How To Spend Your First 20 Minutes In A New Country

How To Spend Your First 20 Minutes In A New Country

By |2016-07-21T23:47:28-04:00May 15th, 2012|Transportation, Travel Tips & Advice|139 Comments

Cup of Coffee

Coffee? You’ll see.

So, your flight lands. You walk off the plane and proceed to the Immigration lines. You receive your entry stamp in your passport. You collect your luggage from the luggage carousel and you walk through the Customs area without any issues.

And then you step out into the arrivals hall of the airport, ready to begin your adventure in a new land.

At this point, you may already have your transportation organized and somebody or some service is picking you up. Others might have spent a little time before their trip researching the best methods to get from the airport into the city on their own and some people won’t have done any research whatsoever.

If you’re the kind of person (as I am myself) who prefers to do only some very basic research or even no research at all before you arrive, I offer you the following suggestion of…

How you should spend your first 20 minutes in a new country.

You should take a break immediately upon arrival. This is an idea that I briefly mentioned on this site over 18 months ago, one that I learned from fellow traveler John Bardos over at (lots of useful information on this site for anyone looking to become location independent).

Taking a break is so simple, it makes so much sense, yet almost nobody does it.

Once you collect your luggage and proceed through the Customs inspection, head straight to an airport cafe, plop down in a seat and drink a coffee or tea or anything else you might desire. (If there’s no cafe, just sit down on one of the benches in the arrivals hall.)

As travelers, we tend to be taken advantage of most when we are tired, disoriented and unfamiliar with our surroundings, which is exactly the state we’re in right after landing in a new destination. So why not relax for 20 minutes instead of immediately trying to figure out how to get into the city? Enjoying such a rest allows you to take a few deep breaths, observe your surroundings and to clear your head before stepping out into the unknown.

You can also ask the staff at the cafe for reliable information about transportation and you can read the signs around the airport from your table without looking completely lost. Then, when you feel ready, you can calmly and confidently (you won’t be so overwhelmed anymore) head off into the city. And by this point, the unofficial taxi and shuttle bus representatives will have left you alone and you most likely won’t be bothered by anyone.

Also, if you’re two or more people traveling together, one person can wander around the airport learning the best way to get into the city while the other waits in the cafe so that you don’t have to stand around with your backpacks, exhausted and frustrated, trying to read signs and trying to understand where you need to go.


Taking such a break has helped me out several times, including…

Upon arrival in Istanbul during my first visit, a simple rest in a cafe at Ataturk Airport allowed me to figure out how to navigate the metro and tram system that would take me into the city center after a 17 hour trip from the US. Before I had my coffee, I found myself fending off several people offering a variety of taxi and shuttle bus services at prices that seemed much too high.

When I flew into Bucharest’s Otopeni airport, taking a seat on a row of benches in the arrivals hall (I couldn’t find a cafe) for twenty minutes helped me discover that the ‘official’ taxis in front of the airport charge 3.50 lei per kilometer ($1.15 USD) but if you walk one minute down the exit ramp you can hail a taxi that charges the standard Bucharest taxi rate of 1.39 lei per kilometer.

And when a friend of mine flew to Vietnam last week, he told me about how he took a seat at a cafe in the airport and how it saved him from getting ripped off by a taxi driver, something that had happened to just about every other traveler he met at the hostel where he was staying in Ho Chi Minh City. Simply by asking the waitress at the cafe for advice, he learned that he could catch a local bus outside the airport that would take him straight into the neighborhood he wanted for less than $1.00.

All it took was twenty minutes of relaxation upon arrival.

Wandering Earl at JFK


The following can make things even more hassle-free…

Find another traveler in the airport. Whenever I fly into a country for the first time – and I actually begin this process while on the plane itself – the first thing I do is to look around for other backpackers. If I don’t notice any on the airplane, I look around the immigration area of the airport, the luggage carousels and the customs area to see if anyone else looks like a traveler in need of a ‘buddy’.

If I do locate a fellow traveler, I strike up a conversation and ask them if they want to head into the city together. After all, backpackers usually tend to stay in the same area of a city, whichever area has the most budget accommodation options, so why not team up? Dealing with the initial challenges of facing a foreign language, foreign culture and simple lack of local street smarts in a strange land is much less intimidating when you’re with another clueless person.

The word ‘Official’ doesn’t actually mean ‘Official’ in many countries. In many airports, you’ll immediately notice booths and signs in the arrivals area advertising ‘Official Taxis’ and there will be people yelling out ‘Official this’ and ‘Official that’ in an attempt to convince you to use their services. But don’t be fooled, in some airports it seems that anyone is allowed to use this word, even those involved in the most unofficial of operations.

In fact, this is also true with the word ‘Government’ in some airports as well. Signs for ‘Official government taxis’ may lead you to an unlicensed guy with a car parked a mile down the road who will proceed to rip you off and just maybe, as happened to me in Bangladesh, kidnap you for a couple of days. So, this is where taking a break really pays off…it gives you time to find out exactly where the official ‘Official’ taxis or other transportation are located.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to plan every detail of your trip ahead of time and that’s not even something that I would recommend. But you certainly don’t want to arrive in Bangkok or Delhi or Buenos Aires or Cairo, overflowing with excitement about your upcoming travels, only to have all of that positive energy immediately sucked straight out by a negative experience as soon as you land.

