Category Archives: Travel Tips

French Girl in Seattle’s travel essentials (Travel Tips Series)

French Girl in Seattle’s travel essentials (Travel Tips Series)

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”

Freya Stark, Explorer and Travel Writer.

Agreed, Freya. I love exploring new towns, big or small. I love traveling alone too. Wait. Alone? If I am fine traveling by myself, I still like to be in good company. I would not leave home without my travel essentials. Spring is here, and before we know it, the summer travel season will be upon us. Every time I check social media, I see articles titled “10 versatile travel essentials you can’t do without,” “How to pack for an international trip,” or “Travel light and pack smart.” I don’t know about you, but I remember to bring a color copy of my passport, wall adapters, ear plugs, or a phrase book. I know my clothing will take less space if I roll it instead of folding it. I know packing cubes and zip lock bags will help me organize my suitcase and save time. I remember to pack travel essentials, jewelry, and medication in my carry-on. This story is a not your typical list. I am not claiming I know packing better than you do. Like choosing a hotel and a restaurant, packing is a personal decision. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. Still, as I was reading my 3rd travel-related article this week, I paused to reflect on what my ideal travel checklist would be. It did not take long. Voilà French Girl in Seattle’s travel essentials, my favorite travel companions, my sidekicks, my compadres. We are a team. Where I go, they go.

Vero Dordogne
a French Girl in the Dordogne, updating travel notes for the FGIS blog (Summer 2011)

1. Travel Essentials: Panasonic Lumix Lx 7 and MacBook Air 11 in.

Sidekicks

I don’t recall a trip over the last 7 years these two have not been on. There would be no blog and no travel stories without them. I am not a photographer, but I enjoy telling stories, with words and photos. The Lumix LX 7 (and its predecessor the worthy Lumix LX 5) have enabled me to do just that. Portable and sturdy, infallible when set on automatic, but flexible enough to let you play with manual settings; the Lumix LX 7 is a smart camera that also delivers top quality video footage, even in low light conditions. It is unobtrusive and quiet. This makes it perfect for street photography (my favorite activity because I love people watching.)

Lumix LX 7 2
Shooting away at the Menton market, summer 2012. (Photo by Jilly Bennett Photography)

The Lumix’s partner, the MacBook Air, is the essential piece of equipment I rely on to write stories. I can check my emails on a smartphone, but I need a real keyboard for blogging. The MacBook Air is lightweight, lightning fast, and so beautiful it pleases my French sense of aesthetics. Yes, blogging has turned me into a WiFi addict. I won’t deny it. Fortunately, my favorite travel destinations are cities. It’s never a big problem nowadays to get connected at least once a day.

2. Travel Essentials: Le carnet (the notebook.)

WiFi addict or not, I am old-fashioned. I like beautiful pens, real books, quality paper and would not dream of embarking on a trip without a favorite notebook. I use it to list places I want to discover, a hotel or rental apartment address, stores I plan to visit, or exhibits I must see. I use it to store souvenirs, the ticket that got me into a great museum, a business card I picked up along the way. The notebook needs to be small and to fit into whatever bag I carry on my daily explorations. It helps me plan my trip, but also gets me in the mood for travel. After I return home, flipping through the pages brings back memories of special adventures. If I had it my way, I would take notes, or write postcards (yes, I still send them when I can find them,) with this:

Porte plume
Porte-plume: What I used to learn cursives in elementary school

Instead, I pack a couple of cheap pens (pens tend to get lost on long trips,) a highlighter, and the notebook, of course.

Sidekick notebook

3. Travel essentials: Guidebooks

I believe in {heavily highlighted} guidebooks, with special pages folded over in the corners. Trip planning may involve hours of web browsing, but when it comes to the actual trip, I like to have a guidebook. Michelin is my most reliable supplier.  It delivers reliable, concise, no-nonsense information. I would not dream of staying in Paris (or in any big city) without researching a few itineraries first. My copy of the invaluable “Paris Pratique par Arrondissement” (already my sidekick when I was a Paris resident,) may not be the prettiest. It is covered with inscriptions, with highlighted sections of arrondissements (districts) and landmarks. It’s the best travel companion I have had in the French capital’s streets for many, many years.

