Advice for when you arrive

By Stanley Mui
This item appears on page 20 of the December 2021 issue.

I have learned many things during my past travels, including never to arrive at a destination after dark. If there were no public transportation that late, I would have to take a cab, which I normally would only do as a last resort, as a taxi is not cost-effective and I have been ripped off by drivers several times.

I travel solo and without frills. When exiting an airport’s baggage claim area, I have almost never had anyone holding a sign with my name on it or guiding me to a waiting car. I’ve never hired a driver and have had a private guide only once. Instead, I have taken public transportation and, if it was available, used Uber.

When I arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica, in December 2013 and had to find my hotel, there were no street signs. At that time, I didn’t even have a smartphone, just a few pages of a Google Maps printout showing street names.

I found my hotel by referencing a nearby soccer stadium (an oval shape on the map) and a hospital. Everyone knew these landmarks, so I would go to a store or stop someone on the street, point to the landmarks on the map and ask directions, then count the number of blocks as I walked to my hotel.

Here are some other tips related to arrivals:

• When traveling to Europe, I try not to arrive on Saturday or Sunday, since many places there are closed on weekends.

Several years ago, I took a bus to Esbjerg, Denmark, arriving at noon on a Saturday. Except for a McDonald’s and a few restaurants, almost every place was closed after 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. It was like a ghost town. The next day, I traveled to the nearby town of Ribe, and it was so quiet I could hear a pin drop.

• All countries have national holidays when everything closes down and public transportation runs on a Sunday schedule. In 2019, I was in Spain on Nov. 1, All Saints Day. All of the residents were visiting cemeteries that day, and most restaurants were closed, though museums were open. As part of the cultural experience, I visited a cemetery too.

Unless it’s your plan to see a carnival or a Christmas parade, it’s best to avoid going to a country during a public holiday.

• Upon arriving in a country, after passing through Immigration, I tuck my passport into my money belt. I must not lose my passport.

After a long flight, especially after crossing the International Date Line or on an overnight flight, I’m very vulnerable. I forget things when I’m tired, so, in order to avoid mistakes, I do things slowly. I really have to focus on what I’m doing.

In the arrival terminal, I withdraw local currency from an ATM, after which I make sure to put my ATM card back into my wallet and get all my cash from the ATM. I then go inside a toilet stall, where, in private, I put most of my money into my money belt.

When I leave the airport, the only thing I have in my wallet in my pocket is the bare minimum: enough money to make it to the hotel. (I may be just a little paranoid about this.)

In December 2011 or 2012, my flight from Lima, Peru, arrived in La Paz, Bolivia, after midnight. Because La Paz International Airport is located at an altitude of 13,325 feet, I had a slight headache, and my brain wasn’t functioning well in the thin air. Before leaving Los Angeles, however, I had called my hotel in La Paz to find out what the rate would be for a taxi at that late hour. They told me a price equivalent to around $15.

A taxi driver at the La Paz airport approached me and quoted me a similar price, so I knew he wasn’t ripping me off. Had I not done my homework beforehand, he could have quoted me something equal to $50 or $100 and I would have taken it.

Also, I didn’t pay the taxi driver until after we had reached the hotel and he had rung the bell and awakened the receptionist. I didn’t want to be stranded on a dark street in a city I knew nothing about.

Lastly, with the navigation app (July ’21, pg. 15), I’m able to track the progress of whatever taxi I’m riding in. And I let the taxi driver know I’m tracking his progress, so he won’t be tempted to take me for an unnecessarily long ride.

Woodland Hills, CA