And if the difference between a frustrating, upsetting initial experience and a much smoother, enjoyable one lies simply in a cup of coffee and sitting in a chair for twenty minutes, I imagine you’d agree that this is an idea worth following!

Any other arrival advice to share? Do you usually plan your transportation ahead of time or do you just figure it out once you get to your destination?

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  1. […] a new, unfamiliar land – whether by plane, train, bus, foot or any other method – is to stop for 20 minutes. Find a quiet corner, take a seat and relax. Stay calm, be patient and observe everything around […]

  2. Mikaela July 4, 2016 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    and I am back again today – I cannot get enough of your blog!
    this is a fantastic post. I leave for my first solo trip on Friday in over 2.5 years and I am going to try this.
    I absolutely love this advice combined with your 5 minute meditation, as being tired was a real concern for me.

    • Derek July 7, 2016 at 8:38 am - Reply

      I wish you the best with your solo trip and hope it is off to an awesome start!

  3. Vividscapes October 30, 2015 at 6:30 am - Reply

    Stumbled on your blog from a fellow blogger on facebook and we really hooked, like your funny style of writing and useful information.

    This was by accident that we found the 20 min rest stop after landing during our last 2 trips, when we landed we just thought lets go to a nice little Cafe in the norwegian airport of Alesund, and it was then we felt this little break was quite refreshing and you posts sums it up nicely.
    We are planning to do this regularly on all our future travels too 🙂

  4. Laura (@ worldlynomads) May 26, 2015 at 10:21 am - Reply

    Totally agree Earl! We’ve done this a few times but you can easily forget to with all the excitement of getting into and exploring a new place! Taking this time out is sooo helpful and has definitely saved us from a few snap decisions when first arriving to a new place….as a travelling couple it’s also useful being able to leave one person with the bags whilst the other checks everything out without looking desperate with a heavy backpack on, yes good thinking! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  5. […] I should have done is follow my own advice. I talk about taking a 20 minute coffee break when arriving in a new destination in order to relax and make better decisions as a result. The […]

  6. […] like the travel tip I once wrote about on the blog where I mention the benefits of going to a cafe and having a cup of coffee immediately upon arrival in a new destination. Taking a few minutes to just sit and relax before […]

  7. […] I will write more about the village itself and the Jiangxi Tour but for now, while walking along the pretty streets by the river of Little Likeng, myself and my girlfriend felt the need to revitalize with a fresh cappuccino. I’m not the only travel blogger who uses this tactic, check out Wandering Earl’s post on “How to spend your first 20 minutes in a country”. […]

  8. Mike February 16, 2014 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    Great advice, and makes total sense. I’ve learned the hard way, like the time I had to walk from Jordan to Israel through 100 metre no mans land, spending about 2 hours trying to get through Israel immigration (put my luggage thru X-ray 3 times), and then was promptly ripped off by the first taxi I saw for a short drive to Eilat.
    Normally I rent a vehicle when arriving, and I think your advice is equally important in that situation to give you a chance to calm yourself before having to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, or weave in and out amoung crazy drivers…

  9. Katie January 28, 2014 at 7:08 am - Reply

    That’s such a sensible tip. It sounds so simple that it makes me wonder why I didn’t think of it! I’m definitely going to make this my standard practice from now on. Thanks! 🙂

  10. Gary October 20, 2013 at 1:41 am - Reply

    Auckland A irport in New Zealand has FREE Coffee by the luggage carousel so is well worth a 20minute stop

    • Wandering Earl October 20, 2013 at 2:20 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing that Gary – that’s a good tip I had no idea about.

  11. Karen August 30, 2013 at 4:06 am - Reply

    I like the idea of resting right after a flight. You’re right that as travellers we’re just too focused on getting on from one destination to the next that we forget what we travelled for. For most, its REST.

    I will definitely make the airport cafe the first place to plonk down after a flight and get me sorted out before I enter the city. Thanks for the tip Earl!

  12. […] breakfast at a cafe in the train station, following Wandering Earl’s excellent advice about how to spend your first 20 minutes in a new place.  I will defintely take some time out again when arriving in a new country, as it gave us a chance […]

  13. […] I arrived in Xi’an, checked into my hotel, and was ready to find the terracotta army. After reading this article, I think I was a victim of not taking a break and just going, even though I was pretty […]

  14. […] surroundings. If you get too worked up or paranoid, chances are your fears will be realised. I take Wandering Earl’s advice and sit down with a coffee to collect my thoughts as soon as I arrive in a new […]

  15. Jonny Blair May 28, 2013 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    Hi Earl – nice post and interesting that you do this. I’ve actually done this twice before but only at airports while I was waiting on a mate’s flight to arrive. If I’m travelling overland and cross a border, I’ll usually try to head to the nearest town or city first to drop off my bags before grabbing a coffee or a beer. Coffee at airports is usually beyond my budget too. I carry sachets of coffee with me (wrote a post about it) so anywhere that has free hot water and a cup, I grab a free one! Safe travels. Jonny

  16. Pamela May 25, 2013 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    Wow, great tip there.
    This post make me think back on 2 occasions when I touched down onto the land of the unfamiliar after an overnight flight. One time, I rushed to get the train. I was kind of disoriented while trying to figure out how much to pay for the fare and get to the right platform. Another time I had time to get myself more oriented and confident because I had to wait for the airport shuttle to operate and bring me to my hostel. Now I realise the idling time was actually very helpful.

