Beginner’s Guide to Surviving Your First 24 Hours in a New Country

Life Nomading Podcast

In this episode, we cover our top 5 favorite must-do tips for surviving your first 24 hours in a new country. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when visiting somewhere new for the first time. We’ve done it plenty of times and each time it gets easier because of the tips we talk about in this show. If you follow these beginner tips, your stay in a new country will be so much more pleasant. You’ll spend more time exploring, and less time stressing.

Isn’t that the goal after all?

Show Notes

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Top 5 Tip Topics Discussed:

  1. Download Google Maps locally to your phone before your flight or train ride
  2. Go straight to your lodging. Take a nap, and eat a snack!
  3. How best to strategize ATM’s and cash/paying for things
  4. What a SIM card is, how to find a cellular phone shop and why to use a SIM
  5. Grocery shopping, and why you should do it on your trip
  6. Take a walking tour the first full day you arrive

Our Bulgaria Adventure Trip:

Caroline Lloyd: @caromanifesto

Ian Hoyt: @IanHoyt


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Show Transcript

Caroline Lloyd: Like we, all of a sudden, I had never once made a cheese plate in my life, and all of a sudden that’s what were having for lunch. Like a spread of meats, and cheeses, and breads, fruits and vegetables, and we were just eating that.

Ian Hoyt: And beer, and beer, and wine, and beer.

Caroline Lloyd: Yeah, and beer at 1 o’clock.

Ian Hoyt: Hey there, fellow nomads. This is Ian!

Caroline Lloyd: And Caroline.

Ian Hoyt: And this is the Life Nomading Podcast.

Ian Hoyt: Well, welcome back, fellow life nomads. It is Ian and we are back at it for another episode of the Life Nomading podcast. Are you excited?

Caroline Lloyd: So excited. Life Nomading: 2.0, 2.2.

Ian Hoyt: And today we get to get into the guts. I feel like last week we kind of talked about where we’ve been and now we get to give you guys some real, tangible travel tips.

Caroline Lloyd: Some travel meat and potatoes.

Ian Hoyt: And I don’t know, but I mean we are starting off pretty strong today. This is one of our most cherished things we talk about on the regular when we’re traveling and it is around what you do in the first 24 hours when you get to a new destination.

Caroline Lloyd: And it took us a long time to get all this information through trial and error. So we’re really excited that we have it down to a science and we can present it to you.

Ian Hoyt: And that’s what we’re going to do. Now we’re talking about routines here. And as you read by the title, it’s the first 24 hours in a new country. And when we were traveling in Europe this last summer, we fell into this world where if we didn’t have a routine, it was really easy to get anxious and to have a fear of missing out and to maybe not be as productive and see the things you want to see while you’re in a new country. And we realized that a routine is so crucial.

Caroline Lloyd: And me coming from a creature of habit, I clinged to these routines, I can’t enter into a situation unless I feel fully prepared and this is the routine that got me to that place so I could really enjoy myself.

Ian Hoyt: And trust me, if you travel with Caroline, you’ll realize you need to have a routine because she needs her nap. She needs her granola bar.

Caroline Lloyd: But we’re going to talk about that when we talk about traveling with significant others because that is a full episode. And we learned a lot about each other.

Ian Hoyt: Anyway. So yeah, routine, it’s kind of contradictory, right? A nomad there. You’re traveling all over the place, you’re home for one month and then you’re gone for three and then you’re home and the routines aren’t really typically there. Um, but I think that’s actually just an incredible falsehood. I think routine is at the core of almost the human condition and we’re not going to get into that. I’m not a philosophy major or a psychology major or any of that. But yeah, I think, I think routine runs deep in everyone’s being.

Caroline Lloyd: So a lot of this content is how to avoid the grunge of traveling. It’s not all the glamorous instagram stars: You hop off the plane and everything works out perfectly. There are logistics that you have to take care of beforehand and during to set you up for a successful travel arrangement.

Ian Hoyt: And I think if you’re not having any of that quote-unquote grunge that Caroline just said you’re actually doing something wrong. I think the beauty of travel is also in having to define those routines and having to figure that out and having things go wrong. But we’re going to try to set the stage for some of the core; The guts of the things that you need when you’re in a foreign country, when you’re not coddled by America and Mcdonald’s on every corner. And your parents’ wifi and Netflix. I mean, you probably have netflix in a foreign country, but you’re not going to be watching Netflix because you’re going to be adventuring.

Caroline Lloyd: Or Uber, or your car, or your language.

