Getting off an airplane after flying around the globe can be disorienting at the best of times (as in, when you actually managed to get some decent sleep on the plane), and extremely overwhelming, even for frequent jetsetters. You’re finally in [insert your dream destination]. Yay! But you’re also jet-lagged and dealing with a weird mix of exhaustion and giddiness. Not to worry. We have you covered with a simple seven-step guide to not only surviving your first 24 hours in any new city, but thriving.
Don’t be a cowboy. You might have been fine winging it in the past when it came to hopping off a flight and then finding a room, but sometimes (say, when you’ve landed in a place where you can’t speak the language, it’s the middle of the night, or you’re so desperate to lay your head somewhere that you’ll take a back alley dumpster), it’s just better to book a room in advance. Whether it’s a hostel, hotel, or an Airbnb rental, knowing exactly where you’ll be going once you get your bag and exit the airport minimises stress and makes the start of your trip that much easier. Even if you’re jumpy from jet lag, having a place to decompress straight out of the gate is important.
How you get downtown will likely depend on how much baggage you have and how many people you’re with. If you’re travelling solo or with one other person and have nothing more than a backpack, you might want to skip the cab and take local transit or an airport shuttle. If you’re lugging more stuff or just really want door-to-door service, grab a taxi. Remember to have some smaller bills with you on arrival, which will make it easier to pay a driver.
Navigating busy streets and neighbourhoods gets easier the longer you’re in any place, but you want to make things as simple as possible during the first 24 hours. Before you arrive, figure out where the most common transit stops are, and aim to book accommodations near there. That cheap spot you found way out of the central district may sound tempting, but you might also be cursing your frugal nature when you realise it’s actually two hours away from where you want to be.
Make things easier on yourself by having the name of your hotel or hostel or the address of your Airbnb (or similar) written in the local language or script so you can show a taxi or tuk-tuk driver and avoid any potential confusion. Try to have this information with you when you land so you can give it to your driver at the airport if need be. This also helps if you happen to get lost and need some directions while you’re still getting the hang of navigating the city.
No matter whether you’re in the sweltering stickiness of Bangkok or the cool climate of Copenhagen, do yourself a favor and stay hydrated. You’ll be depleted from your multi-hour airplane journey, and putting some water back into your body will help boost you out of your jet-lagged state. Yes, beer is wonderful, but in your first 24 hours you want to rebuild your reserves of energy. Eat lightly and drink lots of water (and if you do have a beer or cocktail, chase it with some H20). The Singhas and Sapporos and Pilsner Urquells will still be there once you’re feeling more like yourself again.
Your itinerary might be jam-packed but your first 24 hours in a buzzing city can leave you dizzy. Your first day isn’t for knocking things off your must-see list—you’ll probably be too dazed to remember anything you take in. (Unless, of course, you’re on a stopover, in which case, explore, explore, explore!) If you’re going to have more than one day to look around, just spend Day 1 relaxing and being pumped about the fact you made it to [insert dream destination], whether it’s your first or fifth visit.
Similar to keeping your itinerary light, once you’re ready to start exploring, ease into it—if you have the luxury of time, of course. Rushing, especially in the first few days, can just add to any exhaustion you’ve already been dealing with. Start slow and then pick up the sightseeing pace once you feel ready. You’ll enjoy yourself more and have a lot more fun.
Header photo by Jes/Flickr; other photos by author.
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