    I will make a point to ‘star’ this in my brain when I travel to another land of the unfamiliar.

  17. […] There are few things that make you stand out more than looking at a huge map with a quizzical look on your face when you arrive in a new country. Like the coyote after the roadrunner, you will quickly find people behind you, offering to help. While in some countries, these may be honest attempts at helping you out, it could also be a trick to scam you. I am not trying to tell you to be xenophobic and reject contact, but it is a fact that when you are disoriented, you make mistakes. Wandering Earl from goes further by suggesting that you take a break immediately after arriving in a new country. […]

  18. […] Wandering Earl has a great post on how to spend your first 20 minutes in a new country. […]

  19. Julia February 13, 2013 at 11:22 am - Reply

    Great advice! I just gave a similar tip to a student of mine, advising that she go for a meal after any long bus ride. You always roll into a new place dehydrated and tired! Taking a break to orient and get some calories makes a huge difference. Thanks for sharing!

  20. […] fULL aRTICLE […]

  21. Links We Love | Love & Adventure January 19, 2013 at 11:02 am - Reply

    […] Wandering Earl has some advice about how to spend your first 20 minutes in a new country. […]

  22. Anne December 10, 2012 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Having traveled the world for more than 30 years (not continuously, but close) I think this piece of advice is nothing short of brilliant. Take a moment. That’s it. Sometimes the simple things are the very best. I may put this into our pre-departure documents (citing your blog & giving you credit, of course). Anne @onthemap

  23. Christine December 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    simple but very valuable advice, thank you. I will definitely take your advice and not just in airports but anywhere I find myself disorientated 🙂

  24. Jonathan Paradis December 9, 2012 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Caught myself doing that at the Sheremetyevo International Airport. The train that’d take me from the airport to Moscow city centre wasn’t going to come before another 30 minutes. I think I almost cried when I walked away from the ticketing office only to find a Starbucks. It’s crap coffee, absolutely overpriced at $4 bucks for a drip and truthfully nothing special, but after four months spent in India it tasted just like home (Vancouver) and man that made me happy! Sometimes this forced break gets you to see something you didn’t even know what you needed hehe! Starbucks aside, the tip’s a really good one. After long-haul flights, you really are spaced out and taking a few minutes to actually land can make you much more aware of your surroundings and avoid getting ripped off. Good tip, pal!

  25. Graeme Voigt November 27, 2012 at 7:01 am - Reply

    AWESOME! This helped me out a lot mate! THANK YOU!

    • Wandering Earl November 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      Glad to hear it Graeme!

  26. Greg November 3, 2012 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    Sound advice. Just came across your site and am going to check it out for more nuggets of info such as this. Happy Trails!

  27. Brendon Of Nerd Travels October 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the advice. I can relate to this. I am guilty of rushing of all disoriented. I will have to remember your advice.
    Aweosme site I look forward to reading future articles 🙂

  28. Michelle October 14, 2012 at 6:44 am - Reply

    Great advice and I’ll definitely try it out when I go on my first solo-backpacking trip to Asia. Whenever I travel with friends or boyfriend, upon arrival we immediately look for the fastest way to get into the city, not allowing ourselves any time to just sit down and get accustomed for a bit, which results in arriving at our destination feeling rushed and tired. Never gonna do that again!

  29. Erin Walton October 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    Earl, of course. Of course, of course, of course. I never do that – and now, will never NOT do that again. It’s so true that when you arrive, you’re exhausted and disoriented and much less likely to make your best decisions. Fabulous advice: And easy. And free! I’ve only just found your site – and so am looking forward to more.

  30. Passport Dave October 6, 2012 at 5:08 am - Reply

    Great article. I have always done this when I travel, didn’t realize there were others out there doing the same. I just liked avoiding the crowds, so I chill and wait for them to dissipate before coming up with a plan.

  31. Lien Pham August 6, 2012 at 9:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Earl,
    i really enjoy your blog and love to travel independently whenever possible … thanks for sharing these awesome tips! i am originally from VietNam, went back there 6,7 times and completely understand about the ripoff :-(. Bon voyage! lien (from California) 🙂

  32. Ros June 27, 2012 at 9:34 pm - Reply

    Hi Earl
    What a great blog! Love it! I like this advice; you are so right! We have a 7 year old now so a little harder to travel but easier as he gets older. Years ago we landed in Lisbon and got pounced on by the first guy who offered us accommodation. We were lucky as it was genuine but it is truly so easy to be ripped off by people who prey on us tourists. Next time we travel (to Vietnam in October), I will be conscious of your “20 minute advice.”
    Happy travels!

