Fall has arrived and it's a popular time to travel to places around the U.S. and also internationally. In the northern hemisphere fall means mild weather and smaller crowds than there are in the summer, making travel a little less hectic.
In this edition of Tips for Travelers we share travel tips, itineraries and wardrobes from our most recent trips as well as an upcoming one. Leslie takes us on her summer trip to France and enrollment in a French Immersion program, and Susan prepares for her fall cruise on the Danube. Guest contributor Cara Frost-Sherratt, who lives in the U.K., shares her family trip to Sri Lanka to give us all tips on how to pack for a hot and humid family vacation.
We also share timely information on baggage rules, booking rental cars and getting medical care in airports. And for those of you shopping for new luggage, we have a special offer!
Our goal is to help you pack smart and be savvier than many other travelers, no matter how, where or when you are traveling. We hope our ideas help you prepare for your next trip and that you will share your own smart packing tips with us.
We hope you enjoy this issue and share it with others!
Susan & Leslie
Please note: We only write about places and resources we - or our readers - have personally visited or used and we accept no compensation or favors for our comments.
Included in this newsletter:
Beware of Rental Car Age Discrimination!
When friends arrived to pick up their reserved Avis rental car in Dublin, Ireland they received a rude surprise — they weren't allowed to rent because they were over age 75. In the very small print they had not read, Avis says drivers over age 75 must present two letters: one from a doctor stating the individual is healthy enough to drive, and one from their insurance company stating the driver has been accident-free for 5 years. Hertz was willing to rent to this couple at four times the Avis rate, which was a very expensive solution.
Minimum and maximum age limits for car rentals vary by country and by company. Most will not rent to a driver under age 21, and drivers between 21 and 25 often incur surcharges or a requirement for extra insurance.
In researching how travelers can avoid this scenario, it seems to be less of a problem in the U.S. and more common in Europe. Rick Steves’ website has good tips for car rentals for both younger and older drivers. Auto Europe posts a chart that lists specific minimum and maximum age requirements for European car rentals.
It's easy to miss the fine print on age when booking online; it's best to book by phone or double check an online booking before committing to an international car rental. The worst case would be arriving in Europe for a driving vacation and not being able to actually rent a car, so plan ahead!
A French Immersion Trip
By Leslie Willmott
I realized a dream in August when I traveled to France for a “French Immersion” program with an instructor and her family. I studied French in school so I’ve managed with “traveler’s French” but a lifetime goal has been to be fluent in the language; this was a step toward that goal.
I learned of this program through online French teacher Geraldine LaPere’s blog Comme Une Francaise, and I engaged my friend Sue to join me. We’ve traveled to France together before and it was time we both learned to make our way speaking the language well.
The weeklong program was held in the Drôme in the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes north of Haute-Provence. We decided to fly in and out of Paris to have a few days in this beautiful city before and after our studies in the country.
Paris in August
All of France (or so it seems) is on holiday the first 3 weeks of August so we experienced a very quiet and absolutely lovely Paris. We arrived in time for the last day of an wonderful exhibit at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs – “Fashion Forward: Three Siecles (centuries) of French Fashion”. The exhibition presented 300 items of men’s, women’s and children’s fashions from the 18th century to today, providing a chronological overview with beautifully preserved garments from the 1700’s to creations by great figures of couture such as Worth, Poiret, Vionnet, Chanel, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. We also visited the Musée National Picasso - Paris, which reopened in 2014 to showcase the renovated 17th century Hôtel Salé, a beautiful residence in the Marais district of Paris, and a collection of Picasso’s sculptures, paintings and pottery. Walking and shopping filled the rest of our time until our departure south.
French Program in the Drôme
We took the TGV train from Gare de Lyon to Valence, then a local train to the small town of Die where we were met by our instructor, Jane Fabulet-Roberts. Thus began a week of study while living in a well-appointed and very comfortable gîte (country home) in the tiny village of Vercheny, with four other students (Mary & Honor from England, Josef from Vancouver BC, and Jacqueline from Seattle).
We lived, studied, dined and toured together with Jane, her American husband Adam, her two charming young boys Maël and Maceo (ages 7 and 4), and her parents Jean-Paul and Janine. The kitchen was Janine’s domain and our meals were fantastic - simple home cooking that looked extravagant - shared around a table of 12 every night.
