Some people believe in the laissez-faire approach to travelling: just arrive and see what the locals say…see where the winds take you…see what other travellers are doing.
Now, I’m all for flexibility and going with the flow. If you’re too rigid with your uncancellable hotel rooms and dinner reservations, if everything is too set in stone, you have no room to adjust based on your new experiences.
That said, the first 24 hours of your trip are not the time when you should be utilizing a laissez-faire traveller’s approach. Be as flexible as you want throughout your trip, but those first 24 hours should work like clockwork – even if your brain is jetlagged and shutting down, you should know exactly what to do, and where!
How? Here’s my advice for both the traveller and for the professional setting up students on overseas internship programmes. Before you leave you must know…
1) Where you are staying the first 24 hours, with reservations.
“But we arrive in the morning and have all day to find the perfect hotel!!!” Take it from a pilot’s wife and avid traveller – your flight could always be delayed, changed, or cancelled…your car might have a flight tire…
After a 9 hour delayed flight, a flight tire, or some other unforeseen circumstance, imagine how much more you with love yourself when you don’t have to think and can just go straight to a bed and pillow!
2) Know how you’re getting to the hotel, with contact information and a back-up plan
Do NOT be the person who has the perfect plan only to discover that the ride you thought was coming doesn’t…the shuttle you thought was operating isn’t…the taxis you thought were around aren’t…
1 – book reliable transport through your hotel/guesthouse
2 – have a back-up plan in case such as: the hotel’s number if the driver doesn’t show, the metro route to your hotel in case you can’t get a taxi, etc.
3 – have a map to your hotel with a well-known landmark. Every country has what I like to call a “geography culture.” That is, how the majority of locals understand and give directions. In Canada, show a physical address to a taxi driver, and they can look on a map and all will be well. Instructions like “turn left on Yonge then left onto DeGrassi” or “it’s just north of Bloor” work in Canada.
In a place like the UAE, they do not. Instructions for a recent class I was teaching in Dubai went like this: from the main road, take the second exit. After the third mosque, you’ll see a red fenced house. We are the one to the right of that.
You don’t know how popular your hotel is. You also don’t know if there is more than one hotel with the same name as yours. If the person doesn’t speak English very well and hasn’t heard of your hotel…chances are they WILL know a very popular landmark. Know that landmark and be able to navigate on a map to your hotel thereafter. Or at least have the hotel’s number so the taxi can then call the hotel from the landmark.
4) Always know at least 1 or 2 words in the local language so that you avoid looking completely lost and that it’s your first time here. The other night as I descended upon the mass of taxi drivers awaiting new clients at the Phuket International Airport, saying “mi, kapukaw” – ‘no thank you’ (spelled phonetically only, I know!) It was a great way to look like I belonged…even though I didn’t really!
5) HAVE MONEY! Local money if possible. Otherwise, an easily exchangeable currency like the euro or the US dollar. The most important thing is COLD HARD CASH!
I was once in Germany running from bank machine to bank machine trying to get one that would accept my card.
When I first arrived in Malawi, it was the weekend after payday, so all ATMs in Lilongwe were out of money. Don’t expect to find an ATM that works right away…don’t expect an exchange bureau to necessarily be open…have some money! Enough to get to your hotel, buy some dinner, and a bit extra in case of emergency. I also always recommend having a hidden stash somewhere throughout your trip in case you run into these difficulties again.
6) WATER! If you’re going somewhere where tap water is easily accessible and potable, ignore. Otherwise, be on the lookout for water as soon as you arrive. Where you’re staying might not give you an adequate amount for your parched jetlagged self…or if might charge you half your week’s spending money for it. As you’re getting to the hotel, be on the look out for water, and grab some! 3 bottles is my usual “golden number” – 2 which I’ll probably drink, 1 as an emergency.
7) Have a food allergy? Have some back-up food! Having a gluten intolerance, I beat my tummy rumbling and being hangry by always having something like nuts or homemade granola with me. Ever shown up hungry only to found out that the only place open and delivering is pizza? MY WORST NIGHTMARE when I’m hungry and tired!
8) Connect with home. When you’re on your way to the hotel, or recently arrived in the hotel, take that moment to let those loved ones know that you’re safe … and to make sure that they, too, have your contact information. The “arrived safely – love you” texts from my husband absolutely make my day and let me sleep that much more peacefully!
9) Register with your government. The Government of Canada has this awesome site, ROCA – the Registration of Canadians Abroad (http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration). Basically, you fill out your travel details. If there’s an emergency, the government can contact you. If I lose my passport, I have a private government site to easily retrieve all of my details. I always do this and always make my students do it. Find whatever your government offers and use it! It’s there for you! and on that…
10) Know here your closest embassy/consulate/high commission is. You never know when you might need it!
In sum…worst case scenario your flight’s delayed, you arrive angry, jetlagged, hungry and annoyed. And then your shuttle doesn’t show.
HAVE NO FEAR…my friend, you are a smart experiential traveller! You’ve got your first 24 hours covered!
Happy experiencing! Happy travelling!
And non-Canadians, please in the comments section, put any addresses for your government’s registration for citizens abroad.