    • Earl June 30, 2012 at 5:24 am - Reply

      Thanks Ros! And I’m sure this ‘trick’ will prove useful in Vietnam. It has yet to fail me 🙂 Enjoy your travels as well!

  33. […] to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.Powered by WP Greet Box WordPress Plugin1) Take a break immediately upon arrival.  This piece of advice from the Wandering Earl Blog is brilliant.  Sit.  Chill.  Have some […]

  34. […] How To Spend Your First 20 Minutes In A New Country( […]

  35. RunAwayHippie June 7, 2012 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    Love this! thanks, will totally do that next time…makes complete sense

  36. […] found How to Spend Your First 20 Minutes in a New Country by Wandering Earl early on in the month, and made sure to bookmark it, like I do with many of his […]

  37. Fatima May 31, 2012 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Great advice ! I’m heading to Paris tomorrow from London …by bus! And will definitely be tired and disoriented when I arrive. So thanks! Will have coffee and sort myself out before happily getting lost with the French 🙂

    • Earl June 2, 2012 at 8:26 am - Reply

      Hey Fatima – I hoped it worked out for you in Paris!

  38. lauren May 31, 2012 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    such simple yet great advice. thanks for sharing.

    cheers – lola

    ps – your kidnapped story sounds freaky.

  39. Kathy Schmidt May 25, 2012 at 12:55 am - Reply

    Hey Earl

    I love this as a suggestion. I often try find time to sit and have coffee once I get to the place I can lay my head and unload my bag, but have never thought of staying in the airport to have coffee. Also finding a fellow traveler is ideal, there is just a sense of trust when you meet others on the same mission to explore, so far that trust hasn’t come back to haunt me…

    • Earl May 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm - Reply

      Hey Kathy – That trust hasn’t haunted me either at any time and it just helps reduce the nerves when we find another traveler to share those first few minutes with!

  40. Less stress travel tips May 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm - Reply
  41. Casey OD May 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    What a great common-sense tip! For long-haul flights, flight staff can be a good source of info too because they usually do the same route for awhile. On a flight from Paris to Shanghai I borrowed a pen from the flight attendant and chatted, and when we landed he pointed us in the direction of the train.

    • Earl May 23, 2012 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      Hey Casey – Thanks for adding your thoughts and talking with the flight staff definitely seems like a solid idea. Most of them should know the destination, or at least the airport layout, far better than a traveler heading there for the first time.

  42. Joemill May 19, 2012 at 10:32 am - Reply

    I can relate, Earl! It happened to me while traveling from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur on a bus. As I stepped out in Kuala Lumpur, I felt the eerie feeling of being ‘lost’. And I didn’t love the feeling of being ‘scared’. I didn’t have much research about the place. So I just sat in front of a hotel and breathed for a few minutes just so I could think about the next logical step forward.

    Great post, Earl! Thanks!

    • Earl May 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm - Reply

      Hey Joemill – That’s the way to go…if you didn’t stop and take a rest for a few minutes, you probably would have remained ‘lost’ for a lot longer!

  43. Someday I'll Be There - Mina May 18, 2012 at 9:16 am - Reply

    This is definitely great advice, Earl. I tend to take a couple of minutes rest rather than just exiting the airport, pay a quick visit to the information desk and ask about how to get to my destination, and ask what metro or buses I should be taking, it usually pays off really good.

    • Earl May 18, 2012 at 9:55 am - Reply

      Hey Mina – Finding the information desk is a good idea as well, as long as you can find the real official information desk! And I try to take metro or local buses into the city whenever I can too…always seems like the most hassle-free option. Hope all is well in that 40 degree weather in Sharm el Sheikh!

  44. Si May 18, 2012 at 8:04 am - Reply

    Hi Earl, I often take this approach. Taking stock of your surroundings is so important when somewhere new. I also try to find a local snack to really get you in the mood, and in preperation for the next step of your journey.

    Love the blog, kind regards, Si

    • Earl May 18, 2012 at 9:57 am - Reply

      Hey Si – Getting in the local mood with a snack is another solid idea, something I’ve never thought of before. I’ve always just gone for coffee for some reason, but why not eat some local food to start things off. Makes sense now that you mention it!

  45. Belgy Hudson May 18, 2012 at 2:43 am - Reply

    Yup coffee is the best way! Nothing beats a tasty and delicious frappe after a flight.

  46. Andrew May 17, 2012 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Another great article by Earl

  47. Jeremy Branham May 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Thanks Earl. I’ve never thought about taking a break when I arrive. However, it totally makes sense. As soon as I read about these tips and your experiences, I immediately thought about Barcelona. Tired and jet lagged, I went to the ATM but couldn’t get any money. Finally was able to get a few euros and took the train to downtown. Then I got lost and couldn’t find my hostel. I was so irritated and frustrated at that point because I was tired and nothing had gone right.

    Maybe taking a break would have helped. I don’t drink coffee but getting your bearings for a few minutes would have helped. However, I do like to beat all the other tourists to the car rental counter, taxi, train, etc so maybe I could settle down once I started on my way into the city.

