Yesterday one of my best friends mentioned to me that her brother is having some difficulty adjusting to his new expat life, and actually travel in general… I’ve developed a few rules for myself to make my life easier when I arrive in a new city. I have the bad habit of buying the cheapest ticket sequences (because less expense = more travel later) which usually results in an arrival time anywhere between 1am and 5am.
1) always arrive with a bottle of water in hand. I truly think that the worst thing that can happen when traveling (barring, of course, loss of life or limb) is that you end up terribly thirsty and unable to locate a bottle of water because you decided to show up wherever at whatever midnight hour. Take the time I arrived in Tehran in the middle of the night- I was so parched that I couldn’t properly focus on the Masoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, instead I was trying to decide how to coyly pick up a bottle of water meant for the actual poor (not the miskeen American who hadn’t properly planned for midnight tomb excursions).
2) arrange your room and pick up for the first night. Not only am I usually traveling on my own, I don’t often exercise good judgement in situations abroad – especially when tired from buying the cheap, many stops ticket and full of airplane wine – so I’ve learned that it’s better to book a room for the night, and pay the surcharge to have someone pick you up who actually knows where the unnamed hotel is on the side of a hill in the bad part of town.
3) try to convert at least $50 in the airport… In many places I’ve been, it’s significantly better to exchange in the free (read: black) market, but that’s always not realistic. First of all, you have to be able to get to the corner where the guy is selling notes out of a suitcase… Or the rather dodgy shop that changes the exchange rate in accordance to international news. Second, it helps to know the government rate – it’s a good foundation for not getting screwed on an exchange rate that seems awesome, but is really the trick the stupid tourist rate. Part 2 to this rule is to always carry clean, crisp $50 & $100 notes. Being told that your money isn’t good enough results in the same frustration as trying to buy the aforementioned water bottle out of a vending machine when you only have a sweaty, crumpled up $1 bill.