Tips for American Tourists

Planning a vacation can be part of the fun.  While there is a fine balance between having no plan at all and having every minute of the day assigned with an activity, it’s important to be informed before you leave on your trip.

Leaving the United States is a big deal.  Whether you know it or not, there certain unalienable rights that we as American citizens enjoy.  When you leave American soil, you’re at their house.  While it’s important to know their local customs, it’s also important to protect yourself.

Traveling with a passport means your activity can be logged.  When you register and check into a European hotel, they will ask for your passport.  Don’t panic, as this is customary.  They will make copies of it and keep it on file during your trip.  You are a foreigner.  It’s worth your while to find the American embassy in whatever city you are in and let them know you are there.

Follow the directions in your passport.  They put them there for a reason.  What are they, you ask?  Well, make two copies of your passport.  Leave one at home with somebody you trust.  Bring the second copy with you and DO NOT KEEP IT WITH THE ORIGINAL.  If, God forbid, your passport is stolen, you have some proof to bring with you to said embassy.  Also, if you are traveling with others, don’t keep all of the passports on one person.  Split them up.

I’ve said before, and it’s worth restating.  I love the United States.  I am so proud to be an American.  Yet, out there my little grasshoppers, are people that do not like us.  Unfair.  Illogical.  Whatevs.  They do.  These are some tips to keep you from sticking out and making yourself an easy target.

  • Do not fiddle with your map in the middle of the street.  Even in a town heavily visited by tourists, you don’t need to advertise that you’re entirely lost.  Take ten minutes and sit down somewhere, or better yet, map yourself out at the hotel.  If you look like a wounded antelope, well….
  • Respect the local dress code.  I know you like to wear what you like to wear.  Get over it.  Take the time to learn the customs.  Europeans do not take shoes off when they enter someone’s home.  They’ll think you’re rude for pulling those smelly shoes off your barking dogs.  I know we think we’re being polite by not tracking in dirt, but they perceive it as too familiar.  Did you know that pants were illegal in France for women until….like last Thursday?  I’m kidding.  No, I’m not.
  • Do not, under any circumstances wear a mesh fanny pack.  The circling thieves won’t be able to get near you because I’ll be in the way slapping you upside the head.  There are so many options that are classic and practical.  Do yourself a favor and find one.
  • Contact your credit card companies and let them know you’ll be traveling.  They will red flag your card if you suddenly start showing purchases on the other side of the globe.
  • Don’t go into a trance at the ATM machines.  Seriously.  People do this.  Be aware of your surroundings.

Continue reading

The Minima-List for Packing

I love love love the idea of being ready to jet set away.  Anywhere.  Somewhere.  Soon.  What would you bring with you if you had to leave right away?  Right now.  What kind of crap do you carry around with you all day in your bag?  If you’re like most of us, too much of nothing.

The same thing happens when we pack for a trip.  Think sleek.  Think small.  I know you may think I’m insane, but I am telling you, when you go whizzing out of the airport and get the only available cab, you’ll be thinking, “wow, that crazy chick was right!”  I mean it.

Pretend you’re packing for a weekend.  Small steps, small steps.  There is a method to this as well.  If you have what you need for a weekend, you can probably go for a month.

When you start packing, put everything you want to bring on the bed.  Leave for an hour.  Go back to said bed and then remove at least half of what’s sitting there.  On the off chance it may rain, you don’t need to bring an umbrella and rain coat.  What would be the worst thing that would happen if you were unprepared?  You might get wet.  An option would be to buy an umbrella from one of the vendors who will appear like mushrooms in wet corners of every street in the city.  Now, you’re dry AND you have a souvenir.  (See, I’m smart.)

Think rough and ruthless.  You don’t need to bring any “just in case” items.  Every time I have packed a “just in case” item I had more junk I had to bring home and wash after the trip.  I would have serious fantasies about leaving a trail of unwanted clothing.

Have you ever tried to re-pack your bag after you’ve been moving from hotel to hotel?  Ugh.  You will hate yourself because you’ll wonder what on earth was wrong with your logic when you packed All This Nonsense.

