When traveling domestically or internationally, I always do a few things to simplify the travel process. Take my Sage Travel advice and use these travel hacks to make what can often be a high-stress situation at the airport a little more enjoyable.
The best way to simplify traveling is to bypass lines to save time. There are a few ways to do this;
1. Become a Known Traveler
Going through security and customs is easily one of the most tedious parts of travel. When you are a Known Traveler, you get certain perks that make this process much less of a hassle. You don't have to take off your shoes (sometimes heels still have to come off because of the metal shank in the heel or arch), electronics and liquids can stay in your bags, and you do not have to go through that full-body Xray, but instead, you can go through a metal detector. TSA precheck is such a time saver. For international travel, Global Entry is a must-have for returning to the USA; NEXUS is excellent for travel between the USA and Canada. Many different credit cards, like American Express Platinum and other loyalty programs, will cover the cost of enrollment.
Another program that is useful for both traveling and attending events is CLEAR. One time I lost my ID while on a trip, and I was unsure how to handle this at the airport the next day. Then I remembered they had a CLEAR line in that terminal, so I did not even need my identification because my fingerprints brought up my picture and profile.
What is the difference between these programs?
2. Carry on only
Traveling with just carry-on luggage is such a time saver. Not only does it bypass the check-in desk and baggage claim, but it illuminates the risk of losing luggage. It may be a lot of work on the front end, but it makes everything easier for me. I plan my outfits, so I'm less likely to overpack. The best way to do this is to choose pieces that are easy to mix and match. Sometimes I'll plan all my outfits around one pair of heels, flats, and a bag that goes with everything. I use this carry-on roller suitcase and a large tote that I can also use as a beach or shopping bag. I have been using this one for years and also have this one that I love. I have a few other blog posts about packing carry-on only here and here, plus I often share what I packed for a trip on my Instagram stories. I always stuff a blanket-type scarf and a pair of socks in my tote for the plane if I get chilly or have to take off my shoes for security.
Sage advice: In the winter, packing different scarves gives the illusion of wearing different outfits while rewearing the same warm sweater or coat.
3. Navigating Airports
Most airlines now have apps, which make checking in ahead of time and monitoring flights so much easier. Usually, there is an airport terminal map in the app that will list bathrooms, lounges, and restaurants. I like to study the airport maps a bit before my trip so that once I go through security, I have an idea of where I am going. If I have time, my destination before going to the gate is usually a lounge. When traveling internationally, I often make time to check out the lounge. There are many ways to get into a lounge. Some plane tickets include lounge access, sometimes there is a fee to enter, certain credit cards grant entry, and sometimes it comes with status in a loyalty program. Typically the food and drinks are complimentary, and sometimes, there are little spas inside of them offering mini services that only require signing up. Lounges are a great place to relax and recharge in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a busy airport.
Sage advice: The electric carts at the airport aren't just for the elderly or injured. Anyone can politely ask to be driven to their gate for free within the terminal whether running late, traveling with kids, or simply tired of walking. Just be sure to give the driver a small tip for the convenience.
4. Stick to My Routine
Some people need their morning coffee; I need my morning protein drink. Besides water and my vitamins, it is the first thing I consume after waking up and serves as my breakfast. It has become so ingrained in my routine that it is the one thing I would miss when I traveled. Since I travel with only carry-on luggage, bringing my beloved shakes with me was impossible since they are over 3.4oz. That is until I found out that I could get them through security if frozen! I don't remember where we were traveling home from, but the ladies going through security behind us pulled out frozen water bottles from their bags and sent them through the scanner in a separate bin. I had never thought about what a simple solution that is. When I travel, I make sure to put the number of shakes I will need for the trip in the freezer a few days before we leave and place them in my tote just before walking out the door. I keep them in a gallon-size ziplock bag, so they are easy to pull out and place in the bin at security. Be sure to tell the TSA agent that they are frozen to avoid them being pulled aside to be checked over, which can cost you valuable time in getting to your gate.
I also bring my travel yoga mat with me. This mat folds up so small but has an ample footprint so I can do my Peloton barre, pilates, and yoga classes in the comfort of my hotel room.
