30 Words: Indestructible, Passport-Sized Language Guides for Travelers

When Andrew from 30 Words first contacted us for a review of their unique language guides, he was insistent on one thing: I had to attempt to ruin the review models he sent by trying to tear them, spill water on them and, most importantly, do a pull-up off one of them. Game on! His passion for his product was warranted: these little guides really are that strong.

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First impressions mean a lot to this reviewer. If the product packaging is done just right – an indication that someone actually put some thought into how they were going to deliver their product – that goes a long way. If the construction and fit and finish are initially good, that’s typically a sign that the interior of the product is good as well.

30 Words - Language Guides for Travelers

The Skinny

In 30 Words’ … er … own words:

Our own travels confirmed an important idea: even a limited vocabulary greatly enhances your travel experience. While mastering a language may take years, anyone can start speaking a new language in a day – and 30 WORDS Language Guides will help you achieve this goal!

30 WORDS creates specialized, customizable language guides. 30 WORDS’ passport-sized guides are waterproof and tear-proof, and slide easily into any pocket. With over 800 key words and phrases, 30 WORDS Language Guides’ focused and accesible content makes finding the right words easy!

So how does 30 Words’ sales pitch stack up against the reality of these little guides? Pretty darn well actually.

The Details


As far as language guides go, they’re virtually indestructible: waterproof and almost entirely tearproof. The former I verified by inadvertently spilling an entire cup of OJ on my tray table mid-flight. The guides wiped off clean and easy.

As for the latter, Andrew wasn’t screwing around about the pull-up business. “You can try doing a pull-up on it too! As long as the guide is placed over a rounded surface (eg. a tree branch) you can get a good workout in with a 30 Words!”, was his dare. I did and damn these things are tough.

30 Words: Language Guides for Travelers (expanded)


30 Words aren’t intended to be a crash course in full language comprehension. Rather, they take a minimalist (“gimme only what I need!”) approach that’s essential to travelers. Phrases and sentence structures are divided into easily accessible, color coded sections (Meeting People, Food & Drinks, Emergency, etc.). After a quick five minute study to familiarize myself with the layout, I was ready to dive into a conversation with a local Italian about my urgent bathroom needs. Or alert the waitress to my fish allergies (Sono allergic ai molluschi!, for those keeping score at home).

One thing that sets 30 Words’ guides apart from traditional book-style language guides is their unique layout. With a smart, accordion design, they’re easily expandable and collapsible at a moment’s notice.

The last page is half-blank and lined, allowing you to jot down your own personal language notes (or mobile numbers from new friends or potential local suitors).

Lastly, a protective sleeve is provided to neatly pack everything away.


One last bit of awesomeness is the ability to customize your own guide online:

30 Words hosts an online platform called MY 30 that enables travelers to add personalized content to their guides. MY 30 presents content organized by activity, from museum tours and hitch hiking, to dancing and dating.


You can try it before you buy it. Check out 30 Words’ online demo for a complete look at how it all works.

Available now at 30Words.com for just $8.95 each.

Multiple languages include: Spanish (European Spanish or South & Central American Spanish), Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and French.

Bottom Line

Truth be told, I’m not the kind of traveler to typically throw a phrasebook in my pack. But 30 Words’ ultra minimalist approach is too smart and well thought-out to leave it at home. At less than $9 each, they’re almost an impulse buy that you can’t pass up.

Highly recommended.

Founding Editor
  1. Mike,

    Thank you for the review! Appreciate it.

    I wanted to add that the material 30 Words Guides are printed on is 100% recyclable and environmentally inert (there is nothing bad to leach out!).

    Also, 30 Words are also available through our retail partners Magellans and TravelSmith.

    Cheers, Andrew

  2. These language guides look cool and durable. Thanks for the heads up! I love that they’re also 100% recyclable and environmentally inert.

  3. Mike, nice review! I’m one of those travelers who Hates not knowing a word of the language of my destination, plus I appreciate good logic & ease of use when it comes to phrase books (and indestructibility, if that’s a word..) and it all seems to be there!

    @Andrew, thanks for the environmental info!

  4. Thank you Satu –

    The material the guides are made from is incredibly cool. Waterproof, Tear-proof, environmentally inert, and up-cyclable, the step beyond recyclable (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upcycling).

    Once we found out about this material we knew we could make the type of guide we had dreamed of making!


  5. Thank you Sam, Great question:
    We are splitting time between developing new languages for print and designing/implementing our online/mobile component.

    We think both print and digital are great mediums for language guides. As part of our development of our own mobile platform, we have tested many mobile language guides (I have 9 one my phone right now!). Many are solid – and some are free.

    As interested as we are in offering a digital version of 30 Words, we believe that in many situations printed guides are as practical as the digital versions. Whereas digital guides can offer more content, better
    searchability, and audio/visual accompaniments to the text, etc, printed versions have their advantages as well.

  6. Our current printed design is based on our desire to build language guides for adventurous travelers and students. Our product emerged from our own experiencing building guides for travelers and our students – we felt most comfortable designing a product to suit the needs of those we best understood. Therefore, we focused on a design that was durable (so you can jump in the ocean and still use it) portable (lightweight, small enough to fit in your pocket with ease) and focused so that one could pull out their guide and quickly find (or build) the word or phrase they needed. We also think that a printed guide that is cheap and battery-free frees these travelers to use their language guides more frequently – and our goal is designing these guides was to build something that travelers would want to carry everywhere. Using a new language can be intimidating, but when you meet someone you can talk to, we wanted travelers to be ready to talk!

    That is the long-ish version of our design goals. I know I wandered a bit from the original question, but this is one of my favorite questions – it gets to the heart of why we do what we do.

    So, in closing: Yes, we are working on digital versions, but we also continue to love the usability of a small, durable, focused printed guide.


    Keep up the great questions!

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