Sidekick Guidebooks
Guidebooks, special books, maps: Travel essentials (even if they don’t all make the flight)
Paris Pratique
Somewhere in Belleville (2015)

4. Travel essentials: Good shoes. A good coat. A good scarf (or two.)

Travelers spend way too much time obsessing over what to wear on a trip. It seems that when Paris (and France) are concerned, {female} travelers’ stress levels sky-rocket. Their goal? To blend in. Hint: They won’t. Parisians can spot tourists a mile away, even if visitors wear black clothes and scarves (tied more or less successfully.) How? Tourists walk more slowly than locals. They take photos constantly. They look – and sound – different. Sometimes, they try too hard. You see, unlike what some popular lifestyle books would have you believe, Parisians – Parisian women in particular – come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes. This applies to the rest of the country as well. This makes “blending in” challenging, don’t you think? You are a tourist: Own it. Dress comfortably, using common sense, and {good} taste. Be respectful. No one can ask for more than that.

When I travel, in the U.S. or across Europe, I rely on three travel essentials: First, comfortable shoes. My feet and the local public transportation system help me get around, Clarks and Ecco being my brands of choice for leather shoes and sandals. Now that sneakers (especially cute leather sneakers) are trendy in Paris, things are a lot easier. I would trade Repetto ballet flats for a pair of Converse in a heartbeat before I walk around Paris, New York or Toulouse for a day! My favorite – and most comfortable – sneakers (I own them in black and brown,) is the Ecco Chase II tie.

Converse
One of my many pairs of Converse, purchased in NYC after days of walking in traditional shoes made me beg for mercy.

Second: A good coat. My traveling is mostly done in urban areas. I vote for the classic, low maintenance, stylish trench coat in mid-season (in beige or light colors) as well as in the winter (when black works best,) and the denim jacket in the summer. My latest trench coat came from a favorite supplier, le Comptoir des Cotonniers, in the traditional Sahara color.

prom dresses
Few women look as Parisian as Charlotte Gainsbourg in her Comptoir des Cotonniers trench coat!

Third: A good scarf. When working or traveling, I wear them daily; and have learned to tie them in many different ways. Scarves are easy to pack and accessorize any outfit in a heartbeat. They keep you warm when it gets chilly, especially during long international flights. You can use them to sit on when having a picnic outside. Scarves are très French; that, at least, is not a myth (but you will see them all over Europe.)

buy ball dresses NZ
So many scarves, so little time: a small part of my ever-growing collection.
Rick Steves
Rick (Steves) and I believe in wearing scarves when traveling!
Mermaid Bridesmaid Dresses
(http://ricksteves.com)

5. Travel essential: A great bag to carry it all.

Diamonds – or shoes – aren’t a girl’s best friends. As far as I am concerned, bags are. Travel bags, handbags, carry-ons. I won’t lie: I have owned many bags, though I have recently downsized and started investing in quality pieces by Lancel, Longchamp, or Kate Spade. While traveling, I prefer cross-body bags or small, stylish backpacks as day packs. Why? I like to keep my hands free to take photos and notes. I have been traveling between Europe and the United States at least once a year for over 20 years. My search for the perfect carry-on bag continues. It goes from the airplane to business meetings, while my day-pack of choice typically travels flat in the suitcase, only to be “freed” once I reach my destination.  This past year, I have loved my adventures with Lo and Son’s O.M.G. bag. This is one of the best carry-on bags out there in my opinion! It is so pretty, versatile, and fits all of my other sidekicks, listed above, and more (watch the video on the website.) The O.M.G. has a big brother, the O.G. The company has come up with a really cool visual to help you decide between the two. Check it out here. Note: These bags aren’t cheap. Lo and Sons is running a sale for Mother’s Day until May 8! (I am not getting a commission for mentioning this bag. I just love my purple O.M.G.)

OMG
The O.M.G. bag and the other (usual) sidekicks were in Paris with me over the Holidays.

 

So here you are. These are French Girl in Seattle’s 5 travel essentials. Writing this post was almost as much fun as actually traveling. Hope you have enjoyed it too!

A bientôt.

bridesmaid dresses NZ
Making friends in Menton with le Lumix LX 7, 2012. (Photo by Jilly Bennett Photography)

18 Responses to French Girl in Seattle’s travel essentials (Travel Tips Series)

  1. I’m so jealous of you because you have a photo with Rick Steves! I love him because he makes travel so unintimidating!
    Anyway, I think your travel essentials are spot on. I always carry a ton of notebooks and when I have that “down time” just after a day of action and before the aperitif, I love to write about the day’s events.
    One thing I might add. Inexpensive jewelry. Honestly–I bring cheapo hoop earrings from walmart when I travel because I don’t want to worry about the good stuff. If I lose a hoop so what!
    Ahhhh. I’m getting ready to plan my travel bag now. Next month we will be back in France!

