catorce?” I asked myself as I nearly fell on my face trying to get out of bed this morning. “How many beers did I drink last night?

Somewhere along the line I lost track. It wasn’t a blackout – I just lost track.

Whether you are counting tequila shots, money, or the number of phone numbers that you received last night, knowing how to count numbers in Spanish will help you a lot during your trip.

Consequently, I included some numbers below. First learn how to say, “number,” and then start on the numbers 1-10. After you finish those, see if you can work your way up to 21!

 

Money-related Spanish Phrases

Money is something that all of us need and appreciate. Most of the people here want to separate you from it. This next section will help you avoid getting ripped off by some of the local Mexicans. Believe me, it can happen. It’s happened to me hundreds of times since I’ve lived here! Unfortunately, for these people it’s just a game. But this section will help you avoid making the mistakes that I did when I first came here.

Don’t forget the three most important rules in dealing with money here:

  1. Try to exchange money before you arrive. If you need money after you arrive, do not exchange dollars at one of the money exchange services on Fifth Avenue. Also, never use the ATMs on Fifth Avenue. Go to one of the major banks and withdraw money from your bank account/credit card with there. Not only will you get a better rate, but you won’t have to worry about some of the ATMs  that have been found to contain “card skimmers” that can read your ATM card and PIN you enter! NOTE: These card skimmers have not been found at the ATMs found within large banks here.
  2. Never pay for anything in dollars. I know, it’s convenient to walk up to a restaurant, bar, or souvenir shop and simply pay in dollars. However, the game is rigged against you. Don’t think for a moment those people are doing you a favor by accepting your dollars. They will give you an atrocious exchange rate! It’s almost guaranteed! The only time you should be paying in dollars is a big institutions like Walmart or Mega grocery stores. Some tours may also demand payment in dollars as well. Retailers and services providing quasi-criminal exchange rates is by far the biggest and most consistent scam that runs in the city!
  3. Never tip more than 10%. I know, I know. You are a cool American/Canadian. You can do whatever you want. However, it’s important to remember that you inadvertently create institutional discrimination by tipping more than 10%. Tipping is not a part of Mexican culture – never has been. This was an idea brought to Mexico from the United States and Canada. When you tip – or more specifically “OVERtip” – you essentially contribute to an ever-growing problem where locals are completely unwelcome and grossly overlooked by the service industry workers who don’t want to serve them because they will not receive as large of a tip from them as a foreigner.

 

Hotel-related Spanish

So now that you’ve made it to your hotel, you wondering how to check in, make sure that your room is what you paid for, and take advantage of the “all-inclusive” part of your stay by ordering room service immediately.

Here are a few words that will get you started! Heck, you can even take it a step further – if your housekeeper, bellboy, or whoever else is really cute and friendly, you can start to combine some of the words you learned earlier with some of the words below to get some extra special treatment!

 

Restaurant-related Spanish

That’s right! All of this traveling and humidity made you hungry! Using some of the restaurant related Spanish travel phrases below, you should have no problem at all ordering all the food you want – that includes appetizers, entrées, desserts, etc. Oh, and I should not forget the drinks! They’re included below as well.

However, if you want to get extremely familiar with the food here, you have to take a look at my Mexican food glossary. It includes several hundred food items and food-related words that will help you familiarize yourself with the cuisine in the area.

If you’re a single girl/guy, just think how cool you will look when you can order things from the menu in a foreign language! And even if you’re married, your significant other will probably be just as impressed! Score!!!

 

Getting a Taxi / Location / Directions in Spanish

A stomach full of Mexican/international food! Who could ask for more? It is now time to begin exploring the city. Honestly, it’s difficult to get lost here because this place is not very big. However, you do want to make sure that you can find a taxi, car, or bus as quickly as possible. Spanish travel phrases that you’re going to learn in a moment are going to help you tremendously when it comes time to getting around the city.

