The first few days in a new city or new country are the most exciting. I’ve developed a pretty standard routine that works for me to get settled in.
- Walk Around. On my first day, I typically don’t plan any activities. I just walk around. I find a coffee shop or park, and I sit and watch. If I only have one or two days in a city, I will not do any museums or tours or anything but walk around. I do like to have a map in addition to the google maps app on my phone, so I can find my way home. Also, I make sure I have the address of the place I am staying. If I know I am going to be staying in the town or city for awhile, I like to scope out the best coffee shops and grocery stores.
- Find the Highest Point in the City. I got this tip from another travel blogger, and I think it’s brilliant. Whether it’s a hike up a hill or an elevator ride up the tallest building, getting a birds-eye view of the city can help you to get your bearings and decide what else you want to see.
- Find out the local food, drink, crafts, wildlife, activities, etc. I want to know what the national drink is. Is there a local delicacy? Do the locals really eat it or is it served for tourists? I was surprised to learn that most Peruvians do not eat alpaca (this meal is geared toward tourists), but they do frequently eat guinea pig (cuy).
Are there animals here that I can’t see anywhere else in the world? What silly souvenirs or unique crafts can be bought here? Finally, I want to know if there is something I can do there that I cannot do anywhere else in the world or something I have never tried. What makes this city unique? Volcano boarding, visiting a jaguar rescue, seeing the world’s smallest orchid, walking through the largest gold museum in the world, or jumping off a bridge…let’s do it!
- Get a new cell phone SIM card. With my unlocked iPhone 4S, it has been easy and cheap (less than 10 bucks) to get a new SIM chip in every country. It is convenient and affordable to have a local phone number, for both keeping in touch with new local friends and for booking future travel. At this time, I also like to find out and program into my phone the local 911 emergency phone number.
- Take a walking tour or a bus tour. Many people are dead set against organized tours, but I actually enjoy them. Especially with a walking tour you can get a taste of the best sites in the city, and make plans to go back to spend more time there later. I like to take a map on the tour and highlight the route, so I can find places again. If I don’t want to do an organized guided tour, I will find a self-guided walking tour online.
In a guided tour, I will try to get to the front of pack, so I can listen carefully and ask the guide questions. I almost always ask the guide where they eat. I remember after a walking tour in Florence, Italy, I asked the tour guide where she ate, not where she recommends the tourists go. She took me to an unmarked restaurant on a side street. It was one of the best meals of my trip. After my walking tour in La Paz, Bolivia, I offered to take my tour guide out to lunch, where I was able to ask all the things I wanted to know about Bolivia from the politics to dating to reality TV to relations with the U.S.. I made an instant friend who I’m still in touch with. Also, specialty tours can be fun, too. I took a chocolate walking tour in Zurich, Switzerland, a horse and buggy tour in Cartagena, Colombia and a boat tour in Granada, Nicaragua.
So that’s my first few day when I get to a new place. Tell me what you like to do when you get to a new city below…