The Little Red Suitcase
Before I even thought about packing clothes in my carry-on, I had to figure out just exactly which miscellaneous items were going to go into the extra carry-on we would check. Spending the summer in France is not equivalent to spending the summer in San Antonio, Chicago, or Miami. You’re not going to find all the big box stores and familiar-looking strip malls to which you are accustomed in your own hometown. Though we recently learned that the first Costco will open later this year just outside of Paris. When I travel within the U.S., my philosophy is always that if I forget to pack something, I can buy it when I get there. Such in not necessarily the case in France as our previous trip revealed. In addition to the fact that you have to conduct transactions mostly in French, it can be quite a task to find that needed item in a store or even to figure out which kind of store will carry it.
So, based on our last experience, here’s what we’re taking in that extra bag…
- Picnic Supplies – Even though the French are apparently really into “le picnic”, we found it very difficult to locate any of the requisite items for a picnic basket. We managed to find one Cost Plus-type store in Paris and made do with the things we found, but there was very little inventory. So we have packed a collapsible cooler plus a couple of freezer blocks, plastic flatware (from one of our favorite boulangeries), plastic wine cups (the nice ones for the patio that are intended to be reused), plastic plates (reusable but eventually disposible), cocktail napkins (umm… yeah, I know these are not really required, but in my case they are as I just can’t get the right ambience going without them — at least I’m not taking a variety of confetti that is usually part of my tablescapes — well, actually I did make one exception, but we’ll get to that much later), a wine corker (but, of course!), a wine bottle stopper (I don’t know why because we usually drink the entire bottle), and a tablecloth (the same one you may have noticed in photos from our 2012 trip). Seriously, you have to have a proper picnic and I expect we’ll be having a lot of them.
- Fly Swatter – Yes, really! When we got to our first gîte in Provence, we realized that the French do not believe in putting screens on their windows, but they most certainly have a lot of flies. Our search for what we now know is called a “tapette à mouche” at the local Super U was finally successful once Norman found a roundabout way of describing what we wanted in French. This time we are taking no chances. As an accompaniment to the fly swatter for those picnics and outdoor meals, we are also taking a food tent.
- Waterproof iPhone Cases – I will not have to worry about getting dumped into the Dordogne again with my iPhone tucked into the top of my bathing suit or Norman’s in his bathing suit pocket. We loved our canoeing adventures last time and plan to repeat them any chance that we get. It’s an absolutely prime photo opp and you can’t keep digging your phone out of that watertight barrel they give you when you rent your canoe.
- Tea Bags – both regular and iced – The French primarily drink coffee which I can no longer drink. There are plenty of Brits, especially in Southwestern France where we will be traveling, who drink tea, but they prefer blends such as Earl Grey or English Breakfast. Suffice it to say that there’s not the wide selection of herbal teas that we have at home which are required if you have to cut caffeine out of your diet. And, those large Tazo iced tea bags seem to be an American invention.
- Hand Fans – It eventually gets hot in the summer and unlike here in the U.S., you will hardly find air conditioning anywhere. You can buy fans in pretty much any open-air market, but they cost something like 8 euros and are imported from China. We really wanted a couple but decided we could live without them at that price. Our friendly Daiso $1.50 store supplied us with two that will do the trick.
- Washcloths – The French don’t use a washcloth as we know it. Instead, they use a “gant” or terrycloth mitt. Even these were hard to come by in the places we stayed or stores we perused. I guess we will have to get used to them when we move to France, but, for the time being, we’re settling on taking a couple of our own from home.
- Power Adapters – Since our phones and iPads will be traveling with us, these are imperative. After a long plane trip, they will all surely be dead by the time we reach French soil so it’s not practical to wait until you can pick some up at the local “quincaillerie” (hardware store) or electronics store. Fortunately, we don’t need to pack those cumbersome converters as all our devices are designed to work on 110 and 220 volts. We’re also taking a simple car charger which will plug in to the 12-volt port or cigarette lighter of our Peugeot which, thankfully, is identical to those in American vehicles.
- Plus… Umbrella (to guarantee it won’t rain), Ziploc bags of various sizes (another American fetish), real Maps (so we won’t end up not being able to figure out how to get “home” when the GPS on our car decides to quit — we almost had to camp out in St. Emilion), Aprons (for all that cooking we’ll be doing and washing we don’t want to have to do in sometimes complicated French washing machines), Shoes, Toiletries, and various sundry items.
As you might guess, several of these things won’t need to make the trip home and our luggage will be a bit lighter or so Norman hopes. We don’t generally bring back any souvenirs beyond our photographs so unless we hit up the “Soldes” (sales) somewhere in July, I think there’s a good chance of that happening. By the way, contrary to the almost weekly sales we experience in this country, in France they only occur twice a year in July and December.
You would never imagine taking along such a menagerie of things, but it’s a matter of making sure you are comfortable while figuring out and learning how to adjust to the French way of living.
We always take picnic supplies. A tablecloth, Swiss Army knife, reusable thin plastic cutting boards, a corkscrew. I like different colored bandanas to use as napkins.
I like your list. I don’t like to spend hours searching for some little thing that we desperately need, in an unfamiliar place. I think that’s why my luggage is so heavy though!
After I packed those two suitcases — mine & the “extras” — Norman did ask if he would be able to lift them.
If you’re car travelling, buy yourself a cheap electric fan after you’re in France, then abandon it at your last port of call. It can be an enormous help with the heat, and also helps keep mosquitos off you in the night.
Great advice, Kaye! We did exactly that on our last trip and plan to do so again. It truly was a lifesaver.
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