Top Ten: Paris (Top things to do and see in Paris, France)

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Photo credits: macarons- Copyright http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:More_macarons.JPG Montmartre- Copyright Carles Tomas Marti http://www.flickr.com/photos/carles_tomas/2671023608

1. Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. Walk down the famous Champs Elysees and browse the high end stores. Make sure you stop at the Arc de Triomphe. You can take the stairs to the top for an alternative view of Paris, just note that there is an underground tunnel to get to the Arc de Triomphe. Trying to cross the traffic circle that surrounds it is a terrible idea if you want to make it through the rest of this list.

2. The Eiffel Tower. Need it even be said? Of course you should visit the Eiffel Tower. I love a good sky view, and the Eiffel Tower has a great one. Buy tickets online, ahead of time and arrive when it opens to avoid standing in line for half your day.

3. Macarons. One of the most underrated treats, macarons are a great Parisian treat. They also make great gifts to bring home to friends since they are quite travel friendly. Check out Pierre Hermé for the quintessential macaron.

4. Eat Baguettes (daily). If you travel to France and don’t eat baguettes at every possible occasion, you are missing the greatest part of french Life. Nothing hits the spot quite like a fresh French baguette and some French butter.  Perfect for a snack or light meal and very budget friendly.

5. Stroll through Montmartre. Montmartre is a quaint little neighborhood of France. When you picture walking the streets of Paris, these are the streets you are looking for. Vendors like the lanes and there are cute little places to grab a drink or bite to eat around every corner.

6. Take a boat ride down the Seine River. Give your feet a break and view Paris from a boat on the Seine river. Book a cruise in the evening for a great night view of Paris. They also offer dinner cruises regularly. Check out The Bateaux Mouches website.

7. Day trip to Versailles. Though not technically in Paris, we think the Palace of Versailles is good enough to make the list. Gorgeous grounds and tons of history make this a great day trip opportunity.

8. Eat crepes. If it isn’t clear, French food is famous for a reason. So many delectable things to try. You can find crepes just about anywhere and often the best ones are from street vendors or mom-and-pop shops. You can’t go wrong with a nutella crepe.

9. Picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens. The French love to hang out and relax here. Grab your baguette and wander through the scenic gardens.

10. Have some wine and cheese and a French wine bar. Nothing says French quite like wine, add some cheese with it and you will instantly feel like you are a Parisian. Paris has tons of wine bars to offer in all price ranges, make sure you stop at one before you leave.

Think we missed something? Let us know if there is anything you would add to the list.

5 New Year’s Eve Experiences That May Not Be Completely Overrated

 

New Year’s Eve is widely acclaimed as the most overrated holiday of each year.  Expectations are high for a great night, but everyone else in the world seems to have the exact idea making the clique hot-spots over-crowded and uncomfortable. 

 

My friend was recently telling me about how some of her friends had gone to Times Square to watch the ball drop in NYC. Apparently they arrived in Times Square shortly after noon, in the freezing cold, wearing diapers. Because once you’re there, you are there for the night. Cell phones don’t work, and it’s impossible to get back in the crowd or find your friends should you leave. And all of this just to watch a ball drop for 10 seconds? Insanity!

 

So here are some ideas that might not totally suck, and may allow you to have a decent New Year’s Eve where you can go to the restroom at will:

 

 

 

1. All-inclusive Resort

 

Many resorts host New Year’s parties that are limited to the guests of the hotel only, so you don’t have to fight the masses of the general public, or even leave your resort to party in the New Year.

 

La Concha

La Concha Resort, Puerto Rico

 

 

2. Hotel with a view

 

 Big cities around the world often have large displays for New Year’s choose a hotel that overlooks attractions such as Niagara Falls or the Eiffel Tower to celebrate the New Year from your hotel room with your friends or loved one. Alternatively, many hotels in larger cities also have rooftop lounges or bars, that guests can watch the festivities from. 