    I may have to break my routine and give this a shot!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm - Reply

      Hey Jeremy – Coffee isn’t needed…even sitting in a corner for a few minutes helps!

  48. Phil May 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Love this idea, Earl! Going to try it tomorrow morning in Lisbon. Should be a 5AM arrival time so I might just end up passing out!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm - Reply

      Hey Phil – Hope it works for you in Lisbon! And how long are you sticking around Europe for?

  49. inca May 17, 2012 at 7:00 am - Reply

    Great tips!

    I hear what you say about the overwhelming pressure from drivers. On a travel to Paris some years ago, because of an impatient guy I had with me, I gave in to one of those pressing taxi drivers. On our way to the taxi, he was taken by the airport police and we were told to be more careful about getting involved with unofficial services 🙂

    my two cents to add:
    – if you’re traveling at weird hours or to very small airports, you might want to reduce this 20 mins to 5. In some airports after 20 mins you might miss all the available transportation and have to wait for the next incoming flight time that can be hours later or be forced to use taxi if the only available bus leaves when full.

    – if you have to use taxi, and if possible, I would suggest going to the “departures” area rather than arrivals. Taxis there are usually coming from the city as opposed to being airport taxis who charge more. They drop off a customer and would be happy to not go empty. Though, double check if the airport has rules against this (still can get around it though 🙂 ).
    Or simply walk out of the airport if you have learned that there is traffic nearby.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      Hey Inca – Excellent advice as well! Going to the departures area is a great idea and something I’ve done myself in many places. Thanks so much for adding your tips here!

  50. Forest May 17, 2012 at 5:29 am - Reply

    Great advice Earl and something I try to do myself.

    Another advantage is that the initial rush from your flight has often died down and you can travel a little more relaxed if no other massive flights have poured out.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      Hey Forest – That’s also a good point and avoiding such crowds definitely does make a difference in terms of having a more relaxed initial experience. And the more relaxed we are during those first few minutes in a new place, the better!

  51. IamJoyceee May 17, 2012 at 12:09 am - Reply

    I try to find if there’s a McDonlads in the airport! Look at the menu, know the varieties, and probably buy the item that I haven’t tried yet, if I’m hungry! 🙂 Otherwise, the coffee idea is good too. 🙂

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm - Reply

      Hey Joycee – That method works also 🙂

  52. [email protected] May 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    This is exactly what we’ve learned to do (though it’s more a case of us being lazy and wanting to chill for a minute before running the taxi/tout gauntlet).

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm - Reply

      Hey Micki – Even if it’s due to laziness, it still works 🙂

  53. Mzuri May 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    I like the suggestion very much to just chill for 20 minutes upon arrival.

    My theory is that perfectly intelligent people are a little bit stupid for awhile when in new surroundings. I call it the “mullet phase,” named after a fish that’s allegedly so dull-witted one can catch it with bare hands … that time in a new destination when we’re most vulnerable to the very problems you identify in your post.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm - Reply

      Hey Mzuri – Haha…that theory seems to make sense to me 🙂 And now you have solution to ensure we avoid that stage of travel.

  54. Edna May 16, 2012 at 9:18 am - Reply

    I’ve never thought about this, but now it seems so obvious. Why does everyone assume you have to head straight from the airport into the city (or your hostel or hotel, whatever). Definitely a good idea — plus, it’s never a bad time for a cup of coffee. Thanks Earl!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      Hey Edna – I don’t know why everyone assumes that but you’re right, sticking around the airport is almost never on a traveler’s mind. But it’s a good habit to get into!

  55. D.J. - The World of Deej May 16, 2012 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Great tip Earl…I’ll have to put it to use more often…

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      Thanks D.J.!

  56. Lei May 16, 2012 at 7:33 am - Reply

    This is a simple, great and very logical advice. 🙂

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      Hey Lei – Often times that’s the best advice & it leaves us wondering why we didn’t think of it earlier!

  57. Monica May 16, 2012 at 7:10 am - Reply

    Great advice. When I’ve been stuck on a plane for a few hours I just want to rush right out there and start exploring but you’re definitely right, it’s better to get your bearings and figure out what you’re doing.
    And I agree with Natalie, people watching is the best 🙂

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:24 pm - Reply

      Hey Monica – It does make sense that we would want to rush out into the city but plodding around in a state of confusion while trying to find our hotel or hostel seems pointless when a simple break would eliminate much of that confusion.

  58. Tash May 16, 2012 at 3:03 am - Reply

    This makes so much sense, and yet I have never taken the time to do it. You are so right, better to take a moment, gather yourself and your wits, and take in your surroundings, before taking the task of figuring out your next steps. This tip would have save me loads of $$, I reckon, in the past – so eager upon landing to just get out then and on with it, to see the place. Great tip, and so simple, I will definitely take on board!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm - Reply

      Hey Tash – Don’t worry, I never did this at all during my first 10 years of travel!

  59. John Bardos -JetSetCitizen May 16, 2012 at 2:49 am - Reply

    Hey Earl,

    Thanks for the mention!

