Travel afterthoughts

I don’t think these are really original points or tips but here are things that I found to be very helpful or useful to have or know while traveling:

1.  Even in spring or early summer, a raincoat is a Must Have; a liner that you can zip in or out is even better.  An umbrella that folds down into the size of a fist is also a Must Have.

2.  Hat and scarf.  It seems like basic common sense, but I can’t tell you how many people I saw with sunburnt faces, wearing newly purchased hats, in Monaco and in Nice.  Although I should add that my internal thermostat may be out of whack: even as people sunbathed on the beach in Nice, I was bundled up in a jacket, scarf, and hat.  When the wind picked up and blew my hat off, I wrapped the scarf around my head. 

3.  Guidebooks — I’ve mentioned before that there are features in different series that I like.  In particular, I like Eyewitness Travel’s laminated, detachable street map.  I didn’t carry the guidebook around, but I did carry the map.  And since it was pretty wet for much of my wandering around Paris, I was glad it never got soggy.  And it came in handy when other tourists asked me for directions.  (I must look really approachable, because I get asked for directions all the time. It happens on every vacation and when I’m at home.  Poor lost people have no idea that I’m a terrible navigator with absolutely no sense of direction, and have to follow maps extremely closely.)

4.   Moleskin travel notebook.  They do small notebooks for certain cities — I’ve used them for London, Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris now, and I’ve seen them for Rome, Milan, and Prague also.  A street map and index is included in the front, just for downtown, which is helpful, and its got conversion tables and space for notes and addresses and planning, along with a little pocket in the back for receipts and the like.  Even though smartphones all have note-taking apps, I like to take notes in the notebook instead.  It’s pretty handy for keeping track of expenses and itineraries and checklists, I found. 

5.  Adapter plugs,USB cords, and internet access.  I used to carry a converter, too, but seldom used it.  Pretty much all the electronics you might carry on vacation – phone, table, laptop – don’t need a converter anyway, just the adaptor.  You can buy a set of adaptors relatively cheaply online, with four or five adapters based on region;  I bought mine years ago at an LLBean outlet.  USB cords…well, in the past, I had to have one cord for my  tablet and one for my iPhone, but converting to an Android phone reduced the number of cords need to one for this trip.  Don’t forget to turn off roaming on your phone; otherwise you can receive a nasty shock in your next wireless bill.  AT&T (my carrier, for better or worse) has a reasonable international roaming plan for internet, texting, and phone.  The texting and phone were worth it, since I used them both.  The internet?  Well, I signed up for it in case I needed it in an emergency, but since wireless access was provided with my lodgings and is available at most cafes and restaurants, it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

6.  Checking in at Charles de Gaulle.  The airline recommended arriving three hours before the flight’s departure time, which I kind of rolled my eyes at.  But between the line to check luggage at the front of the terminal and the trek to the gate and then the security check outside the gate, it took more than 2 1/2 hours; boarding had already begun by the time I got there.   Also, if you are catching a connecting flight at CDG, I’d recommend double-checking terminal assignments and transportation between terminals; getting from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2F took more than an hour between luggage pick up, walking, tram ride, and walking more; that’s before checking in again at the terminal and going through security again. 

7.  Foreign currency.  I don’t carry travelers checks but usually purchase some currency through my bank, and then use my bankcard once I’m traveling; check to see if the bank or your credit card company has a better fee scheme for international charges or usage in advance.  (One had a much lower per usage charge for me, so I used that one rather than the other.)  If you order currency in advance, specify that your order include a portion of small bills and coins.  At train stations (and elsewhere but it was most noticeably a problem for tourists at train stations), the self-service kiosks will take either small bills, coins, or chip and pin cards; most American cards do not work at them, so if you don’t have smaller change, you’ll have to wait in what could be a long line to buy or retrieve your train tickets.  Some train stations may have money changers but most did not seem to when I looked around for them.

8.  Bus and train.  I think many Americans are unaccustomed to bus and train travel.  Mostly we drive or fly, in part because our train network is not great once you are away from the coasts.  Or even just away from the northeast corridor.  But both bus and train travel in Europe generally are much better and more common, I think, with more options that make driving less necessary.  There are still places where renting a car is a more useful alternative, but I think Paris is not one of them.  And a lot of Provence can be seen via train or bus, as well.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Travel afterthoughts

  1. I just got back from London and this is very good advice.

    I did get a mix of currency before we left, but honestly I still got several “big” bills. We had no trouble breaking them, but if I had to do it over again I would have specified nothing higher than a 20.

    Outside of getting to and from the airport – we took the bus or subway everywhere, and it was really easy to navigate. I think we only took wrong turns once or twice and even then easily correctable. And we’re two dumb Americans who have never lived in areas with decent mass transit options. If we could figure it out – anybody could. We bought metro cards in advance that had expiration dates on them. Expired on last day of trip and no need to reload.

    Cell phones: We have cheap cells that are paperweights outside of the US – so we bought a cheap pay-as-you-go once in London. We wanted to be in contact with family in case of emergency and it was worth it for access to Google Maps, which shows public transportation options.

    I was pleasantly surprised that our hotel offered free WiFi. That was really all we needed, so it worked out well.

    Our primary credit card has a chip, so that was handy – but since the US isn’t on board with PINs, we still had to sign. London sees so many tourists though that nobody was really flummoxed when the card reader spit out a receipt for us to sign 🙂 And yes, always ask your bank / credit card company in advance about foreign transaction fees. Some have them, some don’t.

    • Big bills spend just fine 🙂 But when I first arrived, I wished for more smaller bills so I could avoid the long line to talk to a ticket agent and break a large bill.

      How was London? Share, please?

      • London was fabulous, our first time there. We did a lot of the touristy history stuff. Westminster, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, V&A, British Museum and Library etc. Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park were wonderful. I also wish I had more time to spend at the V&A. I could have lost 2 days going through that alone.

      • I loved the V&A and the Tower. But I liked the day I spent in Bath best: the baths, the abbey, the beautiful architecture in the old part of town.

  2. Keishon

    Thank you for writing this.

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