Category: Travel Tips

Tip # 9 – Languages and Customs

When traveling internationally, it is advisable to do some research concerning languages and customs. It is not necessary to be fluent in the language of the countries you visit, but there are some necessary things you will need to know.

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First of all, get a good language book of words and frequent phrases for the country to which you are traveling. Study ahead of time and try to be able to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, and where is… at a moment’s notice. It is also helpful if you can say, “do you speak English” and “I don’t understand.”

There are some really good translation apps for your phone or computer, such as Google Translate. On Google Translate, you can actually speak a word, phrase, or sentence in English and it will show you the printed translation in your chosen language. On my cell phone, I can speak the English and it will also speak the other language back to me, thereby helping me to learn how to say it. If I were ever in a tight spot and needed to communicate and couldn’t, I could use this app and either show someone the sentence in their language or let them hear it.

248I haven’t traveled far from languages I am familiar with yet except for my trip to India. I traveled there in 2011 (my first time overseas) and was not well prepared at all for the language. I had been told that most people in Chennai would speak English as well as their Tamil. Once I arrived, I discovered that professional people and the highly educated usually could speak English. However, the clerks at the local grocery, where we had to go the first two days for our drinking water did not. We made good use of body language and hand gestures to get by. That said, we really didn’t have any big problems.

I have found, when traveling abroad, that the local people are always very happy to help you communicate if you are following their basic customs and are humble about not knowing everything. The term “ugly American” to me means going into someone’s country and expecting them to change for you and expecting them to speak your language fluently to help you.

Many of the basic customs in Paris are simple once you are told what they are. For example, it is imperative that a customer or diner always greet the proprietor or clerk with “boujour” or “bonsoir” upon entering even if you do not see that person and they have not spoken to you yet.

564At a café with outside dining, look at the tables to know what you should do. If a table is cleaned off (empty), you may take a seat for a coffee or a snack or a meal. However, if the table is set with flatware and any dishes, you should wait to be seated and only expect to order a full meal at that time at that table.

A majority of restaurants in Paris do not expect you to ask for a “doogie bag.” It is considered by many to be impolite. However, I have had two places offer to send some of my leftovers home with me.

659When I ate at the Basque restaurant, Chez L’ami Jean, there was so much food for each course, that I could not possible eat all of it. As I arrived at the restaurant, there was a young lady standing at the door. I asked in French if she spoke English and she replied in French that she didn’t, but that she would get someone who did. She sat me at a table and handed me a menu in French.

469A waiter soon arrived who spoke English. I explained in French that I only spoke very little French, to which he responded “like me” and smiled a big smile. I asked if he could translate the menu for me. He said, “Oh, no, no. You do not want that. The chef has prepared a very special meal today in honor of the Fourth of July.” It was July 14, Bastille Day, but he was making a connection he thought I would understand.

470He explained to me that this special meal had an appetizer, a main course, and two desserts. That sounded good to me. He proceeded to tell me there would be tuna, then a baby pig (I thought “just for me?”), and two desserts. I asked if they had their famous rice pudding today because I had heard so much about it. He replied that they did and would this menu be ok? I said yes. In reality, I received the tuna and then a bowl of fois gras soup. By this time I was already feeling full. He then brought the baby pig. It was a fairly large terrine filled with large chunks of pork and potatoes and carrots. This looked like enough food to feed at least three people. There was also a plate with some of this already dipped out. I started on the food and only needed a little from the terrine. The bus boy came by and asked in French if everything was ok. I said yes, the food was delicious, but that I just couldn’t hold it all.

The waiter immediately returned and said “You told him something and he didn’t know what.”  I explained that the food was wonderful, but way too much for me to eat at one meal and that I was finished with that course.

472The dessert came soon. It was actually three desserts. There were two small, individually sized desserts. Then I was served the famous rice pudding. They serve it in a fairly large bowl and then extra little bowls of toppings. The bowl they brought me was the same size they were placing on the tables for four and six people.

 

471I truly ate as much rice pudding as I could possibly stuff in because it was so great. However, I finally had to stop. The waiter came with the bill and I commented that I would love to go on eating that pudding all day, but just could not hold any more. He smiled and took my money.

The chef had walked through a little earlier to the front sidewalk where he stood talking to a friend. He had slowed down to pat me on the arm as he came through. As I left the restaurant, the waiter came after me and said, “wait, wait, you must meet chef,” at which point he ushered me over to the chef and his friend and I told the chef how good my meal was. The chef quickly grabbed me and planted a kiss on each cheek.

As if that experience weren’t enough for one day, as I started down the sidewalk toward my hotel, I soon heard from behind me, “madam, madam!” I turned around to find the bus boy with a large sack in his hand. He handed it to me and I found about a 3-cup container full of pudding and all the toppings for me to take with me. I was really glad I had a refrigerator in my hotel room because I ate off of that for the next three days.

