Updated: Dec 14, 2020
One of the most important life skills is the ability/willingness to ask for help. This is especially true when traveling.
Asking for help
In Peru, some of my fellow students were far more fluent than I was, but handicapped by reluctance to ask a stranger for assistance. My viewpoint is that if you are ever in a really bad situation alone, it’s going to be a stranger who helps–so practice talking to people every day! It’s also the best way to practice a language you’re learning and to get a feel for the local culture.
That said, I do not start gabbing with strangers who come up to me on the street. They might have an ulterior motive, like diverting attention from the partner who’s the pickpocket. Instead, I choose people who are working or otherwise look like they have a purpose.
Asking for directions, I usually go into a store and speak to someone who works there.
At a bus stop, I’ll ask someone dressed for work for help. If they’re wearing business clothes, there’s also a good chance they speak some English and want to practice.
I was having trouble getting the right bus home in Lima one night, so I asked a woman in business clothes which number I needed. She started to explain, got interrupted by a phone call, and automatically left on her bus. When she realized what she’d done, she got off, walked back to me, and rode an alternate bus home with me, as our destinations were within a few blocks of each other.
People want to help even when they have no idea where you’re going–they’ll give you crazy instructions rather than appear unfriendly. So I keep asking along the way, to correct as needed.