Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Tips for Travelling Internationally

Travelling internationally is a lot of fun and is very exciting. However, planning is the key. Here are few tips I have learned in my fourteen years of travel!

  • Call your bank and credit card companies and let them know you will be out of the country. Always have a back up card and/or means to get cash even though you have notified the bank and they still cut you off *shakes fist at Bank of America*

  • Buy some currency of the country you are visiting at your local bank before you leave home – enough to get you through one day (taxis, snacks etc)

  • Changing currency is expensive – use an ATM machine to get money. I don't use travelers checks anymore - it's all debit and credit cards now.

  • Don’t just put all your money in your pocket and move on. Use a security pack – especially if you are carrying your passport. There are different types and they are worn underneath your clothes.

  • Make sure your passport is current and will not expire during you time out of the country. You want to get home don’t you?!

  • Know where your country’s embassy is located in the location you are visiting. You never know what could happen.

  • Make a color copy of your passport and keep it separate from your actual passport. If your passport is lost or stolen a color copy will help speed up the process of getting a new one issued at your embassy in the country you are visiting.

  • Pack light! It’s hard to lug heavy suitcases. And if you are travelling in Europe there are more sets of stairs than elevators and escalators. Also don’t over pack because you will need plenty of room to bring back all of your new found treasures! Co-ordinate your wardrobe – its okay to wear some things twice!

  • Wear comfortable shoes but try not to stand out in black socks and sneakers – there are cute comfortable shoes out there!

  • Try not to wear clothing that says USA or NY Jets etc. – it targets you as a foreigner – better yet buy a jersey or t-shirt of the local team in the country you are visiting and blend in.

  • Prepare a budget – and stick to it. Most larger foreign cities are extremely expensive. I once paid $20.00 for two beers in a Copenhagen café set next to a canal. I quickly figured out I could go around the corner to the convenience store and buy two beers for a lot less and plop down on the canal wall and stare back at all the people in the café that were paying $20.00 for two beers. See what I did there? It was the same amount of fun too!

  • If traveling on a train use a bike lock to keep bags safely attached to the luggage racks that sit right next to the door. 

  • Always have an emergency plan including where to meet if something happens. 

  • Brush up on customs, etiquette, politics of the country you are visiting – know what is appropriate or not appropriate to discuss with the locals. When in England always speak of the weather. When in Ireland don’t bring up the Troubles.

  • Prepare an itinerary and give copies to family/friends not going on the trip with you – include phone numbers of hotels, flight info etc.

  • Check websites of your must do attractions and make sure of opening/closing times and days that it may be closed – don’t want a Wally World incident like the Griswolds!

  • Be sure to take all prescription medications (in original bottles) and have enough for the trip and a few days extra just in case you are delayed.

  • Always buy travel insurance!

  • Some people will just be jerks – don’t let it ruin your trip – just walk away and go and create a happy memory

Most importantly have fun and be respectful – you are your country's ambassador!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Happy Saint George’s Day!

St George's Cross

Next Tuesday April 23rd is St. George’s Day! What day? Poor George he isn't as popular as Patrick!

Every April 23rd is used to give thanks to the patron saint of England - St. George. The holiday was first celebrated in England in 1399 and the day has grown to other countries including Canada, Croatia, Portugal, Greece and parts of Russia. 

There are also many other notable anniversaries for April 23rd:
  • The birthday and death date of William Shakespeare
  • The birthday of artist JMW Turner
  • Death date of William Wordsworth
  • King Charles II was crowned on April 23rd 1661
  • April 23, 19274 was the first broadcast by an English Monarch – King George V

Here are some interesting facts about St. George:
  • The medieval legend of St George slayed a dragon
  • St George is thought to have come from somewhere around modern day Turkey and never visited England
  • He was elected patron saint of England because he was against the torture of Christians and lost his life because of that belief
  • St George’s Chapel in Windsor is named for the saint
  • It is recorded that the English warriors of the Hundred Years War used the Saint’s name as a battle cry
  • William Shakespeare mentions the saint in his play Henry V
  • St George’s Day is not an official holiday in England and many politicians have been trying to change that
  • While St Patrick’s Day is off the charts in Ireland, St. George’s Day is much more low key with some English folk not even taking notice

Some traditions on St George’s day are:
  • Wear a red rose
  • Fly the flag of St George's Cross
  • The hymn Jerusalem is traditionally sung (one of my all time favorites!)
  • Lots and lots of traditional food and drink is to be consumed

Speaking of food …this year my St. George’s day menu will include the old standard of Bangers and Mash and a nice frothy pint! Tales of dragons, good food and great beer - my kind of guy...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tips for Traveling in France

I recently had someone ask me for some advice regarding an upcoming trip to France. They had never been, were extremely excited, and also extremely worried. Those were the exact same feelings I had regarding the French the first time I visited there. Unfortunately, there tends to be a stereotype that the French are mean and nasty. I have always tried to emphasis that this is not true. I think we Americans can be considered just as mean and nasty to tourists as the French – so that really isn’t a fair point for anyone.

What you have to understand about traveling is that every country is different. The way they dress, regard politics, watch movies, television shows, language, cultures, music etc. I could go on forever, but that is the beauty of traveling! You get to experience a whole new set of ways and customs and ideals. Fantastic! It’s not ‘just like home only with an Eiffel Tower’ – pish posh!

So when I went to France for the first time I was bound and determined to ‘get’ the French. I really wanted to try and get it right. It’s so much more than wearing a black and white striped shirt with a red scarf and a beret whilst sipping a café au lait. As cute as that is – it’s a stereotype and it will not serve you well en la France. 