Ian Hoyt: So, um, so let’s, let’s get into it. So if you listen to this episode a couple of days in advance, before you go to a new country, you’re going to have a really good basis on, “okay, when I land, I need to do X, Y, Z, and then the rest is taken care of” and you can focus on choosing things you want to do, things you don’t want to do and go from there.

Caroline Lloyd: So there’s a lot of starting points in planning the trip. So most of it is done, you know, researching: you’re laying on the couch, you book where you’re going to stay, whether it be a hostel or an airbnb or a hotel. One of the things that you need to note about that is where it is in relationship to the city that you are going to explore. And I say that because it’s really important. Once you land in a new country, you need to download the Google maps of that destination.

Ian Hoyt: Yeah. That’s probably one of the number one tips and this whole thing. Downloading the google maps. So you’re going to find yourself probably with maybe a full day’s worth of not having really consistent cellular coverage. And so you can actually download Google maps locally to your phone for the city or the country or however big you want to make that cached area, but you’re going to have access to all of the maps you’re going to need from when you get into the train station or the airport to get to your place where you’re staying. So definitely do that in advance when you’re on Wifi.

Caroline Lloyd: And the reason we say to do it in advance, because you absolutely can do it once you get to your destination, but the biggest trouble point is getting from your mode of transportation station, meaning the airport or the train station or the bus stop wherever you’re coming from to where you’re staying. So you’re kind of jumping from ponds of wifi to the next pond.

Ian Hoyt: And that’s the most critical point because you’ve probably been traveling all day, so you’re tired. You probably didn’t get a good meal while you’re traveling, so you’re going to get hangry, right? And we’re going to talk about that more. If you’re traveling with someone else, then you have double the emotions and everything is just double heightened. Right?

Caroline Lloyd: You sound like you’re talking from experience, Ian. Who is this monster you’re traveling with?

Ian Hoyt: I don’t know? Who’s this monster that needs a nap every day? Um, but anyway, so just be prepared. And if you can do your research beforehand to get from mode of transport, like Caroline said, to your staying arrangements, it’s gonna make you feel a lot better.

Caroline Lloyd: So things to look for here are making decisions like, am I going to take public transportation from the station to where I’m staying? Am I going to take a taxi? Do I need to get cash to pay for that taxi?

Ian Hoyt: Let’s talk about that for a little while because I think starting out, let’s just take our Europe trip for example, because it’s easiest. I think the more and more countries we went to over the course of the time we were gone, we relied heavier and heavier and heavier on public transport. Now that’s also a product because the more we progressed, the more accessible public transport was. But also, it’s in a lot of ways a) it’s always cheaper and b) it’s actually, in my opinion, sometimes easier because you don’t have to deal with A) A foreign language and the barriers of translating. B) you don’t have to worry about being ripped off if you’re in a country that might be known for something like that and C) if, if you’re used to any type of public transportation in general, they’re all generally kind of the same. I mean, sure there are intricacies with validation on passes and things like that, but for the most part you can look at a map. It’s going to take you somewhere and if you’re not going directly to your place, you’re either going to be on a subway or you’re walking.

Caroline Lloyd: You’re also navigating on your own and you’re not just depending on someone else to get you where you want to go. So, therefore, you’re learning a lot more about the city and you’re also learning a lot more about the people. Let’s talk about people watching on public transit.

Ian Hoyt: It’s fantastic, but to the point about learning the city: Before I moved to New York City, I’ve only been here for two years (not even), but before that I lived in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, all these different cities that I didn’t take public transportation and I didn’t know how to navigate these places because I was so reliant on GPS giving me directions and things like that. In New York. I know how to navigate around New York better than I do in a lot of cities that I spent four or five times the amount in, because of that, and I think the same is true when you’re traveling internationally.

Caroline Lloyd: Okay, so you’ve gotten off the plane, you’ve figured out a way to get to where you’re staying. I always think that the first place you should go in a new city is where you’re staying to drop off all of your stuff. The only way that you can really explore and be free and in new city and get this laundry list of things done in a timely and enjoyable manner (and we’ll talk more about that in a second), is to get rid of all of your stuff.

Ian Hoyt: All the stuff that you have in your life.

Caroline Lloyd: Another great reason to do that is because if you haven’t gotten a cellular data plan, your lodging will most likely have wifi where you can navigate where you’re going to to get that data.Or maybe have a snack, drink some water, take a nap, make sure that the next time that you’re leaving the door of your lodging, you’re approaching it with an open mind, and really going to enjoy yourself. The last thing that you want to do is to have your first adventure out in the city be miserable. So take care of yourself.

