This past summer, I spent the month of June in France, and it was glorious. I saw old friends, made new friends, and spent time with my new “grand god-son.”
Though I’ve been traveling abroad since the age of eight and thought I knew a lot about traveling, there are always new surprises … and lots of old standby’s that come in handy. So, I’d like to share some, especially with holiday travel coming up..
Paula’s Travel Bag
My father’s motto in the old days was – and it still holds true today – throw out half of what you’ve packed and bring twice as much money. This is especially true today as more and more people travel, and there are fewer and fewer really “in the middle of nowhere” places, ie. you can buy whatever you need almost anywhere. So, if you can manage with just a carry-on, all the better. You’ll also be really happy about it when you have to shlep your bag up and down metro stairways and pull your bag over a gap and onto a train. What you can’t fit into your carry on, simply place in your backpack
When I was in my 30’s, I went to Ireland for a week. As a contact lens wearer, I made sure to bring extras. What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that “wetting solution” or “saline solution” had not yet hit the British Isles. So, I bought purified water and dropped my lenses in their case for an overnight soak. The next morning, I could barely get them in my eyes! These days, of course, Bausch and Lomb and most of the other manufacturers are world-wide. But the solutions will cost you! So, I always pack several two-oz travel size containers and carry a lens case and another small container of solution with me. Another must-have for me is “liquid bandage” (good for preventing blisters after all that walking around), a small tube of Vaseline (for lips, scrapes, and minor cuts), and a bunch of GU gels for when you need a bit of energy. If you use/need meds, check the TSA website for the latest info, but always bring a copy of your prescriptions with you.
The other item that I haven’t often found overseas is wash-cloths. Yes, I know this seems strange, but for a quick wash-up, they are indispensable. Thirty years ago in France, I thought the lack of them was just an anomaly in the Loire Valley and at my friend’s place. But this summer in both Aix-en-Provence (at a lovely older hotel) and Toulouse (at one of the sleek and modern Mercure hotels), no cloths were to be found. Mind you, I did pack a few for my trip. But my friends in Paris had handy wash mitts, as did the Airbnb I stayed in for two weeks in Aix. Soooooo, I threw them out to make room for gifts!! BIG mistake.
Though this next tip is mentioned in nearly every travel guide I’ve ever read, it truly never goes out of style, as I was abruptly reminded this past summer. Say “bonjour Madame or Monsieur” when entering a shop, a restaurant, or even when asking for directions on the street. It immediately sets you apart for having and showing good manners. Even if you can say nothing else in French, this will set the tone … and everyone will be much more friendly. One day, I took the bus to Marseille from Aix, and it dropped us off in their huge central station. After turning in circles for several minutes looking for the exit, I saw a uniformed guard. I spurted out, “Ou est la sortie?” (Where’s the exit?) Her response was an abrupt, “Bonjour Madame.” I was being chastised. Yes, it was patronizing of her, but I should have known better.
In this hi-tech world when nearly everyone travels with an iPhone, iPad, and/or computer and extra chargers, nothing could be more important than remembering to bring your plugs with you. And when traveling abroad, it’s even more essential to have adapters. For most of Europe, you’ll need a Type C, some of which also have two USB ports on them. I bought a few small ones in Target, but you can also find all sorts on Amazon for just about every country and continent. Just google it.
I also like to carry about 100-200 dollars in cash in foreign currency, when I’m traveling abroad. Some people swear by the ATM’s at the arrival airport. But since I’m usually half asleep when I touch down, I prefer not to conduct any business then. Yes, it may cost a few dollars more, but the savings in time and mistakes is worth it for me. After that, I rely on local ATM’s.
Tipping is a subject that comes up constantly. In the States, it seems that if you don’t tip about 20 percent these days, you get “the look.” Credit card receipts even do the math for you, listing from 15 percent to 25 percent. But in France (and other European countries) the tip is usually included in the bill. When in doubt, simply ask. Most French leave the leftover change from the bill or a euro or two as a courtesy. But it’s not really necessary.
When in Paris, try taking the metro. It is safe, fast, and well-marked. You may have to switch trains once or twice, but that’s not as hard as it sounds, as long as you don’t mind stairs.The peculiarity is that they still use single tickets AND that you must either surrender them at the end of your trip or use them to get out through the exit turn-styles. I often buy a “carnet” (a 10-pack) but this is sometimes even more confusing, since it’s impossible to distinguish between the new and the used ones. My latest trick is to put the new ones in my left pocket and the used ones in the right. But miracle of miracles, even tourists can now buy a Navigo Easy card, which (like a NYC Metro card) can be used over and over again and then refilled. They are good on both the metro and buses.
My other must-have for every journey is a bunch of Ziplock bags. I use them mostly for shoes and slippers, but they also come in handy for dirty socks and even make-up. No, they are not cute nor chic, but they do the job. And they are easy to get through customs.
Hope this helps. Happy Holidays and Happy Travels!!
Top photo: Bigstock
Other photos courtesy of Paula M. Levine