    • Bonjour Cathe. I agree about the jewelry. I wear a few basics on me at all times. The rest is meant to help accessorize, and usually costume jewelry – as jewelry, like pens, tends to get lost on long trips 😉 Excited for you about your upcoming trip to la Belle France!

  2. In response to Clauvel, as a man I carry all of these items mentioned although with some slight alterations. Since I don’t blog I carry an iPad with an adapter to download pictures from my Lumix camera. My bag is usually a small backpack. And I have carried a Moleskin for years. Great article.

  3. Thanks for the post – I just ordered my OMG bag. Sadly, they no longer have it in purple, but I will love the black one.

    • There are a lot of articles out there on this very topic Candy. I recommend you visit the blog “Une Femme d’Un Certain Age.” She has recently written a great story about packing for Europe. Merci de votre visite!

  4. Merci for all the good suggestions. Good to know that sneakers are now trendy in Paris. I just bought a black pair for my trip to France with Marita in September. Having comfortable shoes is number one for travel. I agree with the jewelry, bring inexpensive or just wear the same thing everyday.

  5. I completely agree with your endorsement of the Paris Pratique (I have the 3 Plans par Arrondissement version). I’ve been a devoted user since my student days in Paris in the mid-70s. Map apps on a phone are nice but I still prefer this booklet: vraiment indispensable!

  6. I love the idea of the notebook for travel, I love collecting tickets, business cards and pamphlets while travelling. Love the scarves idea as well. Thank you for the tips.

  7. The OMG bag is lovely. It seems large for daily us while traipsing around a city…do use something smaller.
    I currently have a black canvas cross body bag that LL Bean no longer makes and it might just be too ratty for another month in Paris…

  8. I have retired my Lumix after a month in Burgundy and Provence last year. The best photos were taken with my smartphone!
    Color me surprised
    I just lightened my load for Paris in fall!

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Paris Picnics (Travel Tips Series)

Paris Picnics (Travel Tips Series)

“Paris is expensive!” “Did you know many restaurants in Paris serve frozen, reheated food?” Ah, Paris. So many Michelin-starred restaurants, so little cash. So many neighborhood bistros. So little time. What to do? Here is French Girl in Seattle’s guide to successful Paris picnics. Picnics may seem like the easiest, most affordable way of sustaining oneself while enjoying…

15 Responses to Paris Picnics (Travel Tips Series)

  1. I’ve done this before. Went to a Monoprix and got some seasoned “carottes rapees” and something else.
    In the US, when my girlfriends and I are not working, we very often meet at Whole Foods or Erewhon and get our own food. It is fast, we get as much as we want and no tips to leave. Of course, a fast food restaurant would be cheaper but we don’t go to them. I have never been to McDonald or Subway in France but is it possible to order a sandwich to go?

    • Picnics are the way to go, as long as you can sit comfortably AND the weather cooperates (admittedly easier to achieve in your neck of the woods than mine, Nadège.) I have no idea if you can buy McDo to go in Paris. I steer clear of the Golden Arches if I can. Why would you pick up food for a picnic there if you can find saucisson sec, rosé wine, and some fresh fruit next door? 😉

      • I have never been to a McDonald in France but for tourists, they might feel more comfortable eating what they are used to and it might be cheaper too. From what I hear, a lot of americans complain that they cannot find good food in France. It always surprised me and I never asked if it was because eating in restaurants was too expensive. Like you, I think that picnicking is the way to go. If I can have a good salad, a bowl of soup and a piece of bread, I am a happy camper.
        I have sent american friends (the ones with money) to eat at “L’Arpege”. Great food, but very expensive.

  2. I once saw a grounds keeper turn on the sprinkler to clear a group of Paris office workers off the grass. There seems to be ample chairs everywhere so it is easy for me to respect the local custom of simply looking at the grass.

  3. Je trouve le blog magnifique, les commentaires ça va à peu près, avec l’aide de Jocelyne on comprend, mais le choix des illustrations est vraiment “top” aussi bien pour les tableaux, que pour les photos ou les dessins!! Un seul mot continuez pour notre plaisir…

  4. Thanks for the post and the pics! Six more weeks and I’ll be purchasing baguettes and my beloved Abbaye Citeaux and enjoying a lunch outside on the grass with Bonaparte!

  5. Salut Véro, Dan and I are back from our petit séjour à Paris, and we had such glorious weather that we could easily have spread our blankets on the pelouse (autorisée bien sûr). However, whether sitting on a park bench, a blanket or on a chair in café, you can eat like royalty wherever you are in Paris. Dan’s already missing the fromage he indulged in every night.