Ian Hoyt: Take a nap, take a snack, whatever.

Caroline Lloyd: Chug a bottle of water. Eat a granola bar.

Ian Hoyt: We could spend an hour just reiterating this because it is so important.

Caroline Lloyd: I have this running joke with my family about snacks, but we have to say it in a northern accent like snacks.

Ian Hoyt: Snacks, I’m from Minnesota. Sorry anyone listening for Minnesota, but we’ve got to get some snacks. Wait, your mom is from…

Caroline Lloyd: My mom has a Minnesota accent and so she always says, pack some snacks because everyone is a lot happier with the snacks. So I never leave a country that I am ending a trip in and go to the next country without some sort of snack. Because when I’m hungry I get hungry and then around me gets miserable.

Ian Hoyt: She’s not a fun traveler when she’s hungry or tired, but you’re getting better. You’re getting more resilient.

Caroline Lloyd: I’m not getting better. I am more prepared and that’s what this list is about. So let’s backtrack a little bit. You landed, you made your way to your lodging, you dropped off your stuff, you prepared yourself to enter in the world, and then this is your first outing. Our first stop on the sidewalk is normally an ATM.

Ian Hoyt: If you didn’t need it to get to your lodge in the first place, because that could be a thing. You should get cash as soon as possible, whether it’s when you land or get in the station or when you get done resting and napping.

Caroline Lloyd: Here’s a word of advice. ATMs in airports or the currency exchange in airports normally charge you a hefty fee. So unless you’re absolutely positive that you need cash to leave the airport to get to your lodging, wait.

Ian Hoyt: If we are in a pretty affluent country that accepts credit card transactions pretty readily, then we’ll use that by default. We’ll probably use our credit card, but we’ll take out enough cash to kind of cover our tips. Also, if you’re in the mindset, which I like to be, sometimes you pull out enough money that you think you can get through the week or however long you’re there and then that’s kind of your budget. You know, you have it physically in hand and you try not to spend more. I know we did that a ton in Bulgaria. Bulgaria also doesn’t really take credit card, but it was a great way to manage our finances.

Caroline Lloyd: If you don’t want to heavily rely on cash though, I think a good place to start is to get out enough cash that will survive one day. And then when you’re exploring, if you realize, you know, a lot of places don’t take credit card like I thought they would, you’re not in a pickle. Then you can go back and get that same amount for however long you’re staying in that country.

Ian Hoyt: Yeah, and one point to be made, if you’re using credit cards in foreign countries, there’s this thing called a foreign transaction fee. For most credit cards nowadays it’s. It’s typically waived or they cover it. But for debit cards, they don’t. I actually learned this the hard way when I first started to travel. I used my debit card a lot and then I just saw just troves and troves of foreign transaction fees. And they’re only like, you know, they’re typically only a couple bucks, but after awhile it adds up to be over hundreds of dollars sometimes depending on how, how long you travel. So use a credit card or use cash and leave the debit card in the wallet.

Caroline Lloyd: Now you’re a free person. You dropped off your stuff, you have money, you are ready to conquer the world, but there is one thing these days that is sometimes more important than cash. And that is your cell phone.

Ian Hoyt: How are you going to show the world on instagram that you’re traveling?

Caroline Lloyd: Well your camera works, but those instagram stories have to be uploaded in real time.

Ian Hoyt: So we’re talking about sim cards and data for the cell phone, and it is one of the more important things to stay connected to in our day and age.

Caroline Lloyd: Some plans and providers that are US based require you to completely own your phone. When we left for our trip, I just put a ton of money towards my phone to make sure that I wasn’t paying the hefty $10 a day fee for any call, text or data used internationally. So it wound up being a lot cheaper for me.

Ian Hoyt: If you’re traveling for a short amount of time, that might be okay. But if you’re traveling for a week or more and you’re trying to save money, there is no reason you shouldn’t use a sim card. SIM cards are really easy to get. A Sim card is essentially a little chip card that really functions as your phone. And so when you take the one that you have from your US carrier or wherever you are out, you can replace it with a local carrier. For example, in Vienna, we used T Mobile. Now I believe A1 was another carrier option, but we decided to go with T Mobile’s Sim card. All we had to do was walk in, ask for the right amount of data that we wanted and you popped it out of your phone, the Sim card of your carrier. Make sure you hold onto it because you’re going to need it again. And then you just pop in your new Sim card from, in this case, Austria. And you’re going to have an Austrian phone number while you’re there. Now you can only make phone calls to other Austrian numbers, but you can use the data which is worth its weight in gold. You can use apps like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger and things like that to curb that need to make phone calls and texts.

