Some followers have inquired about our specific destinations on this trip. For those who might not have noticed, the menu at the top of this page contains links to the routes of all our personal “Tours de France”. Click on “Tour 2019” to find the details of this year’s tour. In addition, check out the interactive map using the link at the bottom of that page. Scroll through the pop-up box overlaid on the right of the map to read more information about each place we will visit.
One of my husband’s favorite things to say, usually spoken only half-jokingly when something doesn’t go as expected is, “Let that be a lesson to you.”
Not that we are experts, but a certain amount of travel experience has provided us with some valuable wisdom. It was interesting for me to reread my previous posts on the topic of planning and organization and think about some lessons learned. This post is rather long, but bear with me… along the way you can reminisce or catch up with our adventures as the case may be.
From our first trip in 2012 – Packing Our Bags – You can definitely fit more in your suitcase with that ziploc bag packing technique, however, you may not realize how much weight you are accumulating. When the suitcases were weighed at the airport, mine was well over the limit. So we had to unpack some of it and juggle it between us in our personal carry-ons. What a mess! These days I use that technique with caution. And now that Marie Kondo has entered my life, I’ll be using many of her suggestions. Also, those door hooks for hanging your toiletry bags — they don’t fit any French door!
2012 – Talloires on Lake Annecy
From our second trip in 2015 – The Little Red Suitcase – It’s always a challenge to pack for an extended vacation. Each time we try a new technique. After this particular trip, we were done hefting those well-packed carry-ons above our heads and cramming them into ever-shrinking overhead compartments. For trip #3 in 2016, we purchased two slightly larger suitcases and checked them. We’ll be using them again. We still need small carry-ons for essentials plus items that need to be secure and can’t afford to be lost (documents, jewelry, medications, etc.), but they’re very manageable. Also, this time toiletries have been simplified and combined into one small shared case that will easily sit on any counter — makeup in an even smaller pouch with fewer items… both already packed!
2015 – River Cruise on the Garonne in Bordeaux for C’s #60
And, finally, after the unfortunate events of our last trip in 2016 which you can also read about in various previous posts beginning with A Dose of Reality, we learned lots of important lessons.
1- Purchase that travel insurance they offer when you buy your plane tickets. If we had done so, we wouldn’t have had to buy a whole new set of return tickets and write the no-refund originals off to experience. You can bet I did that for this trip.
2 – Don’t depend simply on available WiFi and messaging on your phone as your only means of communication. That had always worked for us before. Not in this situation. Buy at least one local SIM card or phone that will give you a working device wherever you’re traveling. No matter how well you plan and prepare, certain things happen in life that are out of your control and you just might need to deal with an emergency like we did. Norman had to run out and buy a SIM card in a pinch which was really stressful. This time we’re not taking any chances. We’ll be picking one up as soon as we get off the plane in Barcelona.
3 – Make sure you have a list of your exact medications including doses plus a copy of your health record in some form — digital or otherwise. As you might imagine, mine is now pretty long so printing it isn’t very practical. My current doctor uses a great web interface and I was able to download a PDF and save it in a couple of different places just in case one magically “disappears”. I was lucky that the house we rented had a printer and I was able to print out a copy of my records to take to the hospital. It’s crucial that they know as much about your health history as possible especially if you’re not fluent in the language and they’re going to put you under to perform a medical procedure. Yikes! That was scary!!
4 – Find out if your medical insurance covers you when you’re out of the country and how it works. When I became ill in France, we had to pay for everything up front, collect all sorts of receipts, and then spend a lot of time and effort to get some reimbursement once we got home. Be sure you are prepared for this possibility. Hospitals are happy to accept credit cards and in countries with universal healthcare, the cost is far less than it is in the U.S. Additionally, you can purchase Medical Travel Insurance if you feel the need. Note: Medicare does not cover any medical expenses for travel outside the U.S.
5 – Passwords! — Is everything important in your life ruled by passwords? Make sure at least one other person knows how to find this information (whether it’s someone you are traveling with or someone back home) especially if you are the “keeper of the passwords” and all financial information as I am. At the scariest moment of our lives in the hospital, instead of focusing on each other and saying our last goodbyes, I was anxiously trying to explain to my husband how to get to all our important passwords. I use a secure password app on my phone, but he had no idea what it was or how to access it. Needless to say, he is now well-informed.
My theory is that if you go prepared for any unlikely event, there won’t be one. Let’s hope that proves true. We’ve learned enough lessons for the time being.
1994 – California Desert – The beginning of the Adventure
It’s difficult to believe that three weeks from today we will be setting off on yet another European adventure. There was a point when I never thought this would be possible again. It has been almost three years since our fateful return from the last adventure which didn’t exactly go as planned by any stretch of the imagination. During this time, I retired, we packed, we moved, we sold a house and bought a new one. We’ve reorganized our daily routine to fit our retired life and new location. All the while, these activities were overshadowed by great effort and concern towards resolving the issues with my health. Today, I am happy to report that my very rare autoimmune disease is in remission with only maintenance doses of the magic drug infusion required every six months. I will never be “back to normal”, but I think I’ve arrived at my “new normal” and I’m satisfied with that. It’s time to really move on. As a friend recently commented about the transitions in her own life, “It’s not a new chapter. It’s a new book.” That’s exactly how I feel.
Planning and organization are my thing! I’m sure I picked up these strategies by osmosis from my mom who used them daily to exercise some control over her ever-changing life which involved constantly packing, moving, and setting up house again to accommodate Dad’s work. They are concepts essential to a successful business model but can be applied to any endeavor including moving and travel.
The key is planning ahead! For every one of our long trips ranging 6-8 weeks, I have begun researching almost a year in advance. Of course, these days, the internet makes this task infinitely more approachable than it ever was though you can get overwhelmed with information. I also download books to my Kindle and check out books from the library. In the process, I take lots and lots of notes and make many, many lists using my favorite apps…
• Notes – I use this for lists (love the interactive check-off circle) & specific itineraries. It’s especially easy to read and refer to on my phone when I’m out and about and don’t want to be an obvious tourist.
• Notes Plus – I enjoy old school handwriting with my new school Apple Pencil for detailed research notes which I only use on my iPad.
• Books – This is where I store all my PDFs related to the trip such as tickets and reservations organized into one Collection.
Even with all this technical wizardry, you need to be careful. Every time there’s a software update, it can potentially cause some items you’ve created or saved to mysteriously disappear. Usually I can figure out how to get them back eventually, but, just in case, I have a neatly organized folder with important hard copies as backup which I take along.
All of this represents hours and hours of work on my part, but I love doing it. I always keep the long-term goal in mind which is to enjoy a great vacation with a minimum of stress and worry. In the end, the experience is so much richer and more rewarding having put in all the time and effort to plan and organize it this way.