628Now we will talk some more about customs and what to expect in Paris. Breakfast is not considered an important meal by the Parisians. Locals usually have a large cup of coffee at home or stop at a café and stand at the counter for a café and pastry. These are very quick breakfasts. However, the Paris café owners do well providing for tourists who like our larger American breakfasts. Remember, if your hotel offers breakfast, be sure to check and see what they offer. You can often find breakfast cheaper at a nearby café. If all you want is coffee and a pastry, it will for sure be cheaper.

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One thing different is the coffee. I do not really care for French coffee and, from what I have read, most Americans don’t. However, it is important to know what you are ordering when you order coffee in Paris. There are several different ways you can order coffee in Paris. Café au lait, café crème, café Americana, and une noisette are just a few of the varieties. Each term means a different size, espresso with or without milk or foam, filtered coffee, etc. Be sure before going to Paris to research which café you will want to order.

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Customs concerning acceptable behavior on a subway are probably the same around the world. However, if you are not accustomed to using this form of transportation, here are some of the unspoken rules. Traditional subway etiquette calls for none of the following: eating, loud music, phone calls, initiating conversation (unless you need to ask an important question), really large bags, or spreading out to cover more than one seat. Etiquette does call for you to have your ticket or pass card out of your wallet and ready to insert or swipe so as to not hold up the line getting into the metro station.

It is also important to keep track of your children while in the metro and during the boarding and getting off process. Do not step off the subway car and pull out your phone to slowly walk, checking your messages. As you step off the train car, it is important to either keep moving quickly, or step aside out of the way if you need to check on your group or directions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tip # 8 – Stay Healthy

I want to start this blog post with a disclaimer: I AM NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR. ALL COMMENTS AND INFORMATION PRINTED HERE ARE STRICTLY MY OPINION BASED ON MY OWN EXPERIENCES.

It is important for every one of us to stay as healthy as we can wherever we are. However, it is something travelers might often not think about. When we are at home, we are close to friends and family who we can call if we have a medical problem. We are also in an area where we know where to find a doctor and a hospital if needed.

I know that most people will not set out on a trip if they have severely compromised health without making the necessary inquiries and arrangements. However, there are many medical problems that can come up for otherwise healthy people when they travel.

Even if we are traveling to just to a neighboring state in the United States, known for its fairly healthy environment and clean drinking water, there is a chance our body can react unfavorably to the new environment. Although the water is considered safe to drink, it is probably different than the water we drink at home and could cause digestive problems just because we are not used to it.

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Goat Cheese Salad, Paris
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Waffle in Brussels
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Fallefel from L’As du Fallefel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fish & Chips (and mushy peas) in London

I don’t know about other travelers, but when I am on a trip, I usually eat a lot more than normal and am more apt to eat unusual foods and more unhealthy foods. Just a change in diet can affect many people to the point of being too sick to enjoy their trip.

Another change in the environment that could cause medical problems is the air around you. Different areas might be populated with different pollen and pollutants than your body is used to. These things can cause your health to become compromised even if you do not normally have these kinds of problems.

There is always a chance of injury when you travel. A simple sprained ankle can really mess up your trip. It is important to plan ahead for maintaining your standard of health, be prepared for minor medical problems, and know how and where to get help if you need it.

IMG_5750When I travel I am careful to carry enough of my prescription medications to cover more days than I plan to be gone. That way, if my return is delayed or I drop a pill, I am still covered. If I am traveling for just a few days and staying in the country on a driving trip, I just fill my weekly pill dispenser. However, if I am flying, I take pills in marked prescription bottles (little ones from the drug store) and put them in my empty dispenser once I arrive so I don’t forget to take them regularly. I always take over the counter medications like pain killers, sinus medications, antibiotic ointment, band-aids, artificial tears, Imodium, and Tums. You can find these medications nearly anywhere, but if you want something at midnight, you might be out of luck. I also take along a thermometer.

Most lodging places will have contact information for you if you need emergency medical help. Many can recommend local doctors, dentist, etc. if you need to visit one of these physicians while you are staying at their facility.

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Front Desk at Hotel Beaugency

If you or a travel companion have specific medical needs, it is important that everyone in the traveling party know about those needs. Allergies, diabetes, etc. should be identified with medical alert tags on the person.

I traveled with someone one time who was taking blood thinners and we checked ahead of time for locations of Quest providers who could test his blood every two weeks, as directed by his doctor. One trip included the presence of a kidney stone that the Dr. said could jar loose at any time and block everything and that we would need to get to a hospital immediately.  I checked out and mapped ahead of time local hospitals along the way and knew how to get the patient there in a hurry if needed. This may sound a little paranoid, but I felt responsible for making plans ahead of time so there would be less confusion and stress on the trip.