Caroline Lloyd: So anytime that you’re in a new country, before you put in a Sim card of that country, just keep your phone on airplane mode.

Ian Hoyt: Keeping your phone on airplane mode prevents your phone carrier from potentially charging you the fixed international daily fee that can amount to a lot of money. So keep it on airplane mode unless you’re on Wifi and even then keep it on airplane mode until you get the new sim card in.

Caroline Lloyd: So I think in one of the countries we didn’t even buy a card that showed text messages or phone calls. It was purely a data plan and since I wasn’t trying to call or text anyone in that country, that was the best plan for me.

Ian Hoyt: Yeah. And I mean prices vary from country to country, but it’s typically ridiculously cheap to do.

Caroline Lloyd: I never spent more than 15 US dollars for trips that we spent up to nine days in a country.

Ian Hoyt: And again, for context you could be spending on that same amount of time 90 to 100 bucks in international fees with your carrier. I had to do it sometimes. So I know how much that hurt. I’ve found that we get by for a week with like anywhere from half a gig to two gigs worth of data. And we’re even hotspotting with that. So, you know, don’t overdo what you purchase. You can always reload your sim card, so start smaller and you’d be surprised. You’re going to be busy looking at the sites and you’re going to be spending less time on your phone than you think you are.

Caroline Lloyd: Okay. So the next step, is a little bit more fun because this is the first time that you’re actually doing something not on your mom’s laundry list since you landed. And this step includes going to get some snacks, and some groceries, and maybe a few meals depending on how long you’re staying there, and what your budget is. But I think that this is really what made our trip a success, and that is buying groceries so that you can have a nice balance of eating at home and eating out. One for your digestive system and also for your bank account.

Ian Hoyt: Yeah. When people think of travel, they don’t necessarily first think to grocery shop. They are going to a new place. They want to experience the culture and the food and the coffee and all that awesome stuff, but the reality of it is if you’re going to spend a week or longer anywhere, that stuff can add up and if you’re trying to travel more or more often, you’re going to need to grocery shop and you’re going to need to save money on food.

Caroline Lloyd: You also want to feel good while you’re in these countries.

Ian Hoyt: Yeah, Schnitzels add up.

Caroline Lloyd: They add up in your stomach too.

Ian Hoyt: Milinki in Bulgaria, which is the best bread ever; We had too much of it.

Caroline Lloyd: I, honestly, this is an aside, but I think in Bulgaria we didn’t buy any groceries and I had a hard time though. It wasn’t even a money thing and by the end of that trip I wanted to buy groceries. I also feel strongly that you get a different perspective of the place that you’re in and the people that live when you walk into their local grocery store.

Ian Hoyt: Spoiler alert: We love Aldi’s in Europe. I mean, even though it is a chain, each Aldi is different in a different country and we saw that firsthand with what we were picking up in the store and it was pretty cool. It was great to see the local differences I guess.

Caroline Lloyd: So we have a kind of worked out grocery list that we pick up in every country. Some of those items are things that kind of keep our diets in check and consistent, but also we always leave room for local foods, local cheeses, local meats, little crackers that are very specific, you know, throw in a couple of candy bars that are local to that country

Ian Hoyt: And I’ll lobby for like local sodas or the local wines.

Caroline Lloyd: We try to fill the gaps of large meals that we’re eating out. Sure, eat dinner out every single night, but you’re not going to want to have a big breakfast, lunch, and dinner out in restaurants.

Ian Hoyt: Yeah. You don’t need to go out for breakfast every morning.

Caroline Lloyd: But with a twist, I have to say, when we were in Budapest, we went to a local farmer’s market and got local honey, and they had so many great different flavors and we put that on our breakfast every morning. It was great. Or like peppers or like things that you aren’t familiar with. Try them out in your own cooking situation rather than just being served them. And protein bars are my go tos for snacks when you’re hangry. I always had about three of those in my bag at all times.

Ian Hoyt: It’s time to talk about one of our favorite parts. I know I said that to like each one. Like my favorite part is getting a sim card and my favorite part is getting groceries. I just love travel so maybe I just love it all, but we’re being serious now. This is our profession.

Caroline Lloyd: Well we’re also kind of dipping into your activities now. I don’t want to tell you what sites to see in every destination that you are going to, but one activity that you have to do is a walking tour.

Ian Hoyt: Preferably a free walking tour.

Caroline Lloyd: And most countries have free walking tours, especially European countries. They’re kind of a staple and not as popular in the US, but the reason that we hype these so much is because similar to taking public transit, it gives you such a layout for the place that you’re in.

