When arriving in a new place (city or country), or even sometimes before takeoff on a travel day, I have a checklist of things I immediately do. I’ve developed this list over the course of traveling in South America, Europe, and Asia for the last year with Remote Year. Even when I’m not traveling with the group, I pretty much immediately pull up this list and run through the items as soon as I open my laptop in a new place. I figure that other travelers, remote workers, and digital nomads might also find this list useful.
Getting food after arriving: Buenos Aires
Get a local SIM card. I usually purchase a local SIM card when I’m going to be spending more than 24 hours in a single country. These are almost always going to be faster than your T-Mobile roaming or any global SIM card program you might find. And because it’s local, it will be easier to top up and easier to get help if there’s something broken. Because I use a Google Voice and Skype Number setup, I also go ahead and forward my Skype number to my local SIM card so that I always can receive calls and SMS using both my home number (that everyone at home knows) as well as my local number (helpful for food delivery or calling a taxi).
Tell someone where you are
Register with STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This is probably the most controversial item on my checklist. Why should I tell the US State Department where I am? Well, because shit happens, and the nearest consular office or embassy may literally be the only people for thousands of miles who are willing and able to help you in an emergency. They’ve run helicopters to evacuate Americans trapped after floods near Machu Picchu, just as one example. And they regularly issue practical advice and warnings to Americans about avoiding specific areas when there’s likely to be violence or civil unrest, whether it’s advice to avoid a political protest or a fútbol match. This advice has helped me on more than one occasion, even if it’s just to take an alternate route to the airport to avoid a big sports match.
Be sure you have cash
Tell your Banks and Credit Cards where you are. This is a pretty easy one for me, as all of my banks and credit cards allow me to file a travel notice online. You may have to still call them now and again, but go ahead and let them know ahead of time if you can. Even if you don’t plan to use a specific credit or debit card, it’s better safe than sorry here. And if you happen to lose a card, they might be able to help you more if they already know where you are and how to reach you in a foreign country.
Secondly, get some cash; I do this at the airport inside security, where I know the ATMs are less likely to have skimmers and I’m less likely to be robbed in a large public place with a police presence. We’re a bit spoiled in Europe and the United States, with credit card machines in every shop and restaurant, but I can assure you the rest of the world still expects cash. I also generally keep about US$100, €100, and RMB¥100 in cash in a side pocket of my passport wallet; you’d be surprised how often this comes in handy (for an visa, airport transfer, or when you just can’t find an atm upon arrival).
Update your location and timezone
Update your timezone. Sometimes I’ll even do this one a few days before I arrive somewhere. I update my personal calendar (Google Calendar) and my work calendar (Exchange/Outlook) to reflect my new timezone and (for Outlook) local working hours. This increases my chances that someone won’t schedule you for an important meeting at 3:00am local time, and it also tells Google when to send that daily agenda email (if you get one). I also update Slack to my current timezone so that my colleagues can easily click on my name and see where I am in the world; as a bonus, Slack will also encourage them to only send urgent push notifications if it’s after hours where I am.
Update your location on social media. This may seem like an odd one, but it’s actually hugely useful for networking when you’re in a new place and you don’t know anyone. I generally update Github, Facebook, and Twitter with my new location. You’d be surprised how good these services are at offering me local content and suggesting interesting local events if you tell them where you are. If you’re specifically looking to network with locals and expats, consider joining InterNations and updating your LinkedIn location. As a side bonus, if you get a lot of LinkedIn messages, if you change your location to somewhere unusual, you’ll receive far less of that spam. If you’re in the Digital Nomad crowd, consider also doing something like NomadTrips so you can meet other DNs traveling near you.
Buy some basic provisions. This may seem obvious, but it has a ton of side-benefits. First, if staying somewhere for at least a month, you can buy small sized soaps/shampoo/conditioner and time it so that you run out right as you need to pack to move on. This means less weight on your luggage, and less likely that you’ll have a leak in your bags. Secondly, I always ask myself if I need bug spray or sunscreen; much of the developing world is in the tropics, high altitude, or rough terrain, and you’ll want to do everything you can to avoid Dengue, Malaria, or a bad sunburn. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. One final side benefit of doing this early is that, should you fall ill or have some sort of urgent need later, you’ll know exactly where to go to get what you need.
Aside from unpacking my stuff, that’s really all I do when I arrive. I’ll probably continue to do many of these even when I’m not nomading for a year continuously. I have a different list that I keep for things I should do before departing, but I don’t think it’s very broadly applicable (except maybe downloading an offline map?).
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter if there’s something you think I’ve missed that’s an insider tip or absolutely critical. I’d love to hear what other people’s checklists look like for arriving somewhere new.