After a week spent in Guyana, a new country for me, I made plenty first time mistakes. When you are returning to countries you have previously visited, you know the routine and are comfortable with how the place works. With new countries it is different and you scour the web for information. These travel tips are universal to follow whichever country you decide to visit.
1. Reserve a hotel or hostel in the city of arrival
It is good to have a home when you arrive for the first day or two. Find a suitable hostel or hotel and reserve it for the first couple of days. Ideally, you can find one that has a shuttle to the airport, which solves dilemma #2. I booked Alajuela Backpackers in San José and this place was perfect. They run a shuttle to the airport and the bus station into downtown is a half block away.
2. Plan a way to get from the airport into the city
Airports are always a good half hour or more from every city, so they provide an immediate test to any traveler’s aptitude for mobility. The Lonely Planet is a great source for figuring this out. A taxi is the easiest solution, but also the easiest way of getting ripped off. Upon arrival in Bangkok, you are swarmed by hordes of ride offers for 1,000 baht. If you walk through this crowd and go up the stairs to the taxi ramp, a taxi will take you into town for 300-500 baht.
3. Exchange money
I find the best way to exchange money is through an ATM. Often times they have one at the airport, but this is not always the case. If not, have your taxi take you to one on the way to where you are staying. Another good idea is to bring a chunk of U.S. dollars in small denominations of one and five dollar bills.
When I went to Southeast Asia, I brought $400.00 of one dollar and five dollar bills. Many countries prefer the use of American dollars, so right away you are getting the best exchange. If not, you can always exchange the money for the local currency.
4. Make a laid back itinerary for the first day or two
Some travelers are gung ho and want to hit the ground running. Depending on where you have arrived from, this may not be a good idea. When I arrived in Guyana, I left my place for O’Hare at 4 p.m. and then did not arrive in Georgetown until 10:30 a.m: needless to say, I was exhausted. I took a nap, woke up, and took a leisurely walk around the city to get my bearings straight.
If you over extend yourself, you run the risk of wearing out and when you do this there is a greater possibility of getting sick. Rest is your immune system’s best friend. Who wants to be ill on vacation in a foreign country?
5. Get a cell phone or SIM card for the country right away
Having a cell phone is vital wherever you are and getting one is rather easy. You can purchase a phone in the country and sell it back when you leave, you can get a SIM card, or you can just rent a phone and a plan while you are there. Ask your hotel or tour operators for help on this one as arrangements differ from country to country. Lonely Planet and other guide books need to update their guides to include this arrangement in every country.
*Image of tourists backpack via Shutterstock