Guidebooks, apps and online resources are great for figuring out a destination, but don’t forget that your hotel, hostel, vacation rental host or other accommodation provider can be a great source of local intel. I’ll often send a few questions in advance so I can get right to exploring where I’m going (or just relaxing by the pool). Sending them via email also allows them to pop your question into an online translator —and, if you think the hotel might not speak your language, you could always pop them into a translator first!
What’s the best way to get from the airport (or station) to the hotel at the time I arrive?
Which station/stop should I use, and is there any exit that is closest to the hotel?
How much would public transport cost compared with a taxi or ride-hailing app?
Is there anything I should be aware of like early closing or particularly bad traffic on the day I arrive?
It can be complicated to figure this kind of stuff out, especially if you’re new to a city. The hotel’s there to help, and has all kinds of local information like whether there’s a massive football match, getaway weekend or a religious holiday.
How easy is the public transport to use, what are the details of any multi-trip passes, and what ride-hailing apps (like Lyft or Uber) are available?
The hotel is a great place to start figuring out local transit, and can often be a source of great local intel about which apps locals use — for example, did you know that many Australian cities have a women-only ride-hailing app called Shebah?
Is there a local gym/swimming pool/park/running route that you recommend?
Swanky hotels may have their own gyms, but if you’re staying somewhere on the budget-side it’s great to get a workout in during your trip, especially after a long flight. Whatever your needs for some exercise or just an outdoor space.
Is there a store nearby where I can pick up a local SIM (nano/micro) SIM card for my phone/tablet? Do they definitely sell SIMs to foreign nationals?
I don’t know about you, but I love to be connected when I travel, not least so I can find my way to where I’m going and stumble across new places marked on the map as I’m getting there. In some countries, though, roaming is expensive and it’s weirdly hard to find a SIM card. The Prepaid Data SIM Card Wiki is a must-bookmark, but sometimes local knowledge is helpful too.
Would you please allocate me a particularly quiet room facing the sunrise, away from elevators and any families or group event rooms?
Nobody likes to be disturbed when they’re sleeping, so it’s great to at least try to be as far away as possible from noise sources. A sunrise room also means you’ll be woken up by the sunshine, which I love —and also means your room won’t heat up in the afternoon sun.
Where would you recommend for someone who enjoys botanical gardens/arthouse movies/aviation museums/insert your personal fave here?
It’s no secret that this airline journalist loves a good aviation museum, but I also love wandering through a botanical garden, breathing in the scent of local plants and flowers, and people-watching. What’s your thing? Ask about it in advance! And my top tip as a regular traveller: I remove the need to think about all this kind of stuff by keeping a note on my laptop (which shares to my tablet and phone) with a basic list of questions that I’ve asked before, so I don’t have to rack my brains when I’m prepping for my next trip.
John Walton is an international aviation journalist, follow him @thatjohn.