Since we are familiar with living in the states, we are all pretty familiar with picking up a phone book and finding a hospital or doctor. Many places in the United States have a 911 service or similar emergency contact number that can be summoned for help. However, traveling in a foreign country might be very different depending on what country you are visiting.

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The Green Cross signifies that this is a pharmacy.

In France, for instance, the first line of medical treatment is the local pharmacist. I was once sick long enough in Paris that I decided I needed medical help. The hotel desk clerk directed me to the only drug store open on Sunday. I discussed the problem with him and he issued the appropriate medication. It is my understanding that this is normally the first stop one makes when sick there. I thought I had thoroughly understood the directions from the pharmacist, including the direction to “take one right now.” However, upon returning to the hotel, I gave the medicine package to the hotel clerk and asked her to translate it all to me so I knew exactly what I was taking. Her English  was much more fluent than the pharmacist, although he apologized throughout our encounter for not speaking better English.

It is important that you know how your medical insurance works while you are in a foreign country. You need to know how to proceed if you should need medical attention. When some family members were living in India for six months, they found that the medical help at doctors’ offices and hospitals was so inexpensive that they didn’t even feel the need to turn in the bills to the insurance company for reimbursement. One acquaintance, who broke a bone in  Australia, asked for a bill and was told there was no charge because they had universal health care and didn’t even have a process for writing up charges.

There is a lot we can do as travelers to help insure our safety and health while on a trip. We need to make sure we are faithful in taking regular medications that have been prescribed.

We also need to use wisdom when eating – what and where and how much. Keeping our hands clean is another important rule for staying healthy. I keep hand wipes in my day bag all the time and make sure I wash my hands in some way before eating anything, even a snack.IMG_7537

Exercise is not usually an issue on my trips because I usually do a lot of walking. However, resting can be as important as exercise. When you are tired, REST. If you wear yourself out, you will not fully enjoy the trip.

Be careful! It is easy to get interested in looking at something or hurrying to get somewhere and take a misstep or trip over something. Be sure to watch where you are walking and pay attention to your surroundings.

Make sure you are appropriately dressed for the weather. Know what kind of weather to expect where you are traveling, but also take items you will need if the weather turns off colder or warmer than you think it will.

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BTW – Tap water in Paris is great!

Drink water – make sure it’s clean and healthy water – but DRINK IT!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tip # 7 – Be open to visiting with people you don’t know.

Many people have commented to me that they would be too lonely if traveling alone. I guess it might be my personality or the fact that I was a school teacher in my earlier life, but I have always been very sociable with other travelers. This is obviously a skill that needs to be thought out as there are some places where it would not be appropriate to initiate conversation with strangers. I would never initiate conversation with someone I didn’t know in a fine dining establishment or on a subway. However, there are many other occasions where it is perfectly acceptable to do so and even helpful to all involved.

IMG_4329In France, it is a national “must” in manners for the shopper, diner, or visitor to greet the proprietor upon entering the establishment, even if s/he hasn’t said anything yet. Although I abided by the custom, I had not thought much about this until I had made multiple visits to France and I have discovered that this is a really good habit to practice wherever I go.

It felt rather strange the first time I was in Paris to call out a greeting even if I didn’t see anyone there. However, I realized that, not only is this polite, but in a small place where the proprietor might be in a back room, it lets him or her know you are there. I have taken to doing this in any small shop that might have only one person working, even in the states. I have noticed very pleasant looks and responses to this action.

In some shops, the clerks are not interested in visiting. However, I have been in some shops where the workers thoroughly enjoy visiting with the different customers and learning about where they are from. This is a good tool for them, as friendly staff often provoke more purchases. However, being in a store alone all day, this is a way they can make their day more interesting too. I have had long talks with proprietors in Brussels, Paris, and many places in the United States. Europeans often ask where I am from and proceed to ask questions about my particular home, the US in general, politics, etc.

In Paris, there are many very tiny souvenir shops. When I am in Paris for several days, it is not unusual as I am coming back to the hotel toward the end of the day to stop in some of my regulars to just look around and think more about items that had interested me. A few years ago, I found a purse in one of these shops that I really liked. I looked it over on a few visits, but it was rather large for my suitcase. Two days before I left Paris, I stopped again and was admiring it. The clerk who was always there and talked with me finally said, “why don’t you just buy it, you know you want it?” I laughed and said that I indeed wanted it, but had to wait until the next day to see how much room I had left in my luggage. Fortunately, the next day I packed the suitcase, bought the purse, and still had room to go purchase one more pair of shoes. This is what happens when you pack lightly and wisely when heading out for your trip.

