As you know one of my goals is to visit Europe on a regular basis. In fact, we have taken a vacation there the past three summers. This year we went to France. I thought it was a great trip. We saw a lot of great art, walked through awesome cathedrals, strolled through half-timbered houses, visited historic sites like the D-Day beaches, ate wonderful food, met new people, created memories, and learned a little about what it is like to be French. There are a few specific reasons I like to travel and enjoy showing you different parts of Europe. I think it is important to see other parts of the world. More importantly, you learn a lot while you travel. You learn things about yourself, about others, and how the world works. Below are three travel tips from our most recent trip to France. They are focused on the trip itself, not what we learned from the French while there…that will be in the next blog post.
Have a plan
Detailed planning helps make the trip go smoothly and creates lasting memories. Traveling is not easy. Things will go wrong. In order to avoid our vacations becoming a chaotic mess, I spend a lot of time planning the trip before we board the plane. You know this – you have seen the slides I create that describe the trip in detail. I know my approach is kind of geeky, but it seems to work really well for us. Some would argue that it is better to just “wing it” when it comes to travel. The idea is to show up without a plan, and just “make it up as you go along”. I am not a big fan of this approach, especially when you are traveling as a group like we were this year. I would rather invest the time researching and planning so that we make the most of the trip. The last thing I want to happen is for us to spend a few weeks in a country, shell out a lot of money, and not really enjoy it. To avoid this scenario I will map out the route, design an overall schedule, and a basic agenda for each day.
Don’t plan every minute
That does not mean that every minute of every day is planned in advance. Rather, I like having a basic structure so that we get to see what we want to see and get the most from each day at a pace that is comfortable. We always leave time on the schedule for unplanned excursions that arise during the trip. For example, this year we decided to drive down the Normandy coast rather than take the main highway. It was a beautiful drive full of amazing sites that we would have missed.
Do some research
Use the resources that are available to stay organized and avoid mishaps. There are a lot of great tools available nowadays to help you plan for travel – books, websites, blogs, videos, etc. For example, I use booking.com for our hotel reservations. This website allows me to search for hotel rooms at all the cities we will visit. It includes reader reviews, photos, and detailed descriptions. The site allows me to track all of our reservations in one location. I almost always book rooms with a free cancellation policy, because you never know when you plan will change and you need to cancel a room. I also use trip advisor for researching but rarely will book rooms through their site. There are several great websites like kayak and google flights to use when buying plane tickets. Let these sites do the searching and tracking of prices for you. It is amazing the price difference you may see in flight prices.
Staying longer to save money?
For example, this year we stayed an extra day because it was cheaper to pay another day for the hotel room than to fly on a Sunday back to the states. YouTube has a ton of travel-related content that is useful. I will watch numerous videos to extract tidbits of information about where we are going, what to see, and what to expect. Lastly, investing in a travel book is worth it. The reality is that a trip to Europe costs thousands of dollars, so it makes sense to spend the $30 on a good travel book about the area that we are visiting. As you know, I am a huge Rick Steves fan. His books, TV show, website, and videos have taught me a lot about travel and saved me a lot of grief while wandering around Europe. This year, we spent a lot less time waiting in long lines for tickets based insights gained from his France guidebook.
Don’t be an ugly American
Live like a local when you can. One of Rick Steve’s mantras is to try to live like a local while you travel so that you actually experience the culture. It is easy to stay in comfortable hotels away from the action. Many enjoy this type of travel. I prefer to see what life is like for the locals. It is much more interesting than being holed up in a fancy hotel built for foreign travelers. For example, based on Rick’s recommendation, we actually stayed at Mont St. Michel for one night. Sure – it was expensive, but it was worth it. I knew that we should arrive late in the day as the day trippers were leaving so that we could experience this unique site without hoards of tourists around us. We did, and have many awesome pictures to prove it.
Live in a neighborhood
Another good decision we made was to spend multiple days in the Rue Cler neighborhood in Paris. We stayed in a funky modern hotel and were able to see how the locals live in this pedestrian zone part of the city. Each day we ate breakfast at the local bakery where locals sip their coffee while eating a croissant, chatting with their neighbors about current events, and smoking cigarettes. As you learned the French still smoke a lot. At night we ate and drink in one of the local cafes watching Parisian life pass right in front of our eyes. I felt like we learned a little about what it is like to actually live in Paris – one of the greatest cities in the world. For anyone considering visiting Paris, this video gives more insights about staying near Rue Cler. BTW – the best croissant I have ever eaten came from the bakery on this street. It was dripping with butter and goodness.