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How to Make the Most of the First Hours of Your Trip

Asian Woman with Cup Looks Out on Tokyo, How to Make the Most of the First Hours of Your Trip

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Heading to a new destination? Here's how to settle in before heading out.

En español | Sometimes your much-anticipated arrival in a new place — no matter how much planning you've done — begins with one question: Now what? Here's how I get the most out of those first few hours.

At the Airport

It's easy to think that once you deplane, your only goal is to follow the signs to baggage claim and make a speedy exit. But I always like to spend a few extra minutes looking around the airport, as I'll most likely be returning there on my way home.

Are there some nice places to eat? Shops I might be interested in? Play areas for my kids? Is the airport really spread out? Do I have to hike or ride a tram between terminals? And I always take a look at the security area: chaos or calm? All this helps me decide whether I want to return with no time to spare or make that departure a more leisurely event with maybe a meal and some shopping.

At the Hotel: Check-in Time

I've made a reservation for a specific type of room in a particular category, but rooms aren't all exactly alike. So before the hotel clerk hands over the key card, I'll ask questions and try to get a room better suited to my preferences. How close to the elevator? What's the view? Where's the nearest ice machine?

And I always ask about Wi-Fi. If it's free, the front desk will have the password. If you're going to have to pay, compare the expense with the cost of turning your smartphone into a personal hot spot so you can use it to get Wi-Fi wherever you are.

I'm In!

I've spent much of my traveling career living in hotels, and I have one steadfast rule: Unpack! Living out of a suitcase just becomes too unwieldy. In an effort to make the space my own, I've established a protocol. I wipe off all the large surfaces of the hotel's bric-a-brac: destination magazines, the pleather binder of information, plastic table tents advertising the hotel bar's drink specials.

Then I turn to the bathroom and judge the toiletries. Nice ones? If so, into the purse they go! (So housekeeping will restock.) I also immediately unwrap all the soap. Have you ever tried opening these things with wet hands? Last but certainly not least, I check the location of the fire exit. You just never know.

Time to Head Out!

The neighborhood around my hotel is my support base, so I'll want to know where to find the good but inexpensive food so I can grab a quick breakfast or a bowl of soup. Maybe there's a welcoming cafe with free Wi-Fi.

I'll also look for a nearby drugstore and the closest public transit, and find out how easy it is to catch a cab. This becomes the little world where I'll start and end my day, so I want to know its layout — not only for convenience, but also so I don't miss any little gems right in front of me.

Solidifying the Plan

No matter how long I've spent researching my trip — reading travel guides, poring over maps, checking out blogs — the reality of being there generally requires adjustments. At the end of my first day or possibly sooner, I'll sit down at a cafe and rethink things so I'll be sure to get the most out of my trip. Also, I always leave extra space in my schedule for any locals' advice about what I should do, see or eat.

These arrival steps are now a routine for me — one that I know will make the rest of my trip fun and relaxed.

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