At many tourist attractions, I see people (often couples) who look very nervous and are not sure what to do. If I overhear them speaking English and am sitting close, I might ask them where they are from. This is a good introduction to conversation. They are usually surprised that a stranger wants to speak to them, but I look honest and we usually get involved in a long conversation.

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Long Lines to Go Up into the Eiffel Tower

In 2011, I was standing in line in under the Eiffel Tower early in the morning and there was a long wait for tickets. Close to me stood a man and wife, and another man with his 5 year old daughter. The four of us adults talked for an hour or so while waiting our turn to go up into this wonderful monument. Once we moved inside, we had to wait for the elevator. The man with the child had to collapse the umbrella stroller and it was very tight spaces with lots of people crushing into a small space. As the elevator arrived, he called out his daughter’s name and said “grab our new friend’s hand and don’t let go until we are off the elevator.” We arrived at the top and took pictures of each other and were off. It was nice to know I could be of help and I’m sure he was glad to have a pic emailed when he got home as he had forgotten to bring a camera to Paris.

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Canal St. Martin Cruise

Last summer, I had decided to take the Canal St. Martin cruise in Paris. As I sat at the Seine waiting for the boat to load, I saw a couple coming and I scooted over, saying, “let me scoot over so you can get in the shade too.” We started talking and I found out they were from Wisconsin. We talked about this trip and what we would do afterward. I mentioned that I was going to eat lunch in the area were we stop and then decide whether to walk back to my hotel or take the Metro. They were shocked as they thought it was a round trip. I mentioned that the guy who sold me the ticket recommended a particular restaurant where I was planning to go and told me a bus number if I wanted to return that way.

IMG_5201IMG_5205After boarding, we really didn’t see each other again to visit until the trip was almost over. The lady came to me and asked about the restaurant and wondered if they could follow me there. Of course I said yes and then said that I had decided to take the Metro back to the area where I was staying.

They were staying in the same area, but she said that her husband strictly refused to get in a subway and, besides, they didn’t know how to use the Metro. I told them if they were interested, I would go with them every step of the way and teach them how to do it. We all decided to go to lunch together and they decided they would take me up on my offer.

On the way to the Metro station, I started explaining what they would see when they got down there. I remember that being my biggest fear the first time – what was it like? I told them how the signs and directions work and how to decide where you wanted to go and what line you should use.

IMG_7535As we arrived for the first train, I showed them everything I used to figure out what to do. We had to change trains two more times. At the first train change, I asked them what they needed to look for on the Metro map and the signs. I affirmed or corrected as need be. For the last train change, I asked them to make all the decisions for us themselves. The man was amazed that he could actually to this and said he thought he could do this again. They were thrilled they had taken the chance and very appreciative of our time together. We had a lot of fun that afternoon and made new friends in the process.

IMG_4920A few days later, I was walking close to an RER station and an older couple and grandson stopped me to ask where they should be. They showed me where they wanted to go and I explained that they needed to take the RER C. They were afraid to do that so I said I would take them and then go back upstairs afterward for my own train. I had taken the RER a few days before and was so confused that I swore I would not do that again. However, when these folks needed help, I decided that at least I knew more than they did. So I took them in and showed them the screen and how to decide where to go. As they went on their way, another family came up behind me and said, “are you the person who can show us where to go?” I accepted the challenge and ushered them even farther than the first group.

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I think in the 22 days I was in Paris I was stopped by at least 6 different groups to ask for directions around different parts of the city. It could be that because I was alone, they thought I was local. I decided that Paris should be giving me free Metro tickets because of my help as a tour guide.

I could ramble forever about visiting with people in hotel lobbies and comparing notes on our trip. We often discuss where each one has been that day and, by doing that, make suggestions for the next day. I love hearing that someone really enjoyed a place I haven’t been yet and know that I need to try it.

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Paris cafes are so small that you are sitting just a very few inches from your neighbor. Nearly every meal I had in Paris involved discussions with my neighbors. Some were from the states and some English speakers from other European countries.

Sometimes I initiated the conversation and sometimes the other tourists did so. If you are not afraid to talk to strangers, you will get much more enjoyment out of your travels, especially if traveling alone.

I have found that if I travel somewhere with a friend or family member, most of the time we are focused on discussions with each other. There is not much time to notice or get to know new people. To me, this is another plus of solo travel. I really enjoy getting to know other people.

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Tip # 6 – Enjoy being in charge of decisions

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Dessert at the Courthouse Pub, Manitowoc, WI

When I take a vacation, I do so because I want to enjoy myself. In order to make this happen, I need to be eating food that I like, staying in lodging where I feel comfortable, seeing sights that interest me, and deciding when I need or want to rest.

