Welcome to Travel Non-Essentials, where T+L editors Mark Orwoll and Nikki Ekstein sound off on a different breed of travel product—sometimes ingenious, sometimes just plain odd. Today: Kwikpoint International Travel Translator.
Credit: Courtesy of Kiwkpoint

What It Does: This laminated pocketsize translator by Kwikpoint ($17) uses “visual language,” or pictograms, for communicating in places where you don’t speak the language. Orwoll and Ekstein check it out to decide if it’s a must-have, or just a nice-to-have.

NE: Here’s a little gadget-y thing that I’m just kind of obsessed with. I just called it a gadget-y thing, but it’s actually the most analog thing we’ve reviewed yet.

MO: It’s almost primitive in concept. And I’m not saying that in a negative way.

NE: It opens up to reveal what is actually a universal translator. Key phrases and words are illustrated instead of translated into individual languages, so that you can just point to drawings to communicate all around the world.

MO: You want to get bunk beds in your hotel room that you’ve just stopped at in Bucharest, and you don’t know how to say “bunk beds”? Well, they’ve got a picture of bunk beds. If you want a cheap room or an expensive room, they have pictures of one, two, and three dollar signs—which is fine, except that most of the world doesn’t use dollar signs.

NE: Oh, that’s a funny point.

MO: But they have every category you can think of: travel, eating out, food, emergencies, medical, personal things…

NE: My favorite one is the allergies section, because this is something that most phrase books don’t cover—and that’s really important. You’ve got all sorts of little diagrams here for things like crustaceans or different types of fruits or peanuts or eggs or gluten or dairy. And you’ve got a face in the middle that’s all broken out in hives and sweating and rashy. It’s very clear what you’re trying to say. “I am gluten-free, thank you very much.”

MO: This could be very practical to carry around in your back pocket, no question about it.

NE: There are some funny things under the personal section. You’ve got some sanitary needs going on here—Band-Aids and tampons, babies and diapers, bug spray. The whole nine yards.

MO: If you go into a pharmacy in a foreign country and there’s a language barrier, it would be nice to be able to just point to something to the pharmacist or whoever’s behind the counter and let them get it for you. What’s this on the back? It looks like there are things spelled out for you. Are they key phrases?

NE: We’ve got some key phrases in French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, German, Russian, Mandarin, Italian, and Japanese, which is helpful. But really, it’s about the drawings. Let me try to ask you a travel question just by pointing to things on here and we’ll see if you understand me. I’m going to use a real question I had to ask in Italy last time I was there… just give me a second while I find the right icons…

[Nikki browses the manual trying to figure out how to best ask her question.]

NE: It does require a little bit of browsing… Okay, getting closer… You know, I really would have to practice what it was I wanted to ask for, because this is taking some time.

MO: This is something you’d have to become familiar with before you used it. You couldn’t just come up to a complete stranger and make them stop while you spent five minutes trying to figure out what it was you were trying to say.

NE: [Still looking at the images.] I think I’m going to have to supplement these with some body language.

MO: She’s pointing to a man holding his stomach. She’s got a stomach ache. Now she’s pointing to her actual foot. She’s got a foot ache? Somebody kicked her in the stomach? You need some pills for a stomach ache… Or for your ankle.

NE: I was looking for a symbol of just a general ache.

MO: All right, you’ve got problems with your ankle. I sort of get it, yeah. Well, it’s not perfect. So what’s your final take on this? You really like this translator.

NE: For how tiny it is, I think it serves a pretty great function. Even if it’s not perfect in every situation. It’s a crutch you can use.

MO: Put it in your pants pocket or your jacket pocket. Doesn’t take up any room to speak of. It’s one of those things that I would just keep in my empty suitcase and have with me whenever I travel. And if I ended up in a destination where I didn’t speak the language, I would have it. I would say go for it.

NE: Yeah!

VERDICT: A must-have.

By Mark OrwollNikki Ekstein and Nikki Ekstein and Mark Orwoll