When you have enough time to include some language study in your trip preparations, you should! The locals (or nationals) that live in the place you are going will really, really appreciate it, and they will be more inclined to help you out when you need it.
Odds are that whatever place you are going, you can find phrases from their language for free on the internet. A sure way to know you have the correct pronunciation, however, is to buy a $10 travel phrase book. This is especially handy in a language that uses another alphabet, such as Chinese, Greek, or Russian.
The only thing about the phrase book that can be intimidating is the sheer volume of things they include, because they are assuming you will be carrying it around with you (and you should!). There are, however, some phrases I think you should take the time to memorize. Use flash cards, and make it a game with your spouse. It can actually be fun, just remember, be nice!
Important phrases that will make your trip more enjoyable:
-Hello. How are you?
-I am fine. Thank you.
-Where is…? the toilet. a good place to eat. etc.
-Excuse me / I’m sorry.
-My name is…
-Do you speak English? (this is much easier for them to answer if you ask in their language *wink*)
-Numbers 1-10 for ordering food or buying something at an outdoor market.
-If you have a baby under 3 you want to learn the words for “boy” and “girl” because a lot of people will ask you which one your child is, no matter how much pink or blue they are wearing.
You also want to learn the corresponding words for the way you are planning on traveling, ie. bus, train, renting a car… you get the idea. Now go quiz each other 🙂
If you can teach your kids to say “Hello,” in the native language, most people you meet will immediately fall in love with your family and go out of their way to help you out.