Multilingual Maven: Alyssa Kuwana [Kezari Girl Spotlight #3]

Learning new languages has been a constant theme throughout Alyssa Kuwana’s life and travels. On this Kezari Girl Spotlight, we find out why languages and a local perspective are so important to Alyssa’s travel philosophy. Read on for her advice on becoming multilingual, even if it’s just to a beginner level, during your travels!

Beach or mountains?


Favorite & least favorite travel destination?

Favorite: anywhere that has culture, sun, & both the ocean and mountains (the most recent place that checks off all of these is in northern Spain like San Sebastian and Güemes)
Least favorite: Anywhere that’s very touristy and lacks culture.

Aisle, middle or window seat?

Def aisle. I need to use the bathroom all the time!

Greatest travel hack?

Getting over jet lag quickly by:

  1. Staying hydrated on the plane.
  2. Setting your watches and clocks to your destination time before taking off.
  3. Sleeping on the plane at the right time so you will be able to sleep at a normal time when you arrive.

Favorite travel snack?

Peanut butter cups (both salty and savory hehe) or eating local foods on the plane back to savor every last bit of the cuisine.

What 3 items do you always have in your luggage?

  1. Charger and phone.
  2. Noise reducing earphones (a must on planes with lots of white noise and babies).
  3. Notebook and pen to write down any musts for the destination, scheduling/planning, and any cool thoughts or ideas I have while traveling.

Do you travel for business, leisure or both?

Leisure. I wish I got paid to travel!

What do you usually wear while traveling and what do you like/dislike about it?

On the plane or any mode of transport, I like to wear leggings or comfy pants such as the Kezari pants (which fits my phone, earphones, and passport perfectly in one pocket so I can never lose them!) and a tank top or a tee shirt with a sweatshirt. I like that it’s very comfy, which is a must for long travel days. But, I don’t like that it lacks style. If I walk around the city once I get off the plane, I feel like I look like I had just gotten off the plane and stick out.

How do you choose your travel destination?

Wherever life leads me to, honestly. I like to travel to places where I know people so I have a local tour guide, or somewhere where I can speak the language (or travel with a friend who speaks the local language) as it can drastically change my experience there. I also like to look for places that have interesting history, lots of culture, good food, and nice people.

How do you plan your trips? Itinerary or spontaneity?

It really depends. I like to ask locals what they recommend doing, whether it be before I head off or when I’m there. I tend to shy away from very touristy places or chain locations (such as hotels, restaurants, etc) to help support the local economy. I do like to plan out some things I would like to do and pin them on Google Maps so that I can go to them if I wish, but I try not to be so strict on when and where I should be. Traveling should be fun and relaxing. It shouldn’t feel like work or school where you have one appointment to the next. I do, however, like to research some restaurants to visit. Food is a door to local culture, and you can learn so much just by visiting local restaurants.

One thing you wish you could change about traveling?

I wish I could absorb the local language like a sponge. I know that lots of people, myself included, can assume that everyone speaks English and that they don’t need to learn the local language if they speak English. However, that really creates a divide within who one interacts with. I think even learning just a few key phrases such as what is your favorite thing to do, where is your favorite place around here, etc. can drastically change one’s experience while traveling.

Seems like languages are a large part of your travel. How many languages do you speak (& plan to speak)?

I speak English and Japanese fluency, and Italian and Chinese proficiently (ie if you dropped me off in the middle of nowhere Italy or China, I will know how to navigate and make my way out), and I know basic Spanish (I can get around the cities of Spain without a problem and communicate basic ideas). I would love to become more fluent in Spanish and Chinese though and am hoping to learn more languages!

How do you maintain your level of all these languages?

Ooo, good question. Well, I have my phone in Italian to keep up with that and message my host family in Italian as well. In addition, I speak Japanese to my family and text in Japanese to keep up with my reading and writing skills. In addition I love listening to international music and reading and translating the lyrics. That really helps with learning new vocabulary and is a fun way to learn.

What’s your advice for learning the basics of a language before traveling to a country?

I suggest listening to songs or getting apps that have the pronunciation too. I also like asking locals how do you saying xxx. I think the most useful phrase is “how do you say” and then you can point to something and learn a new word!

Funniest travel story?

One time I was at a club in Thailand, and there was a private event going on in one of the back rooms. I noticed really tall people going in and out of there with food in their hands. I wanted some free food, so I decided to take a peek and hoped to blend in with the rest of the crowd. Turns out it was a modeling event, and I stood out so much!

To keep up with Alyssa’s adventures around the world, check her out on Instagram @alyssakuwana

Check out our other Kezari Girl Spotlights on bleisure travelers:

For more travel hacks across continents, check out:

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