1. On the way in, plan your exit.
The best time to figure out the fastest and easiest way out of town is on your way in; waiting until you are trying to make a plane to do so can cause a lot of stress and lost time. After you get off a plane, for example, scope out the airport layout and amenities. Note how far it is from the car rental counter to the terminal as well as a good place to buy gas to fill up your tank before returning your vehicle. Look for street names and exit numbers to thread your way back to the rental counter or terminals. When you check in at your hotel, ask about check-out times and see if you can leave without stopping at the front desk.
2. Grab some nourishment.
One of the first things most travelers will need to do upon arriving in a new place is eat, and many end up grabbing whatever is available, whether it's room service or fast food. But with Yelp, Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, and many other listing sites and apps out there, you can get ahead of this one very easily.
Reader Tre Horoszewski offers a tip: "Do a little research ahead of time to find a decent, nearby restaurant for your first meal upon arrival. You're often tired and hungry, so aren't ready to go to that one really great place you want to try on your trip. But neither do you want to spend time looking for someplace and wind up settling for junk precisely because you're tired and hungry and just want food."
Of course, in some cases fast food will do the job just fine.
Six Tips for Dining Abroad
3. Reset your clock.
If you changed time zones while traveling, you will want to assume the daily rhythms of the new zone immediately, right down to the type of foods you eat. If it is morning, go have tea or coffee and breakfast foods (pancakes, pastries, etc.); if it is evening, have a proper dinner; if it is nighttime, maybe a cocktail and a snack. Don't succumb to the urge to stay on your old schedule, especially for your most ingrained habits -- which brings us to...
4. Get outside.
When you visit a new place, the light is different, the air is different and your entire sense of the world can be different. After spending hours in parking lots, airports, planes, shuttle buses and rental car garages, put down all your stuff and get out the door.
Ceci Flinn, an American working toward a Ph.D. at Oxford in the U.K., offers the following: "Take a walk, familiarize yourself with the surroundings and get fresh air/exercise. Okay, there are places like parts of L.A. where this doesn't work so well, and ya gotta take a bus or drive, and then walk!"
Do this again the morning after you arrive; getting yourself out into the sunlight alerts your brain and body to what time of day it is, and lets them know that you're done sitting on planes and ready to have some fun!
See More Tips for Fighting Jet Lag
5. Have a plan to deal with your caffeine addiction.
Let's face it -- a very large percentage of us have a caffeine addition of some type. Getting this under control and on track as quickly as possible is going to be critical in adjusting your biological clock to match your new surroundings. If you mess it up in the early going, it can take days to correct, and even exact a toll on your overall enjoyment of your trip.
Anyone with a coffee habit of any merit knows the consequences of having a strong cup of coffee at the wrong time of day. If it's 7 a.m. in your home town but late in the day at your new destination, you know that giving your body the java fix it's demanding will wreak havoc on your sleep that night and your energy the next day. But you also know you can't go completely without.
I have found that substituting a sugarless cola often does the trick; with less than 50 milligrams of caffeine in most colas, it is enough to push back headaches and cravings, but not so much that it'll ruin your sleep.
Then when you get up the next day, get out of your room into the morning sunlight and hit the caffeine hard; I have found that this combination can reset my internal clock almost in an instant. You may have a different approach -- and an evening cup of coffee may have little effect on some people -- but you want to put a strategy into play before you find yourself lying awake in the dark on a midnight caffeine jag.
A simpler version: Wait until your first morning to drink your first strong cup of coffee.
6. Take pictures.
A pro photographer I know always dedicates the first few hours of a trip to taking a lot of photos; he noticed some time ago that his eye was always "freshest" when he first arrived in a new place, and he would notice things in the first few hours that he might ignore after a few days. Flinn says simply, "Take a camera; you never know when you will see something magical."
19 Tips for Better Travel Photos
7. Charge your electronics.
When you arrive in your room, the first thing you want to do is whip out all your electronic devices, make sure you can plug them in if you are traveling internationally and put a full charge on them. If you need adapters, you will want to deal with this early in your trip; having your laptop or camera bail out on you right after you arrive can make the normal hassles of traveling overwhelm the first promising hours of your trip.
8. Secure your valuables.
The place you stow your most valuable items during a flight (in your carry-on, in your coat pocket) may not be the safest place for the duration of your trip. If you are traveling with any especially valuable items, secure them straight away upon arrival, whether in the safe in your room, or buried deep in your socks, or however you prefer to do so.
Essential Hotel Safety Tips
9. Let someone know you arrived, and where you are.
Especially if you are traveling alone, but even if not, it's a good idea to let someone close to you know that you arrived safely. You should also tell him or her how to get in touch with you if needed (hotel phone and room number, your preferred traveling e-mail address, your cell phone number if you're using it, etc.).
10. Check the weather.
It seems almost too simple, but countless travelers get ambushed by bad weather, and a thoughtful weather check can really assist your overall planning. Check the long-term forecast for your stay, which will help you decide when to schedule outdoor vs. indoor activities, whether you will need to pick up gear that you didn't pack, and how to cope with any truly plan-wrecking weather events.
Do you have anything you make sure to do in the first 24 hours of a trip? Let us know in the comments!
Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network.