There are exactly two kinds of people who take trips: those that travel and those that vacation. Make no mistake, I am not saying one is better over the other. But the traveler is out to see it all, try new experiences, and learn about where they are. The vacationer wants to relax and enjoy the beauty of the location and what it has to offer. Both are there to make memories. They just achieve it in different ways.
If you haven’t guessed yet, I am a traveler. I physically cannot stop myself from seeing as much as possible every time I go to a new place. I want to see it all. It’s a need, really. I can remember Michael and I getting to Ibiza and on the plane over we said we’d lie on the beach. We did manage to go to lots of beaches. We ended up going to 48 different beaches of the recommended 50 in six days. We just like seeing it all. That’s how I feel like I get to really experience a place.
Of course, there are always places you want to check off your bucket list (my Ultimate European Bucket List has over 200 cities!) but in order to really feel like I’ve truly engulfed myself in a city whenever I go somewhere there are always 5 “must dos” that happen on a trip. Whether you’re a traveler or a vacationer these 5 need to happen in some capacity on your trip. No matter where, it’s necessary in order to get the most authentic experience.
5 Things You MUST Do Every Time You Travel
1. Take a Free Walking Tour
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or not, most of us aren’t experts in our destination. Going on a walking tour gives you a good grasp of the city and helps you understand its influence today. You end up learning so much more than if you just read it in a book. You also find out where you might want to go back to explore. I also think this is a great place to meet other people from all over the world.
Most cities with vibrant tourism offer free walking tours. The best way to find them is to Google: “Free Walking Tour + City Name.” Don’t forget to tip at the end!
Bonus points: especially in Europe, take public transportation! It’s so easy and accessible and gives you the full scope of a new city.
2. Go to The Grocery Store
The grocery store is not only a great place to save money on food, it also gives you a good overview of the local cuisine. Sure, going to a restaurant is great (and I recommend it below) but I think many people forget how fun it is to peruse a city’s market. They might have interesting produce, a must try bakery item, or a delicious dessert.
When my Mom first visited us in Germany she asked to go to the grocery store. She was shocked at how we had “American” peanut butter and loved the vast array of sausages on display. It’s a great way to get familiar with the place you’re visiting.
3. Go to the Tourist Attractions
“Oh I’d never go there, it’s too touristy!” This is a statement I hear fluttering around all too often. The thing is… I AM A TOURIST! If you’re visiting or traveling to somewhere new, don’t you want to see the tourist attractions? There is a BIG difference between tourist traps (avoid those) and landmarks.
Yes, the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night is cliche. But please, please don’t miss it. There is a reason things are popular, it’s because they are awesome. If you’re really worried about lines or overcrowding then go as close to opening (or morning) as possible. Or, if you are looking to go to an attraction, you can also go close to closing hours. Here’s a whole post on how to avoid lines and people while traveling.
Bonus points: go to the highest point in a city (usually a cathedral or landmark) to get a good view of the city.
View of Munich from New Town Hall. Full guide to Munich here.
4. Have an off-the-beaten path experience
Recently, I was in Malmö, Sweden and a local told me Swedish baths were a must try. I hadn’t heard much about them but Michael said it sounded interesting. I had no desire to get naked and hang out in a hot room with other women. The idea is that once you spend about 15 minutes or so in the sweaty sauna, you dip into the Baltic sea. All of this sounded completely uncomfortable to me. I am not used to getting naked with others and it makes me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.
After some hemming and hawing, I decided this was an authentic experience I needed to try. It turned out to be the highlight of my 6 day trip in Denmark and Sweden. It was freeing, scary, exhilarating, and made me feel like a local. I can tell you there weren’t many other tourists there doing the same.
Sometimes it’s temping to stay with what you know, but having an authentic experience creates lasting memories. I challenge you to take a chance and have a new experience. Ask a local or your hotel staff what to do. Or… check out a blog post! They usually do a good job explaining what to do and whether it’s worth it.
5. Go to a traditional restaurant
I mentioned heading to the grocery store, but having a traditional meal, prepared for you in a traditional restaurant is unbeatable. I love saving money while traveling, but I always make sure to include a couple meals that feature the local cuisine.
These can range in price, so I try to have the local street food for lunch and a fancier meal for dinner. Such as in Nice they eat a popular street food called “Socca” that resembles a crepe and is dusted with pepper. Then for dinner I went to a traditional French restaurant that was recommended to me as having an incredible chef.
To me, part of the fun of being in a new place is getting to try the food. I love using Google reviews but I highly recommend finding a personal recommendation for authentic cuisine.
To me, traveling isn’t just about seeing the highlights or eating a meal, it’s about going somewhere to create a memory. We all travel a bit differently, so you have to create an itinerary that suits your needs. But regardless, I think all five of these experiences should be added to your travel to-do list!
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