Sage advice: Freeze liquids over 100ml/3.4oz to get them through security. This works for water bottles, breast milk/formula, protein shakes, etc
4. Stay in Charge
These pocket-sized chargers are great because many airports (and Disney) have kiosks where you can exchange a dead cartridge for a fully charged one... for free! The kiosks also sell the starter packs with all the mini charging cables, but I got mine cheaper here and always carry one with me. I love how convenient they are and that they easily fit into a small purse. It may not fully recharge a dead phone, but it is usually enough to get me to where I need to go to find an outlet.
Sage advice: Use this map to see if there are kiosks on your travel itinerary.
5. Use Your Words
I travel internationally as often as I can. I enjoy seeing new places, meeting new people, and eating new foods. My work with Rotary International feeds this passion in me, and through the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, I get to nurture that travel bug in others! One of the most important things when traveling abroad is to learn a few key phrases in the language of the place you are traveling to and then to USE it every chance you get. Even a simple hello, goodbye, please, and thank you in the native language of the country you are visiting can go a long way to show appreciation and respect. I do lessons on DuoLingo every day in French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. If I want to do a crash course to practice my pronunciation and speaking skills with a native speaker, I rely on this site. Finding an inexpensive tutor that fits your schedule and learning style is simple. I've also used Babble and Rosetta Stone. They all serve their purpose, but I find DuoLingo's easiest to stay consistent with because the lessons are so quick.
Sage advice: In addition to pleasantries, learning basic directions (enter, exit, left, right, straight) will help you read signage in airports.
Cancún, México is a popular vacation destination for many Americans living on the United States' east coast and is often the only part of México many see. The first time I ever visited Mexico, I was about 20 years old. I stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Cancún and only left the property for a day on an organized tour to Chichen Itza. I remember enjoying the hot weather and seeing beautiful blue waves for the first time. My next trip to Cancún was in my late twenties, while my husband and I were still only dating. I worked for Marriott at that time, so we stayed at the Ritz Carlton with my employee discount and a desire to relax. We only ventured out of the hotel for dinners and shopping. The next time we visited Cancún, it was for a family vacation over the New Year break from school. We brought the kids and a french Rotary exchange student who lived with us for the school year. This time we stayed at the JW Marriott. It was a short trip, and again, we only left the resort to dine and visit the Isla shopping area, where there is an aquatic show with dolphins. It was great for the kids.
Two years later, for our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to return to the Ritz Carlton in Cancún because we enjoyed our previous visit there so much and often reminisced about it. This time we took a cooking class, ate again at our favorite restaurant down the street, and explored the different shopping and tourist areas in the hotel zone. Since then, I have wanted to explore more of México because I know there is much more than Cancún. In February of 2020, I got that opportunity. The annual North American Youth Exchange Network (NAYEN) conference for the Rotary Youth Exchange program took place in Monterrey, MX. Through NAYEN conferences over the years, I have met so many Mexican Rotarians from all different parts of the country who are eager for visitors to know more than Cancún and Cabo. So, when planning our spring break trip this year, we threw around destination ideas while considering the travel restrictions many countries have in place due to Covid and how they were constantly changing. México had no Covid restrictions or requirements for visitors, plus the airfare was reasonable, so I started looking there. I was intrigued by México City, but my husband wanted to be on the beach, and I was craving some sunshine also. We decided to go back to Cancún again, but this time I wanted to explore more than the commercialized and touristy hotel zone. I didn't want to do all the same things again, I wanted this vacation to feel different from our previous trips there.
Since this trip fell over Easter Sunday, we decided to attend Mass at a local church. They offered Mass in English in the morning, but we wanted to hear it in Spanish.
We also rented a boat for half a day to explore more of Cancún, snorkel, and watch the sunset from the water. They brought us to Isla Mujeres, were docked and had lunch at a quaint beachfront restaurant recommended by our captain. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to explore more of the island. So, we vowed to return a couple of days later.
When we returned to the island, we took the 20-minute ferry to La Isla Mujeres and then rented a golf cart to explore. We went to the south point, Punta Sur, to see the Mayan ruins and the breathtaking natural beauty of the easternmost point of Mexico.
We then drove up to the north point to see Playa Norte, the most beautiful beach on the island. The water is calm, blue, and shallow, so it's a great place to bring a beach blanket and cooler to hang out in the sun and cool off in the water. Several restaurants and bars with live music line the beach, some even with swings for seats! You will also find yoga classes, massage therapists, daybeds, and beach chairs available should you want to treat yourself to some additional comfort and relaxation.