Marrakech Rooftop

Marrakech Hotel Rooftop Lounge View

 

 

 

 

3. Quiet Vacation Spots

 

If you want to go somewhere for New Year’s but don’t want to fight crowds of partiers, try typically quiet vacation spots like Hawaii or Napa.  These locations will still have events and parties, but you can be assured it is not likely to get out of control the street of a major city.

 

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

 

 

 

4. Year round party location

 

If you do want to party hard on New Year’s, choose a location that parties hard year round, like Vegas or New Orleans. At least these destinations have the infrastructure and experience to deal with mass chaos in large crowds.

 

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5. Southern hemisphere big city

 

If you really want to experience the crowds of people gather in a central location to view a New Year’s display, at least choose one in a southern hemisphere destination.  Since the southern hemisphere has the opposite temperatures as us, at least you don’t have to factor in freezing while you are standing around waiting for the New Year to arrive. 

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How to Successfully Travel with Others

If you travel at all, you are bound to take a trip with someone else at some point.  Doing so can be incredibly rewarding and can result in great memories; but if you are not cautious and prepared, the trip can turn into a nightmare.
Here are some tips to travel well with others.

1) Pick your travel partner wisely.  Sometimes it is tempting to go on a trip just to go; but if you do not know the person well or they are not your favorite, think carefully before accepting the invitation.  It is important to travel with someone who has similar interests and likes to do the same things as you, to minimize disagreements. One of the most common causes for disagreements between travel partners is money.  If you and your travel partner plan to have similar budgets for the trip, you are much more likely to avoid conflict.

2) Plan together before you go.  It is important to discuss what you want to do on the trip with a potential travel partner before the trip, or you will end up in disagreements the entire time. If you both have long lists of things to do that rarely overlap, your trip will be one long argument. Likewise, if you love museums and your travel partner cannot stand them, you will have some problems.

3) Do your research. Some of the biggest problems I have had traveling in groups came from not being prepared. I have spent hours on some trips walking around trying to find a restaurant that had satisfactory prices for one group member, only to end up eating at a restaurant just as expensive as the first one we stopped at.
Create a list of potential restaurants to eat that you know are within budget, look up the hours of the attractions you want to visit, etc. The more prepared you are, the less likely something will go wrong and destroy the group attitude.

4) Don’t be afraid to break away from the group.  If you have different interests than your travel companions, don’t be afraid to go do these activities on your own.  You will regret not going to an attraction you really want to see just because your travel partners have no interest in it.

5) Large groups should split up.  Traveling in large groups is not recommended by most travelers. It is rare to get a group of 8 or so travelers to agree on anything.  Discuss splitting into smaller groups to see the things each member wants to do, or to eat at restaurants within each traveler’s price range.

6) Establish meeting points.  If your group decides to split up, never rely on technology to find each other again.  Establish a time and place to meet, then if anything goes wrong or you can’t get a hold of one another, you will still have a plan of action.

7) Create a group fund for shared expenses.  One of the things that has caused problems on past trips is when one traveler covers group expenses then never gets paid back.  If everyone puts a determined amount into a group fund before the trip, one person can hold it and always be responsible for paying for taxi rides, tipping tour guides, hotel rooms, etc. This way no one has to worry about getting paid back.

8) Prepare yourself with realistic expectations.  One of the most important things to remember when traveling with groups is that you are more than likely to have disagreements, it happens to the best of us. If you prepare for your trip thinking that you are going to have an amazing time and everything is going to go as smoothly as a movie, you are only setting yourself up for failure.  Be prepared for arguments and varying opinions so you can conquer them quickly and move on with your trip.

How to Survive Long Flights: 12 Tips to Help You Keep Your Sanity on Long Hauls

There are many great destinations around the world to see, but some require a long flight in order to get there.  Here are a few ways to help you to not go crazy on that long flight.