It is often fun traveling with friends and family and that is a special kind of trip. On those trips, I enjoy the company of my fellow travelers and enjoy sharing treasures I have found in the past and discovering new treasures with my traveling companions. However, sometimes, I enjoy getting away and doing some exploring by myself or taking a very long trip. On these particular solo trips, it is especially important for me that I don’t have the stress of negotiations about every little decision on the trip.

265I have often thought about taking part in a group tour like a Rick Steves tour.  I thought it would be interesting to visit with others on the trip and not have to worry about languages I don’t know how to speak. However, for me, a big part of the fun of taking a trip is the planning and scheduling where I will stay, eat, and sight see. I don’t think I would enjoy being in a box and told each day how early I will rise and what I will do that day. Also, those trips usually involve A LOT of bus travel every day. I am not the best person when it comes to riding in a bus all day.

I really enjoy making my decisions, before and during the trip. If you want to travel without a lot of stress, there are many decisions that must be made ahead of time. I do extensive research about anywhere I am traveling. You can check out some of my ideas on what you need to plan ahead on my other blog posts linked here.

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I try to research various sites for things to see and do. If you read just one person’s travel book or website about an area, you are limited to seeing and doing what that person finds interesting. However, if you search several sources, you can discover some unusual sites that many people miss when visiting that location.

 

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Door County, WI

When I went to Paris for the first time, I was told that “no one goes to Paris without seeing the Louvre and Versailles.” I didn’t see Versailles until my second trip and the Louvre on my third trip.

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Arenes de Lutece

However, on my first trip, I did visit Arenes de Lutece, an ancient Roman arena in Paris, and Giverny, Monet’s home. Giverny was somewhere I had longed to see for years and Arenes de Lutece was something I discovered through my research.

 

 

 

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Monet’s Bridge at Giverny

By the way, if going to Paris, be sure and read “Tom’s Guide to Paris” website. He has directions for several “interesting walks” that take you down small streets with lots of history and through areas that many tourists probably don’t find.

If you want to travel without a lot of stress, it is also important to not tie yourself down to a tight schedule. When planning my first trip to Paris, I had made a strict schedule to try to get as much in during my six days there as possible. The first full day there I started out at 7:15 and got home at 9:30 that evening. The only time I sat for any extended period was during a dinner cruise. I found myself rushing from one place to another to make sure I made the most of my time. Needless to say, that was quite an exhausting day for an old lady. I didn’t realize how exhausting until I tried to rise the next morning. I went down to the hotel breakfast room and soon realized I had drastically overdone it the previous day.

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Breakfast room at Hotel Beaugency, Paris

This was when I woke up to the fact that I was a solo traveler and I was in charge of making the decisions. I returned to bed for a nap. While lying in bed, I realized that this was a holiday (Bastille Day, now called Fete Nationale) for the Parisians and it should be for me too.

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I scrapped my schedule and decided to go wandering and enjoy being in Paris and seeing where the sidewalks led. I discovered the parade, the air show, and the wonderful holiday street food.

As I walked back toward my neighborhood, I found myself close to a restaurant that was on my list for the trip and decided to check it out. My research had advised to make reservations ahead of time, but I decided to take a chance since it was lunchtime. I walked in and was given a seat for the most wonderful two-hour meal. If you find yourself in Paris, don’t miss Chez L’ami Jean (another Tom’s Guide find).

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L’ami Jean’s famous rice pudding

After lunch, I returned to the hotel and took a long nap. I had planned on attending the fireworks that evening and, since it doesn’t get dark until after about 11:00 in Paris in the summer, that would be quite a late evening. I actually woke up about 9:30 and took off to find the spot I had scouted out earlier as where to sit to see the fireworks and the Eiffel Tower at the same time.

Needless to say, the items on my “to do list” for that holiday were pushed back. However, because I could just change my mind when I chose, I ended up having a more meaningful trip and enjoyed really being part of the local scene. I could tell by this time that I would be coming back and that I had the rest of my life to see all the things on my list.

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Cooking Class at La Cuisine Paris

On the following trips to Europe, I made a list of things I thought interesting to see and do and restaurants I might like to try or return to. I starred a few things that were most important. However, I made many decisions a day at a time.

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Segway tour through Paris

There were some evenings where I would think “I’ll do … tomorrow,” but when I woke in the morning I decided to do something different. This, I decided, was really “making the most of my time in Paris.” I allowed time for myself to just walk to the Seine and sit and read and watch people and boats go by.  I packed lunches and sat in parks and watches how families function in Paris.

 

 

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Cruising the Canal St. Martin

Because I was open to last minute decisions, I discovered restaurants and sites I had not found in research that turned out to be wonderful experiences. As I walked, I discovered many of Paris’ hidden parks which are gems of peace and quiet and solitude.

