What Do You Do in an Emergency When You Don’t Speak the Language?

May 11, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Travel Tips

To date, we’ve been very lucky. We’ve not faced any major emergencies while traveling. But after a good friend recently had a run-in with the police in Italy, it certainly made we wonder what I would do if I found myself in such a situation, in a country where I don’t speak the language. In the heat of the moment, hand signals and a few odd words just wouldn’t cut it… so how would I get the help I needed? Once again, our wonderful Worldschooling Community has come to the rescue!

We’ve no doubt all heard stories of medical emergencies and run-ins with the law while traveling. And while we naturally hope it won’t ever be us, and we might plan accordingly, it’s always nice to know you have easy access to support, if you should ever need it.

One of our amazing Worldschooling Central Members, and a lovely family we’ve met on our travels, was recently involved in an incident with her Airbnb host in Italy…

I awoke to a horrible BANGING on the door. Our host came in like a hurricane and SCREAMED at us that we had used €300 of internet and he DEMANDED that we pay him in cash right then and there. We don’t travel with cash, or if we do… it’s maybe €30 at most. He was a madman. I have NEVER seen anyone that aggressive or insane in my 42 years. I begged him to calm down in the presence of my children. I told him I would be willing to work through the problem with him but he HAD to calm down . He refused. He kept telling Larry to step outside. I told him NO. There is only one reason anyone asks you to step outside. Our host said if we didn’t pay him €300 right now, he would take all of our possessions. He demanded my laptop at that point (a $2700 Macbook, no less). I handed it over.

I broke DOWN.

Now as if that wasn’t enough, when they visited the Police station to report it, they were laughed at:

They told me I had to go back to the apartment to meet the host. I broke down AGAIN. I was terrified of him. I’ll make this part short……. we went back..met him there. Lots of Italian happened. 5 cops escorted me. We all went back to the station. 10 cops in the room with me and him and (thankfully) the police chief was a woman. I was a MESS and she came over to me… and soothed my head…. and told me “tranquillo”.

After two hours of not understanding a word, an offer to settle was made and accepted. And while thankfully everything turned out well, in the end, the stress that this situation caused and the fear her family felt, was made all the worse because of a complete language barrier.


To read Julie’s full story, visit her Blog here.


After hearing this from Julie, it made me think of the times that we’ve faced language barriers… it’s hard enough at the best of times, but what would I do in the case of a medical emergency, or finding myself on the wrong side of the law?

Sure, Google Translate does a pretty good job, but there are times where it just doesn’t work. In China, Google products (any of them) were completely useless (learned the hard way after we tried to follow Google Maps and got completely lost), and no-one understood our attempts to translate using it. Furthermore, when fear and panic set in, it is incredibly isolating and lonely when no-one understands you, and you don’t know what’s going on.

We have other friends who found themselves facing a mid-air emergency, landing in Doha, Qatar, and being rushed to the hospital. No-one spoke a word of English, and our friends had no idea what was going on. With a life on the line and no way to communicate, it was a scary time for all.

And another Worldschooling family:

We had an issue in Peru. My son totaled a rental quad after driving it off a 200 ft cliff. I watched it happen and thought he was dead. Thankfully, he just got thrown. The quad tumbled down the sheer cliff and was smashed to pieces! I couldn’t even breathe I was so terrified. They brought us back to the office and informed us that we’d have to buy a new quad $45000usd!!! Needless to say they followed me around for hours while I tried to figure out what to do. Finally bumped into someone who spoke fluent Spanish and was a local. She talked them down and asked them to return the next day. And proceeded to find an attorney friend who negotiated an agreement for us to pay only a couple hundred dollars. Very stressful few days…kid almost dying, being hounded by someone for money, bringing my child to the hospital, randomly handing money to a stranger to pay off another stranger….

So I got to thinking. One of my main goals with Worldschooling Central is to help the community. We are a part of such an incredible family of travelers, and between us, we can achieve incredible things.


Introducing Translation Help!

In response to Julie’s trauma, and to help others avoid such issues in the future, we have introduced a brand new category on Worldschooling Central… Translation Help!!! A place where Worldschoolers can volunteer to help other Worldschoolers in their time of need and act as a translator, advocate and friend, when things are scary, and feel out of control.

What an incredible resource to have as travelers! Even with the best planning, sometimes, things go wrong. With Translation Help, you will have a friendly voice on the other end of the line, to help you through. So head on over to Worldschooling Central and check this out. Be sure to sign up (it’s free!), so you have complete access to the site and the valuable links within.

And SHARE! Tell your traveling friends, your family, and other Worldschoolers. Let’s make sure that everyone feels a sense of security knowing that our wonderful


Click here to hear from our wonderful Translation Help volunteers



Bookmark This Page.

Save it somewhere, so you have easy access, should you ever need it!


I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of the wonderful Worldschoolers who have volunteered to be a part of this… to date we have the following languages (with more to come!):

  • English
  • French
  • Spanish
  • German
  • Dutch
  • Chinese Mandarin
  • Russian
  • Greek
  • Hindi
  • Urdu
  • Hungarian


If you would like to add your name to our list of volunteers, please click on the link below and add your listing, selecting Worldschooling Community Resources > Translation Help as your category. It’s super easy to do and will only take a few minutes. If you have any problems at all, email as at info@worldschoolingcentral.com




Once again, this incredible Worldschooling Community proves just how wonderful, friendly and supportive it is… we are all so lucky to be a part of it!


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