The plan, and I use that term lightly considering that I have yet to book a flight, is to arrive in Turkey within the next ten days. Actually, before I continue writing, and this if purely for my benefit so I do apologize, I’m going to promise myself that I will book a flight before publishing this post. That should help me get my act together!
Anyway, despite not having a flight reservation at the moment, I’ve already begun the interesting process of trying to decide where I’ll spend my first night in Istanbul. Without surprise, this is the exact same conversation I have with myself every time I’m about to travel to a new country or begin a new stage of my adventures.
Usually, I spend a handful of days and nights going back and forth over my options, attempting to find that perfect balance between immediate cultural immersion and a somewhat welcome degree of comfort and ease. Often times this issue doesn’t get resolved until just hours before my actual departure and so, on this occasion, I’m determined to make a decision a few days in advance.
While the solution may appear to be simple, requiring only a hotel or hostel-booking website and a credit card, there are a few other options that I also tend to consider. And each of these options offer their own set of undeniable benefits for anyone arriving into a foreign land. Of course, they each come with their own set of challenges as well.
- Booking a room in advance: I don’t do this often but sometimes I will search online or receive a recommendation from a friend and then reserve a room at a budget hotel/guesthouse before I arrive. This way, by booking in advance, once I walk out of the airport, I already have a destination and don’t have to spend any time worrying about how and where I’m going to find a place to stay. On the other hand, unless the hotel I book comes highly recommended from a trusted friend, not being able to see the hotel and its location before paying for the room is always considered a downside. We just never know what we’re going to get, especially when it comes to budget accommodation!
- Wing it!: This is the method I use most, one that involves arriving in a new country without a reservation for that first night and then just figuring things out once I’m there. I’ll hop into a taxi or bus and head off into the city, sometimes with a particular area of town in mind. As soon as I’m dropped off, I’ll roam around checking out a bunch of hotels/guesthouses until I find a suitable (or passable in some cases) option. While this method does allow me to know exactly what I’m paying for ahead of time, it can obviously be a little challenging trying to find a hotel while staggering around jetlagged, disoriented and overwhelmed by my new surroundings. However, there’s no denying that we adjust to the cultural differences much faster by throwing ourselves right into the thick of it from the start!
- Stay with a Friend (or friend of a friend of a friend): These days, it’s not so far-fetched to contact everyone in our email address book or Facebook friend list until we find somebody who knows somebody else living in the same city where our flight will be landing. And if we’re lucky, they just may be the kind of person who is interested in hosting us for a night or three. Of course, this would be an excellent and most comfortable way to begin one’s trip, as we’d already have a specific and welcoming destination upon stepping out of the airport. The main problem with this option (at least for me) is that I tend to feel like a burden, especially if it’s a contact who I barely even know or in some cases, don’t know at all.
- Couchsurfing: I’ve yet to use Couchsurfing.com during my travels but I plan to use it somewhat during this upcoming trip. I’d imagine that securing a spot on someone’s couch for the first night or two would again be a rewarding way in which to begin an adventure. There’s a lot to be said for knowing where you’ll rest your head on that first night and being able to do so in a local resident’s home is certainly a bonus. Of course, as is the case with booking a hotel beforehand, it’s impossible to really know what to expect when we decide to spend the night on a stranger’s couch. However, a little extra time spent on the Couchsurfing website would hopefully help eliminate the chances of having an unpleasant experience!
As you can see, it can be a tough decision. Even after writing about each option, I’ve yet to decide which option sounds best for my arrival in Istanbul (which by the way will be on October 5th – I just booked my flight!).
So at this point, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts.
How do you spend your first night in a foreign country?
Do you prefer the comfort of a nice hotel, a stranger’s sofa or maybe you just head straight to the tourist hot spots and figure it out from there (ie. Khao San Road in Bangkok)?
And if you’ve yet to do some traveling, which of these options do you think you’d prefer to use?