The First Night

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We’ve saved hard. We’ve done our research. Our budget’s tight and we’re determined not to go over our daily limit. We know what things should cost and we’ve memorised our key phrases.  We’re willing to barter to get the right price. We’re pumped. We’re psyched. We’re ready.

With exactly no hours sleep, we set off at 2:30 in the morning on the 1½ hour drive to the airport. The adrenaline’s flowing, we’re alert and excited. It’s going to be a great trip.

We get on the three hour flight to Portugal. Maybe we should sleep for a couple of hours? Maybe we should talk about all the cool stuff we can do when we get there. Yeah! Let’s do THAT!

Two hours at the airport. Nothing to do while we wait for our flight but read and drink coffee, so we read and drink coffee.

Nine hours on a plane to Rio during the day. Between food and movies, there’s still not much sleeping going on.

We land. It’s raining the only way it can in the tropics, like someone’s turned a river upside down. With airplane tiredness, we start to approach taxi drivers. R$35 is the target price.

It’s dark, the roads are jammed and our hostel is located in some obscure suburb that causes blank looks before they morph into confused looks of pity as we try to explain exactly where it is in a bad, broken approximation of the local language. We’re greeted with shakes of the head and resounding ‘no’s. Not going there, Señor.

Finally, we find someone going that way.


We smile politely and suggest R$35. Our determination to get the right price crumbles as the driver doesn’t engage in friendly banter, but instead looks angry and insulted that we’ve dared to question their perfectly reasonable prices.

The rain is pounding hard (is that a fish swimming by?), we’re exhausted so we give up and get in. We sit in silence, too tired to attempt small talk with our annoyed driver, hoping that he does, in fact, know where he’s going.

We reach the right area and try to show him exactly where this place should be on our crumpled printout of a Google map. He looks. He nods. Then he spends ten minutes driving around aimlessly before he puts away his pride and asks a local for directions. All we’re thinking about is sleep.

Eventually we find it. Exhausted, wet and overwhelmed, we collapse into bed, hoping that tomorrow this whole adventure doesn’t still feel like some terrible mistake.

The Arrival Tax

Variations of this seem to happen every time we land in a new city in a foreign country. It’s stressful, so we’ve decided to make it easier on ourselves in future. We call this the Arrival Tax, as the things that make it easier invariably involve paying above the odds. We’ve decided it’s worth paying the extra on arrival to assure a stress-free introduction to the destination, and we’ve come up with the following rules for ourselves:

  1. Forget the budget – For the first 24 hours in a new city, all bets are off. There are plenty of things to worry about in a strange place, so don’t make money one of them.
  2. Stay local – Book into a nice, big name hotel that’s nearby and that either has a shuttle bus or that all of the taxis will know.
  3. Accept the taxi prices – In every city in every country around the world, airport taxis charge too much. Don’t sweat it. After 36 hours of being awake, it’s just not worth trying to figure out the local transport options (unless it’s really obvious, like a subway or shuttle bus). Especially if it’s dark and the fishes are swimming by.
  4. Eat – Pay for as much of the overpriced hotel food as we need to feel better, then go sleep it off in a big comfortable bed.
  5. Get some contacts – having friends in the city can be a great help. If they’re good friends, they can meet us at the airport or, at the very least, arrange a taxi that knows where he’s going and doesn’t rip us off (if they’re really good friends, maybe we can crash on their couch for the first night…)

I always find that things look instantly brighter after a shower, a good meal and a decent night’s sleep. The next day can be spent moving to the obscure but cheap hostel by bus while eating cheap street food, but for the first 24 hours, it’s gotta be about the ease and the comfort.

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12 Comments (2 pingbacks)

  1. Rio can be very tricky for tourists, but it’s definitely an amazing city like no other in the world. I’m born and raised here and still get amazed by its beauty. Almost every time I pass by Aterro do Flamengo and look at the Sugar Loaf I can’t help to take a picture. Glad to hear that you had a great time here. About the taxi, nowadays (october/2014) the cab ride airport/ipanema will be around R$70.
    And If anyone has any doubts about Rio, feel free to ask :)



  2. I know EXACTLY what you are talking about!!

    I can never, ever sleep properly on the flight out to somewhere amazing because I am so excited…and there are lots of new films to watch on flight!

    In India (my first time travelling) I had been super organised and booked a nice looking hostel close to the airport in Mumbai for myself and four other friends. Big Mistake. If I had done my research properly, I would have known that the area around the airport in Mumbai is like a shanty town with a web of hard to follow streets and alley ways.

    First we got royally ripped off and goggled at by the taxi drivers then when we finally found the hostel, they told us they were fully booked (even though I had made a booking months ago) and what could they do? They shipped us all off to a ‘friends hotel, very nice’ and it turned out to be one of the hostel owners apartments which they had crammed travellers just like us into. We managed to get our own room- between the five of us with one double bed in it – but some of the other travellers who had been sent there weren’t so lucky, there were people sleeping in the corridors with only blankets.

    The people were very nice and cooked for us then helped us book some transport down to Goa but it just felt like a massive con! Since then we have always waited til we arrive to book a room or just book somewhere big and not on the cheap side so we know it will be straightforward.

    I am hoping to fly out to Rio this year with my partner on our own adventure/ work break and I stumbled across your blog…it’s amazing! Very inspirational. Thank you for all the tips and stories!!


    • Ugh, that sounds like a terrible start to an Indian trip! Not what you need after a long flight in a new country. Hope you do make it to Rio! Thanks for reading and for your comment.


    • To Santa Teresa – it’s much nearer than the beaches. We got a taxi back to the airport who used the meter and that’s what it did cost.


  3. @Joel – If you know someone in town, it makes everything so much easier – having someone in every town would be perfect!

    @Akila – Yeah, we try to book places in advance too. The problem is when those places are really far away or in unknown locations and the taxi drivers have no clue where they’re going…


  4. We always book a room for the first night before we get there so we don’t have to think when we get there. Afterwards, we tend to wing it, but the first night, we plan ahead.


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