1)   Pack a spare comfy outfit.  While wearing comfortable clothes on a flight is a given, even your most comfortable outfit may become uncomfortable after an extended period of time.  Pack an extra outfit in your suitcase that you can change into should the clothing you wore onto the plane become uncomfortable.  Even if you don’t need it for the flight, you can change into it upon landing to help you feel fresh or have a backup in case your checked luggage gets lost.  Also, be sure to wear comfortable shoes that can be easily removed.

2)   Bring good headphones (and two pairs).  Many pairs of headphones will start to hurt your ears after extended wear.  Bring a set of a different kind to relieve your aching ears.  Invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for extra peace and quiet.

3)   Choose your seat cautiously.  If you typically choose aisle or window seats, think very carefully about where you should sit on a long flight.  Sit in the aisle and you may have to deal with people getting up and down often and may struggle to sleep in an upright position.  However, choose to sit by the window and you may get trapped in your seat by those sitting next to you.  Check if there are exit row seats available as they allow a little extra leg room.

SeatGuru shows you the optimal seat on your flight

SeatGuru shows you the optimal seat on your flight

Check out www.seatguru.com to find the best seat on every flight. It will show you the layout of your plane with each seat ranging from red (bad) to green (good seat). It will also show you the amenities available on the plane.

4)   Bring a pillow and blanket.  Nothing makes your cozier than your own pillow and blanket.  Check out the Lug Nap Sac I wrote about in “Travel Accessories We Can’t Go Without”.

Lug Nap Sac Travel Blanket & Pillow

Lug Nap Sac Travel Blanket & Pillow

5)   Leave the extra carry-on bag behind.  While it may be tempting to pack two carry-on bags, you will regret it when you want to stretch out your feet.  Try to keep your luggage to what will fit in the overhead.

6)   Bring food and water.  There is nothing worse than being on a long flight when all the meal options are terrible.  Prepare like the airline will not serve you any food instead of banking on eating what they serve or waiting for a flight attendant to bring you a drink.

Check www.airlinemeals.net for what you can expect to eat on your flight.

7)   Continue your daily routine.  If you wash your face, brush your teeth, etc. every morning and evening, bring the items you need to continue this regime.  Not only will it give you something to do for 5 minutes and a reason to get up; but it will help your body register the end of the day/start of a new one.  It may sound strange, but changing into sweat pants, and preparing like I am going to bed helps me relax and actually get some sleep on a long flight.

8)    Prepare for the dry air.  Recycled cabin air gets very dry.  Make sure to drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated to avoid extreme jet lag.  Make sure to pack eye drops, lotion, and chapstick to protect your skin from being in dry conditions for an extended period of time.

9)   Walk around regularly.  Get up at least every few hours and walk around just to get your blood flowing.  If you sit for an extended period it can cause cramps and other health risks.  Some travelers like to wear compression socks on long flights to increase the blood circulation in their legs.

10)   Bring back support.  If you often experience back pain (or even if you don’t) bring some form of back support to keep your body from aching upon your arrival.  Bring a lumbar support pillow to allow extra support for your back.

Adjust-Air Portable Lumbar Support

Adjust-Air Portable Lumbar Support

11)   Prepare entertainment for 1 ½  times longer than the flight.  If you have a 12 hour flight, don’t bring only a book that will take you 13 hours to read.  You are bound to either get bored with it or finish it faster than you expect.  When you are bored and in a contained space, it is hard to keep yourself focused.  Bring options to choose from to keep you entertained (movies, games, magazines, books, work, etc.).

12)   Take airborne before you go and/or while you are in the air.  A long flight can do a lot of damage to your body and immune system. Take airborne and other vitamin and mineral packed supplements to make up for this damage.  There is nothing worse than getting sick right when you arrive at your destination.

Adaptors vs. Converters: Which do you need?

If you are planning a trip to a country that uses different plugs than your own, you must be sure to pack an adaptor or converter if you want to use your own appliances or chargers.  The task of choosing which one is necessary is a little more complicated.

