Arriving in a New Country: A Backpacker's Routine

Friday, June 3, 2011  at 6:58 AM
As a frequent traveler and a backpacker, I have developed a routine for my first steps in a new city or country.  As soon as I arrive, I jump into action and I follow these steps in quick succession.  Here are the eight steps to follow immediately after arriving in a new location.

London Guard on horse by Danalynn C
A royal guard in London, right before the Changing of the Guards.

1. Gather Your Belongings
It doesn't matter how spread out you were during your transportation, now is the time for quick movement and everything must be put away.

2. Grab a Free Map
Almost every information desk in every airport, train station or bus station has some sort of free map of the area.  Grab one now.  If they are trying to charge you for the map, take a good look at it to get an idea of your location but do not buy it.  Once you are in town, any large hotel will have free city maps at the front desk if you ask nicely.  If you happen to find yourself in the most unusual town where every map costs a pretty penny, STILL don't pay for one.  Instead, snap a photo of a map with your camera.  Every time you need to consult a map, just review the photo! 

3. Get a Public Transportation Time Table
While you are at the information desk, see what public transportation time tables they have.  These should also be free.  Whether this is bus, shuttle, subway or metro, grab the ones for the right area(s) you will be in. 

Roman Park by Danalynn C
An incredible park in Rome--I only knew it was there by investigating the huge park marked on my city map.

4. Get a Tourist Attraction Brochure
The last item to grab from the information desk is a tourist attraction brochure.  Remember, you do not have to pay the tourist-inflated prices for the guided tours, just get an idea of what the locals have decided are the must-see tourist spots!  Chances are, these brochures will have as much background information as a basic tour guide, they will have a map of the attraction, and they may have information on how to get there.

5. Compare the Different Types of Public Transportation
Sometimes the shuttle will be cheaper and faster, sometimes the bus will be much longer but will be cheaper, but you can't tell until you are there.  Even if you checked the prices online, check again.  Also, check where the different types of transportation will take you--your newly acquired map is good for this!  It might not be the best option to go for the cheaper transportation if it drops you off on the opposite side of town from where you have to be.  The cheapest option may even be a taxi, but always compare your options first!

6. Choose Your Transportation Schedule
Find out when your chosen mode of transportation leaves.  Do you have to buy tickets beforehand?  Will you be picked up at this location, or do you have to walk a half of a mile away?  Figure out how much time you have and how speedy you should be getting to your transportation.

Telephone Pole at Sunset by Danalynn C
A lovely, vivid sunset in Washington State.
7. Take Out Money From the ATM
Do NOT use the currency exchange shops.  Instead, take out money from the ATM, hopefully using a bank card that will not charge you a lot to withdraw money in a foreign country.  Estimate how much you will need (I recommend underestimating). Some countries will require you to use cash almost exclusively, while others will accept cards with little problem.  However, I always recommend to have at least a bit of cash on you, as there will always be places that you will need cash (street vendors, public transportation, weekend markets, etc).

8. Go!
You didn't come to see the airport, train station or bus station.  You now have everything you need from the airport, so go explore a new country!
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