I’m sure many of the places I discovered and enjoyed would not bring that much joy to every traveler. That is why it is important to sometimes give yourself a trip where you are in charge and can make all of your decisions.

Allow yourself the opportunity to really MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tip # 5 – Choosing Hotels

When choosing lodging for my trips, I consider the kind of trip I am taking. Will I be in the United States or another country? Will I be in a big city or a small town or rural area? How long will I be staying in this particular facility?

When traveling in the United States, my trips usually amount to either going to one city to stay for an extended time or making a circle trip where I stay a different place every night or two.

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Sofitel, Chicago, IL

If I am staying in a big city like Chicago, New York, or Seattle, it will probably be for several days. In this case, I choose a “big city” hotel. For a trip like this, I splurge for really nice hotels that have all the possible amenities. I often consult my travel agent , Robert Merlin (314-922-6058)(rmerlin@smartflyer.com)

so he can get me the most luxurious, yet economical, trip possible. He has always come through with wonderful ideas.

 

If I am staying for an extended period in a more rural area, like in the Smoky Mountains or other small town places, I look for Bed and Breakfast Inns and Country Inns. I have stayed in many wonderful inns for one night or extended stays.

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Hemlock Inn, Bryson City, NC
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White Gull Inn, Fish Creek, WI

 

 

 

 

 

Some of my favorites are The Hemlock Inn in Bryson City, NC; The White Gull Inn in Door County, WI; The Beaumont Inn in Herodsville, KY; The Barrows House in Dorset, VT; and Hickory Bridge Farm in Orrtanna, PA (next to Gettysburg).

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Barrows House, Dorset, VT
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Hickory Bridge Farm, Orrtanna, PA

When staying in a bed and breakfast or country inn, guests always receive personal attention and great food. Guests usually get a chance to visit with each other and share reports on the day’s activities and new places each has discovered that day. I always check out reviews and recommendations on Trip Advisor or various travel books before choosing a new inn. There are many books out there that offer advice on Bed and Breakfast and Country Inn facilities.

When I plan a “circle trip,” I try to split my time, depending on location, between Bed and Breakfast places and “chain” hotels.

If I am only going to be spending one night at the place (getting in late and leaving the next morning), the importance rests solely in the price, the cleanliness, and the location of the hotel. If I am not going to have extra time to sit and visit or enjoy amazing meals, I figure why waste the money and I go for something fairly inexpensive. For these kinds of hotels, I usually stick with the Hampton Inn or another one of the Hilton or Marriott facilities.

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Hotel Londres Eiffel, Paris

When traveling to another country, I do a lot of research with travel books and Trip Advisor to look for reviews and recommendations. If traveling where there is a language barrier, I make sure I am staying in a hotel that has English speaking staff at the front desk.

Experimenting with the language and trying to speak as much as I can is fun and polite. However, if you are sick or you want to make reservations somewhere, you need to make sure you can communicate accurately with the desk staff.

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Hotel Beaugency, Paris

When traveling in Europe, I have chosen to stay in small boutique hotels rather that the “big city” style. This gives me a more personal experience similar to a bed and breakfast in the states. I have spent a lot of time in these hotels visiting with other guests and with the staff. To me, this makes for a deeper, more enjoyable visit.

One note on the hotels where I have stayed in Paris is that, although they provided breakfast, the price was often more that what you would pay at a café down the street with a larger menu selection. However, when I stayed at the Hotel de Londres Eiffel, as my bill was totaled, I was told that I was not being charged for the breakfasts I ate there. I don’t know if it was because of the length of my stay or the fact that I only ate there a few times, but I appreciated the gesture.

Regardless of the place I decide to stay, there are a few details that I am sure to check before reserving. I always view their individual website online. Depending on my specific needs for that night or trip, my decisions may change, but these are the things I need to know before I make a reservation.

  1. Free WiFi
  2. Breakfast included/available
  3. Size of room/suite
  4. Cost
  5. Parking (if needed)
  6. Elevator (Remember – in Europe the first floor is the one above the ground level floor.)

Most hotel “chains” have call centers to use to place your reservations. However, if I know for sure where I want to stay, I try to always use the local hotel phone number. I get much more personal service and have a better chance of getting the kind of room I want. I can also often find out about special deals.

Regardless of the place I choose to stay when I travel, I always ask for an email confirmation. I print this to take with me and make sure the email is in my phone in case I need it. Not only does this provide proof of the expected room and charge, but also gives me the phone number in case I need to contact them to cancel or change my plans. If you arrive and the room and charge you are presented with are not what your reservation says, do not hesitate to bring that to the attention of the desk clerk.

