First time flying can be a frightening experience, but it shouldn’t and it won’t, especially if at the end of the flight you get to visit Amsterdam.. This happened in 2013, so, you can consider it an old story, but I’m 99% certain that all the links and data in this article are still useful.
First time flying
Yep, lots of research was done on the subject. Here’s a “short” list from what I remember:
- plane tickets
- cheaper plane tickets (didn’t know about skyscaner, momondo and kayak back then)
- a person that knows a person that might work at a travel agency to get you cheaper plane tickets
- travel insurance (just in case)
- how to pack for travel (use youtube for this, search this exact phrase)
- accepted cabin luggage size depending on your airline (either google for: “[airline] luggage”, or use samsonite‘s cabin bag tool – you don’t have to buy their bags, just find out the dimensions)
- where to buy cabin luggage that fits most companies (damn, this list starts to look like SEO bait, just a clue: amazon, ebay and dedicated online shops in your country)
- liquids packing zip-bags (if you can’t find those, just use a transparent container)
- weight of carry-on baggage (~10kg)
- when to get to the airport (~2 hours before departure)
- how to do your check-in
- online check-in (what on earth does check-in mean?)
- seat choosing (just search for the plane map to be prepared when the check-in opens – you can see the plane type on your ticket)
- should I go with my car to the airport? (I live about 250km away from the airport, I was travelling alone, so, I would have paid the parking and the commute by myself => no go)
- airport transfer from my city (Constanta) to Bucharest International Airport
- can I bring my laptop and my carry-on with me, in a different bag/backpack? (short answer, usually: yes)
- price of drop luggage, just in case you carry too much (usually free, if the flight is not low cost)
- ID or passport (I live in Romania, Romania is in EU – only ID is necessary, yey!)
- sick pills? (yes, I bet almost every single first traveler has this worry.. I didn’t get any with me, I’m a rebel, I like to live dangerously)
- should I get headphones or flight headrests? I mean, everyone is using them if you search flying tips on the internet (didn’t get any, smart decision)
What I found out after my first flight:
- online check-in, always
- you don’t need to take a printed copy of the ticket and the check-in with you if you have them on your phone (qr or scan code should be visible); but it’s advisable to have a printed copy.. just in case something happens with your phone and you don’t want to waste time going at a check-in office or machine
- strip every accessory at the security gate (not jewels): watch, fitness tracking devices, belt, you name it
- get your laptop out of the bag and in a separate scan container – don’t ask why, that’s how they ask you to do it, better be prepared – less talk with the security personnel, nicer experience
- don’t just go around where it says “Customs”, even if you can, that line is there for a reason
- enjoy the shops before the plane leaves, even have a drink if the price isn’t too wow’y for you, don’t just sit at the gate.. explore
- some people might ask for you to change seats with them.. you can do that, but I denied because I was pretty nervous and wanted to stay at the window, even if I was asked by a newly wedded couple who got tickets on different rows (don’t boo me, it all got sorted out, the other guy on our row offered to move). Once you’re in the plane, it’s not really necessary to hold your exact spot, but it’s advisable.. won’t scare you with the reason why
- after the plane engine starts revving up, and gets up in the sky, you just relax – don’t know why, but that’s how it happened for me
- no sick pills needed
- no headphone or headrests needed – you are way to hyped when you first fly to sleep or to listen to anything else other then the sound of the powerful engines, especially if you’re on a less than 3 hours flight
- the wings of the plane move, don’t panic! (yes, they tremble a bit, nothing too much)
- turbulence are not that frightening (or I was lucky); you can compare them to the feeling you get when the elevator starts
- you get served lunch and snacks and beverages during the flight (at least KLM served us 3 or 4 times)
- you won’t hear the flight attendant too well, so just prepare an answer: “coffee, tea, water, orange juice, apple juice” and “first or second” if there are two types of food
- if you’re at the window, and not in the front of the plane, better relax a few minutes until everyone gets their bags
- once you’re off the plane, just go where everyone is going, eventually you’ll end at a customs point (again.. EU – just prepare your ID, take off your glasses, nice smile – not too nice, you don’t want too look suspiciously retarded)
- past customs, go wherever you want to go.. at arrivals waiting point if you only had carry on bag or at baggage claim
- if you want to just stay on the walking belt, don’t; or stay on the right side, people who use it are in a hurry (I had to stay, read below)
This trip happened on 3rd October 2013. On 27th February 2013 I went into a leg surgery, involving broken bones and torn ligaments that held me in bed for 6 months. When I left home to go to the airport it was the first time I left my crutches for more than 500 meters. I was still in huge pain and sweating really hard from the effort of simply walking around.
Having a carry-on trolley, a jacket and a laptop backpack while in pain from walking results in heavy sweating. Heavy sweating equals gross! So, I changed my t-shirt once in a bathroom at Bucharest Airport and once before exiting Schiphol Amsterdam Airport.
