Tips for Navigating an Unfamiliar City

You’re on the road for business, and your next destination is a bustling metropolis that’s completely new to you. Your meetings are scheduled in various parts of the city, and you want to make sure that you get where you need to go on time. GPS can direct you from point A to point B, but with potential problems like traffic jams, lack of parking or mass-transit delays, business travel can get awfully complicated, fast.

Here are a few tips for finding your way in an unfamiliar city.

Plan ahead. Take time to plan out an itinerary that makes the most sense for you.

  • Start by getting familiar with your destination using Google Maps.  This tool enables you to create a custom-made map for your trip. Pinpoint the locations of your client meetings and other business appointments so, if possible, you can meet people in the same part of town on the same day.
  • Try to bundle appointments in close proximity to each other, to save on time and money. If possible, arrange to stay at a strategically located hotel, where you can comfortably ask people to come to you.

Rental cars. In many cities, this is a reasonable option, particularly if you take a few sensible steps.

  • Renting a car equipped with GPS makes sense, but will likely cost extra. Bring along your own GPS if you can, or use a GPS app on your phone. Don’t forget to bring a device so you can mount your own device on the dashboard.
  • Depending on your schedule, consider renting a car only for the days you need it. Renting and returning a car each day may end up saving money over the expense of parking at your hotel for days on end.
  • Even if you do need to rent a car for your entire trip, you don’t have to park at the hotel where you’re staying. Overnight parking in a nearby parking garage or lot is likely to be less expensive.

Taxis. Cabs are a good bet for short distances, but make less economic sense for longer trips. Keep these tips in mind.

  • When planning to take a cab, factor in the time needed to call and wait for a taxi service or hail a cab on the street.
  • Take a taxi when you’re traveling in unfamiliar neighborhoods late at night.
  • For real-time updates on local traffic conditions, check or use a traffic app on your smartphone or laptop.

Mass transportation. Many big cities have efficient, affordable public transit to help you get around town.

  • Visit or for information on public transit options (bus, subway, rail) in the city you’re going to visit.
  • If you think you’ll need to make multiple trips via public transit, purchasing a multi-use pass often beats the cost of a single fare.

Ask the locals for help. There are always exceptions, but the vast majority of people you encounter in hotels, restaurants, and other public places will be helpful, particularly when it comes to offering directions.

  • Your hotel concierge’s job is to assist travelers in an unfamiliar city. Don’t hesitate to ask for the quickest way to get to your destination.
  • If you take a train or a subway, the ticket booth attendant should be able to provide schedule information.
  • Most bus drivers will gladly let you know when you’ve arrived at your destination; sit near the front of the bus, or ask the driver to announce your stop.

Remember home base. Keep the hotel’s business card with you, so you don’t have to memorize its name or address. You may want to note the nearest cross street, too.

Stay safe. It may sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget to pay attention to your surroundings. When you walk out of your hotel, just look behind and around you. Take in a landmark or two to help you find your way back to home base.

About Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor and a former Senior Writer for Vistage International, a global membership organization of chief executive officers. He writes frequently on issues and challenges faced by U.S. small businesses.
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