In a few days my husband and I will board an international flight bound for Paris. We will be touring France with a Rick Steves’ tour for two weeks, starting and ending in Paris. Our stops in the middle include stays in Bourges, the Loire Valley, Mont St. Michel and Bayeux. We’ll see the Louvre and Orsay museums, several famous chateaus, Normandy and the D-Day beaches as well as Monet’s Gardens at Giverny. Michael and I are spending an extra day in Paris to see Versailles on our own.
If you are visiting a new country for the first time, I highly recommend a Rick Steves’ tour, or at least bring his guide books along. Two years ago, we toured with them for the first time to Italy, visiting Venice, Florence and Rome. Just get yourself to the country and to the proper hotel by the tour start time and darn near everything else is taken care of for you. All in country transportation is arranged, many of your meals are with the tour group, all museum passes are purchased and reservations made. Your guide also gives you a short run down on the particular country’s Do’s & Dont’s so you don’t feel like a complete nit-wit, I mean tourist.
One thing that you will hear about traveling abroad is to watch out for pick-pockets. This really worried me during our Italy trip, but if you play it smart, it’s likely nothing will happen. Be sure to read up on the current scams, hold your bag close to you when in a crowd and especially on public transport, as well as have a good travel bag. Some recommend a travel belt, but Michael and I found great results with bags from PacSafe. They are designed to be theft proof.
Overseas air fare can be expensive. Direct flights (when available) are always better than stretching the journey into several legs. Also, if you are able, upgrade to business class. The extra room and such is well worth it. Remember, unless you plan on sleeping the entire flight, you are stuck in a space no bigger than a folding chair for many hours.
An iPad or some sort of tablet is really worth it also. Load up on games, magazines, books, movies and music. Anything to occupy the flight time. I’m actually going to be bringing my new MacBook Air to France. My husband got it for me so I can blog while we are on the trip.
A Few Personal Tips for Overseas Travel
Know a few key phrases in the country’s language – locals greatly appreciate you trying and are more likely to be patient and help you out if you are doing your best to be gracious in their country.
Pack light – the rest of the world is not full of bell hops and elevators. You are responsible for carting your 2 ton suite case up the flight of narrow stairs. Also, you are going for the experience, not looking fabulous in every situation.
Different hotel star rating – Four stars in the US is different than four stars in Europe. Again, you are going for the experience. Instead of blowing all your dough on the Four Seasons, save some Euros and stay at a smaller hotel owned by the locals and treat yourself to an expensive meal or a memorable souvenir or a super fun excursion.
Try the local cuisine – PLEASE do not go to anyplace from America! Such as a McDonalds or lord knows what other American brands have infected the rest of the world. For the last time, it’s about the experience, and what’s new about a Big Mac besides the name – Royale with cheese. I’m excited to try Escargot in France and all the unpasteurized stinky cheese I can get my hands on! There is a great deal of adventure (and courage) in pointing to something on a menu and ordering it even though you may have no idea what it is. It’s obvious the locals like it or it wouldn’t be on the menu and it’s certainly worth trying. If all else fails, ask for some help. Saying S’il vous plaît (please) in France will not only endure you to the French, but it would be their pleasure to help you.
Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore – adjust yourself to the speed and lifestyle of the locals! We are one of the fastest moving countries in the world. Rush rush, go here, go there, do this, do that. The rest of the world does not share our time schedule nor our agenda. I love the pace in Italy with 3 hour lunches and 4 hour dinners. You are on vacation, what the hell else do you have to do? The Italians know how to do it right, savor the moment, take in the experience, enjoy the company, and delight in the meal. What else is there, really? Simply go with the flow and s-l-o-w d-o-w-n!
Coming Soon: Posts from France