I read two fantastic books to learn more about the French:

Savoir Flair: 211 Tips for Enjoying France and the French by Polly Platt

Culture Shock! A Guide to Customs and Etiquette – France by Sally Adamson Taylor

Some of my favorite tips from these books are:
  • Always greet someone with bonjour – even if you can’t speak a lick of French
  • Always tip your waiter and cab driver
  • Learn the French hotel star system – a three star hotel in the US is different from three star French hotels
  • Don’t assume everyone in France speaks English

My Advice:

From all of my experiences the best piece of advice I can give you regarding traveling in France is - try to speak the language. A little goes a long way. You don’t have to be fluent – just considerate. A nice hello and an ‘excuse me do you speak English’ in French will do nicely. 

To further extend my language skills (or the lack of) I used Rendez-vous with France: A Point & Pronounce Guide to Traveling, Shopping & Eating by Jill Butler

The point and pronounce guide was a hit. The French seemed to be impressed with the cute little book. It is helpful, stylish and it proves that you are committed in trying to speak French or at least attempt the language.
And now there are so many apps that will help you out - you can take the conversation to the next level!

My Experience:
I have been to France three times and I cannot wait to get back. So here are some of my tips that I have learned through experience:

Don’t fly eight hours on a plane to eat at McDonalds or drink a Starbucks. While it is fun to peek at the McDonalds menu and have your Pulp Fiction Le Big Mac moment just move on and go with a small corner café – trust me.

Go shopping in a grocery store or covered market and picnic. You don’t have to eat every meal in a restaurant. Plop yourself down and take in the sites with a bottle of wine, a baguette and some cheese.

Rent an apartment and live like a local. Depending on your style renting an apartment is cheaper than a hotel and you get more space and kitchen!

Take in a few hours of television. It’s always fun trying to figure out foreign game shows!

If you find a café/restaurant/bar that you like- go back multiple times over the course of your stay. The owners and staff will take notice and you build a relationship.

Keep your voice down, don’t gesture a lot and try not to smile too much (it targets you as a foreigner).

Treat waiters with respect. Look I waited tables in college, and I hated it. People can be real jerks. In America the customer is always right – no matter what the circumstance is. Not in France. Being a waiter is a respected profession. He’s not going to be all ‘Hey I’m Jacques your waiter. Let’s chit chat!’ He is going to give you the best service and the best meal in town (because all French waiters think they work at the best restaurants). They will seem distant – but that is how they do it over there. You are there to eat – not chit chat.

Take your time eating. Eating out in the culinary capital is an event – no matter where you are. Fancy or cute and cozy – enjoy. Don’t rush. Have an aperitif – the before dinner drink (I prefer champagne). Relax take it in.  

You don’t have to order the most expensive wine on the list. Again – everything on the menu is good even the cheap house wine. The French aren’t going to serve you anything that they feel isn’t up to par.

Print a Google a map of the location of your hotel/apartment and the address and glue to an index card. In case you get lost or can’t communicate you can show the cab driver where you need to go.

Carry a coin purse and fill it with all your change – some public restrooms are not free or have an attendant that must be tipped. Oh, and carry a travel size Kleenex pack with you as well! An attendant on hand does not always equal tissue paper.

Most importantly slow down, try new things and take it all in – Viva la France!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why Travel Matters To Me

During a phone conversation I had this week the person on the other end asked me where the next trip was, and when I replied London with a few days in the Cotswolds there was a distinct pause on the other end. “The CotsWhats?” they replied. I was taken back that this person didn’t have the faintest idea what I was talking about. I sometimes tend to forget that people aren’t massive Anglophiles like me. And they also don’t live and breathe for travel like me. The thought of being in constant travel probably occurred to me before I even knew I was on the planet. I have always aspired to go and see and do.

Once in a college course on diversity there was a fellow student that proudly raised her hand when asked if someone had never travelled out of their own state. Her hand shot up and she blurted out,” I had never left my town until I came here for school.” Wow, I thought. I don’t want to be THAT PERSON.

Recently I was coordinating my work schedule with some fellow employees in an effort to make sure everything would be covered while I am in London when it was obvious they could not comprehend that I would spend two weeks in another country. They simply don’t understand that there would be something worth seeing in Turkey, Chile or Europe. For them travel usually means packing up the car for a trip to a relative’s house for Thanksgiving – and that is it.

And it is with that that I cannot comprehend them. I mean after all travel is the perfect hobby. It is completely customizable in the fact that you could do a walking or hiking holiday, RV across the US, cruise the Caribbean or chill out in the Cotswolds. There aren’t just museums but also big balls of twine amongst other tacky roadside stops. There are camping options along with greasy spoons or elegant tea rooms. There are even vacations where the participants help build a house or village. Travel can be anything and everything a person wants it to be.

I have had this blog for about three years now and sometimes I don’t see the point of constantly blathering on about this and that. Is there really anyone reading this or am I just a Mecca for all the Internet troll bots that spam me with their ‘great post here is a link to my site’ comments I receive. As I was struggling to write the original post I had planned for this week I wasn’t really feeling it. Then I had that phone conversation. The CotsWhats? That interaction made me realize travel does matter. And this blog  matters to me. Travel is important to me because I don’t want to be the person proud to have never left their home town. And I want to see the Cotswolds, and London at Christmas, and Paris in the spring, and Chicago in a snowstorm (I may regret saying that one). But I want to see it all, and I will continue to share. And if you are reading this (I thank you greatly) I hope you enjoy my little blog and thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave me a comment (unless you are a spam bot!).

Do you like to travel? Are there other topics/ideas you would like to see on this blog? Is ir important to you to learn about other countries? What is the biggest lesson you have learned while travelling?