How does the idea of a road trip or a vacation sound to you right now? Pretty good, I would venture to guess.

In every vacation, we take two pleasure trips. One is the trip itself. The other is the anticipation of the experience – the planning, preparing, and dreaming of what the trip will be like. According to a frequently-referenced 2010 Dutch study, planning a trip makes us happier than the trip itself. 

I haven’t taken a real road trip in years yet find myself fantasizing about taking off and driving for days, cleansing my psyche of the stench of isolation, and escaping to a non-existent place where I can pretend the pandemic never happened.

Such a place may not exist, but many people I know are rescheduling trips they missed – and planning a few small new ones for good measure.

When I took a ski trip to France years ago, I loved getting ready for it – training in the gym, talking to others who were going, and learning a bit of French.

My husband and I used flash cards we kept in the glove compartment of the car. The trip to Chamonix was all I’d hoped for. The happy memories of the months preceding it are almost as good. 

Experts say that to maximize the level of happiness we experience anticipating a vacation, we should do three things. First, we should conduct research on where we’re going. Second, we should prepare for the trip. Third, we should communicate our plans and excitement to others.

Consider Mexico 

If you are thinking about traveling when restrictions lift at prospective foreign vacation destinations, you should consider Mexico – especially if you are on a budget.

Last year, the exchange rate ran between 17 and 18 Mexican pesos to the dollar. The current rate of exchange is even more favorable at 21 pesos to the dollar and has recently been as high as 23.

In addition to the culture, food, and graciousness for which Mexican nation is known, Mexico’s currently favorable exchange rate means your trip to an already budget-friendly country will cost even less than it did a year ago.

You may save enough to take another vacation. The same Dutch study suggests that 2–3 short breaks spread throughout the year provide more happiness than one long vacation. 

Learning a Bit of the Language to Maximize the Joy of Anticipation

As part of the preparation for any trip to a foreign country, learning a bit of the language enriches the experience of your stay and certainly enriches the months of getting ready for it.

I remember the flashcard practice as vividly as I remember asking in French for extra Grand Marnier on the hot waffles we bought from street carts after a day of skiing. 

While I can’t help you with your French, my writing and researching for The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online, a book geared towards potential expats to Mexico (presently being updated), I came across many free resources for learning “survival” Spanish and Spanish for situations you are likely to find yourself in as a traveler to a Spanish-speaking country. 

Free Online Tools to Get You Started in Learning Spanish

There is no reason to spend hundreds of dollars on language learning tools. Dozens of websites offer free ones, especially for beginners. The hours spent studying and speaking using these tools will heighten the excitement of trip planning as you visualize using the language in real-life situations.

University of Texas

The University of Texas offers a well-organized, free website that beats others in the respect that the topics as well as the grammar are organized by level of previous knowledge.

SpanishPod 101

YouTube has so many language learning stations that the first thing to decide is if you want something fast and dirty for a vacation trip or intend a more sustained effort involving studying grammar. SpanishPod 101 is for the former. 

123 Teach Me

Another one of my favorite sites, 123 Teach Me has an extensive library of short beginner grammar lessons video clips (using a white board) and vocabulary lists. The beginner lessons cover casual ice-breaker conversations.

Loecsen Spanish

Loecsen Spanish offers attractively laid-out lessons on daily situations and vocabulary.

Forvo

One of the most frustrating situations in speaking a foreign language is knowing the words but not pronouncing them in such a way a native can understand. No matter how much Spanish you decide to learn, I urge you to use Forvo and check your pronunciation of common phrases

Duolingo

Probably the most well-known tool among beginners, Duolingo uses a gaming model to hook you. It’s especially good to play the app with a partner as you learn vocabulary together.

Language Treks

Well-constructed podcasts specifically for travelers, with topics like telling a person where you are from and asking directions, are available on Language Treks.

Learning Spanish in Your Car (on Spotify)

Since the demise of iTunes, Spotify has exploded with podcasts for Spanish learners. Learning Spanish in Your Car covers situations you might encounter as a traveler. Another Spotify podcast specifically focused on Mexico and a favorite of mine is How to Spanish podcast. 

ITalki

I have saved the most important website in your language learning adventure for last. After a few months of studying vocabulary and basic sentence structure, you will need a tutor or practice partner to get practice actually speaking the language.

Community tutors can be found on this site for as little as $8 an hour. You can also seek free exchange partners on sites like My Language Exchange, which has good database of students over 50 years old. 

Online Skype and Zoom sessions, a skill most of us had to gain during the pandemic, changed the game in language learning since the last time you may have tried it. Many sites exist to match you up with a tutor or free language partner. Let tutors and exchange partners know your goals to make the practice sessions most efficient.

To me, these Skype practices with free exchange partners have been the best hours in my day during the quarantine. As an expat living in Mexico, speaking the language gives even the most banal activity un toque of adventure, and will contribute a tiny thrill to any vacation or stay in Mexico.

Spending time developing a new skill in anticipation of a trip could be just the thing to get you through the next few months of confinement – and provide an adventure exactly when you need one the most.

Have you begun planning your next vacation abroad? Does the prospect excite you? Does the destination require learning some phrases in a different language? How are you going on about that? Which tools have you found the most helpful? Please share with our community!

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