Finding your way in a new city is exciting, confusing and potentially a bit anxiety-producing. However, a small bit of pre-arrival research and organization can go a long way in getting past the anxious part and on to the exciting part.

Finding your way in a new city

Finding Your Way In A New City

We’ve arrived in more than enough cities mapless with only a reservation for the night, an address for said acommodations and vague idea of what part of the city we’re to be in. This may be enough if you are taking a taxi, but we are more public transport people. We always manage, but we’ve slowly worked out a list of information that gets us initiated quickly and on to the fun of exploring a new place.

Answer a few important questions.

    • Where will you actually arrive? Which airport, train station, bus station, etc. Find it on a map.
    • What transport options exist from that place and how do you get to them?
    • Can you pay on the bus/train/etc you will take or will you need to find a station with ticket machines?
    • What discount cards or travel cards are available? Do you want to purchase one?
    • If so, can you purchase that at your arrival point?
    • Also pay attention to if passes run based on 1-day=24-hours or 1 day=1 calendar day, regardless of when you begin using it.

    Here’s an example of how answering a few questions can save you a big headache:

    We recently booked tickets from Edinburgh to Paris, arriving at Paris-Beauvais. Some of you may know, but we didn’t, that Beauvais is an hour outside of Paris with no direct public transport. Assuming we could just get on a subway train when we arrived would have been a big mistake. Instead, in our pre-arrival research, we found that we’ll need a shuttle or taxi to Beauvais proper and then a train to Paris, with a connection to the main public transport grid.

    Write it all down!

    On paper in addition to in your phone in case you use up your battery playing Candy Crush on the train. In addition to the above info, make sure you have reservation numbers and an address & phone number of your accommodations or destination. I write everything in a little pocket-sized moleskin that I can fit in my purse or my pocket.

    Get a map.

    Either a hardcopy map or if you can save/download a map to your phone, that works too. I prefer both when finding your way in a new city. If you’re arriving by air, before you rush out, check if you can pick-up a city map at the tourist information desk. I’ve had less luck at train or bus stations, but sometimes a Tourist info Center is nearby.

    I use a Samsung Galaxy Player and recently I’ve had success using Google maps offline. Before we arrive, I do a few searches for local landmarks and directions between them. That previously downloaded section of map seems to stay in the memory cache. I like using the Google maps app because it shows not just the map, but also where I am on the map right now. I’m not counting on this method right now, just playing around with it, but certainly once you’ve been in a place and used the Google map app a few times, those areas stay available offline for some time and can be quite useful.

    Check for useful apps.

    See if your new city has a public transport app. If so be sure to check if it works offline and plan accordingly. 

    Tripadvisor has downloadable guides to select cities and if available for your destination these can be really handy. Check if one is available for your destination. This will allow you to find restaurants, hotels and attractions near you even when you don’t have wifi access. All this can be very helpful when finding your way in a new city. 

    Download or print maps and confirmations.

    We use internet cafes, libraries or hotel business centers to print documents when necessary. More frequently, I use my laptop to save maps, confirmations, directions and other useful info as PDFs and transfer them to my phone using Dropbox. I then open the document on my phone while I have wifi access, it is downloaded to the local memory and is then accessible anytime. Taking screen shots on a phone or tablet can sometimes serve this same purpose.

    And a few more thoughts

    Since I first posted this, I’ve remembered a few more things that can make your transition to a new place smoother and I thought they were worth adding. These are particularly applicable when crossing borders to a new country.

    Write down the address of your hotel or any hotel if you don’t have a reservation yet. You might need this when passing through immigration.

    Look up basic words in the language of the country you are going to. Just a little effort can go a long way in building rapport (along with a lot of smiling.) Hello, goodbye, thank you, please, excuse me, yes, no. Seriously we’ve been very well received in France so far and these are the only words we know.

    Check what type of currency will be used and if it is something different, get cash as soon as possible on arrival. Usually there is an ATM at the airport for bus/train station.

    I hope these are helpful in getting you calmly and smoothly to your next destination. A little planning can go a long way.

    What tips do you have for finding your way in a new city?