Here’s the bare minimum.  Passport, contact lenses and glasses.  Oh, and prescription drugs, you’ll need to take those.  I realize that this is extreme.  (Even too extreme for me.)  But what would happen if you packed those basics, a pair of undies, a light gauzy scarf, and another shirt?  Um, excuse me, but you would manage.

I’ve seen a plethora of research that says no one pays attention to what anyone else is wearing.  It’s rather disheartening, but true.

To prove my point, I have a challenge for all of us.  Wear the same two outfits alternated for a week.  Now.  Don’t be crazy and choose purple polka dotted pants.  You’ll need to go basic with darker colors.  Black skirt, gray pants, black sweater, navy top.  Now.  What to add….a scarf, a pair of funky earrings, a big and bold necklace.

Try it.  Tell me what happens.  I will be doing the same.  Maybe we’ll run into one another on the street.  We won’t even look twice.  (Except maybe to think, wow, what a snazzy human!)

 

Pack For Europe

As promised, I have compiled a list for you for packing for an international adventure. This list is designed for an urban, European city. This will work if you’re including churches, restaurants, museums, evenings out etc. If you are planning a trip to a tropical beach, there’s a whole different way to pack.

Image 1The first thing you need to remember is that you CAN NOT bring everything. Not plausible. Not possible. Not pleasant. You want to get the most bang for you buck for every piece you choose.

Here is the list, refined and undefined:  

  • One navy or gray dress
  • One print skirt
  • One solid skirt
  • Three tops
  • For the flight, trousers, (NOT jeans) a silky/dressy t-shirt, a second top, a sweater and a light weight scarf

There is a method to this madness.  Read on.

Plan to pack around a color scheme. While you may think this is restricting, in all actuality, it is absolutely liberating. When you choose core pieces in similar color schemes, then you can add diversity and spice with the accessories you will bring, (and probably buy.) For example, if you choose navy blue as a base color, go with yellow and white, or navy with green and cream. If you choose, say gray, go with gray, red and cream. Gray, blue and white. If you want brown for your base color, mix it with coral and cream. These core colors will give you options with aforementioned accessories.

Europeans tend to dress in darker, well made fabrics. That doesn’t mean you have to follow…suit. It does mean that you should try and be aware of the customs of a local area. Religious and cultural expectations must be upheld. For the first piece, I would choose:

1- A Navy blue or gray dress: No, not black. These colors are a bit more day time friendly, especially in the summer. This dress needs to be at least knee length. Until you’ve seen (and possibly worn) those weird hospital gown throw away coverups in the churches, you won’t understand the importance of this. The Vatican, for example, will NOT let you in. There are a million people in line behind you and they don’t care how far you may have traveled. Legs. Covered. Arms. Covered. This dress will be your work horse essential. Choose one that is light in weight and either lined, or doesn’t cling. Cap sleeves are appropriate every where. If you choose sleeveless, be sure to have a scarf to wrap yourself in when you enter a place of worship.

2- A print skirt (and a solid skirt) in your chosen color scheme: This skirt will need to match every single one of the three shirts you will bring with you. Remember all those boring combinations and permutations you did in high school math wondering when you would ever use it again in your life? Well, this is one of those times. You want all of your garments to be able to combine with everything else. This multiples your choices without adding weight. So, say you have picked a navy blue polka dotted skirt. Pack a white, a chambray and a pop of color shirt, like yellow.

Traveling for a week, you can bring much less than you would expect.  One of the first things you will need to concede to is that you don’t need to bring jeans with you on every single trip.  Dress up a bit more on vacation.  There’s plenty of evidence in the business world alone that, hate to break it to you, people judge you by what you are wearing.  The same is true at hotel check-in desks, airlines, and restaurants. Dresses take up such little space in a small suitcase.  It’s an irony of sorts because the garment that makes you look the nicest requires the least amount of thought.  One navy dress and/or one gray dress can see you through days of travel.

3- Accessories: Leave your most precious jewelry at home. This can be sentimental or monetary value. If it will ruin your entire vacation and haunt you forever if you lost it, stow it safely at home. Instead, choose some high end costume jewelry. Silver hoops are perfect with everything. Jewelry is also a perfect souvenir for yourself….er, I mean your friends and family.  Pack a few scarves that match everything.  These can be used as belts, scarves, or even just some color tied to your bag.

