5 things everyone must do on a vacation in a foreign country

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I should have woken up in Iceland today. When I got the “check-in” notification last night for my flight, I almost cried. This was supposed to be my first trip to Europe and I was going to celebrate my upcoming birthday in a foreign country. Josh and I were trying to do our “5 continents before 45” challenge, but that’s not happening. All I can do right now is day dream.

So it got me thinking about my past vacations, and what were the most fun things we’ve done in each country we’ve visited. I am crazy about traveling… like insanely crazy about it. I love to experience culture, and food, and smells and sounds. I love the process of planning, researching, reading reviews, asking questions, emailing people, and creating basically a “by-the-hour” itinerary (fun fact about me – I went to college for tourism management in Venezuela, so that may have to do with it 🙂 ) Maybe that’s why I’m not a fan of all-inclusive resorts or even cruises, because I like to be in control of my vacation time, and not the other way around.

This is what I think – my humble opinion, are the must-do things while on vacation in a foreign country:

1. Use their public transportation

This is totally depending on your comfort level. I remember when we went to Cancun for our honeymoon, people would tell us “do not leave the resort!”. Um… hold my beer. Spanish is my first language, so I was pretty confident that I could find my way around. We took the public bus, and went to a flea market where everything was 80% cheaper than at the resort (including the tequila!).

But we even do this when we are in countries where we don’t speak the language. In Thailand we pretty much used every single public transportation method they have: subway, tuk tuks, taxis, and even water taxi! Granted that Bangkok is a pretty developed city with an amazing transportation system, it can be very intimidating to venture out. We did it mostly every day we were there, and the experience was absolutely incredible. Our senses were heightened, we would pay attention to everything around us (we didn’t want to miss our stops and have to ask for directions), and we were able to go to places that weren’t even in our plan!

2. Eat the local food

Ok, we’re not too too crazy, and we’re careful about what we eat and where we eat when in a foreign country; but we can be adventurous and try things that we never thought we would like (and we always bring Z-packs, just in case, and never drink tap water!)

When we got to Vietnam, we hired a local tour guide within 2 hours of our arrival to show us around, and show us what to eat because we were completely clueless. All we knew about Vietnamese cuisine at that time was pho and spring rolls. We were extremely jet lagged but ready to go. The tour was about $20 a person and included motorbike transportation and food at 4 different local shacks. If it wasn’t for this, we would have never tried banana flower salad, or bun cha, or egg coffee. Not only did this experience enrich our palate, but also our love for the local culture and amazing food.

3. Do what the locals do

Again, this is depending on the comfort level and the safety of the country we’re visiting. When we were in Colombia, we went to night clubs. When we were in Thailand, we went to watch a Muay Thai fight and went to the train market. Both things were incredibly safe and super exciting. You get to see the locals in their element, enjoying the things that make them happy.

4. Splurge in one thing, budget for the rest

Amazing vacations don’t have to break the bank. I am known for traveling smart (JetBlue points for the win) and stay within my budget. But I also know that there are some things that you just have to do, even if it cost more than expected. When planning for the Maldives, we knew that we wanted to stay in a water villa. We also knew that they cost a pretty penny. We found a resort that was far from the main island and the easiest and fastest way to get there was by seaplane. Sea planes are EXPENSIVE, so we had to choose what was more important for us. We chose the water villa and decided to get there by boat instead of a 15-min seaplane ride. It was a 2.5 hours boat ride (and its rough) each way but we knew exactly what we wanted and we knew we had to compromise somewhere. That was the best decision ever. I could totally put up with a 5-hour round trip boat ride (an experience in and on itself) just to wake up to this for 6 days. You never know when or if you’re going back to that place, so why not do what you’ve always dream off, even if it means you have go easy on the rest? And by the way, Maldives is not as expensive as you would think. This was water villa at Nika Island was only $250 a night with breakfast included. I had my eye on it for a year, visiting the site almost daily until I found a promotion of 50% off five months prior! I wasn’t lucky, I was diligent 🙂

5. Learn what you can and cannot do in there

This is very important. I do a lot of research before going somewhere because I want to make sure I abide to the rules and customs of their culture. In Dubai we could not kiss in public. In Colombia you cannot use Uber (if you get caught using it, you and the driver are fined hundreds of dollars). In Vietnam you don’t point at things with your feet (lots of market vendors have their items on the ground so it would be easy to use your feet to point at what you want – just don’t). In Thailand you don’t touch people’s heads. In Iceland we knew that we could not go in the springs and lagoons without showering completely naked first (in semi-privacy, mind you). We are guests in their countries and we must, out of respect and just freaking common sense, follow their customs and laws.

We went to Dubai during Ramadan, and alcohol is prohibited. We had a toast with Pineapple juice instead!

What are your must do (or don’ts!) when visiting foreign countries? Leave me a comment below!


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