    We need to catch up very soon.

    bisous, M-T

  6. another really helpful article. I love the way you put it all together-I prefer meals like picnics to meals out-there is always SO MUCH to do and see that sitting for hours in a restaurant seems a waste-not that it is not an adventure in and of itself -and sitting people watching on a terrace, well that is just time well spent…I just relish the walks-the sights-the doing-so picnics are a true favorite of mine. AS ALWAYS thank you for sharing all the great ideas.

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21 Responses to Getting around Paris (Travel Tips Series)

  1. When we got our Navigo Decouvert cards we arrived in Paris with passport sized photos taken at Walgreens for about $14.

    • Preparation is essential, I like to say, and it looks like you were prepared for Paris, Sandy. Good for you! (Who wants to line up at the Photomaton – that small photo booth inside the Metro – then line up again to get a Navigo Découverte? Bringing your own photo saves a lot of time!

  2. During my last visit to Paris I wanted to use the Autobus as much as possible. Not as fast as the Metro but you can look around. We caught the 95 bus at Porte de Vanves all the way through town to the Place de Clichy. Great sightseeing all along the way. I took the Montmarte bus from Abesses north… think Toads Wild Ride at Disney World. East on number 60 to Place des Fetes. Saw all kinds of places and people most tourists miss.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Danna. Buses make a lot of sense if you have time to sightsee. You see more of a city from the window of a bus, than you do inside the Metro. You picked interesting routes, and you got to see a more authentic face of Paris, a multi-ethnic city, a far cry from the stereotypes in old Hollywood movies.

  3. Excellent article! I have a question about the Metro tickets. If my destination includes two Metro lines, will I be using 4 tickets total for the roundtrip?

    • Bonjour JoAnn. No, you will not be needing 4 tickets, as long as you keep transferring inside the Metro (or from the Metro to the RER suburban train in downtown Paris) to reach your destination. You will use one ticket each way. Look for orange signs indicating “Correspondance” when you reach your first stop. They will take you, via long corridors, to the Metro line you have to take next. Bon voyage!

    • Bus travel is great, and enables you to see the city “from above,” which the Metro doesn’t. You can use the same tickets for both. Buses do take more time, because of traffic, so if you are trying to pack a lot in a day, they may not work. A combination of Metro/bus/walking is perfect, I think. Hope this helps.

  4. It is a good suggestion to cycle in Paris with a tour group. It gave my wife and I a good sense about how to get around by bike. It gave us confidence to use the Vélib’ service on our next visit to Paris. We rode Vélib everyday for two weeks. We are daily bicycle commuters in Seattle and found cycling in Paris enjoyable and very memorable. All things considered, the cars and truck were considerate of cyclists and many routes have dedicated lanes. Following a route was our biggest challenge and our biggest thrill. Apps and paper maps were essential.

  5. De parisienne à parisienne ,rien ne manque dans votre blog Véro , pour arpenter Paris dans les conditions les plus agréables et les plus sûres .

  6. Just was referred to your blog. If you need passport photos for a Navigo Decouvert card or a real passport, and have a smartphone, you can use a free passport photo app. I did so for my US passport and they were accepted, the printing cost at a Walgreen’s was 31 cents including tax.

  7. Hi ! Thank you for this blog, so interesting and useful ! 🙂 Segway is another great option for getting around in Paris. We had a wonderful tour last month with this company, they were pro, friendly and very well informed about the city, we learnt a lot: https://parisoriginaltours.com/ Try it, it is really great 🙂

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58 Responses to French dining tips (Travel Tips Series)

  1. Though I will never be able to travel to France, I love reading your blog and learning about the culture! Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Thank you, this is appreciated-very much. There are so many places I would like to try. I need to just jump in and “do it”! Your description of the various steps will give me courage

  3. Love your tips…and your photos! We will be traveling to York, London and Paris mid-September so your tips for Paris are invaluable! We bought a couple of french language CD’s but not sure if taking a class is better….perhaps both! I will have 5 days in Paris so I’ve got to make good use of my time and we will be photographing as much as we can! Thanks so much for your lovely blog! Dj

  4. So much enjoy all of your posts and tips…I long to be back en la belle France…soon, I hope…merci tellement…

  5. Merci! Two questions: 1)does one wait to be seated at a café (whether inside or outside), or is the customer expected to find his/her own seat? 2)Is there such a thing as “un déca crème,” or “déca au lait”?

