Friday, April 20, 2012

Travel Tips

Since so many of you have said that you will be traveling this summer
 I wanted to end this Paris series with some travel tips. 
Please take into account that these tips are just my opinion 
from my experiences over the years.    

Basic Travel Tips:
1.  Go to your bank at least a week before your trip and order $100-$200 in the local currency.  Enough to get you by until you can get to a local cash machine.  This is usually a service your bank will provide free of charge and it just takes a few days to have the money sent to the local bank.  By taking this extra step you will arrive in the country with money, avoiding the VERY long line at the cash machine in the airport (there were 19 people in line in Paris), have money to tip your driver and a get a bite to eat. 
Note: when ordering cash, ask for small bills for tipping. You will not receive anything lower than a 5 since under 5 are usually coins in most countries.

2.  Call your credit card company before you leave and tell them you will be using your credit card overseas to avoid it being flagged for fraudulent use.  I can tell you from personal experience that it is no fun standing in front of the hotel manager trying to explain why your credit card won't work to pay your hotel bill.  Unfortunately, back in 2001 when that happened no one had ever told me I should make my card company aware of where I am in the world.  Thank goodness the manager let us use his phone to call American Express and get it sorted out.

3.  Using a debit card for purchases is common practice the US but when traveling overseas it is essential that you have a credit card for purchases.   My rule is "credit card for big purchases; debit card for cash".
NOTE: I never exchange money at airports since they are notorious for charging extra fees.  I find a cash machine and get a cash advance with my debit card (obviously you will need a pin number for a cash advance with any card). 

4.  Take at least two credit cards.  Keep one with you and another in the hotel safe or a secure location. The same goes for money, split it up.  Only carry with you what you may need for the day.  That way if you loose your wallet you will still have one credit card and some cash to get by on.  And definitely don't carry your passport on a daily basis unless it is specifically needed in the country you are visiting.  France is not one of them.  Not one person ever asked for ID when using my credit card.

5.  Make a photocopy of your passport.  Take one with you (do not keep it with your real passport) and give the other to a contact person.  If you loose your passport, you have a record of the number and dates. *see number 6

6.  Have a contact person in your home country that you can leave credit card contact numbers and a photocopy of your passport with.  When my wallet was stolen overseas I was able to find a WiFi connection within 15 or 20 minutes to Skype my husband so he could cancel the credit card.  No one wants to be put on hold and wait for an operator while in a foreign country.  I call that peace of mind.  
If my husband and I are together on a trip the information packet goes to my niece for safekeeping in case we need it.

7.  Maybe here is where I should talk about the benefits of using Skype.  If you have WiFi at your hotel or apt, Skype is your friend for keeping in touch. 

8.  Pack a change of clothes including underwear in your carry on bag.  I personally pack a favorite outfit so in case of lost luggage I might not mind wearing it more than one day in a row.
When I was teaching in South Africa last fall, my friend Melissa Kennedy ended up wearing the same clothes for almost 3 days before they brought her luggage to the hotel.  She was a really good sport about it...good thing she has a great sense of humor!

9.  Use your cell phone to take a picture of your luggage.  This might sound silly but it won’t when your luggage is lost and the first question the help desk asks is, “what does your luggage look like?” A picture is worth a thousand words, right?  When that happened to me, all I could say was "big and black" that is really going to help.

10.  Always check the US State Department website to see if the country you are traveling to requires a Visa.  Some examples: Countries like Brazil have a reciprocal fee and paperwork that has to be processed at a consulate.  Australia requires a Visa but it can be done online and is given immediately.  France does not require a visa for US citizens.
Give yourself plenty of time to check on needed documentation.

11.  Know your currency conversion.  Make a small reference card before you leave home showing the exchange rate is in basic increments.  
Like this:
$5 = 6.55
$10 =13.10
$50 = 65.53
Keep in your wallet for a quick reference.  This is the currency conversion site I like to use before I leave home.

12.  If you are traveling with a laptop or iPad consider downloading a season of this ...if you haven't already seen it.   A great remedy to a long plane flight.

Be sure to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle at night!  
Beginning at sunset each day, the tower lights up for 5 minutes at the top of the hour. 
Magical to say the least!

Paris Tips
Before you go -
1.  Nothing makes me more anxious traveling overseas than electrical plugs.  What voltage is it? Do I need an adapter? Maybe a transformer?  Maybe both?  I am not going to bore you with the amount of times I think I have the right one and I didn't or the amount of hair implements Debbie has fried after plugging it in!  So I thought I would show you what you will need for Paris.
On second thought, maybe I should start a blog on the right plugs for the right countries.  I know there are such things but they all have conflicting information and I just want to know straight up - what do I need?