You have already learned about money and counting above, so nobody is going to take advantage of you very easily. That’s good because the taxi drivers here are a pernicious but necessary evil in this city. You will want to spend as little time as possible dealing with them. Luckily, if you master this section, you won’t have many problems.

 

Shopping Phrases In Spanish

Out of all of the cities in Mexico, Playa Del Carmen offers the best shopping. Of course, every tourist city in this country sells those ridiculous souvenirs that people bring home – gaudy sombreros that look about as ridiculous today as they did when they were actually worn 200 years ago, ugly “handmade” hammocks that usually break a day after you finally figure out how sleep in them, and Mexican tequila shot glasses with a “Made In China” sticker half-removed from the bottom. How embarrassing!

Luckily, there are many more options here. Either way, you will know exactly how to deal with both street sellers and retailers. By using some of the Spanish phrases for shopping below, you can easily find out the correct prices, negotiate with the seller, and make final “take it or leave it” offers.

 

Telling the Time In Spanish

Honestly, while you are on vacation, time should not be very important. However, you don’t want to miss transportation too expensive tours, your reservations at an exquisite restaurant, or began keeping “Mexican-style appointments” while you are here (e.g. showing up 45 minutes late for EVERYTHING)!!!

In the following section you will learn about how to tell time in Spanish. Frankly, there are 1 million+ different time combinations on a clock. You will need to combine this section with what you learned about Numbers in Spanish above. You will likely still be confused, but if you also keep in mind the first section we learned that taught you about Being Polite, you won’t have any problems.

 

Days of the Week In Spanish

I thought about NOT including this section. Why would I do that? Because every day is a Saturday here! The only other day that may qualify as being distinct is Sunday (the actual Sunday) because all the liquor stores close early and they stop selling alcohol at all the convenience stores, Walmart, and even the mom-and-pop liquor stores. Some people actually panic. Other than that, every day feels almost the same here.

Nonetheless, if you don’t want to show up back at the office three or four days late, you should probably learn the days of the week in Spanish! It’s taken me more than five years to learn these – and I still can’t keep them straight. However, if you put in 5-10 minutes memorizing them, you shouldn’t have a problem. And when you do, please give me a call and I will contract you to be my Spanish teacher!

 

Months of the Year In Spanish

You probably won’t be concerned about the months of the year in Spanish once you arrive. However, as you are planning your vacation, they will be very important. People come to Playa Del Carmen for many reasons – they have time for vacation, there is a specific event here they don’t want to miss, their children have vacation during a certain time of the year, or because they just want to save money during the low season here and plan their vacation around that, etc…

In any case, as you are investigating this city, you will find many of the restaurants/events/tours posters and websites written partially in Spanish. Understanding the months of the year in Spanish will really help you out as you explore some of the activities that are possible here. Like the days of the week in Spanish above, there are really not that many months to memorize, and many of them are very similar to their counterparts in English.

 

Miscellaneous Spanish Travel Phrases

So now you’ve learned more Spanish phrases than I learned in the first several years of living here in Mexico. If you want to know the truth, many of the words on this page I still don’t know! Sad, but true.

In any case, I have included a few extra words here that I I couldn’t quite categorize. There’s a good chance you won’t use them, but if you see one that sparks your interest, feel free to memorize it – and more importantly, use it!

 

Conclusion

So now you can speak Spanish almost perfectly. Congratulations! Well not really, but congratulations anyways. There are probably several hundred thousand words in Spanish – and several million common word combinations. Needless to say, I could not include them all.

If you do decide that you want to continue your Spanish studies, there are several places you can do so here in the city. Think of it as a vacation/education combined. (“Vaducation” sounds appropriate?!?)

I hope you have enjoyed learning some of these new words as much as I have enjoyed adding them to this page. If you see any obvious errors (sometimes I am prone to make them), or expressions/words/phrases that absolutely MUST be added to these lists, please let me know in the comments section below.

I hope to hear you speaking Spanish in this city soon!

Lots of love,

Rufus

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