  6. Bonjour !
    Je vous suis déjà sur Facebook avec ma page “La Bourgogne de Nathalie”, aujourd’hui je suis ravie de m’abonner à votre blog ! Les photos sont belles et il donne envie. Je ne suis pas sûre d’avoir toujours le temps de le lire, mais c’est pas grave. C’est amusant de voir décrit des détails auxquels on ne fait plus attention mais tellement vrai !
    Très bon week end !
    Nathalie

    • Merci de votre visite, Nathalie. Je reconnais votre nom pour l’avoir vu sur ma page Facebook. En ce qui concerne le blog, vous n’aurez aucun mal à le suivre, car je n’ai plus trop le temps d’écrire depuis que j’ai changé de travail il y a deux mois. La page Facebook, en revanche, est mise à jour quotidiennement. A bientôt.

  7. What valuable tips we found here! My daughter Kathleen and I enjoyed our meals near Beauvais, where our meals included lively conversation and informal French lessons. We have much left to learn so we feel we must return!

  8. If is so refreshing to hear someone speak of French waiters and not end the sentence in swearwords. I spent part of my youth in Orleans and have returned to France many times. I am so tired of people telling me the French hate Americans. Too many Americans do not appreciate that eating should be an experience to be savored ( no pun intended). Many wait persons in this country will hover over your table, interrupt your meal to see if you are satisfied, refill your water and generally make pests of themselves to prove their efficiency. When I tell them a good French waiter will come to your table when you indicate a desire for further service, not before. One of my most pleasant experiences with my wife was a spring afternoon and wine with a cheese side on the Rue De Rennes that lasted two hours. Great people watching. We are looking forward to an upcoming visit to Bordeaux l’ete prochain.

    • Merci beaucoup James. I recently posted a couple of articles about French and American waiters on my Facebook page, and it was obvious most people felt very strongly about the differences in service. I do enjoy my French waiters, indifferent or attentive, and even the occasionally surly one (but that’s probably because I miss France, and Europe ;-))

  9. My ‘boyfriend’ and I are traveling to Paris, Montpelier, Perpignan and Barcelona in September. He sent me a link to this blog post and I am delighted to have your advice to ‘study’ before our visit. It is a first trip to France for both of us.

  10. Love your practical information.
    After an ill afted trip with an American pal who
    was let’s say not receptive to French culture, I may travel alone next time.
    I really love the culture and the cuisine!
    My french is not to great,but I can improve with practice.
    I want to know how to make friends in while France?
    Sometimes I do see when waiter or shop worker finds out Im American
    the attitude is somewhat mean(not all the time ofcourse)
    Any tips??
    Merci

    • As a young man I lived in Orleans. I’ve returned to France on numerous occasions over the years. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “the French hate us. French waiters are mean” I’ve found this not to be true. Yes, we’ve had our differences with the French government. Thats the government, not the people in general. I think the perception that waiters are mean is a mis-understanding. The French enjoy eating. They appreciate good food. There is an understanding in France that dining is a pleasure, it is an activity to be thoroughly enjoyed. The idea that you rush in and consume a meal in less than twenty minutes is a catastrophe. The typical waiter fully understands that dining is an experience. They do not constantly interupt your dining experience by refilling your water, emptying your ashtray, taking away empty plates or asking how your are enjoying the meal, or if you want anything else. They will wait and watch. When you indicate you want service, they will come. They are not mean, they are leaving you alone.

  11. Great blog!
    We’re excited, but feel helpless when communication is an issue.
    My tongue is all twisted now from practicing my very limited french.
    It would be a perfect trip if only we can take you!
    😉

    • Well, merci beaucoup. I would love to tag along and be your interpreter 🙂 You will be fine if you learn a few greetings and basic expressions. Many people in Paris and on the French Riviera speak English quite decently. What matters is to make them *feel* like speaking English to you. A friendly attitude and a respectful greeting usually do the trick.

  12. What a wonderful & thoughtful idea! Thank you. I hope to receive, by email now, all additional blogs from you. My goal is to head to France next year(2017) for an extended stay. What time of year do you find the weather to be most suitable for travelers use to desert climates? I am thinking perhaps April, May, June?

    • The weather can be unpredictable, like everywhere else in the world right now. June is the busiest month in Paris so plan ahead if you are staying in a hotel. Spring and fall tend to be popular, because there can be fewer crowds then; and the weather is more pleasant than in the summer or winter. Still, I have been hot in Paris in June; and other years, I had to wear my trench coat and run between raindrops. I truly believe there is no bad time to see Paris. For a first visit, I’d go for spring or fall. Happy planning!

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