Of course, we still visited the shopping areas, tried some new restaurants, and revisited our favorites, but I'm glad we incorporated some new experiences. La Isla Mujeres has an entirely different vibe than Canún. It's far more relaxed and casual than the Hotel Zone. It is a small island, so it is easy to visit in a few hours. I highly encourage a day trip there if staying in Cancun, but there are several hotels on the island should you want to stay longer.
On this trip, we discovered that many restaurants in the Hotel Zone offer "dinner shows" with live DJs, dancers, performers, and fireworks almost like being in a club but still able to have a conversation while enjoying a great meal. It did not bother us, but not an experience we wanted for every dinner, and some were better than others. We enjoyed the show experience most at Ryoshi, an incredible sushi restaurant in the Isla Shopping center. Our favorite restaurants that we always visit for a nice dinner are Harry's, a steakhouse across from our hotel, and Fantino, a fine Italian restaurant inside the Ritz Carlton. La Parrilla is an excellent Mexican place for a casual lunch or drinks while shopping in La Isla shopping center.
Another thing that enhanced our trip was that I have been working diligently on learning Spanish. I have used every language learning service, from Rosetta Stone and Babble to Duo Lingo. However, it is essential to practice real conversation to become comfortable with a new language. The best way I have found to do this is through this program here. You can choose a native speaking instructor by reviewing their video bio, lesson plans or focus, their pricing packages, and then select a lesson time that works for your schedule! Lessons are through the website or Skype. I didn't have time to do additional homework, so I selected an instructor that would allow me to fumble through a conversation with the vocabulary I already knew and correct my pronunciation. It is flexible and customizable to individual needs. While in Mexico, I could comfortably greet people, ask questions, order food and respond in Spanish! I even got complimented once on my pronunciation! I highly recommend learning a few phrases and verbs in the native language of your destination. It helps to understand signage and conversations around you and interact with locals. It is a requirement for my Rotary youth exchange students before leaving for their year abroad.
When talking to people about visiting México, the number one question asked was if we felt safe. While we did see armed police patrolling both the shopping areas and the beach, I never felt unsafe during any of our trips. We walked from our hotel to dinner a few times, took taxis, when to a local church, and ate at some less touristy restaurants. Like many places in the USA and other countries, there are areas to avoid, but I can say Canún and La Isla Mujeres were safe and fun to visit.
I do hope to visit other areas of México in the future, especially Mexico City and Tequila, but I am glad that we got to know Cancún beyond the beach.
When my husband told me that Bermuda is beautiful, I had no idea just how stunning it would be!
I never gave much thought to visiting Bermuda until he suggested we vacation there. His past trips to Bermuda were related to work, and he wanted to revisit the island with me. Over the last few years, he occasionally mentioned we should make a quick getaway in the spring sometime, assuring me that I would love it. But, for whatever reason, it was never at the top of our travel list until this year. We had achieved a personal goal between the two of us, and it seemed like the perfect place to celebrate the occasion. I am quite grateful we waited to go because it made the trip even more special.
Bermuda is a British island territory in the North Atlantic Ocean about 700 miles off the coast of North Carolina. It is about a two-hour flight from Philadelphia, making it an easy trip for those of us on the East Coast. Sometimes it is confused with being a part of the Caribbean because of the crystal clear blue waters and pink sand beaches. Our currencies are equal, so US dollars are accepted there, however, your change will most likely be in Bermudian currency. A passport is required, but no VISA. They drive on the left, everyone speaks English, and the people are incredibly polite and respectful.
Where we stayed:
We stayed at the Hamilton Princess, which is a Fairmont Property. As a member of Le Club Accorhotels, we received a 5% discount on our room rate. I booked a Harbor King and opted for Fairmont Gold because it included private check-in, concierge service, access to a private lounge, breakfast, afternoon tea and canapés, as well as ensuring us a room on either the sixth or seventh floor (7th being the highest). Honestly, though, whether facing the harbor or not, I don't think there's a poor view on the island. Everywhere I looked was so stunning and picturesque that it was impossible not to snap photos constantly. The hotel has two pools, a family-friendly infinity pool with a hot tub, and a smaller adults only pool. There is also a full gym, which offers different workout classes for a fee, a spa, and a handful of higher end boutiques.
