Don't Lose your Head along with your Luggage!
Once upon a time ... before the world had heard the word "Covid", international travel was an exciting adventure - not a stressful nightmare. Today we hear horror stories of long lines, cancelled flights and lost luggage. Like, for 4-6 days. But those of us who feel called to travel abroad will do it anyway. France is worth it.
Having just had the smoothest flight I have experienced, well, since Covid, I have created a series of my best travel tips that I will sprinkle in among other blog posts. If you are planning your first trip to France, there is much to learn! Even if you are a seasoned traveler, there are always new tips and tricks to make the journey just a bit more pleasant.
Let's start at the beginning...
Packing is stressful for me, and getting it right is more important now than ever before. If you are one of those lucky people who can get by with just carry-ons, félicitations! The world is your oyster! I am definitely NOT one of those people, so here are some things I have learned, most of them due to mistakes I have made! We will talk about what to pack in your large suitcase later, but your carry-on is of vital importance.
I bring 2 carry-on bags: a backpack in which I can fit a small purse for boarding (there are still vigilant airlines that will not allow even the smallest crossbody purse as a 3rd item) and a European-size roller bag. My set is from Tumi, because the quality and functionality are worth the price tag for me. My backpack can slip over the handle of my suitcase so I can roll them both. (I learned that my backpack can get quite heavy while waiting for an hour in security!) The European size is important if you will be taking any other flights in Europe. The overhead compartments are simply too small for our domestic carry-on size suitcases and you will be forced to check a second bag (which is becoming more and more expensive!). You are only allowed 12 kilograms of carry-on luggage on most flights throughout Europe, and that isn't much!
Let's face it, when you see your suitcase being swept down the conveyor belt, you have no idea when you will see it again! You know what is vital to have with you - glasses, contacts, medications, etc. In addition to your important documents and personal items, here are some things that I consider essential for your carry-on:
- Adaptors and cords for your phone and laptop (I used to think they were fine in my suitcase, but you never know how long you may be stranded!)
- a change of clothes (minimum, 2 changes of underwear and a shirt)
- eye drops, saline nasal drops, hand cream, lip balm and Liquid IV packs- this is my "hydration kit" for the plane! (Don't worry - it all fits easily into your liquid allowance with room to spare). Flying is so dehydrating, and if you have coffee or cocktails, it is even more so. You need to keep yourself hydrated, inside and out, so your body doesn't desperately search the plane for moisture. (Yuck!) Bring a pack of disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer with you as well, as planes don't always have them available. One last "liquid" suggestion - a roller ball of lavender essential oil. I rub it on my wrists , inhale deeply and fall asleep with ease!
- headphones with a cord for your phone. I absolutely love my airpods, BUT if you lose them on the plane, they are almost impossible to retrieve! You fall asleep, wake up, and one is gone. Bring your airpods for use at other times, but I recommend using the set that attaches to your phone for the flight. While it's true that they distribute headphones on the plane, they may not sync with your particular cellphone if you want to listen to music or podcasts. (With that being said, I also download several podcasts - en français - and I have a playlist of instrumental music that drowns out airplane noise and lets me sleep like a baby)
- an extra layer and socks (preferably compression socks!). I am always hot on a plane, until I am freezing! I like to pack a soft cotton shawl that I can use as an extra blanket, or else the softest sweatshirt I can find. Even if you don't end up wearing it, it can come in handy as an extra pillow.
Let's leave wardrobe packing for a future post as there are more pressing issues!
The New Normal ...
I used to mock the recommendation of arriving 3 hours before an international flight, but no more! While there are times when things flow ever-so-smoothly, that is no longer the norm. That goes for connecting flights as well, especially if you have to go through security, customs or both. So dear friends, arrive early and expect long lines. If you are through in a breeze, well, there are always shops, bookstores and cafes at airports!
In the past I would have had things planned almost upon my arrival, but now I am more prudent. I plan to arrive a day (or even 2 or 3) before there is somewhere I have to be at a scheduled time. This way, if your flight is delayed or cancelled, you have less stress and less replanning to do. (Definitely give yourself 2 extra days if you are heading out for a cruise that will take off with or without you). As an added bonus, it gives you a chance to get over jet-lag. I have been told that it takes your body one day for each time zone you pass to get acclimated, so a day or two of leisurely strolling in your new environment can only help. Of course have all necessary numbers with you in case you need to make changes. I make myself a full itinerary that I carry in my purse or backpack, complete with phone numbers and email addresses for each reservation I have made.
Have a back-up plan. It helps to plan out your "worst case scenerio" in advance so you aren't trying to make decisions on 2 hours of sleep in a country you aren't familiar with.
Arriving in Paris
One of my best kept secrets is the Sheraton CDG. It is ever-so conveniently located inside the airport - at 2C, right above the train station! It has been my saving grace on so many occasions! When you arrive in Paris, you are usually exhausted. You are probably arriving in the morning, and if you plan to continue on by plane or train, chances are you have booked it for the afternoon, by which time you will hit a WALL. An option for you - plan to stay at the Sheraton overnight and take a flight or train the following morning. (This is especially helpful if your luggage doesn't arrive with you!). It takes some of the stress out of travel connections. You can check into the Sheraton right away, as long as they have rooms open. I have checked in as early at 10 am! They have a sit-down restaurant, as well as room service. If you get restless, you can take the bus into Paris for a few hours in the middle of the day! I also plan to stay at the Sheraton before I leave France. I arrive the evening before my international flight, allowing me to check in the recommended 3-hours in advance all rested and unstressed.
If you are staying in Paris, a taxi will cost you about 50-75 euros, or you can take the RoissyBus to the Opera for about 12 euros. From there you can take the Metro, or find a taxi to your hotel or vacation home.
Money money money
Remember travel's checks?? Well a lot has changed since then! Sometimes people think it is better to bring American dollars and exchange them, but you lose a lot of money in the "translation", and "Changes" - where you can exchange money - are few and far between, except for the airport. (Most banks will not exchange money for you - you need to find a "Bureau de Change").
The best way to get euros is to pull them from an ATM using a card with no foreign transaction fees. There is always an ATM charge, so take larger quantities out at a time (most hotels and vacation rentals have a safe). I try to put as much as possible on my credit card (I earn miles PLUS there is no foreign transaction fee), but of course there are always those occasions when you need cash.
A note about credit cards - there is a contactless option, but if the amount is over 50 euros, you usually have to insert your cards instead. Also, the French use debit cards more often than credit cards, so often when using an automated machine for a purchase it will ask for a code. My credit card doesn't have a code, so if I am buying tickets from a distributeur or gas from a pump, a lot of times I will use my debit card instead. It is a good idea to have both a credit and a debit card with you. Of course be sure to alert your company that you will be traveling abroad so they don't freeze your account. It is also helpful to take a photo copy of the front and back of each card and keep that in your safe, just in case they get lost or stolen.
When purchasing with a credit card, you will often have the option to choose whether you want to pay in euros or dollars. Currently the exchange rate is almost $1= 1 euro, so you can decide which is most advantageous based on your bank.
There are so many more topics to cover, but these tips will help you during the planning stages. In 30+ trips to France, you can bet I have learned a lot of things. The hard way. So I will revisit this topic regularly, sharing valuable tips and tricks for flawless travel!