So, the vacation is now a reality. You’d been planning for months (or not at all) and had thought of every single hurdle that could put this much longed for and needed vacation in jeopardy — but nothing happened! Or even if they did, you have surmounted all, and have blissfully arrived at the destination of choice. You’ve checked into your hotel, settled in and feel like you can conquer the world.
But before you do just that, here are a couple of things that make the experience all the more better and hassle-free.
1. Grab your hotel’s business card: You’ve skimmed through Tripadvisor and gotten yourself a great deal on a quaint little hotel in the heart of the city that not many know about. Discovery! (Please pat yourself on a job well done.) But the flipside of such fortuitous discoveries is that when you’re lost wandering the city, soaking it all in, you can’t really ask people for directions to the hotel! ‘Coz it’s a secret remember?! To avoid such a situation, make sure you grab a couple of visiting cards from the hotel and place them in your wallet, between the sheets of the book you’re carrying around, in the pockets of your several coats, and anywhere else you can think of. This way, even if you have a language problem, you can whip out the card and get proper directions, or show it to the cabbie, etc., etc.
1a. GPS it: If you’re a techie and work well with your GPS map apps (and they can be lifesavers!), “Favourite/Mark” your hotel location before venturing out. This will see you through any wrong turns, drunken stupors and over-smart cabbies that would like you to contribute generously to their day’s income.
2. Walk around your hotel: Take some time out on Day 1 to familiarize yourself with the hotel locality. You never know when you get a sudden craving for coffee or need something from the deli. If you’re a budget traveller (like moi) then it may be possible you’re staying in a h/motel with no kitchen (this is fairly common in European countries), get an idea of the 24×7 shops around the place, and the general time when they open and close.
3. Chat up the receptionist: Most receptionists are founts of information, and they know how to get the stuff, and where to get the stuff — so be nice! (Plus, they also have a key to your room!) If you like local flavour and cultural amusements, ask the receptionist/concierge for tips around the city — there may be special events or festivals that you could check out, breweries/restaurants that are new and haven’t quite made it to your edition of Lonely Planet. The guy will probably be able to help you out with reservations/tickets and the other paraphernalia.
Also, you’ll be surprised to see the kind of stuff people have left behind, and most receptionists would have stored them — from phone chargers and books to playing cards. So, if you’ve forgotten some essentials, just ask them and they may have it.
4. Grab a map: Of paramount importance. You may have the latest smartphone, and a cracking map app, but it’s always good to keep a hardcopy backup. Most hotels have city maps, so make sure you grab one or two. These not only help you plan your way around the city, but you can also mark places like your hotel, and other must-visits on it, so that you don’t forget. Also, once the trip is over, marked maps make for awesome souvenirs.
5. Grab a transit pass for the city/state: Taking public transport is a great way to get a feel of the city. It’s also a safe way to get lost (if you like doing that on a regular basis — and you should. It’s fun!). Most cities have day/week passes that work for different types of transport services, and they’re also very cheap. These are usually available at the terminus or even the mom-n-pop stores and kiosks. If you find a booklet with details like bus/tram/metro routes, get one. Teemed with a map, they can be a formidable weapon in your pocket.
6. Get a local number: If you’re travelling in the same country for around a week or more, then I have found that the initial investment into a local GSM SIM card with data connectivity can give great dividends. Not only do you save up on international calling rates, but it gives you great security while travelling by yourself. In fact, a prepaid plan with the primary focus on data connectivity with a basic call balance is optimal. Use Skype and Viber to make the calls, and a zillion other apps increase mobility. Most hotels usually have Free Wi-Fi (yes, yes, India still has to catch up on that!), so you would basically need to make calls of short duration. Check out these links for some detailed info (Rick Steves; Slow Travel); Telestial (specially good for Europe), Cellular Abroad (for multiple countries on the same card) offers some decent options for those intending to travel across Europe. You can also rent phones from these sites (and other places as well. These are just a few examples I’ve given). Also, there are some plans excluding text messages. Now, “I’m a let’s talk, instead of message” kinda person — especially since a 1-minute conversation is a LOT more enlightening, than six text messages — and economical!
Please note, most service providers have country-specific calling cards, which makes calling home EXTREMELY cheap. In fact, more often than not, it’ll be cheaper for you to call home, than for them to call you! No kidding!
And if there’s anything I’ve missed out, please do let me know with your comments! 🙂