4- Shoes: Get ready to hate me. You can only bring two pairs. One of the pairs you will be wearing. This is one of the biggest ways to keep the heft down in the bag. Pick a pair of ballet flats and perhaps a pair of flat, dressy sandals. I know you want to look chic and Parisian, but you will be weeping all the live long day if you choose uncomfortable shoes. Sorry. That’s the breaks.

So. You have a dress. Two skirts and three tops. This will see you through days and days. I mean it.

Now. For the flight, you have to consider a bunch of things. First off, the shoes. Literally, that’s the first thing they make you remove. Belts, scarves, jackets, bags, everything has to go into the bins. Layer a sweater and a striped silk t-shirt with a top. (Look what you just did, you wore three different outfit options at once. Separate them for the days ahead.) Choose a classic pair of trousers to wear on the flight. These will also follow your color scheme.This lets you scoot and shift in your seat and you can stay comfortable and covered. Don’t wear a belt. Instead, put the belt along the perimeter of the bag. It won’t take up any room. Wear a scarf for the flight. Wear the heaviest one you brought. The plane can be chilly and those blankets they now charge you for the privilege of using are gross. Really gross.

Other incidentals in the bag include your unmentionables. I won’t mention them except to say bring “wicking” undies. These dry in a flash and keep you cooler. You will be washing your skivvies in the sink, so prepare yourself. The hotels will have soap, even the hostels will. They have become uber-chic of late, so try one! The one thing I will say about the hospitality items in the hotel bathrooms, they don’t have conditioner. I don’t know what millions of Europeans are doing, but it just won’t be there. In your 3-1-1 bag the airline forces you to use, I would bring conditioner and leave the shampoo for whatever they provide. Honestly, my hair can handle cruddy shampoo, but if I don’t have the right product for frizz, things can get ugly. (Wait, what’s a 3-1-1 bag? Well, 3 ounces (actually 3.4 or less) 1 quart size and 1 bag per person.)

Now. I want you to pinky swear that you will not bring the following: white, hideous sneakers, a fanny pack, (for the love of all that is holy) and t-shirts with sayings, words or pictures on them. I’m serious, people.

A man from Belgium once asked my husband about Americans. He wanted to know WHY we are so proud of the towns we live in that everyone wears a shirt with their cities on them. We had to explain the whole culture of college ball, and sports and on and on. It made me think though. It becomes glaringly apparent that YOU don’t belong and you probably have a lot of cash on you. Try to blend in. The same is true for the sneakers. Americans are equated with sneakers. I am a proud American, but there are people in the world who would hurt us if given the chance. Again, blend in. The fanny pack, well they are just ugly. Don’t wear it.

In my next post, I will explain the fanny pack aversion and offer you some choices that are not only chic, but safe for your traveling papers.

 

It’s in the Bag: Travel Footprints

IMG_4387

IMG_4387I am a proponent of packing lightly.  I know, I know, you think it’s the minimalism craze.  No.  It’s the  “Me Crazy.”  I want my stuff with me.  There is some illogical kind of security in carrying my own belongings.  When I am on a flight, I get impatient the closer we draw to the final destination.  I want to deplane and get started on my adventure.  The only reason I go through custom lines is that it’s the law.  I’m being serious.

I am entirely convinced that going through JFK after an international flight is what Dante was talking about when he described The Circles of Hell.  One.  After.  The.  Other.  One way to dissipate some of the aggravation is to skip over the baggage claim section.  There’s nothing like scores of over tired, jet lagged people clambering for the same black suit cases.  There is also nothing like passing that over altogether.

I like to think I’m helping make a smaller carbon footprint.  The less I bring with me, means the less weight on the plane.  (I know, illogical.  However, isn’t it illogical that planes are airborne at all?  Think about it.  )  This will probably become more of an issue when the airlines all get (no pun intended) on board about the charging per weight of the passenger, and charging for carry on bags.

Still.

It’s lighter and freer.  There is less to worry about.  (I have this down to a science.)

Up next, WHAT to put in that bag.  Stay tuned!!!