Each day was split between a French grammar or conversation lesson and a tour of local historic sites and specialties all conducted in French: La Tour de Crest - the highest medieval dungeon in France – with its panoramic views; the vineyards and wine-making process for the sparkling Clairette de Die; the distillery process for the essential oil of lavande (lavander); and Le Poët-Laval, a beautiful village dating back to the 12th century that was also a Protestant stronghold during the epoch of the Reformation (16th C.)
We also had a morning shopping exercise in local markets with a long list prepared by Janine – a nice opportunity to speak French with local merchants. On the last evening we had a “talent show” with everyone making a presentation in French. Upon request, I demonstrated how to pack light!
It was difficult to leave at the end of the week but luckily Sue and I headed back to Paris for another fashion exhibit - this time “Anatomy of Fashion” at the Palais Galliera; the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the new Frank Gehry-designed museum of modern art located in the Bois de Boulogne; and tea in the Salon Proust in the hotel Ritz Paris, recently re-opened after a four-year makeover.
I packed for city and country, sightseeing, long walks, forecasted warm-to-hot weather, potential rain … and tea at the Ritz. I turned to my January packing list for Argentina as a guide since the weather and itinerary was similar: cool, city chic pieces for Paris and cool, casual pieces for the Drôme. Summer fabrics are lightweight so I was able to pack it all into a 21” spinner bag that I carried onto the plane, along with my lightweight tote bag. Not checking baggage made for stress-free international travel!
My rayon pieces were perfect for the very warm weather in Paris; the knit tees went from city to country; shorts, lightweight linen capris, and cotton gauze & linen tops were ideal for the country activities. And for tea at the Ritz: my black J.Jill long tunic top and pants worn with a Hermès scarf at my neck was perfect!
What I traveled in:
Black leggings, tunic-length white cotton/poly/spandex shirt over white cotton/spandex tank top, black cotton ¾ length sweater, Clarks flats.
What I packed:
- 5 bottoms: 2 pair black pants (J.Jill & Talbots (rayon/poly blend - no longer available), sand linen capris, off-white jeans, black shorts
- 8 tops: black/white stripe tee, brown/white stripe tee, cream cotton tee, black rayon knit long tunic, beige/white linen pullover (similar to this one)-worn over travel tank, ¾ sleeve coral cotton gauze pullover, brown rayon shirt, white non-iron shirt (never worn - too hot)
- Off-white cardigan sweater
- 5 pair undies, 2 bras (note: traveled in one set); sleep shirt
- Rain jacket, umbrella (luckily I did not need these)
- Sun screen, sunhat, visor
- Clarks sandals (doubled as slippers), Munro slip-on shoes (great for city & country)
- 3 scarves; minimal costume jewelry
- Laundry tools: hangers and clips
- French travel hair dryer (purchased years ago in France and packed because the gîte didn’t have one; also packed a compatible extension cord purchased when I arrived in Paris so one of us could dry our hair anywhere while the other was in the bathroom.)
Carried in my tote bag: iPad, iPhone, charger and cords, pashmina (for the chill in the airplane), paperwork/documents, compression socks, inflatable pillow (so perfect for the 2-4 hours of sleep I managed to get each transatlantic flight), 3-1-1 bag, cosmetics, paperback book, trail mix.
Note: Sue and I were very fortunate to have been in Jane Fabulet-Roberts’ first French Immersion program. She does not know at this time if she will repeat the program. If you have an interest, however, please contact her directly by email: email@example.com.
Travel Shoes & Comfort Tips
Leslie, her friend Sue, and their French program colleague Jacqueline discovered a similar taste for black ballet flats when they got ready to travel back to Paris.
1. Jacqueline’s shoe is by AGL and she loves them. They are a bit pricey so she suggests waiting for a sale if you can. We’ve read good reviews on this brand of flat shoe; after Jacqueline’s testimonial, Leslie is ready to try them.
2. Sue invested in a pair by Waldläuger, purchased at Foot Solutions. She can sing praises about the comfort of the sole, but unfortunately, wearing them without hose caused the back of the heel to dig too high into the back of her foot causing a blister. Sue was prepared - she’d packed a package of blister cushions that worked beautifully.
3. Leslie’s Clarks ballet flats have served her well for several seasons. This spring she removed the foot bed that came with the shoe and inserted an arch support from Good Feet, purchased on her cruise in April. She’s since read both pros and cons from other users of Good Feet but she loves the ones she has, which are “universal” and fit into any flat shoe. Good Feet has several retail locations but apparently the “universal” design is only sold on cruise ships so be on the lookout if you are on a cruise.