The Hamilton Princess has a private beach, that is about 25 minutes away from the hotel property. There is a free shuttle that transports hotel guests to and from the beach about every hour or so. It is possible to rent cabanas at the beach club, but I would not recommend it because although private, they are awkwardly off to the side and not close to the beach. If you only want lounge chairs and an umbrella, those are complementary. There is both a sit-down restaurant and servers that you can place an order with from your beach chair. Paddleboards, kayaks, snorkeling gear, are just a few of the complimentary water activities, and there is a small playground for children. There are hammocks on the beach and in the water for your ultimate relaxation. The water is shallow and so clear that you can see fish swim around you. The temperature of the water was perfect and refreshing. We spent an entire day at the beach club, and at the suggestion of our server, strolled up to the cliff that was the former site of the Sonesta Beach Hotel. Unfortunately, that hotel suffered severe damage in a hurricane years ago. The owners of the Hamilton Princess later bought it, razed and redeveloped the area to be the Princess Beach Club. The foundation of the former hotel restaurant is the only structure that remains. If you go there, be sure to go up the path to the top of the hill for the most fantastic view!
Another benefit of the Hamilton Princess is it that you can walk into Hamilton to go shopping, the grocery store, to restaurants, and you can catch the ferry to the Royal Dockyard where there are cafés, shops, and museums. The ferry ride from Hamilton to the dockyard is about 20 minutes and $5, versus the drive which takes about an hour and $40 in a taxi.
Where we ate:
At the main hotel property, there are two restaurants, 1609 and Marcus, as well as a lobby bar. The food at Marcus was good, but not extraordinary. However, our experience at the restaurant was memorable because of one employee, the infamous Lloyd. I saw his name on several reviews of the restaurant, and everything said about him was true. It was kind of funny to run into him, but it was indeed because of Lloyd that our meal there was so enjoyable.
I thought the food at 1609 was better when we went for lunch on our last day than it was when we went for dinner a few days prior. I do not know how often the menu changes, but I would recommend the mussels and carrot soup. Be sure to make reservations in advance because we had not, and it was so busy that we had to sit at the bar. 1609 is also the restaurant that caters to the main pool.
Our favorite meal during our five days on the island was at the Rosen Hotel, which is a 3-minute walk across the street from the Hamilton Princess. It is a Relais and Chateaux property, and their restaurant is called Huckleberry. We sat outside on the front porch, which offered a romantic, intimate ambiance. The service was impeccable. I had the duck which was AMAZING, and the tuna tartare was one of the best I have ever tasted.
We also had dinner one night at the Southampton Ocean Club, which has both indoor and outdoor seating. Weather permitting, you definitely want to be out on the veranda to take in the stunning view of the beach. Note that this restaurant is not attached to the hotel, which sits on a hill across the street. They have shuttles that transport guests between the Ocean Club and the main hotel property, so you could enjoy the hotel's other restaurant, Jasmine, for either a pre-dinner cocktail or after dinner coffee and enjoy the elevated view.
Another standout meal from the trip was lunch at the Pink Beach Club, one of two restaurants at the Loren Hotel, which is about 20-minute drive from where we were staying. The hotel is super swanky, modern and luxurious. It is an open-air restaurant with delicious food and a fantastic view of the pink sand beaches and infinity pool. I would consider staying at the Loren on a future visit to the island because their infinity pool and beach are both located on the property, unlike both Fairmont hotels. Although it was well worth the drive, needing to take a shuttle to go to the beach as we did at the Hamilton was not ideal.
Things to do:
We were told that visiting the Royal Navy Dockyard is a must when on the island. At the westernmost point of Bermuda, it is an area with several shops, cafés, restaurants, museums and countless activities to do. It can be rather busy because this is where the cruise ships stop. You can read more about the history of the dockyard here. Unfortunately, on the day we took the ferry to the dockyard, the weather started to turn, so we left without fully exploring the area. Next time we go, we will be sure to spend more time there.
