Are you sick of London & Paris? Because I almost am. I really am thankful that I took the time to memorialize the trip since my memory seems to get worse with every day that passes. Hopefully this series will actually help a few of you plan a trip one day. But I NEED to craft. And cook. But mostly craft. And probably do laundry. So bring on November!
I'm throwing out a bunch of random tips from our travels today. Consider yourself warned that we're probably going to jump around more than kids in a bounce house. And to be sure it won't be nearly as amusing.
1) Premium Plan Seats. We flew Delta and paid for Economy Comfort seats on the way there & had hoped to upgrade on the way back, but the flight we were on was full. So our regular fare seat was a bit cramped. And until you are married to a six foot five man, you don't know how uncomfortable flying can be (for him), especially when you are folded like origami into a tiny seat for a miniscule period like 10 hours. As background, we typically skip paying for exit rows & try to upgrade free last minute at the gate. Most of the time it works. But I wouldn't recommend that for a overseas flight. WIth Delta, the economy comfort seats have a bit more legroom and recline a bit more. But don't be expecting first class. The jackpot is if you can get a bulkhead seat in the economy comfort section. I kept my legs stretched out like I was reclining on Waikiki. And not actually watching Pride & Prejudice, Aladdin, & Notting Hill above Iceland. It was an $89 extra fee and worth it for us. Take your own travel comfort quotient into account. To each their own! The worst part wasn't paying the extra money, but sitting close enough to watch the first class folks sleep laying flat and eat off china. No jealousy here. Or maybe just a tad bit.
2) Take your own headset or earbuds. I'd say earbuds are the better space-saving option, but then again I'm not exactly the Beats by Dre type. Not only were they necessary on the plane, but if you use audio guides at museums and the like, trust me, you'd rather use yours than the community pair. We chose not to pay the small fee most places, but we did use the guides at Buckingham Palace & Versailles & I was so glad I had kept ours in my purse.
3) Forget how to count when you get on an elevator. This holds true in both England & France. The floor you walk in on? Level zero. The floor above it? Level one. The floor below? Negative one. I kid you not. File this under things you aren't prepared to interpret. And expect the button to flush the toilet to be at eye level. Hopefully this will save you from freaking out over having to leave a stall unflushed because you can't figure out toilet technology. Not that I experienced that. And while we are on the topic of bathrooms, in London, don't expect public restrooms. Go before you leave a museum or other site, otherwise expect to pay for a public restroom. No thanks.
4) Money. We debated the good & bad about getting money before we left home, using our credit cards, using ATMs, etc. And there is probably no right answer - it depends on fees with your bank and credit cards, as well as how far in advance you plan. Numerous friends (& my travel BFF Rick Steve) recommended using ATMs in the airport or train station upon entering each country. So we arrived in London with a few American dollars, which was scary, but worked out just fine. Be sure to call your bank and card companies before you leave or they might get rejected overseas. The fee from our bank for withdrawals was going to end up being the cheapest way than paying the fee per transaction on our credit cards. Do your research. Just keep in mind, if you plan far enough in advance, you can request a chip card from your credit card company. Most places can use a swipe card with this machine , especially if you stick to the touristy areas. You'll see locals insert their card in the bottom & enter a pin. Waiters bring it to the table - cool right?
If you go off the beaten path, you may have more trouble. But honestly, we operated cash only and kept it split between us. And I watched my cross-body purse like a hawk. And I put Andy's wallet in my purse when we ended up on the subway or other crowded areas. Better safe than sorry. I know pickpockets need to make a living & all, it just won't be on me.
I used some of those handy ziploc bags I brought from home to keep my pounds and euros separate in my purse. Since they come in intervals up to around 5 dollars as a coin, you will get more coins that you will bills when you pay cash. Those bags saved my sanity.
5) Subway. Find a map that works for you. I'd recommend coming with one from a guidebook or print one off because you'll need to use transportation before you get to your concierge desk. Sounds obvious, but trust me, you'll be glad you have it in the hustle & bustle of arriving. In London, there is a really useful map, sponsored by some British bank, at the ticket counter when you are headed to the Tube station at Heathrow. In Paris, I had one from Rick Steve's guidebook that I really liked & used the whole trip.
In London, you will want to buy an Oystercard if you are going to be there for any length of time. It provides cheaper fares and you can top it up at any time. There is a deposit for the card that you can get reimbursed at the end of your trip. Unless you are frantically running behind for your Eurostar train, in which case you come home with a $2 souvenir. Try to pay cash for your card if you plan to get a refund, as they will reimburse you the way you paid, and the credit card refund could get tricky. Keep your card handy on every trip, as you will need to tap out at the turnstiles when exiting.
In Paris, you should buy a Carnet, which is a book of 10 tickets that can be used to and from anywhere in the city-center. Wherever you might want to go in the central part of Paris will be covered. Be sure you keep your ticket handy, as you'll need to pass it through the turnstile to get out. Don't forget that a trip to Versailles, Disney, or farther parts out will require a higher priced ticket and your Carnet ticket won't be enough to get you there. The ticket machines in Paris do have an 'English' button, so rejoice for easy communication! Do keep your used & unused tickets separate. It's really hard to tell what you've used already and the last thing you want to do is get stuck without a ticket!
6) Double decker buses. You can use the Oystercard on bus transportation in London, and I'd recommend doing it at least once. Honestly, I've already forgotten most of the details of the bus routes, as it is a bit more complicated since numerous buses serve the same stops and go to totally opposite ends of the city. And some only run during the day. But it's completely do-able….I mean we figured it out, so anyone can. The best part of is that you can actually see stuff during the ride if you are going far enough. If it's only a few stops, its not worth it to climb the stairs. Pearl of wisdom: During the morning & evening commute the buses are CROWDED. But then again so are the trains. Pick your poison. If the bus isn't too crowded, be prepared to use the pull string to notify the driver to stop at the next stop. Or you'll miss your destination. Rider beware.
7) Fun city maps. I am a huge fan of the MapEasy brand maps. No I'm not being paid to say it but I buy one for every new major city I visit, and London & Paris were no exception. London was the first one I didn't love since it didn't include all of the city. For example, our hotel on the Left Bank near Waterloo station wasn't covered on the map, which made it less than helpful. But NYC, DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Paris? Those I give you a full two thumbs up for. They show not just subway info and roads, but also restaurants, sites, and shopping. Let me emphasize the shopping. It may have revolutionized my trips to NYC with an efficiency you can't even imagine. Hello 5th Avenue (window shopping that is)! Plus they are waterproof and fold up super easy - I've used my NYC map six times and it's still holding up strong despite the abuse it gets from my purse.
Tomorrow's post will likely be short & sweet - a celebration to a writing milestone. And I'm ready to celebrate.