Paris - Charles De Gaulle Airport - Travel Tips
by Leslie Willmott
1. Be sure your carry-on luggage is “legal” size. Airlines check to make sure that bags will fit inside the overhead bins so it's important to measure your bag carefully before you depart. At the check-in counter for my return flight from Paris, the passenger ahead of me wanted to carry her bag on so was asked to place it in the size-checker box; it didn’t fit and she had to check it. I also wanted to carry my bag on but I was not instructed to put it into the size-checker. My bag appeared to be slightly smaller than hers, and I had carefully measured its overall dimensions after packing it.
When I boarded the plane, I noticed that same passenger was seated in the economy section, which was full, so there may have been an additional need to cut down on carry-on bags. I was seated in economy “plus” – extra legroom for an additional fee, which I consider a good investment on long flights. This section of the plane was less than half full - no need to limit carry-on bags.
Smart Packing note: The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag on U.S. airlines are 9 in. x 14 in. x 22 in. (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. Luggage manufacturers promote available packing space and don't always include wheels and handles in their measurements so it's important to measure your bag's overall dimensions.
2. Allow extra time to go through Border Police/Passport Control, both upon arrival and departure. The line in Terminal 1 took me over 30 minutes to get through. It was a good thing I had not stopped to shop duty free when departing.
It appeared to be a staffing issue, as well as - I hoped - higher security than when I last traveled to Paris. Jacqueline experienced a 60-minute wait at Border Police in Terminal 2E when she arrived at the Paris CDG airport.
Medical Care in Airports
by Leslie Willmott
Have you ever felt sick or had need of medical attention during a long day of air travel and worried about how you might feel when you reach your destination, or what might happen during a flight? I am happy to report that a few airports in the U.S. have medical facilities and some are impressive Urgent Care Centers.
The night before I was to fly to Paris, our puppy bit my toe during normal puppy play. I thought nothing of it until it was still bleeding and red the next morning. I bandaged my toe and took off for my local regional airport, but with concern. I was flying through Chicago’s O’Hare airport and had a 5-hour layover – plenty of time to see a doctor if I could find a medical clinic. Luckily, the O’Hare Urgent Care Clinic, run by the University of Illinois Hospital & Health System, was within steps of my arrival gate in Terminal 2.
The staff provided excellent service and care: I only waited a few minutes before I was seen by nurse practitioner Rose Ferri, and it was a very short time until Dr. Dorevitch came to my aid. He prescribed an antibiotic sold there and promised me I could still drink wine when I got to France!
I learned that there are only three other similar Urgent Care Clinics within U.S. airport complexes – in Los Angeles International, San Francisco International and Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport. Concentra Urgent Care has Travel Centers very near to Washington’s Dulles and all of Houston’s airports; however, they are not within the airline terminals, only nearby.
Family of Four Packs for a Hot & Humid Vacation in Sri Lanka
By guest contributor, Cara Frost-Sharratt
We live in the U.K. and have been taking our summer vacations in Europe for the last 10 years due to having young children – flights are cheap (taking the car is cheaper), it’s convenient and there are endless destinations to explore. The thought of long-haul travel and the extra baggage that babies and toddlers demand has meant exotic locations were out of the question. But our kids are now 11 and 9 - perfect ages for us to be a little more adventurous - so we took a 3-week trip to Sri Lanka this summer.
We booked our flights and hotels independently as we wanted to pick and choose exactly where we visited. This involved a lot of internet research but we eventually settled on an itinerary that mixed travel, adventure and relaxation: Colombo (city) – 3 nights, Habarana (countryside) – 2 nights, Kandy (city) – 3 nights, Ella (jungle) – 4 nights, Yala (National Park) – 3 nights, and Unawatuna (beach) – 6 nights.
We traveled in August, which meant we were able to see the annual elephant migration (called the Minneriya, it is one of the largest natural migrations in the world) at Habarana. Our trip also coincided with one of the biggest Buddhist festivals in the country, the Esala Perahera in the magical city of Kandy. We were able to get great views of the 3-hour procession of dancers, fire-eaters and decorated elephants.
We mainly traveled by minivan between locations – we booked these from the hotels and resorts. We took the train from Kandy to Ella, which was a highlight of the trip, passing through the tea plantations and hill country estates. Our accommodations were a mix of hotels and resorts, plus 3 nights with friends who had recently moved back to Sri Lanka from the U.K.