Another fun thing to do in Bermuda is rent scooters, but remember that they drive on the left. On our first full day, we explored the island by scooter and went to the Loren Hotel for lunch. I brought a beach bag with swimwear and a change of clothes for my husband and me, so that we could stop by a few public beaches on our way home. It was such a fun and adventurous day!
Overall, I enjoyed our stay in Bermuda immensely and can't wait to go back again in the future. It reminds me of the peaceful simplicity of Nantucket, but with the beautiful water and sand of the Caribbean. As this trip was my first time traveling there, Bermuda officially was my new country of 2019, and the 27th stamp in my passport!
France, and most commonly Paris, seems to seduce its visitors in a way that leaves them always craving more. The "je ne sais quoi" that this country coined effects people so much that there is an entire section of the bookstore dedicated to it. From memoirs to guidebooks, fiction and nonfiction, there is no shortage of publications on France, the French, and how to understand them. The desire to "be French" or to figure out a way to fit in is a popular topic.
Being both a francophone and francophile after living in France myself, I have amassed quite the collection of these books myself. I first started buying ones on parenting that discussed the difference between the French and Americans. Then Amazon started recommending others that were just books about living in France. Some were educational, some were romantic, but my favorites are memoirs of other peoples experiences living there. Although the theme is the same, their stories are all unique and contain little morsels of information to help others navigate the culture. It was entertaining and heartwarming to learn some of my struggles when living abroad were similar to those of other people, and serve as a type of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" for me when I was missing my second home.
Here is a list of the ones I have read (and reread) the most and believe anyone can appreciate: whether dreaming of visiting France one day, in search of guidance on to how to acclimate, or just generally miss being there as I do. Some are for foodies, others target parents, and one, in particular, does such a great job of decoding the culture that I recommend my Rotary exchange students read it before they leave for France on their year abroad. If you choose to purchase any of these books, you can click on the image of it to get redirected to Amazon. Let me know if you want more book suggestions as this is just a small selection of the ones I have read over the years!
For Dreamers & Foodies
Lunch in Paris (2010) - I have read (and listened to on audio) this book several times. I will never get sick of it and have rebought it as gifts for others. The author, Elizabeth Bard, has a great story and writes about it in a way that makes you feel like you know her. She is a New York City girl that met and eventually married a French man while she was abroad. They have a son, built a business together and now live in Provence. She is honest, humble and real. She centers her stories around food, and the best part is that she includes recipes at the end of each chapter that represents a significant moment or memory of her story. Every recipe that I have made from her book has been delicious, especially her lentil recipe which I now know by heart! Even if you choose not to read the book, it is worth buying for the recipes!
Picnic in Provence (2015) - This is Elizabeth Bard's follow up to Lunch in Paris. On the audio version, she is the reader and has a very soothing voice. It is wonderful for all the same reasons as her first book. In this memoir, she recounts her pregnancy with their first child, what brought them to Provence and how they ended up opening a successful glacerie (ice cream shop) named Scaramouch. She again includes recipes at the end of each chapter. In the summer of 2016, my husband and I went to Provence for a friends wedding. We were within an hour of the town Céreste, where Elizabeth and her husband live and planned to go there one afternoon. I reached out to her before our trip to see if she if she would be in town but unfortunately, Elizabeth was in the USA at that time to promote her third book "Dîner Chez Moi." I would have loved to have met her, and had her sign my book, but at least I got to see the town I have read about so many times, as well as enjoy some delicious ice cream from her shop!
Bonjour Kale (2016) - Kristen Beddard has a truly fascinating story. She is the reason you can find kale in Paris today. I felt connected to her right away because I realized we are about the same age, we lived in France around the same time, and she went to the same college as our daughter. Kristen is an American girl married to an English man that found herself living in Paris when her husbands work required them to relocate to France for five years. Upon moving there she read some of the books about living in France that are listed here. What makes her story incredible is that she did not speak the language nor know anyone in the country, but ultimately left a mark on the entire culture! I am so impressed by her and enjoyed learning about how she followed her passion, overcame many obstacles, conquered her fears and grew as a person. I am inspired by how she created a blog, The Kale Project, and turned it into a career. It was a happy accident that I started reading her book just as I launched my own blog. She also includes recipes at the end of every chapter, most including kale. I buy kale regularly but my use of it has been limited to blending it into smoothies or sauteing it for omelets and other dishes. I learned a lot about kale in reading this and realized its potential. After I finished her book, I spent the weekend making several of the recipes and plan to make many of them again. My favorites are the Kale Soup, Kale "sushi" Rolls, Tuna Carpaccio, and Kale Spread. Kristen now lives in New York City with her husband and their two children.
