Hello to all my friends from the TGV fast train from Paris to Perpignan France. I arrived from Sydney via Abu Dhabi to Paris on Tuesday and am on my way to teach a workshop in the South of France. It is always a big journey to get from point A to point B when you are crossing time zones, international date lines and battling jetlag but let me tell you its worth it when you finally arrive! PARIS is divine and we are having particularly spectacular warm and glorious weather~ punctuated by the fact that it was Winter in Australia when I left and quite cold and frosty. So now that I am here I will give you some travel tips that may save you some time, money and headaches when you are coming on a painting holiday. I hope my experiences will give you some ideas of what to expect, what to avoid and what to do to make your life simpler.
If you are an organized and OCD planner sort of person, then you probably won’t need this advice but let me share some things for those who need a little bit of help. Because I travel so often overseas, I find the luggage situation is always challenging with different airlines having inconsistent policies on weight limitations, which leads me to my first Tip.
Take less than you think you need~ most of the time you will have opportunities to purchase local products such as toiletries in your airport or destination. And if you are traveling with a friend, may I suggest both of you take small empty 100mL containers ? On arrival, purchase one bottle of shampoo and divide it between you to save on heavy and large bottles weighing down your luggage. Other items also apply to this tip but just be sure you both agree on what you want to share. If there is something really specific you don’t think you will be able to find, then by all means bring a small container (less than 100ml) of that item.
Never take any sort of white powder, laundry soap, baby powder, etc in your carry on luggage. Even though you are sure it smells like detergent, some airport security personnel have a wicked sense of duty and will make you step aside, take up oodles of your time assessing that what they see is indeed baby powder. You don’t need that kind of attention.
If your tickets say you need to check in 3 hours before departure, I always make a point to rock up 4 hours ahead. This might sound crazy to you and you might feel like this is overkill but given the recent situation with terrorist attacks, the security gate and checking in process can be severely delayed, sometimes more than an hour, depending on airport and how crowded it is on the day of your flight. Another good reason to come early is that you may be able to hang out in the courtesy lounge with the airline you are flying and often they have really delicious snacks, drinks and food choices that are complimentary, bypassing the ridiculous prices of airport food.
As soon as you arrive at your hotel destination, book your next passage immediately at the concierge desk or online to avoid any crazy last minute scrambles to find a cab, bus, train or transfer to your next location. I speak from experience here in that today there was an unexpected Taxi strike in Paris on the day I needed to get from my accommodation to the train station and I almost missed my train! I ended up using Uber, the app you can get on your phone since for some reason in Paris you are not able to dial a taxi service from a mobile phone! Nobody mentions these things so I found out the hard way…. Anyway once I finally got the lift to the train station I discovered that the taxi drivers here do not take credit cards, it is CASH ONLY. Which leads me to my next tip….
You should always get some local currency at the airport before you leave that travel friendly environment as you don’t want to be stuck without some cash in a foreign country, especially if you don’t know the language.
Just because you purchase a CASH CARD and load it with foreign currency does not mean that the cab driver or local shops will accept it~ they always prefer the paper money to a card, no matter if you tell them it is the same as cash in their currency! This is also true for travelers checks~ very few people take these any more and some have never even seen them so if you can stick with cash in the local currency you will be streets ahead! I never carry tons of it but a couple hundred dollars in smaller notes is a good idea. I always have a small money belt that goes under my clothes if I need extra. And while we are on this tip, download the app for your phone XE currency exchange. This app automatically calculates whatever price you plug in from your currency to the country you are visiting or vice versa. Very handy.
Speaking of having technology work for you, there are a couple other apps I recommend you download and get familiar with before you travel. One is called iTranslate ~ you can choose your languages and whether you type in the word or words or speak into your phone you can get a translation right away. I also use Translator (its icon is a big mouth with the world map on the tongue). It comes in handy to have a couple, find out which one you prefer. Another great one to have is maps.me for offline maps you can access even if you don’t have internet. I use Tripit app for keeping track of all my travel arrangements and important numbers and info. It is very clever in that whenever you get a confirmation email regarding your trip, it automatically imports this info into your Tripit app and organizes it by upcoming trips in chronological order ~ i.e. flights, hotel reservations, rental car info etc and there is a space for you to add notes to your bookings etc all in one handy spot without having to scroll through all your emails to find the reservation and booking numbers or address for your hotel, etc. Probably the most useful app I like is called Wordlens*, which allows you to take a photo of a sign or label and it automatically translates it into your language. Very helpful in grocery stores when you want to know what the mystery ingredients are or if you have any allergies to specific things, especially good for reading the menu
*Wordlens update: This program currently cannot be downloaded since Google acquired Wordlens. Take a look at Google Translate, which has incorporated Wordlens.
Place Finder App by Trip Advisor is very handy to find anything from the chemist, post office, shopping malls, restaurants to Laundromats and hospitals in the location where you are staying. Local knowledge is very helpful when you just need to find a grocery store or gym, electronics store or dentist! Another great one is called Around Me and uses your location by GPS to find what you want wherever you are.
Since you are using a lot of technology, it is also a good idea to purchase a portable turbo charger for your devices~ this is a little power pack you can get at most airports which does not need to be plugged in and acts as a great emergency charge for your devices when you are out and about. It is rechargeable by plugging into your computer or USB port and has saved me many times when I have run down my phone battery and am not near any power points!
Tip #9 is the saving grace for your fading memory~
1Password App saves all your passwords in one place securely and all you need to remember is your original master password to keep it all safe. The only thing I think you need to remember in this case is if you change or reset any of your passwords you will need to update it in the app to keep it all current! Things like banking info, passport numbers, and other important stuff you can’t afford to forget should be kept in a safe spot like this. It makes your life a lot simpler if you use it and keep it active.
Most useful tip for forgetful people like myself…. Use the AIRPLANE mode in your settings for all times when you are not actively using the internet or trying to ring or send messages on your phone! There is probably a better way to prevent those unexpected charges of data roaming or cellular in your settings when overseas but I know if I see the little AIRPLANE icon I am NOT racking up charges so that gives me a feeling of relief!
I like to bring my shuffle mix of music so I always have Ray Charles, Jason Mraz, James Morrison or relaxing Spanish guitar or classical music to play when I have time to kill in an airport or if I want privacy whilst painting, I can put my earbuds in and people don’t disturb me. Generally speaking, if I am with others I don’t use them but if I am on my own and want some alone time, that is when they come in handy, especially if people want to chat with me during the critical stages of a watercolour wash that won’t wait!
Since I started writing this list of tips, I have put on a lot of miles but it is now time to get it posted so you can make use of it so I will sign off until next time. Buon giorno from Italy and tomorrow I will be in Croatia, so keep painting and enjoy your travels ~ buon viaggio!