Just as there are plenty of things to remember when you land in a new country, the same goes for things to do before you leave one. The feeling that you missed something big is not great. To keep FOMO to a minimum, do these things before packing your bags and heading home:
What to do before leaving a country
1. Try the national dish
I’m the kind of traveler who prioritizes this within the first few moments of landing in a new place. If you are not a food fanatic like me, you could ignore the national dish of your destination, but I think this is a big mistake, because so much of a country’s culture is visible in the food. While a national dish may not be the thing you should eat there, it’s still worth trying to get an idea of the local flavors.
Colombia was the first country I ever visited, and I was a vegetarian when I arrived. To my great disappointment, the national dish of Colombia, bandeja paisa, is almost whole meat. However, I decided to try it anyway and was glad I did. After that, I was able to learn more about the origins of the dish and it made me more connected to the place after trying it.
2. Choose a souvenir before it’s too after
As you enjoy your trip, you may be thinking about what to take home as a souvenir. No pressure, but make sure you do this before your last day. When I save this task for the last minute, I end up feeling more stressed about finding that perfect item to bring home. Moreover, the souvenirs at the airport are less than stellar and always ridiculously expensive. Instead, have something in mind midway through the trip so you avoid the stress of last-minute purchases.
3. Make at least one local friend
Being able to make local friends in a new place can be a game changer. If you want to get off the typical tourist track, making at least one such friend would be the key to doing that. After all, they can give you tips for where to go, what to see, and where to eat, which is unlikely to be where there are large groups of tourists.
One way to meet locals is to stay on an Airbnb and connect with your host(s). Hostels can also have residents working there who could organize social activities that you can participate in. There are also apps you can use, such as Bumble, which has a “BFFs” setting specific to finding platonic friendships.
Another great benefit of making friends who live in your destination is that you have another reason to go back. Or better yet, maybe your new friend will want to come visit you in your own city someday. The people I have met on my travels have only made the memories I have in those places so much more meaningful.
4. Learn a little of the language (at least)
Maybe not every international traveler is as keen as I am to learn languages, but at least a little of the local lingo can be a priceless keepsake. I mean, bringing a whole language home is a pretty big flex, isn’t it?
Especially if you’re already making plans to visit again, having a few keywords and phrases under your belt can help break the ice with locals who don’t speak your language, and can even help you make friends (see above). Why don’t you try?
5. Find out where the locals hang out
Do not leave a new country without at least trying to find out where the locals socialize. Whether it’s a popular food stall at a busy market, a hip bar, or a must-try bakery, ask around and see which places are actually the best — and not just tourist attractions.
My favorite way to find out is to go straight to the busiest market in town. This is especially true in Mexico, although I’m sure it can also apply to many other locations. I will ask around the sellers and see what they recommend.
Definitely not leave a country without going to at least a local hangout. Here you get a much more authentic feel for the place.
6. Find out what the exit costs are
Some countries have exit fees that you have to pay when you pass through customs on your way out. For example, you have to pay when leaving Belize, which is not advertised when you enter the country. Do some research at your destination and find out if there is an exit fee, and then make sure you have enough cash in local currency, which will make payment easier.
7. Exchange money
Once you figure out how much money you may (or may not) need to fork over when you go through customs, exchange whatever money you have left before you leave the country. Once you get home, it can be very difficult or even impossible to exchange your foreign currency. Of course, this depends on what currency you have: for example, Mexican pesos and euros are easy to exchange in the United States, while Thai baht can be much more challenging.
8. Make sure you have all your documents
Nowadays, with so many places requiring proof of recent times vaccinations and/or negative tests, it is extra important to always have your vaccination card with you. I recommend keeping all your travel documents — passport, proof of vaccination/testing, visas, etc. — each. It’s also a good idea to laminate your vaccination card if you haven’t already.
9. Leave reviews of your hosts
This can be easy to forget, especially if you move from place to place quite quickly. If you’re staying at an Airbnb or hostel that relies on positive reviews to attract more guests, do your host(s) a solid one and leave them a nice review. On Airbnb, hosts can also write a review about you, which you won’t be able to see until you do the same for them. If it’s a positive review, it can actually make you a more attractive guest to other hosts.
The extra few minutes it takes to write a friendly review (if it’s Earned, of course) is a great way to leave a good impression and show your gratitude to a host.
10. Take enough rest
Before your flight home, make sure you get a good night’s sleep. You never know when a flight might be delayed or cancelled, which could extend your trip for several hours. To be extra grumpy at the airport, make sure you are well rested before you leave. I think this makes a big difference, because getting on a flight totally exhausted tends to make the post-travel blues even, well, bluer.
11. Organize your suitcase or backpack
I kept my bag pristine organized at the start of a trip, only to have it completely unravel as time went on. By the end, I came home with the dirtiest bag I had ever seen. If that doesn’t make unpacking worse, I don’t know what does. Over time, I have learned from my mistakes and have taken to keeping my bag better organized during my trip. Before I leave a country, I make sure that all my clean and dirty laundry is separated. That way I can throw my dirties in the laundry as soon as I get home. Unpacking is so much easier, I promise.