-Adapters are plug extensions that literally only change the shape of the prongs that go into the outlet.  In other words, adaptors do not change anything about the way your device functions, but just change the plug of your device to fit another outlet. For the adaptor pictured below, you plug a U.S. device into the plug adaptor effectively making it fit into European plugs.

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A typical adaptor

 

– Converters: Converters are also almost always adaptors, but instead of just changing the type of prongs on your plug, they adjust the amount of electricity that goes through your device. If your device is not a dual voltage appliance (see below for more details about this), then you will need a converter.

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Converter box in the center with multiple adaptors to connect to the box

 

How to determine if your device is dual voltage: Most devices will have a sticker on the plug specifying the details of that appliance (see photo below).  Look under the “input” section on this sticker, if your device states a range of voltage (such as 100-240v in the photo below) then your appliance is dual voltage.  If there is only one number stated here you will need a converter; if there is a range then you will only need an adaptor.

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Electricity sticker specifying voltage information

 

Some devices, including most hairdryers, will have some form of knob or switch which you must change from the lower voltage setting (typically 100 or 120v) to the higher voltage setting (usually 240v).

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the black circle at the bottom of the dryer changes the voltage input

 

If your device is not dual voltage and you do not use a converter, one of two things is likely to happen.  First, your device may just heat up more than usual but may still work.  This is common with straighteners (even dual voltage ones).  Since the voltage is higher, the device gets hotter than usual.  Be very cautious when using a device with a different voltage, multiple girls I know have singed their hair using their curling irons and straighteners because they did not move them quickly enough through their hair with the excess heat.  The second thing that may happen, is the extra voltage will fry your device and it will cease to work completely.  Even if you use a converter this may happen since they are not the most reliable devices, despite the cost and quality of the converter.

It is best to buy dual voltage devices before you leave, or just pick up a cheaper version of your hair dryer or iron once you get to your destination country.  Avoid taking expensive appliances as the change in voltage can cause them to break very easily.

Here is a list of each country’s plug type and standard voltage:  http://www.starkelectronic.com/fzfv.htm

8 Things You Probably Are Not Packing For Your Trip

While everyone knows to pack clothing and toiletries, here are some items you may not think of and some that you may not pack because you don’t think you will need them.

1. Pillowcase:  I have stayed in a lot of hotels, many of which I did not want to touch the bed covers let alone rest my head on their pillow.  Packing a pillowcase lets you keep your peace of mind while you sleep in a strange place whether you’re staying in a sketchy hostel or the Four Seasons.

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1. Pillowcase (pillow not included)

2. Food you can’t get where you are going.  One of my travel companions dips everything in ranch dressing before she eats it.  She freaked when she realized ranch is almost impossible to find in Europe and what you can get is nothing like what she was used to.  If you don’t go a week without it at home, assume you won’t be able to find it in your destination and take some.

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2. Condiments and items you intake daily

3. Adaptors. If you are going to a country where the outlets are different, do not forget to pack an adaptor.  While hotels provide most appliances (such as blow dryers) you are still likely to need an adaptor for something.  It is almost impossible to find adaptors once you reach your destination since all those sold in local stores are to adapt the local plug to a foreign one instead of the other way around.

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3. Adaptors

4. Space bags.  In a previous post, I mentioned that I could not stand travel Space Bags, and that I do not believe they work.  While this opinion stands, there is one excellent alternative use for them that everyone should consider.  Space Bags are a great option to store smelly, wet, or dirty clothes in when traveling, because they are created to seal in everything and store larger amounts of clothing than a Ziploc bag.  Whether your clothing smells like cigarette smoke or is covered in mud from a hike, storing them in a Space Bag keeps them from rubbing off on your other clothing.

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4. Space Bags for storing dirty clothing

5. GPS Tracker. For less than $100, you can buy a GPS tracking unit to store in your checked bag.  If your bag gets stolen or never makes it on the plane, you can check where the GPS system is and find your bag once again. For example, the Mini Real Time Tracker, shown below, uses a SIM card to send its current coordinates to your phone.