Paris My Sweet (2012) - Amy Thomas has an insatiable sweet tooth that has guided her through every NYC bakery and chocolate boutique, and then onto becoming an expert on Parisienne confisionneries. Her story is a little different than the previously mentioned books because she did not move to Paris to be with the man she loved, but for a career she loved. Her story was a refreshing new perspective for me to read since she is single and in her mid-thirties trying to navigate the language, culture, dating scene and workforce with little to no help nor friends to pass the time with. I especially love that she touches on reverse culture shock when she comes home to visit after six months of living in Paris. It is a feeling that is difficult to describe to others and even harder to comprehend unless experienced first hand. Her story kept me intrigued until the very end in wondering if she will decide on Paris or NY? Will she ultimately find love? You will have to read to find out; the ending may surprise you!
For les Mamans
Bringing Up Bebe (2012) - This is a classic book I give to my friends that are becoming mothers for the first time. It was also the first parenting book I read after I met my husband and knew I would be an instant parent to three children ranging in ages from 1 to 14. Pamela Druckerman is an American living in Paris that tells her story of conceiving and raising children in a country and culture she does not understand. She has some very funny comparisons of French vs American styles of parenting and pregnany that can make us laugh at ourselves for overthinking basic logic, or realize we get too caught up in keeping up.
French Twist (2013)- This is another great book for moms as it is written by an American mother raising children in France. Catherine Crawford gives advice on best practices of the French parenting style versus American and tells how it changed the dynamic of her family. The setting is in the Brittany region of France which offers a much different day to day perspecive than Paris. Her story has a strong focus on food in that it shows how she was able to get her children to be more adventurous eaters, patient, and not to use food as a quick fix for boredom.
French Kids Eat Everything (2012) - Karen Le Billon is a Canadian mother that moved to France to be closer to her husbands family. I was intrigued by this book as I am a very adventurous eater and wanted my kids to be the same way. It gives me great pride that we can take our children anywhere (friends houses, restaurants, other countries) without having to worry about what is served, kid menus or give them something separate for dinner than what the adults are having. I realize that food allergies prevent some families from this luxury, and I am forever grateful that we are fortunate our children do not have any. This book is ideal if you are in need of guidance on children that are picky eaters. I have also given this as a gift to new mothers and it is the second book I read after Bringing Up Bebe. Whenever asked how our children became such foodies, I reference this book!
For Expats and Exchange Students
The Bonjour Effect (2016) - Different from the other titles I have listed, this book is written by a married couple, offering both perspectives of a man and woman. They are French Canadian and have spent a significant amount of time living in France, as well as other French-speaking countries. Already understanding the language, they surpassed that initial struggle and wrote this book with the intent of decoding the culture for others – because the ability to speak the language is not necessarily enough to successfully navigate all situations. After writing their books, "Sixty Million Frenchman Can't Be Wrong" and "The Story of French," also written to aid readers in understanding the complexities of the French, they realized that there was more still to discover. With their adopted twin daughters they moved back to Paris, as a family this time, getting an entirely new education on living in the City of Light. Jean-Benoit and Julie include many of their own experiences but also a lot of facts, statistics, and research from studies, as well as history, that explain the little nuances of the French way of life. They cover everything, from politics and business practices to the education system and social norms, that contradicts what is ingrained in North Americans making it difficult to realize why and how things get lost in translation. The rules of making conversation in France are opposed to how we break the ice on this side of the Atlantic. This book is a must-have resource for anyone moving to France, visiting for an extended period, or doing business with les francais, especially if they have no basis of the language or culture.
Almost French (2002) - Sarah Turnbull is an Australian that met a French man by chance and followed him to Paris. Again, I will ever tire of this book and have recommended it time and time again to others. I actually prefer listening to it because I love the readers' voice and it is a great way to spend a long drive. Although it is a bit dated, (she was living in France and searching for work before the convenience of cell phones and internet) this story makes me laugh out loud multiple times. Her struggles with trying to make friends, learn the language, find work, and generally fit in are hilarious, relatable, and educational for anyone in an expat situation. I especially love the part where she tells of getting a puppy and how it consequently opened up another part of the French culture to her. Another thing I appreciate about her story is what I learn about Australia. I have never been there but her description of it makes me want to visit!