Lodging is a very personal choice. Some people like to always stay in the exact same kind of hotel so they know what to expect each time. Even the rooms look the same. I like a little variety in my experiences. Whatever you enjoy the most is what you should choose. However, if you have never tried a Bed and Breakfast or Country Inn, I urge you to do so just once. There are also some quaint little places where your favorite motel chain might not be available.

Wherever you stay, planning ahead is of the upmost importance. Know where you are going and what it will cost and you will have a much less stressful trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tip #4 – Stay in touch with someone from home.

When I am ready to go on a trip, I create an itinerary on Tripit and make sure all family members back home have a copy. I also email someone a copy of my transportation tickets and other important documents I might need while away (including my passport). I have all those things saved on my ipad and phone, but if something should happen to that technology, someone could always email it to me.

Whether you are traveling alone, with a friend, or with a large group, there will be people at home wondering about your well-being and what you are experiencing. Some folks are more interested in the basics like “I’m still alive” while others want to know all the little details and experience the trip through you.

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I have both kinds of people in my group of friends and family. I also enjoy reviewing what I have done at the end of each day and get full enjoyment out of each step of my travels.  Each day, I compose an email of my day – a diary entry, if you will. For those who aren’t interested in details, they see an email from me and know I am still alive and kicking. For the others, they get to read the full story of the things I did, the places I ate, and the people I met. I am sure to include my impressions and thoughts along the way and often pictures.

One of the best aspects of creating this email diary is the benefit I get out of it later.  I print off all the emails of the biggest trips when I get home and have made binders with a cover pictures for each of those trips.  I really enjoy going back to the binders and reading a trip from several years ago. I usually remember the “important” stuff, but always find something there that makes me think “wow, I had forgotten how I felt about that.” This communication from me to those at home provides me the chance to relive that trip in my mind and enjoy it for a second, third, etc. time.

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IMG_0165If I am traveling within the United States, I just text those who need to know that I have arrived safely. However, if I am in Europe, I don’t use my phone for phone calls or texting.  I make sure I stay in a hotel that has free WiFi and use that to email all communication. I tell family when I will expect to arrive in the country and how long I expect it to be before I am checked in and able to notify them. Then I do that for free.  There is no reason to tie up big bucks with an international phone call that isn’t an emergency. Of course, I have arranged for international rates just in case.

If you are a solo traveler, communication to your family and/or friends is important for both of you. Family members who are concerned about you traveling alone will be much more comfortable if they can hear from you often. If you make a habit of contacting someone on a regular schedule and they don’t hear from you, someone will know to check in on you and make sure things are all right.

Travel is a lot more fun when I communicate with others about what I am doing and hear back from them. This communication adds a peace of mind for them and me. Having the ability to know what is going on at home makes for one less thing for me to worry about while on my trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tip #3 – Planning for Finances

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Planning for Finances

Planning for your financial transactions while on vacation can be extremely simple if you know what to expect from your bank and the banks where you will travel.

In the “olden days,” we all bought travelers checks as a way to protect our money when we traveled. However, today, people deal in either PLASTIC or CASH.  It is not advisable to have a lot of cash on your person when traveling for obvious reasons. You could lose it or could become the victim of a pickpocket.

When traveling within the Unites States, I rely almost completely on PLASTIC. That said, the kind of PLASTIC you use could make a big difference.

If you charge items on a credit (only) card, you could build up a big bill that you would have to deal with after returning home. Also, if you are traveling for a long time, part of that charge could come due before you get home to receive the bill to pay it. If you are going to use a credit only card, think about if you want to have all the money charged on one card, when the bill will be due, if you will be able to pay it all at once, and what the interest rates are if you don’t pay it off completely when the bill comes.

Debit cards, on the other hand, are easier for those who don’t want to deal with credit card bills and the possible addition of interest rates. If you are in a financial situation that will allow you to use a credit/debit card that will take money directly out of your bank account, you will arrive home owing no money.
IMG_6683It is always good to keep a little bit of cash on hand when traveling. You never know when you will find yourself in a place that doesn’t take credit or debit cards. Those places really do still exist. It will be important for you to be able to use an ATM with your card to be able to keep some cash with you. Be sure you know what your bank charges, if anything, for ATM use. There are many kinds of accounts now that will allow you to use an ATM for no charge at all. It is usually refunded to your account once it gets processed.

If you have not traveled a lot, it will be important to inform your bank or card company of where you will be traveling. Most of these companies do a really good job watching for fraudulent purchases and they might hold up a charge if they don’t expect you to be in that particular place. If you have a habit of visiting certain places throughout several years, the computers will recognize this as a regular purchasing style for you.

If you are going out of the country, it is absolutely imperative that you notify your bank and card companies of where you are going. Be sure to tell them when you will be leaving and when you will arrive back home. It is good to add a couple of days to the ending date of the trip, especially if it is on a weekend. It sometimes takes a few days to process purchases. If you have told them that all purchases after a certain date (your arrival back home) are fraudulent, it may be difficult for your hotel or other merchants to get their money for what you charged the morning you left for home.

