Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Things We’re So Happy We Brought

We did our best to think of everything we’d need before we left the U.S., and so far, it seems we were pretty good scouts. There have been no agonizing laments of, “Mon Dieu, I forgot the blinking truc (the very useful French word for whatchamacallit)!” I would expect to have arrived well equipped since we had over a year and a half to compile our list of things we must bring. There are a couple little items for insurance that we could have added to our bags, like an extra plug adapter (the fuse blew on the one we’ve always traveled with after just two days) and an extra pair of reading glasses (mine just broke in two in my overstuffed fanny pack). But so far, I’d give us girl and boy scout “A’s” for being prepared.

Here are just a few not-immediately-apparent things anyone thinking about doing what we’re in the early days of should consider packing:

 office supplies: A 10” x 10” zip-lock bag is the perfect caddy for a traveling office. We’ve already used most of the things in our kit at least once and the only thing we might have added is a couple envelopes. We had to mail our post-arrival visa paperwork to the French authorities and had to go in search of a #10, but more on that in another entry. Post-it notes of varying sizes, push pins, a mini-stapler and extra staples, scotch tape, scissors, paper clips, a glue stick and of course, a variety of pens, pencils and highlighters have all come in handy for helping us stay organized. And thank goodness I brought along the white-out. I wouldn’t want to mar my classy leather-bound gap year calendar with ugly cross-outs when we change our minds about what to do for the day.

 personal cards: We were inspired by the Australian couple we met when hiking the Grand Canyon two summers ago to print and carry personal cards with our picture and contact information. Carol and Bruce Fox, from Australia’s Gold Coast, were traveling in the Americas for almost two months and gave out their cards to friends they made along the way. We decided to follow suit and created calling cards of our own before we left. We included our email addresses and blog site but the phone number posed a problem. We didn’t know our European cell phone number until we received our international SIM card just before we left, too late for inclusion on our cards. I went ahead and listed my U.S. cell phone number even though it won’t reach us while we’re away. I left a voice message on my U.S. number when we were at the airport, directing any callers to my email address. A little messy, but it was the best we could do. An unanticipated benefit to having personal cards that include a color photograph of the two of us is that we have readily available images for any identity cards that call for photos. Our Paris metro passes Navigos (see below) now sport the images from our personal cards. With the use of a pair of scissors and a glue stick from our office supply bag, we quickly had regulation metro pass identity cards -- photos and all.

 a small, travel-sized power strip: These days, we all have at least a half dozen electronic gadgets thirsty for ongoing daily juice. With a power strip in hand, we can plug our international adapter into the foreign country’s wall outlet, attach our power strip and voilà: our cell phone, computer, camera battery, Kindle and any of our other modern conveniences (except our hair dryer!), can work off of just one adapter in one outlet.

 the expectation that you’ll buy a hair dryer once you arrive: Hair dryers are powerful creatures that suck up an amazing amount of electricity. If your daily karma depends on having blown-dry hair, your best bet is to buy a $20 European dryer once you arrive. Otherwise, be prepared to short out the entire electrical system of wherever it is you’re staying. Even if you think you’re prepared with a plug adapter or electrical converter, your beloved Conair 2000 will likely go up in smoke. I bought myself a European travel hair dryer while on a business trip to Frankfurt several years ago. The minor investment in this little appliance has made our overseas trips so much more enjoyable. I may not be a style icon as I wander through Paris in my khakis and Keens, but at least my hair looks good.

 a jacket with a hood: There are times when you just don’t want or think to carry an umbrella. The Paris weather has been fickle so far – changing from sun to rain to clouds to drizzle, and all in the space of an hour – and I’m sure we’ll find this throughout our trip. We packed one large and one compact umbrella, but I’ve been content on many occasions to simply stay dry under my hood.

 a good camera with a versatile, compact lens: On the able advice of our brother-in-law, Frank, we bought a Sony A55 DSLR with an 18-250mm telephoto lens. In a word, it’s been awesome. The camera is perfect for travel as we easily zoom in and out and snap close-up and distant photos with no need to cart around and change cumbersome lenses. The Sony has a panoramic feature that lets us take multiple pictures across a wide subject and then stitches together the frames to form one perfect image. Incroyable.

And now that we’ve been here for a full two weeks, we’re so happy we bought the following soon after we arrived:

 passes Navigos: The Paris metro is simply the best public transport network in the world. Granted, that’s only my opinion and I haven’t traveled to every major metropolis across the globe, but I have been to several. Unless there’s a city that pays people to take advantage of its transportation system, I can’t imagine that any is better than what you find in Paris. It’s safe and efficient and is accessible from virtually every corner across town. The price for a single trip on the metro is 1.7 euros (about $2.38 compared to $2 for the NYC subway). Buy a carnet of 10 tickets and the price drops to 1.25 euros (about $1.75). We each bought a passe Navigo for unlimited metro and bus use for the month of September for 67 euros (62 euros + 5 for the rechargeable plastic card, or about $94). We figured that if we use public transportation a couple times a day (which we have), it would be well worth the fee and bring the per trip cost down to closer to $1. We’ve found that having the pass gives us a psychological edge for exploration since many times we’ve just jumped on a bus to see where it takes us and gotten off at a metro stop because we’ve never been there before.

 a coffee mug: Our studio is equipped with just enough silverware, plates, bowls, and glasses for two, but the coffee cups are simply too small for me. Joe is fine with refilling his espresso-sized demitasse a couple times in the morning, but I need a great big coffee mug to start my day. When we first arrived, I was jumping up after every two gulps to refresh my cup with hot coffee, but I now have a nice big, comforting mug of steaming decaf to go with my all-bran and yogurt in the morning. We all need a few familiar little creature comforts, especially when we’re far from home.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome entry! I'd be right there with you on the coffee mug!

    Sounds like you thought of some great things to take along. Love the idea of the calling cards!

    Looking forward to your next entry!