    I love airports so I always try to get there extra early on departures and stay longer when arriving. I find airports to be such creative places, with so many international travellers coming and going.

    Another tip I would suggest is to go to the observation deck. Almost all major airports have observation decks now. I love watching planes take off and land. It still amazes me that we can get on these flying tin cans and land in a completely different world. These are amazing times!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      Hey John – Thank you for bringing this travel tip to my attention! And I will say that I’ve started enjoying airports more and more as well and will also often get there early these days. There is an energy inside airports that really can’t be found anywhere else.

      And I had no idea about the observation decks…that is something I will definitely have to seek out from now on!

      • Melissa Anderson May 17, 2012 at 11:35 pm - Reply

        I second the suggestion about the observation decks. I have found the most comfortable places to relax on those. They’re not always well advertised, so you have to ask around.

        Thanks for the great tip Earl!

        • Earl May 18, 2012 at 6:31 am - Reply

          Hey Melissa – I’m excited about these observation decks now…maybe I should book a flight somewhere just to try it out!

  60. Sabina May 16, 2012 at 2:26 am - Reply

    I think this is brilliant advice. It can make such a difference and it’s so simple, yet who does this? I’ve never done it but am going to start with my next trip. When I landed in Bahrain, I actually took some time (not 20 minutes of relaxation, though) to orient myself before I left the airport. This included picking up a free map of Manama, which later proved quite useless as it only showed one fort on it and the city has two (I love forts and unfortunately missed the one I didn’t know existed). Still, I get your point and think this quality time after arrival can be extremely helpful. I’m in! 🙂

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      Hey Sabina – Glad you’re going to start doing this too! It may not have worked out so well for you in Bahrain but I think that most of the time you will benefit 🙂

  61. Natalie May 16, 2012 at 12:56 am - Reply

    Great idea – More time for people watching which is one of my favorite hobbies!!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:30 pm - Reply

      Hey Natalie – Exactly…we can never have enough time for people watching and the airport is by far one of the best places for it!

  62. Hannah May 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm - Reply

    It never occurred to me to do this…but now that you say it, that seems like very good advice. My parents and I were caught off guard one time after just stepping off the plane in Mexico and hustled into taking a tour of a time-share condo which ashamedly we ended up buying (I think it had something to do with the fact that it was 100 degrees outside and the air conditioning in the hotel we were staying at was broken). It’s natural to be tired when you get off the plane and want to get to wherever you are staying as soon as possible, but you are right that you can be at your most vulnerable at the airport.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:35 pm - Reply

      Hey Hannah – Don’t worry, about 80% of the people who end up at those timeshare presentations end up buying. Those sales people are highly trained and skilled in their craft. The only way to combat their efforts is to avoid that vulnerable period by taking a break before exiting the terminal.

  63. Talon May 15, 2012 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    Great tips!

  64. Roy Marvelous May 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Good tips. I usually do take a break immediately when I arrive in the airport. Not on purpose though. It’s more like a very long blank stare, going “hmm, now what”.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:34 pm - Reply

      Hey Roy – Haha…then I guess you’re not one of those people who rushes off the plane and tries to get out of the airport as quickly as possible! Blank stare, coffee break….it all works in the same way.

  65. Scott May 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    I always have my transportation planned. Most city websites have info on Airport busses, regular busses, subways. Even if it’s just knowing the bus number and the times it leaves the airport and the price, it saves me time figuring it all out there.

    I rarely take a taxi as I find in most (not all) places I can get where I am going the way the locals do. The only time I break that rule is if I arrive very late.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:38 pm - Reply

      Hey Scott – Doing that kind of research can pay off for sure and it is beneficial to at least know some of the details of the local transportation. Taking a break might still help though, just by making sure you are as aware of your surroundings as possible.

  66. Andrea May 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Great idea! It’s so easy to get into a rushed mode in an airport, to want to leave asap. It’s smart to take a few minutes, gather your thoughts and get your wits about you, and then proceed. Thanks for the advice! 🙂

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm - Reply

      Hey Andrea – Smart indeed and I love how ridiculously simple this tip is…I’m just glad I learned it from John!

  67. Lissie May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm - Reply

    I avoid taking taxis from an airport for the exact reason you mention. I do the research and know how to get to town using public transport. i try to avoid arriving in the middle of the night too – though that’s not always my choice.

    Also I usually just talk to the touts – the ones in Thailand – told me where the airport bus would arrive – and they were accurate. Once they figure out that you aren’t an easy mark they will move on to the next sucker

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm - Reply

      Hey Lissie – I’m glad you said that about the touts because I often do the same. Instead of treating them as criminals, as many people do, I like to talk to them and ask them questions. They are usually quite reliable when, like you said, they realize that you’re not going to use their services.

  68. Spinster May 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    I usually plan my transportation ahead of time. But this is a GREAT idea. Gonna save this; thanks for sharing.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm - Reply

      @Spinster – Glad you like the tip and even when planning transportation ahead of time, it still doesn’t hurt to take a few minutes break upon arrival!

