The First 6 Things I Do When I Land in a New City
Landing in a new city can be intimidating and overwhelming. There are so many things to figure out and so much potential for things to go awry. That first day can set the tone for your whole visit. I always find the most anxious period of a trip for me is the moments after I pick up my luggage from the baggage carousel. I’m on my own at that point. So there are a few things that I find I always do when I land somewhere new to start my trip off right.
If I’m travelling abroad, one of the first things I’ll do before I leave the airport is to look for an ATM where I can withdraw some local currency. I never feel fully comfortable unless I have at least a few local notes in my wallet. For most purchases when travelling I tend to use my credit card but there are always times when you need cash.
Get a local SIM card
If I haven’t set up a roaming plan before I leave to go somewhere, I’ll pick up a SIM card at the airport. It’s not even that I need to be on social media when I’m out exploring, I want to make sure I have data for things like maps and directions. Having Google Maps available whenever I want it gives me peace of mind. If it’s not possible to get a SIM at the airport for some reason, it’ll be one of the first things I do after getting settled at my accommodations.
Get a local transit card
I always research the local transportation options during my trip planning stage. I like to know in advance the best ways to get around the city I’ll be visiting. Typically, this means public transit, so one of the first things I always do when landing in a new city is to get myself a transit card. Whether it’s a pre-paid Oyster card in London, a 7 day unlimited MetroPass in New York, or a carnet of 10 tickets for the Paris Metro, knowing how I’m going to move about this new city makes me feel less anxious.
Find a place to eat…and coffee
I’ve made the mistake before of not researching food options in advance and ended up wandering around and settling for sub-par food because I just had to eat something. Think McDonald’s in Tokyo or TGIFridays in Manhattan. Ugh. Food is often one of the big highlights of a trip for me so I hate wasting a meal on something purely utilitarian instead of a new, enjoyable experience.
Also very important, if it’s not provided at my accommodations, is finding the nearest spot to get a cup of coffee in the morning. I enjoy starting my day with a hot cup of coffee in hand and I really enjoy finding cute, local coffee shops so I try to scope one out in advance so that I don’t waste time in the morning when I’m bleary-eyed and un-caffeinated.
Look for free walking tours
I discovered the joy of the free walking tour in Europe a few years ago. A quick Google search may uncover one in the new city you’re visiting. Typically, they’ll last an hour or two and I find them to be a good way to get your bearings in a new place and also to learn something about it. While there’s no set price, you are strongly encouraged to tip your guide at the end, as this is how they get paid.
Another option for getting the feel of a new city is to look for a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. This would be more of an all day affair but they typically will show you the city highlights. In Vancouver, my mother and I decided to first ride the entire loop without hopping off, just to see the city, later on the 2nd loop we decided where we’d like to explore more. We felt like we had a feel for the vibe of the city right away.
Plan one thing to do the next day
Before I go to bed each night I like to have a rough idea of what I’m doing the next day. I don’t need a full itinerary but I like to have at least one concrete plan for the day, even if that thing is something as aimless as just wandering around a neighbourhood with my camera. Since I’m a vacation traveller and not a full-time one I like to make the most of my time and hate feeling like I’ve wasted an entire morning just trying to figure out what I want to do. Maybe I’m a bit Type A that way.
I find that these six things always help me feel more settled in a new city and less anxious about being surrounded by the unfamiliar.
What things do you typically do when you reach a new destination?