What to do when you’ve arrived?

After you get yourself that soothing coffee, remember some basic things you gotta do!

After you get yourself that soothing coffee, remember some basic things you gotta do!

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! 🙂

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10 comments on “What to do when you’ve arrived?

  1. well.. i started writing this comment and i think it’s become at least half an article by itself:

    1- if you can, take directions from people who are either tied down to a certain task, like a shopkeeper. that way it is less likely this person will follow you.
    in case there is no such stationery person around then ask someone who seems pre-occupied and walking in the opposite direction. that way in case this person does start following you you would be alerted sooner, than if that person is already generally walking in your direction.

    2- in case you, as a guy, are walking with a girl or a group of girls alone in a dark area, walk behind the girl at a slight distance. this way if some rowdy passerby tries anything you would be at an advantage. also, a person walking loosely behind a lone girl seems more like either an existing threat, which, i believe, by itself distances other threats, and also may seem like a local who could be a significant obstacle for any assailant.

    3- if you can do little research about travelling between two places, then try to see if there are multiple paths to and from the same location. Cab drivers are known to test the local knowledge of tourists by asking questions like over the bridge or through the underpass? The faster and snappier your answer is the more sure of yourself you seem and therefore the less likely that the cab driver would mess with you.

    4- in the case of catching autos and cabs in seemingly unsafe neighbourhoods be sure to fake a conversation with an over fussy parent or friend about how you are completely okay and that you are not going to take the photograph of the licence and MMS/email/FB/Tweet it over your smart phone. Then finally relent, so ‘sorry friend’ to the driver but your worried old parent wants you to do this, then take a picture of the driver’s licence that is usually on display in the vehicle, or the licence plate or the driver’s face itself, and send it over to someone’s mail box. Even if you don’t have internet or even a camera phone, you could even fake the actions which by itself serve as a deterent.

    5- never settle for the first deal on anything– hotel, bike rental, tickets. the more information you have the less likely you are to be cheated. there’s nothing worse than putting down 1500 Rs for the first room because you were lazy, and then find out that every other room like that costs a third the price.

    6- locations that do not have many hotels that have their own website are probably covered by third-party websites that list highly inflated prices for rooms. do not fall for this. these websites were created for lazy people who cannot find 3 phone numbers and find out actual prices themselves, minus the middleman.

  2. I loved the heading …and what you have written ….all the must do’s when you have arrived ….what you can add according to me is the need to research or gather information about some emergency contacts ….like hospitals,local police,local cabs etc …just in case you need them…they should be handy….good work 🙂

    • Thank you so much, and an excellent suggestion. In fact, you’ve already given me an idea for another post, which shall be dedicated to you! 🙂
      Will keep you posted, and keep dropping by! 😀

  3. beautifully captured and very well written, Shruti! Just last week I grabbed a business card and chatted up the receptionist for the same reasons you mention. You may want to add – “chat up friendly strangers on the street” – after our experience in Malaysia;-) Of course, you’ll need to qualify that with all the caution our parents would have adviced by saying “do not talk to strangers”..:-)

    • hahaha.. thanks, Madhu! 🙂 And yes, meeting strangers would make for a lovely addition. I think I’ll do a whole post on such serendipitous “crossing of paths”! 😀 Thanks for the idea, and I do hope I get to see you soon! Thanks to you, I seem to have made quite a few friends in the Mumbai Hangout bunch — who, come to think of it, were supposed to have actually met you! 😛

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