Ian Hoyt: Yeah, I mean this is the one time we sway from like… Even if it does feel maybe a little touristy, you’re going to see the things and you’re going to get to meet at least one look like guaranteed local, which would be the guide. And we’re cool. We know we’re cool here in New York during walking tours.

Caroline Lloyd: So by meeting that guide who is a local, that is pretty much how we planned the remainder of our trip. That heavily influenced every single place that we went to because they recommended areas to go visit, which museums to actually go to, which museums to skip, where to eat, what to eat. My only recommendation is that as soon as the walking tour is over, write everything that piqued your interest down. I think just kind of brain-dump when you’re done with the tour, so that the things that really stuck out in your mind you can follow up on later, and not necessarily commit to them, but make a choice later on whether or not you prioritize that.

Ian Hoyt: And don’t be afraid. I’m just coming from our experience here in New York. Don’t be afraid to ask your guide recommendations for like restaurants and great places to get a drink. My favorite part of our walking tours is giving those recommendations because that’s the real stuff that we live and breathe every day, so try to get that out of them at the end if they’re not busy.

Caroline Lloyd: And don’t forget to tip your tour guide.

Ian Hoyt: Don’t forget to tip your tour guide, especially on a free tour. Please tip.

Caroline Lloyd: You know, beyond any of this, one thing that we really enjoyed is figuring out coffee shops to go to. I think that that, especially in our age group, is a staple in really figuring out what the culture is.

Ian Hoyt: It’s definitely one of those optional add ons in the first 24 hours. If you’re a coffee drinker, you know how important it is to find.

Caroline Lloyd: It was not optional for us. I woke up at 8:00 in the morning and that’s the first thing on my list.

Ian Hoyt: It’s a serious thing because in a lot of countries, no matter where in the world, coffee culture is different. Everywhere coffee culture is different. And so you’re not going to get your 16 ounce drip coffee like you’re going to get in the US. You’re not going to get that in Bulgaria, for example. So you need to be prepared and try to find an equivalent, something that works for you besides the fact that you might just like coffee culture. Which I do. Which is also fun. And there’s an easement of being in a coffee shop for some reason.

Caroline Lloyd: There is also an easement when that caffeine hits your blood.

Ian Hoyt: Yeah. And the headache goes away. Yeah. Alright. I’m going to switch it up here. You don’t even know what I’m about to ask, but here we go. So what would you say is your favorite uneasiness in that first 24 hours? What would you say your favorite thing is?

Caroline Lloyd: Napping. I need to expand on that though. So napping is my favorite part because it makes me feel so much better compared to how jet lagged and miserable I was. And there is something about waking up feeling 10 times better than you did when you fell asleep. Drinking a huge glass of water and being a little bit hungry but enough that you can go and explore and find something that you didn’t plan for dinner. And sometimes even on our first night we happen upon our most favorite restaurant.

Ian Hoyt: So your favorite thing is the feeling you get after your nap.

Caroline Lloyd: In life? Always.

Caroline Lloyd: You have to answer too. What’s your most favorite part about arriving?

Ian Hoyt: An evening cheers.

Caroline Lloyd: The post-nap alcohol at dinner.

Ian Hoyt: There’s a comfort in sitting – like there’s not a comfort in finding a restaurant, obviously, that’s always annoying. I mean, I love the adventure. Don’t get me wrong, that’s the whole point, but there’s that comfort of just sitting down in the seat. The seat is yours, the table is yours for the next hour or two and you can just chill.

Ian Hoyt: So that’s our guide to the first 24 hours in a new country. Now by no means do you have to follow that to a tee and there’s probably other things that maybe you do when you enter a new country and we’d love to hear about it. The best way is send us a DM on instagram. If you have an awesome idea, we would love to share it with our community. So send us a DM on instagram.

Ian Hoyt: @lifenomading and we will share that with our followers.

Caroline Lloyd: If you’re curious about this place that we keep talking about, Bulgaria, feel free to check us out at We’ll be hosting a summer 2019 trip to Bulgaria that’s 10 days and nine nights. You should definitely check it out. It’s an amazing place to go.

Ian Hoyt: So fellow nomads, that’s it for this week’s episode. We hope you learned a couple things about your first 24 hours in a new country. Again, you can find us on any major podcast platform from iTunes, Overcast, and Spotify. Be sure to subscribe, and if you get a second, please leave a review. It helps us so much. So until next week, I’m Ian.

Caroline Lloyd: And I’m Caroline.

Ian Hoyt: And we’ll see you next time. Bye.