Why I still did this given the situation? Because it was my top destination to visit (you know, #1 on bucket list), and when I got an e-mail from work in March saying that we’ll do an European meet-up in Amsterdam, I was probably the first one to confirm my presence there. In case there will be people other than my friends reading this, I work in a remote company (which is beautiful!) and once or twice every year we meet (Europe and North America).
I did huge efforts from 15th August or so, when I got my leg cast off, to recover as much as possible and start walking before October.
Red Light District
Well, you don’t actually exit the airport in Amsterdam if you want to travel by train to the city center or Red Light District.. You just go underground (via elevators placed near the exit) and get the train from line 3, which comes about 6 times in an hour, and in less than 15 minutes, you’ve arrived at Amsterdam Centraal Station.
The dutch trains are amazingly fast, frequent, clean and always on time (just like every other transportation mean in the Netherlands). There are ticket vending machines in every station and they work both with cash and credit cards. In case you can’t figure it out, there are some desks and the employees will help you (super fast and always with a smile on their face).
Here’s a map of the airport – near point 43 (middle) you can see a lot of escalators to go to the train lines and three ticket vending machine. If you get there it will say “TRAINS” everywhere! :))
By the way, if you buy a transportation pass while staying in the Netherlands and on departure you still have money on it, you can go at the desk and they will give you back the remaining money on that pass. Cool, right?
I got to the Centraal Station before 20.30 and it was already dark (the plane landed at 19.25, I was walking really slow, I spent some time changing my t-shirt, looking around in the aiport; the idea is that their transportation system rocks).
Amsterdam Centraal Station is not the loveliest place to be in Amsterdam, and soon I found out that the entire neighborhood of Red Light is almost the same. Smells like urine everywhere, saw some mean looking people, almost felt like home!
At this point, I got a little panicked, because I didn’t have a pre-paid plan on my cell phone to use the GPS and I was already very tired and my leg was killing me. I knew that my hotel is very close, basically, right across the street, but I didn’t imagine that rush and huge amount of people walking around.. It can get very disorienting if you’re alone.
Anyway, staying in one place won’t help.. Try to cross the street, either go left, right or straight ahead. Just be careful of incoming trams, cars, buses, bicycles and basically don’t limp around moving slowly. In my confusion, I chose left and somehow I got lucky and straight to the hotel.
The streets are narrow in Red Light District, the people are very noisy and you can easily miss things (like friends, hotels, bars, restaurants, shops you are looking for).
I stayed at Hotel CC and I highly recommend it for it’s position, friendly staff and cleanliness! It’s in the heart of the party, but still close to the edge of the neighborhood, to the police (right around the corner there were police cars just waiting there), marina and train station.
I love writing with lists, and I can bet it’s way easier for you to read, so, here are my tips for one night in Amsterdam Red Light District:
- get out – if you arrive in the evening and it feels overwhelming at first, way too crazy, way too nuts, don’t give in to your hotel bed, get out, you we’ll soon blend in
- be prepared for above average to high prices – for example, one burger + a draft Heineken = ~20 euros in a restaurant
- don’t expect to see police; they are on certain spots, at the edge of the neighborhood, where the streets close at night, but they won’t patrol the streets
- as a police officer advised, buy only legal drugs from coffeeshops, not from the people in the street; you might end up mugged, with your papers & money gone
- you’ll be offered very often, from people that hang in gangs on the street, strong drugs: cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), LSD; read the point above, it’s not worth it
- if you want coffee, go to cafes
- if you want weed or weed related (cookies) go to coffeeshops
- if you want mushrooms, go where it says Mushrooms on the window :))
- if you want sexy time, you’ll figure it out.. you’re in the RED LIGHT district
- you can’t have alcohol in coffeeshops, it’s one or the other; some famous coffee shops have two entrances, one for weed, one for alcohol
- that weird smell on the street, until 11pm, it’s weed
- that other weird smell on the streets after 11pm, it’s probably puke
- two recommendations: The Bulldog (more locations, you can’t smoke inside, other than what you buy from there) and Baba Coffee Shop (space cakes, right next to Hotel CC where I stayed)
- almost everything closes around 1 AM if not earlier; no last client policy, you literally get mopped out
- the streets and puke get washed early in the morning by very effective machines and lots of workers (it might wake you up)
- right outside the Hotel CC, very close to Baba Coffee Shop is the Baba Souvenir Shop, you’ll want to be there
- all those lovely canals that you see in pictures… they smell funky
If you want to know anything else about first time flying or how to get from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Centraal Station , just ask in the comments and I’ll try to answer.
Please excuse any grammar or spelling mistakes, I didn’t believe I could write this much on this subject, but I got a nice trip down memory lane.