  69. Christine May 15, 2012 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I really like this idea! I’m always in a hurry when I’m leaving airports, although I’m not exactly sure why. I’ll try this out on my next trip!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      Hey Christine – That’s what I realized too…I had no idea why I was always in such a rush either. And once I made that realization, it became quite easy to take that break in every airport I flew into! Hope it works out for you on your next trip 🙂

  70. Conrad May 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I am just that guy that goes for a pee and smoke, and then wonder where all the familiar faces did go.

    After that it’s easy.

    30 minutes it’s all it takes, you’re right.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Conrad – A pee and a smoke is all it takes!

  71. Steve C May 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Another example of the slower you go, the more you enjoy. Slow down and smell the roses. You’ve now established the “Travelers 20 minute rule”.

    It’s not that you aren’t relaxed after sitting on the plane for 17 hours. It’s that need to calm yourself, to let that surge of adrenaline subside that was produced as you got off the plane and went through customs!

    Personally, I’m usually that “anal guy” who has been pouring over the guide book for all the tips in the last hour of the flight. I always want to know what the cheap way to town is going to be ahead of time. And, I always supplement that with talking to local people just to make sure the guide book wasn’t out of date or just plain wrong.

    I enjoy reading these little tidbits of information that only a seasoned traveler and good story teller can relate like you do. Keep it up!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:57 pm - Reply

      Hey Steve – I’m completely agree with you about talking to local people as they do seem to be the best source of information. And they can often direct us to exactly where we need to go instead of us having to scratch our heads while trying to figure it out on our own. And good point about the adrenaline. It’s probably a combination of the adrenaline from going through Immigration/Customs and our excitement about being in a new country that clouds our judgement during those first few minutes upon arrival!

  72. Links on Tuesday? | May 15, 2012 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    […] Wandering Earl has a great post on how to spend your first 20 minutes in a new country. […]

  73. Shanna Schultz May 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Great tip! I have always secretly believed that a brief stop for a quick spot of tea can solve almost any problem in which you find yourself, and your post has just confirmed my belief! I will make sure to implement this upon our arrival in Nice next month…

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm - Reply

      Hey Shanna – You’re right, this doesn’t only apply to airports or even traveling for that matter. Any time we are frustrated or confused or overwhelmed in life, this tip would certainly prove to be quite useful.

  74. Rachel0806 May 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the heads-up, it seems to always be a good idea to remember to relax. I have your updates sent directly to my inbox, and next to all of my obligations, there is usually one of your stories. They are refreshing, and excite me to get back to work, until I am old enough to venture out on my own. Thanks again

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm - Reply

      Hey Rachel – That’s so very nice to hear and hopefully you’re not too far off from being able to hit the road yourself!

  75. Barbara May 15, 2012 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    I never thought of this, but it’s so true. Taking a twenty minute coffee break… especially when you know you’re in an area where people are waiting for tourists… is a fantastic idea!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm - Reply

      Hey Barbara – Glad you like the idea and that’s the thing, people are waiting, ready to take advantage of us in many airports…so why not rest and avoid all that trouble.

  76. Meg K May 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    This is a great idea Earl. If I’m sitting next to someone on my flight/train/boat/etc who may be a local or it’s the person’s hometown, I try to get as much information as possible without being annoying. I definitely recommend talking to the airport workers too. It doesn’t hurt to ask a few people just to confirm what is being said is true – trust but verify is my motto 🙂

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      Hey Meg – That’s a mighty reasonable motto. And yes, gathering info from locals who are not directly involved with the transportation business in the airport is always a good idea. Such info will almost always be more reliable.

  77. Musa Malik May 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    That makes a lot of sense.. I can imagine being ripped off all bright eyed looking
    for an adventure (lol). Great post Earl!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks Musa and sometimes the simplest solutions make the most sense!

  78. George May 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    absolutely amazing advice Earl! I had never thought of things that way before but you are soooo right! Thanks for the great advice I will definitely be taking a break next time I’m away!

  79. crazy sexy fun traveler May 15, 2012 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    I actually never sit down when I arrive but seeing all this maybe I should 😀 But I do try to look for another backpacker each time I arrive 😉

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:02 pm - Reply

      @crazysexyfuntraveler – Finding other backpackers sure does make arriving in a new country much easier…and these days it seems that there are always other travelers around, no matter what country I happen to visit.

  80. Sergio Felix May 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl,

    This makes so much sense now…

    I never done this before (at least not consciously) but I recently traveled with my dad over a few places in Europe (I’m from Mexico) and due to a health condition my dad can’t walk for long periods of time or stand up for long either.

    So every time we landed on a new place, we looked for a coffee shop and relaxed for a few minutes there with coffee and maybe something to eat, before actually trying to get a cab to a hotel.

    There was no people jumping at our faces trying to get us on their cabs or some weird hostel offer and I was really glad that whenever we were ready to go, I had already figured out the transportation and where could we stay.

    Awesome tips man and happy to know this is the best thing to do when arriving at a new place!