Packing for France is incredibly simple and entirely possible to do in a carry-on, even if you are going there for over a week! If you want to have a Carrie Bradshaw - high fashion moment of big couture dresses and high heels like she did in Sex in the City, go for it! The only other people you will see dressed like that (if any) are other foreigners. However, if you want to be comfortable and blend in, go for skinny jeans, a blazer, lightweight cashmere sweaters, cotton long sleeve shirts in neutral colors, sneakers (Adidas are always a good option) and ankle boots. A small heel is fine, but make sure it is a chunky one as stilettos are not practical for cobblestone streets nor the amount of walking you will do.
A hooded parka or bomber is ideal from late September to early April. Always wear a scarf (the bigger, the better) and bring an umbrella. When in doubt, wear black with a pop of color in your scarf or glasses. Regarding purses, it is wise to wear a cross-body bag for both security and convenience. When visiting Paris, or any other area in France, chances are that you will be outside most of the time walking around visiting the sites and taking public transportation. Therefore, what you are wearing underneath your coat does not matter, and can be re-worn at least once during your trip. My tip is to bring fewer shirts and more scarves if you want to change up your look!
In the spring and summer, feminine knee-length dresses with strappy sandals are perfect. I like to wear light cotton pants that tie at the waist with a fitted t-shirt. Top each look off with either a blazer, a trench coat, a light leather or jean jacket, and a scarf if it gets cool. Scarves are worn almost year round, but in lighter fabrics during warmer weather. Shorts and hoodies are uncommon and usually worn only by tourists.
In France, I tend to wear less makeup. Although it is the perfect place to test out a red lip, a sharp contour and smokey eyes are unnecessary. Keep it simple with only concealer, bronzer, mascara, and lipstick. I also care less about how my hair looks, often letting it air-dry or pulling it back into a bun. The jewelry I bring is minimal, opting for just a pair of stud earrings, a watch and maybe a necklace along with my wedding rings.
In a nutshell, when it comes to Paris fashion, simplicity and classic pieces are best. Coco Chanel may be the name on some pretty remarkable haute couture items, but her most iconic pieces to date are the simple blazer and little black dress. Dior's debut collection consisted of calf-length, full skirts with a cinched waist. Yves Saint Laurent is noted for his popularization of women’s trousers. Hubert de Givenchy, the creator of Parisian Chic, launched his first collection with tailored tops like the "Bettina blouse". The best thing about France is that no one truly cares what you are wearing or how you look, but still, leave the collegiate hoodies, sports caps, and shorts at home. Au natural will always be favored over a full face of makeup and perfect barrel curls. So take back those extra 10-30 minutes you would normally need to get ready and enjoy sleeping in or linger a little longer over a café – you are on vacation after all!!
Something people find surprising about me is that I travel with only carry on luggage. My husband and I travel about once a month and it has been over 4 years since I have checked a bag! Even when we travel with the kids we are able to do it with only carry on. I have a strong fear of losing my luggage, and I hate waiting at the baggage claim. I understand why people prefer to be hands-free while walking through the airport, but I find it comforting to have all of my things with me. Usually, our trips are only 3-5 days so packing everything in a carry on is simple for me. Longer trips require a little more planning. Two years ago we went to Provence for a friends wedding, and then spent some time in the south of France and Monaco. It was a 10 day trip and I only brought carry on! In order to do this, I choose all of my outfits in advance based on the weather and activities we will be doing, while using pieces I can mix and match. It takes some time, but it is worth it. I have often been asked how I do it, so I decided to share what I brought with me on a recent trip to Disney.
I love sundresses! They are comfortable, flattering and versatile. At Disney, many people are dressed in shorts and sneakers because of the heat and amount of walking done in the park. I am not comfortable dressed like that and like to be a little more dolled up since it is the fairytale land of princesses! We spend most of our time at Epcot, often eating at a sit-down restaurant in the World Showcase, and while there is no real dress code for the restaurants, I prefer to dress up when going to dinner. Sundresses are perfect for the heat and can go from casual to dressy with simple accessories. I packed a different dress for each day in the park, plus one for a romantic dinner at the rooftop restaurant of our hotel. I packed an additional pair of heels and a clutch specific for that night too, but my other shoes were dressier flats that I could wear to the park and pool.