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5. GPS Tracker

6. Spare credit card, medicine, and ID. Often travelers are told to keep these items safely in their carry-ons during trips.  While this is sound advice, you should keep a spare of everything you can’t live without in your suitcase. This way if your wallet, purse, or bag get stolen on your trip you can have a backup.

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6. Spare necessities

7.  Spare outfit for the opposite climate you are traveling to.  If you are traveling to Sweden, it is safe to bet you will not be needing shorts and a tank top.  However, the place you are staying may over-compensate for the cold by turning the heat much higher than comfortable.  The same can be said for very warm climates.  Pack just one outfit in-case you are stuck in the opposite temperatures you prepared for.

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7. Spare outfit opposite of destination climate

8. Pharmaceutical needs. On a trip to Europe, I had a cold and did not take any medicie with me.  I tried to find some Sudafed but could not find anything similar to this common medicine even with the pharmacist’s help.  Drug products vary greatly from country to country and even region to region, so bring anything you may need with you.

Though rarely mentioned in travel blogs (probably due to the taboo nature of the topic) the same can be said about products such as tampons and condoms.  The U.S. has very different health standards than many other countries, so stick with what you know to be safe and pack safe and reliable drugstore products from home.

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8. Drugstore products of all kinds

Travel Accessories We Can’t Go Without

Here are a few travel accessories we couldn’t get by without on trips.

1) Packing Cubes

I can’t remember how I packed before I found these packing bags.  Instead of trying to cram your bag full and then having to re-stuff all your items in every time you open it, just stuff these packing cubes.  Great way to stay organized and find items you need much faster.

Packing Cubes

See on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/eBags-Packing-Cubes-3pc-Set/dp/B004C0XZM4/ref=zg_bs_15743971_1

2) Neck Money Holder

When traveling (especially internationally), it is wise to keep valuables such as your ID, credit cards, and passport tucked away instead of in a purse or wallet.  Valuables holders that can be worn over the neck instead of around your waist tend to be more comfortable and provide easier access.

Lewis and Clark Deluxe Neck Stash

http://www.amazon.com/Lewis-N-Clark-Deluxe-Stash/dp/B00004SR8Z

3) Blanket/Pillow Combo

Definitely one of my better travel investments, this pillow becomes a case for the blanket so it hardly takes up any space in your carry-on.  They are easy to make as well, so if you know a crafty person let them know this would be a great gift.

Lug Nap Sac Blanket + Pillow

http://www.safeskieslocks.com/store/luggage-straps-c-13.html

4) Luggage Locks

I love luggage strap locks because not only can you safely lock you luggage through the airport, but you can extend the strap and lock your luggage to something if you are staying in a hostel or leaving your luggage temporarily in a shared space.

Safe Skies TSA Luggage Strap

http://www.luggagepros.com/lug-nap-sac-blanket-plus-pillow.shtml

5) Sleep Phones

Perfect for long-haul flights, you can listen to music to drown out the engines but still be comfortable enough to sleep.

SleepPhones

http://www.sleepphones.com/store/sleepphones-store/sleepphones-4

6) Solar Charger

There have been multiple times when my phone has died while I was using the GPS function and needed it desperately.  Pack a solar charger so you can give your phone some extra power when needed.

XTG Premium Solar Charger

http://www.amazon.com/Lewis-N-Clark-Deluxe-Stash/dp/B00004SR8Z

BONUS: Jaktogo

For the especially courageous traveler, the Jaktogo is an unconventional travel tool.  Avoid overweight baggage fees or the intense size restrictions of European budget airlines by wearing your luggage. Jaktogo offers the wearable bag in a jacket, dress, or poncho.  As a bonus, it conveniently folds into a tote bag after you pass through security.

Jaktogo: Probably not for the fashionista.

http://www.jaktogo.com/shop.php