I have made charges overseas from my home computer and had no problem. When reserving hotel rooms in Paris or train tickets on Eurostar of Thalys, I have had no problems because the purchase was being made from within the United States.

 

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Grand Place, Brussels

When planning travel to Europe, be sure you know what kind of money is used in the various countries you are visiting. You will find that many countries will use the Euro. However, the United Kingdom, for instance, does not use the Euro, but the British Pound. It will be important if you are traveling between countries to be prepared to make your first stop in the “new” country an ATM to obtain the new kind of cash.

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London Eye

I have used ATM machines in France, the UK, and India. Remarkably, they all seem to work basically the same.  The machines I use in the US always seem to give me 20 dollar bills, no matter how much money I remove from my account. However, some machines in other countries might give you larger bills. If this is the case, you might want to think about an amount you can request that will assure you of having some smaller bills.

In Paris, most of the ATMs I have used have asked me to select the combination of bills I would like to receive for that amount of money. This really helps. It is not just every vender or store that is ready to accept a large bill for a small purchase. If you get lots of large bills, use them for larger purchases such as restaurants or places like museums where they do a lot of tourist business each day. Keep using the large bills at places like this until you have all smaller bills like 20s.

Remember if you are dealing in foreign currency, the equivalency rate varies each day. If your bank allows you to take $300 out of an ATM with each transaction, you can NOT take out 300 Euros. You will need to figure out how many Euros come closest to $300 without going over it. This information is easily found by accessing a currency convertor online. These sites are updated regularly with the current rates of all the currencies in the world.

Many people make a visit to their local bank before going to another country to get some of the foreign currency before they leave home. Be aware that most banks charge a fee for this money exchange. If you wait till you arrive in the country, you can access an ATM with no extra fee. Be careful to NOT go to a Currency Exchange desk at an airport or train station. These folks, too, will charge you a hefty fee to do exactly what you can do at the ATM down the hall.

When I go to Europe, I stop at an ATM at the airport and get just enough cash for the ride to the hotel and supper that night. Exchange rates are sometimes a little higher at ATMs in airports and train stations. After I arrive in my vacation neighborhood, I go to a local ATM and remove the closest amount to $300.

It is usually easy to charge meals at nice restaurants and tickets for museums. However, I basically use nearly all cash while I am away, visiting the ATM before I run out of money each time. Many banks in foreign countries have ATM windows outside on the sidewalk and also inside the doors of the bank. Most people feel more comfortable and safe using the machines inside the building.

If you have more than one credit/debit card, it is advisable to take more than one with you on your trip. Should something happen to one of them (loss, theft, magnetic strip problems, breakage) you still have access to funds for your vacation.


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. When you are traveling, your mind will be on many new sites and people. Do NOT carry all your cash in your wallet or purse. I carry only a little cash in my purse. The rest of the cash I take with me for the day’s activities is in my money belt around my tummy. I also carry my passport and credit card in there. Having the card with me will assure me that I will have access to as much money as I might need. However, no one else has access to my money except for a few dollars in the purse. (Another thing to keep in your money belt is the name, address, and phone number of your hotel. You can always get a cab back there or call them for assistance if you have this information with you.)

I don’t know about other cities, but merchants in Paris seem to be very possessive about their coins. They are nice about it, but would really prefer that you have exact change for every purchase. If you give them as close as you can to exact change, you will both be very happy. Otherwise, you will be weighted down the whole trip with coins. The Euro system has coins for one cent, two cents, five cents, ten cents, twenty cents, fifty cents, one Euro, and two Euros. That can get pretty heavy. One man posted a question on a travel forum I follow asking how he could get rid of all those heavy coins. He was tired of carrying them around. The advice was unanimous –spend them!

Some smaller merchants actually have a difficult time keeping enough change to do business. I went to a grocery  one time the night before my flight out the next morning to purchase a small (single serve) size bag of pretzels. The cost was less than a Euro. I had used up most of my coins, but still had a one Euro coin. That created havoc in the supermarket. They had no change to give me. None of the cash registers had change and they checked in the back. It was close to closing time and they were out of the correct change. Fortunately, one of the clerks was able to come up with the correct amount and they planned to settle up with him later. I was willing to just let them keep the whole Euro, but they insisted on making my purchase correct.

One more hint on finances – you can use Google maps to locate all the ATM machines in the area where you will be staying. This will help assure you that you will be able to get the cash you need. Remember, once you are on Google maps, you can always use that little yellow man to help you see exactly what each bank (or other interesting place) looks like.

 

 

 

 

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