During our stay we enjoyed a magical dinner while watching the Epcot and Magic Kingdom fireworks from the rooftop restaurant at our hotel. This yellow silk Ralph Lauren dress was perfect for the evening and I cannot wait to wear it again! I purchased it online during their end-of-season sale this past September. I styled it with nude Alexandre Birman heels that I got on sale from Intermix, and my nude Saint Laurent clutch that I bought on Gilt years ago.
I hope that you have found this useful! I had not planned on writing this up before we left for the trip and therefore did not bring my camera. Let me know if you would like to see more posts like this and next time I will use my camera instead of my iphone to take the pictures so they are better quality.
In February, we went to Florence to visit our daughter while she was studying there for a semester. Everyone we know who had been to Florence said that it was unforgettable, and now we know why! We stayed in a lovely Airbnb that was roomy, comfortable and close to everything. Our host even came to meet us with a beautiful bottle of wine. During the week we were there we ate, shopped and explored as much as possible. We took an overnight trip to Cinque Terra and stopped to see the leaning tower in Pisa on the way. While our daughter was in class, we visited a winery in Chianti. One of my favorite things about Florence was the aperitivo in which restaurants offer a buffet of appetizers with the purchase of a drink (usually 10€). It was a great way to sample lots of foods and restaurants without spending a lot of time or money at each one, (wifi codes are printed on receipts).
My husband and I both purchased lovely leather jackets as well as a few pairs of shoes during our stay. I also made sure to stock up on olive oil because it was incredibly flavorful! It's possible to bargain with the shopkeepers, especially for leather goods, and with the vendors on the street. Never underestimate the power of walking away when you can't agree on a price. Our daughter became a pro at getting vendors to meet her price when it came to shawls, bags, and other items sold at the leather market!
Many students study in Florence, so most everyone in the shops and restaurants speaks English. February was a good time to go as it wasn't too cold, but if we have the opportunity to revisit Tuscany, I would like to do so in the spring or fall. Have you been to Firenze? Leave a comment!
Above: My husband and my step-daughter at the top of the Duomo.
Below: Me and my step-daughter on the Ponte Vecchio.
Below: Visting Castello del Trebbio winery in Chianti.
Below: Carousel rides & dinner in the Piazza della Repubblica in Florence.
Above: Sunset at the Piazzale Michelangelo
Below: Aperitivo at Oibo (10€/pp)
Below: Cinque Terre - Manarola
Know before you go:
1) Labor strikes are common in Italy. When we arrived at the airport, the taxis had just gone on a two-hour strike, so there was no way for us to get to our Airbnb with all of our luggage. At first, we didn't realize the situation because a couple of taxis had picked up a few people ahead of us, but then they just stopped showing up. Employees from the airport eventually explained the situation. On the day we left, the ground crew at the airport were going on strike right around when our plane was supposed to board. Our flight, along with many others, was delayed and some were even canceled. Strikes are usually announced, but if you don't know to ask about it, then you will be in for a frustrating surprise.
2) Taxis are not readily available on the street, so you need to call for one ahead of time if going outside of the city. Our accommodating Airbnb host organized transportation for us to visit a winery and to go to the airport.
3) There is no salt in the bread because many years ago, there was a tax on salt. To avoid paying the tax, the bakers stopped putting salt in their bread. While that salt tax has since been lifted, the practice of making bread without salt is still in place in Florence. Salad dressing is simply oil, vinegar, salt and pepper that is often on the table and you put on the salad yourself.
4) Tips are included in the food, drink and taxi prices.
My husband and I love to travel. We have our favorite places, like Nantucket, France and Disney's Epcot, but we love discovering new ones too. We have vowed to visit a new country every year, as well as discover a new place within our own continent. Together we have visited; France, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium, England, Italy Luxembourg, Monaco, Bahamas, Morocco, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, Grand Cayman, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Aruba, Sweden, Bermuda, and The Netherlands. Our next destination - TBT!