As an experienced traveler whose visited over 128 countries the past seven years, I feel I’m pretty confident in the art of traveling the world.
Still, every destination presents new challenges, pleasant surprises, and curve balls you wish you were better prepared for.
Iran was no exception.
Here are the top 9 things I wish I knew before my Iran Adventure trip with Intrepid Travel.
I wish I brought better clothes for its hot weather
I knew Iran would get hot during the day, but it got scorching hot! To manage these temperatures, our daily schedule included an afternoon break that we’d spend in our rooms – napping or relaxing – or anywhere indoors where we could avoid the afternoon heat.
Unlike most other countries, short pants are not allowed in Iran and women must cover their hair with a scarf and wear modest clothing. Of course, in a hot climate like Iran’s, this is not the most ideal clothing situation. But it is still manageable.
Bring modest clothing made of light fabrics. Don’t even bother bringing jeans (like I did), as you’ll suffocate your legs in them (unless you only wear them at night). And, should you make my mistake, there are dozens of bazaars in every Iranian city where you can buy cheap clothing that is not only appropriate for the country but also light enough to use during the heat of the day. Sandals are fine.
I wish I’d researched more about its rich and complex history beforehand
While Nadia, my Intrepid local leader, explained every site and location to the very last detail, I wish I had done a bit more research about the history and culture of Iran.
While I had some basic knowledge about its architecture (since I’m an architect) and some of its historical buildings, I came to the country without much knowledge on its other religions like Zoroastrianism, its revolution, and its natural wonders.
If I had to pick just one thing out of the above, I’d definitely read more about the 1979 revolution as it changed the course of the country’s history and its effects are still seen everywhere.
I wish I’d known how beautiful it would be
Often, when you think of a Middle Eastern or Central Asian country you tend to think of dry desert landscapes. Iran has those, sure, but it also has forests, snow-capped mountains, and coastal areas with a mild Mediterranean climate.
In fact, Iran has 12 different climates that include a mixture of hot to cold and dry to humid. This, in turn, creates a cultural and social gradient across the country that adapts to its local environment.
Beyond that, their stunning Persian architecture is worthy of admiration, especially on their monuments, mosques, and bazaars, which are beautifully detailed in ways not seen anywhere else in the world.
I wish I’d known how friendly locals would be
I sort of knew how congenial Iranians are, but you never “really” know it until you experience it firsthand. My interactions with them were some of my favorite experiences in the country because they added a lot of soul and character to the trip.
Whether it’s a casual conversation at the square, an invitation to drink tea with them at the corner café, or a full invitation to have lunch or dinner at their home, Iranians will make you feel fully welcome in their country.
Don’t be afraid to interact with them and get to know their story. Many of them have really interesting tales to share.
I wish I had taken more cash for quality handicrafts
While I took more than enough cash to pay for my food and any necessary daily spending, I didn’t feel like I took enough to buy many of the beautiful handicrafts I saw everywhere.
I typically don’t buy souvenirs when I travel, so I went with that mentality to Iran. Boy, was I wrong. Whether its Persian carpets, handmade quilts, copper artifacts, or turquoise jewelry, every city specializes in one handicraft and they make it with the highest quality possible, at a fraction of the price you’ll find in western countries.
Keep in mind that debit and credit cards do not work in Iran, so you must take with you all the cash you’ll need for the duration of the trip. Preferably in US Dollars, Euros, or British Pounds.
I wish I wasn’t afraid to say I was an American
It was pretty dumb that I felt a bit afraid of telling people I was American at the beginning of the trip. I thought they’d hate my presence there or would think negatively about me as a person, but that fear was unfounded. It was just the western fear-mongering media about Iran having its effect on me.
Not a single person expressed any negative feeling towards me when I shared I’m an American citizen. In fact, they all expressed joy and a curiosity to know more about my country. Some even expressed their wishes of visiting cities like New York and Los Angeles – something that is out of reach for most of them at the moment.
So no, don’t be afraid to say you are American – or any nationality, for that matter. Iranians welcome everyone to their country and make everyone feel just as welcome, no matter their nationality.
I wish I brought some of my favorite snacks
Given the trade sanctions and economic situation in the country, Iran doesn’t have many of the popular western snacks many of us love. Oreos, Pringles, Coca-Cola, and Fanta are easy to find almost anywhere, but other than that, everything else is locally produced or imported from neighboring countries.
So, if you constantly crave a specific snack, pack a few bags of it with you because it’s highly probable you won’t find it there.
I wish I knew it would be a hard place to eat as a vegetarian
I’m not a vegetarian, but two fellow travelers in my group were. Iran’s diet is heavy on meats and grains, so it’s not the most vegetarian-friendly country out there. Our guide did her best to cater to the two vegetarians in our group, but some restaurants still unknowingly served meat-based dishes to them as they don’t fully get the whole concept of being vegetarian (like serving a soup broth made with meat, but then removing the meat and claiming it is vegetarian because there’s no meat in it anymore).
Know that as a vegetarian you will not go hungry, but your meal options will be pretty limited. Rice, eggs, and eggplants are very common, though.
I wish I knew I would want to go back
I knew I’d love Iran because I had dreamed of visiting the country for years. What I didn’t know though, is that I wouldn’t be ready to leave after my two weeks there were done and that I’d crave going back soon after I left. That’s how enchanting the country is, and how good my experience with Intrepid Travel was.
Ready for the experience of a lifetime with Intrepid? Visit Iran on one of their local-led tours.
(All images courtesy of Norbert Figueroa and Intrepid Travel.)