    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:05 pm - Reply

      Hola Sergio – It seems like you and your father were definitely doing this already without even knowing it! And I’m happy to hear that it led to an easier time at the airports. It’s a completely different experience when you can walk around without having to deal with a constant stream of people trying to convince you to use their services. It actually makes the time at the airport enjoyable!

  81. Ava Apollo May 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    This is excellent advice, especially for solo travelers. I’m always in such a rush to get out of the airport but never asked myself why. I know for a fact I was literally taken for a ride in Belize City.

    Although, I wouldn’t suggest doing this at an airport in the US (I know you aren’t necessarily speaking of the US, though). You’ll just end up with a $5 coffee you could have bought for $1 down the street. 😉

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm - Reply

      Hey Ava – Very true about the coffee, but I guess one could always just sit down on a bench instead! And I’m sure that we’ve all been taken for a ride at some point during our travels, which is why this simple tip really is a useful one.

  82. Erin May 15, 2012 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    Great article and I couldn’t agree more!

    Personally, when I arrive in the airport I head straight to the toilets and freshen up – brush my teeth and wash my face, straighten out my hair. It’s amazing how these 20 minutes make you feel refreshed and less tired after a long flight! You’ll feel far more able to deal with mishaps and touts.

    Regarding Vietnam – this tip also works for the trains. I arrived in Hanoi from Sapa by train and was immediately assailed by taxi touts (the ones with rigged meters). Rather than rushing to get to my hostel after a long overnight train ride I just relaxed, bought a baguette and laughed when the touts quoted me 200,000 dong ($10, about 10x the going rate to get from the train station to the hostel). When touts approached me I just told them I was having breakfast. Eventually, a taxi from a reputable company arrived, using a regular meter, and I split the cab with three other travelers 🙂

    Seriously, what is the rush to leave the airport?

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:10 pm - Reply

      Hey Erin – I have no answer to that question. But that’s a great point about the train stations as well…it makes perfect sense that the same method would make a difference there too. Any time we have had a long journey and arrive at our destination exhausted and unfamiliar with the surroundings would be an ideal to have a coffee or freshen up for a while first. Good stuff!

  83. Idun May 15, 2012 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips. Sounds pretty logical now that I’ve read the post, but not something I would normally have thought of myself.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm - Reply

      Hey Idun – That seems to be the case for all of us…not sure why none of us thought about it before 🙂

  84. [email protected] May 15, 2012 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    Another great tip from you Earl! I also liked your previous tip about arriving in Bangkok (or elsewhere) for the very first time and getting OUT of the city asap so as not to be overwhelmed on a first time visit in such a crazy city. I just so happen to be heading to Bangkok at the end of the year and am currently trying to work this strategy in to my planning as we speak thanks to you.

    Thanks again for such good, real, usable information on your site.

    [email protected]

    P.S…Again somewhat thanks to you, I recently returned from Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Had a great time. Much appreciated!!

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:20 pm - Reply

      @TravelingFirefighter – I’m very happy to hear that your trip to Playa del Carmen went so well! Now you can see why so many people fall in love with that part of Mexico.

      As for your trip to Thailand later in the year…there are plenty of options of smaller places to head, even straight from the airport. The town of Ayuthaya is just a short distance away from Bangkok and will certainly offer you a much more relaxing initial experience!

  85. James Clark May 15, 2012 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    Good advice Earl. I also find that this method is a good way to break large bank notes if you arrive without small change.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Hey James – That’s another great piece of advice about the bank notes. I’m not sure what’s worse, trying to find your way into a city while exhausted and confused or not being able to find anyone who will break a large bill (something that is all too common as you know in many countries)!

  86. Diego May 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    Hi Earl, excelent post! I’m going to get into a plane in a few days for some vacations in a continent I don’t know so it’s quite interesting to read about some tips. I ‘ve been planning this for the last 6 months and this details help a lot.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:14 pm - Reply

      Hey Diego – I certainly wish you a wonderful trip and glad to hear that the 6 months of planning has finally paid off!

  87. Cindy Thistle May 15, 2012 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Thanks Earl. What excellent advice! I tend to arrange transportation to meet me at the airport and take me to a prebooked hotel for my first night in a new country in order to avoid exactly what you’re talking about. I find it very stressful to try and get my bearings in a strange place after a long trip and constant badgering by taxi drivers and arrangers and confusing airport signs always ramps the stress level up even higher. What a simple inexpensive common sense solution to something we travellers all face. I’ll let you know how it works for me. Thanks again.

    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:15 pm - Reply

      Hey Cindy – Please do let me know how it works as I’m always curious to hear others’ experiences with some of these pieces of advice!

  88. Cal May 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl,

    Thanks for the tips! I think it is a really good idea to stop and have a coffee when you first arrive. Although, I would find it difficult as I am very eager to get out and start exploring.

    I’ll see if I can put this into action the next time I go overseas.


    • Earl May 17, 2012 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      Hey Cal – I think in the end, even though we are often eager to start exploring, that 10 or 20 minute break will be worth it. Unless we are staying in a city for less than a day, there’s really no reason to rush. Twenty minutes won’t really have an effect on how much we’re able to see and do during our visit.

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