This is the adapter you need for Northern France or Paris.  It came from an adapter kit I bought at Target but they can be bought on their own.  The adapter is just the top piece with the two rounded prongs.  I am showing it here plugged into my iPhone charger.  The adapter is added to an American style plug so that it will plug into the wall socket.  That's pretty simple right?
Okay, so here is where is gets a bit tricky.
Adapters only change the physical connection but not the voltage. Many small appliances (e.g. chargers) will allow voltages form 100-240v, if so you only need an adapter.  Can you see in the picture below of my camera charger - Input: 110v/240v?  That is what you are looking for to avoid having to travel with a heavy voltage transformer.
I went to France with my iPhone, iPad and the camera battery charger below.  All I needed was my regular charging cord and the small pronged adapter since all Apple chargers as well as the camera charger are 110v/240v, very simple.  If you are using another kind of cord you will just have to do some research to make sure it is 110v/240v.

As for hairdryers, we were staying in an apartment that had a hairdryer provided so no worry there.  But if you do need to bring your own hairdryer I would suggest a travel size model that has a voltage change button built right in.  I bought mine at Target a few years back.

2.  Get a Map:
Go to Barnes and Noble (or another bookstore) and buy a laminated map.  One side is the city and the other is metro.  Make sure the metro side has clearly marked, easy to read metro lines.
 flower market on the Rue Cler...
love this street, the cafes, the crepes, oh, and the gelato that they form into a flower.
Line 8: Metro stop Ecole Militaire.

Getting into the City -
Blue Van Airport Service
3.  The city of Paris is at least 40 and sometimes up to 90 minutes from Charles de Gaulle airport depending on traffic.  A taxi is about 70 Euros, one way.  The Blue Van is 24 Euros.
You will have to weigh the cost vs convenience of taking the van.  I chose to use the service so I could book my round trip fare,  online and in advance.  It put me at ease that my way into the city was prepaid so didn't have to pay for the taxi with my cash.  I gave myself an hour and a half from the time my plane landed to clear customs, use the bathroom, and find my pick up spot.  I shared the van into the city with one other lady who was dropped off before me.  I also got to see a bit of the city I might not have had I taken a taxi.
As for the return trip, the van picked me up at my apartment at the time I chose and delivered me to the airport without incident, right back to the spot I started a week earlier.  I will say it was nice coming and going on a Sunday morning because the traffic into the city was clear sailing as opposed to the night we came back from Lyon and it took us almost 2 hours once we passed the airport on the freeway.  I wouldn't want to pay that taxi fare.

Some things to know once you are in the city:
4.  The Louvre -
Do your homework.  The Louvre is bigger than you can imagine.  You must know what paintings and sculpture you want to see if you are short on time (meaning less than a week inside in building).  There is some good advice on Trip Advisor and links to the Louvre map.  I guess what I am trying to say is, know what you want to see and map it out before hand. 
If Sande and I had done that we might not have walked past the door to the Napoleon apts. we were looking for twice, even after asking for directions 2 times (not exaggerating).  We asked yet again, then promptly took an escalator to outside of the building when we thought we were going to the third floor.  I said to Sande, "why are all these people smoking in the Louvre?"  It still took 5 minutes to figure out that we had taken the escalator to the courtyard.  By the way, we had a map too.  true story.
At least I snapped a few pictures while we were standing in the courtyard.
  • Get there before opening.  The lines only get worse later in the day.   
  • Pay extra for a headset.  All information about the paintings and sculpture is in French only.  They do have translated information cards at some paintings but the English card was gone/being used in every instance.
  • After a long day of looking at paintings and sculpture at the Louvre take a break and have lunch at Paul Patisserie right across from the APPLE store.  They have a great lunch special with a fresh salad or a sandwich on a baguette with Camembert and arugula?  Whatever you choose it comes with a with a drink (yes, you can get a Diet Coke) and dessert for about 13 euros.  
5.  The Eiffel Tower - Same advice as the Louvre...except, get there really early.  In this case it is better to get there at least an hour or even an 1 1/2 hour before opening than later, where you risk wait up to 4 hours in line.  Seriously, the longest line in all of Paris by mid morning.  I am sure you can book a "skip the line" tour at a higher cost if you must go later in the day...maybe someone who has used this service can leave us a comment. 

