For those who have read my blogs over the years, you already know I’m the bookish type. I was reading my set of World Book Encyclopedia while some were probably outside playing street football or watching MTV back in the day. Taking French also went against the grain because most of my peers opted to take Spanish as a foreign language course. I was a history buff and it only made sense for me to study the language my mother rarely spoke. French was/is a language taught in schools in Haiti. But in more homes, than I care to admit to, the language will most likely die with our elders. For me taking French was yet another way I could connect with my introvertish mom. I’d go home and practice the fancy pronunciations with her and she’d repeat them (correctly) back to me. I’d be too excited to double back to her about some new French culture thing I’d learn. Education was a valued experience, but it was usually not a shared one in some Haitian homes. When the opportunity came to travel to Paris recently, it literally took me about four weeks to get flights and hotels confirmed.
To me, the adventure in traveling always begins in the planning stages. I’m an organizer by nature and I enjoy working out a plan from scratch. I nearly lost some locs in the planning, but I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed looking up hotels, train schedules, tour information and comparing the cost of everything; all for the sake of getting a good deal. This blog will highlight what to keep in mind in the traveling planning phase, specifically for a trip abroad. Petty disclaimer: abroad at this point in life needs to translate to *any trip that takes you away from the North American continent*. I’m all for Cozumel but we have a whole entire country north of us and others well beyond our wall-less borders that we can visit within our lifetime. So here goes!
Research Flights and Lodging
I know, I know. Asking anyone to take the time to read through reviews, blogs and tour options may sometimes be a drag, but how else will you know where to go, what to do and what to avoid? Websites that I used included the usual (Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak) and a new one shared by a friend, JustFly.com Google up some other options and let your fingers do the haggling. Keep in mind, the cheaper the tickets, the less wiggle room you have if you need to change and upgrade pass the 24 hours from purchase cut off time. Invest in business class if your pockets allow or in the row right before business class. Pay attention to the plane’s layout and you’ll be able to see that somewhere up front is a row that faces the wall before the first class. When I tell you! That row saved my knees. I was even able to stand up and host an entire one person yoga stretch class and all! Either way, count yourself among the number whatever seat you end up choosing. Our pockets ain’t all the same and there’s no shame in that.
Now if you have the plug with chain hotels, feel free to lean on those friendships now and butter them up for more opportunities to save. People who work for chain hotels, don’t come for me. I’m just trying to make you new “fake friends” in 2019! Lol! If you’re into the “live like the natives” experience, feel free to review what’s shared about non-chain hotels. I knew that after 10-12 hour days out and about, I needed the comfort of a space that somewhat reminded me of home. So chain hotels worked for me. In reading blogs, I even discovered opportunities to rent intimately sized homes where you sneezed and the window curtains moved. Nah… I’m good. But do you boo!
While you’re doing this, read up on what the State Department has to say about where you’re going. France is in a maelstrom right now. People are asking for the president’s resignation. Taxes are high and patience is running low. Sorta like the French Revolution… I kept checking weekly and listening to NPR and others as the days went by. If you’re not listening to reliable international news source, (not to be confused with American media), you’re shortchanging yourself in life. Period.
Research What You’re Going To Do
Think about who you’re traveling with and what you plan to do. Face it, are you willing to travel with someone (paying all your hard earned dollars) who will eat Five Guys burgers every day because they won’t try anything new? At the very least travel with people who are willing to explore beyond the norm. Keep into account your fellow traveler(s). Introverts aren’t too keen on spending the entire time in location-packed spaces. Extroverts could care less about walking down quiet streets with minimal interactions. Stretch your fellow trip travelers a bit without making it a taxing experience. I’m a history buff but I didn’t count on my husband being sooo *eyes rolling* into the experience that I was just tired of looking at him go to and fro taking photos and daring me to dare him to sit on thousands of year old statues. Note to self: Don’t think you can conquer Louvre in one day. We did three hours and only conquered Venice de Milo, Monna Lisa, and Egyptian antiquities. I was only to happy to slip into a quiet French cafe thereafter and decompress with a glass of mulled wine. Suffice to say, Louvre does owe me a couple more days of walking, among other places we visited. We visited during winter, and I can only imagine what Paris looks like in the Spring. When you travel, don’t just do the usual. As much as I love to plan in advance, I’ve learned to land in the city, get a feel for the locale and chat it up with the hotel people, the street corner vendor, the random person on the train or the ever-reliable Uber drivers. They usually give the best suggestions that will never make its way onto a sponsored website. I got a couple of tours purchased on Trip Advisor but not before I went onto those tour websites directly and compared prices right down to the taxes. Sometimes you save with the options and sometimes you don’t. And don’t sleep on Groupon!
Flights are booked. Lodging is handled. Tours are situated. In the interim between anxiously waiting to “be out” and landing there, you can always read up on some blogs, look up the weather forecasts (the Farmer’s Almanac is also helpful), and if you’re extra like that, start putting your Pinterest travel outfits together. Lemme tell you! French women don’t play about fashion. As cold as it was in Paris, the ladies were not afraid to rock the heeled boots, the short skirts with tights and their signature outerwear. You can always tell a woman’s taste by the type of coats and scarves she prefers to wear. Derailed thought aside, read up on the culinary options. There are even websites that can direct you to private home parties. I had a friend who traveled to Lyon that was invited to a morning of fresh market shopping for his meal. Later that evening he wined and dined with total strangers in a beautiful kitchen, cooking up his personal favorites, that he personally shopped for earlier in the day.
Each blog will end with homework. I’m a social worker, so humor me.
- If you do not have a passport, get one. It’s been said 80% of African-Americans do not have passports. That’s problematic, to say the least. Your worldview is constricted to the square miles it takes you to go to work and back home with the usual activities in between. There’s a whole world of folks out there who aren’t hung up on your skin color and your hair. They’re more concerned about your mind and your heart. There’s a whole world of folks out there who are curious about you and sometimes it comes across as outright fear. How else are you going to experience either, if you don’t first extend yourself?
- If you have a passport, double check and ensure it’s not going to expire in less than two years (which is typically about as much time as it will take to plan for a great abroad trip). Make sure your fellow travelers are up on game. There’s nothing worse than dealing with a “Johnny-come-Lately” who neglected to mention his passport has expired and he wants his half of the money back. Or better yet, he didn’t bother to pay you back, to begin with. Trust me when I say, you don’t want them kinda troubles in your life.
- If you’re good with the above, invest in getting a Global Entry Pass. That covers you for TSA PreCheck and International Re-entry for five years. What is Global Entry Pass you say? Visit the U.S. Customs Border and Protection for more details. I think of it as a carte blanche that blesses your very tired soul when you come down from an international flight via Miami International. As you see other international travelers fly in from all over get cramped up in those lines, you will seamlessly and graciously bypass all of that. Disclaimer: if you have some stuff on your dossier that you aren’t too proud of, you may wanna save your coins and endure the long lines. No need in having Customs Border Patrol revisit your past and thereby place you on some newly formed “Imma be fresh if the Feds watching” list.
We’ll chat it up more about my first trip to Europe (Paris and Germany). Bear with me while I still adjust to the six-hour time difference.