6.  The tip on food in France is calculated into the bill so it is not necessary to leave a tip on the table.

This might have gone in the "Off the beaten Path" post.  But if you are going to be in Paris before July 1st there is a fabulous exhibit at the Musee Marmottan (Line 9 Metro stop: La Muette) of Berthe Morisot paintings, the first retrospective in 50 years.  Berthe is the one of very few female voices in the impressionist movement and she consistently showed her works along side Monet, Degas, Manet (her brother-in-law), Cezanne, Pissarro and her good friend Renoir.   
If you go, pay extra for the head set audio tour.

7.  Regardless of what you may be drinking with dinner you might want water to start.  Ask for a "carafe" of water when dining.  It's safe to drink and it will save you the cost of buying bottled water at every meal or you can pay up to 7 dollars for a Diet Coke (yes, I said dollars).  If your dying for a Coke go to the grocery store.  Spend your money on the food.
8.  Pickpockets abound in Paris.  Be especially aware in the Metro and in all tourist spots.
I would suggest bringing a purse that has a body strap and at least 2 levels to get into the purse.  Meaning the purse has a zipper (or even better Velcro) and inside the purse there is another zipper pocket that holds the money or wallet.  I would even separate cash into different pockets and your credit card into another.  That way if they get one, they will not get they others.

Well, I think that's all I got on travel tips.  Hope this helps someone out there that might be gearing up for travel season.

cheers for a good weekend!
and... feel free to leave a comment if you have a great travel tip to share! We would love to hear it!


  1. I'm not travelling abroad, but for those who are, you have certainly given some invaluable thoughts and tips, many of which I would not have considered. For future reference, THANKS! :)

  2. No passport necessary to visit St Petersburg, FL!!!

  3. Wow! I'm saving this post for my trip to Paris (not yet scheduled) because this is all information we can definitely use. Better yet, we might just bring you along with us! Thanks so much.

  4. What an awesome, information filled post! Saving this and printing it! Thank you for taking the time to write al this out!

  5. These are fantastic and helpful travel tips!!! I'm going to refer back to this esp when I go to France someday. Thank you for sharing these! xo

    **Here is a helpful travel tip, esp with a passport or other ID: Scan a copy in PDF or jpg (or both) and email it to yourself...that way you can always pull it up when you log into your email from anywhere in the world!

    -pamela ;)

    1. Great idea!! You can also take a picture of them so they are on you cell phone!

  6. Great post. I, too, have traveled a great deal and would add to your comments the following:

    Visa requirements change all the time depending on what is going on in the world. Check before you go.

    If I knew I would be returning to a particular country I would just buy an inexpensive dryer or whatever small appliance I needed. Cheap and easy solution. There always seems to be a drugstore nearby.

    If I was going to be in the country for a few days or more, I take the morning city bus tour to acclimate myself to where things are.

  7. Paula, that is the best travel information! The tips about passport copies is invaluable- we have twice used this in our travels. Another bit of information to have when traveling is the address and phone number of the American Embassy in whatever country your are traveling to.( Used that, too!) Another piece of advice for travelers is just to stay aware of your surroundings and the people close to you. If you fall sleep on a train or bus, keep your belongings secure! With that said, see the world! It is such a privilege to experience other people and places. Thanks for your thoughtful posts!

  8. Wish I had an actual use for the advice, but meanwhile - I LOVE the bench shot at the bottom of the post. Do you mind me snagging a copy from the blog for my personal use?

  9. Leslie,

    You can use the photo, no problem. If you would like me to send it to you directly, just shoot me an email at

    thanks for asking,

  10. Copied and pasted this to a page that's now going in my travel journal because it's good for wherever I'm going abroad, Thanks Paula!

  11. It's been ten years since I last visited Paris, and your blog rekindled my old love for the city. I NEED to go back! One of my favorite tips for traveling (with kids now, as I AM ten years older), is to bring along a bit of entertainment to keep the kids occupied. I have Dish at home, and when I heard about the free DISH Remote Access app for mobile devices I downloaded it straight away. I have a Sling Adapter at home, and this app lets me take all my live TV and DVR with me on the go. Not only does this keep the kids occupied during long trips and airport layovers, it keeps me connected with the weather channel, travel and other places conducive to domestic and international travel. I heard about this from a fellow Dish coworker as he was leaving for a trip, and it definitely comes in handy if you have kids in tow. Happy travels:)

  12. Great travel tips for travel anywhere. Thanks for takig me along in your words. It was beautiful!

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