When it came to packing, we had to make informed choices and pack carefully. As a family of four making six stops, the last thing we wanted was to be carrying lots of heavy cases and spending hours packing and unpacking. It was the end of the monsoon season in some areas we visited, and the hill country could get chilly in the evenings so we had to cover all bases in terms of weather, while still keeping it light.
We chose to take two medium, wheeled cases to check in (these each came in at under 20kg – 44 lbs – at check in) and four small backpacks that would act as carry-on luggage for the long flight (11 hours from London) and as daypacks during our trip. This meant that everyone could carry their own daypack and my husband and I would wheel one case each.
We used packing cubes for the carry-on cases – one each for clothes, one for all waterproof jackets, one for beachwear and towels, one for underwear and one for sleepwear. This made it easy to pack, unpack and locate everything we needed; and if not needed, the cube stayed in the case. We also packed a large drawstring bag for dirty laundry.
Wardrobe (per each adult and child)
- 1 pair long cotton trousers – planes can be chilly; you’ll also need these to visit temples. Karimor is a good brand for outdoor wear
- 1 pair harem/loose pants – for chillier evenings and to minimize mosquito bites when dining outside
- 4 pair shorts (3 for day wear and one slightly smarter for eating out)
- 4 day t-shirts
- 2 evening tops/t-shirts/shirts
- 1 lightweight beach/dinner dress/chinos
- Swimsuit, underwear, light sleepwear
- Lightweight waterproof jacket
- 3 pair shoes: sturdy sneakers for traveling and tours; flip-flops for day and beachwear (we love Havainas); and light sandals or flat shoes for smarter wear. For the children, we only packed two pairs of shoes – sneakers and Crocs.
- High-factor sunscreen
- Insect repellent (we packed Incognito)
- After-bite cream
- Travel wash – handy for rinsing t-shirts and underwear, which will dry very quickly in the heat
- Travel towel
- Waterproof bag – useful for packing wet swimming costumes when you’re traveling to different destinations
- Notepads, pens, pack of cards and other small games to keep the kids entertained on long journeys
- Good-quality headphones to use with tablets, iPods etc.
We obviously didn’t have enough clothes to last three weeks without doing laundry. The heat means you sweat a lot outside so you’ll only get one wear out of a day shirt. We packed travel wash for smaller items and had laundry done at hotels a couple of times – it’s cheap and efficient. As we’d packed as light as possible, we used most of the clothes, although the kids could have managed with just two or three pairs of shorts and t-shirts. And we didn’t need the waterproof jackets in the end, as the weather was incredible – just a few showers on one day.
Top tips for packing for and visiting Sri Lanka
- Pack a light waterproof jacket if travelling during monsoon.
- Include a long-sleeved top and long pants for visiting temples.
- Pack plenty of bug spray.
- Pack a bag of snacks for long journeys – kids are always hungry and you can’t stop. Don’t pack chocolate bars - they will melt.
- Always carry lots of bottles of water in your daypack – the heat means you’re constantly thirsty and you can become dehydrated very quickly.
- Carry plenty of small-denomination notes for tipping porters, taxi drivers and waiters.
- Food plays a big part in Sri Lankan culture and the typical meal will consist of rice, bread and 5 or 6 curries - usually one fish or meat, a dhal and a variety of vegetable dishes. Order for one or four and the same number of dishes will appear!
Timely Travel Tip: Changing Rules on Checked Baggage
For several years agreements were in place between major U.S. and international airlines that allowed passengers to check a bag on one airline and have that airline connect that bag onto a second airline for a continuing flight. Many airlines are now refusing to do so.
Do you have an international flight with connections coming up? Travel writer Peter Greenberg gives us a heads up on checking luggage through multiple flights in his recent post.
Luggage Discount Special — Yippee!
Our friend Don Chernoff, the creative mind behind the innovative SkyRoll Luggage, is offering a special discount for Tips for Travelers readers. Save 15% on the new SkyRoll Spinner that is tailored for women. The SkyRoll Spinner features:
1. An extra-long garment bag that wraps around the outside of the suitcase to hold longer dresses without folding
2. An internal padded laptop sleeve for a 15" laptop or a tablet
3. A matching toiletry/makeup kit
4. Four spinner-style wheels for easy rolling, even down narrow aircraft aisles
5. Carry-on size so no checked luggage fees.
SkyRoll Spinner retails for $299 on the website www.skyroll.com. Save 15% when ordering by using the coupon code SMART1016. This offer is valid through October 2016.
Our readers have loved SkyRoll’s other models:
“I’ve used my SkyRoll Garment Bag for many trips. As a professor of business who must maintain a professional image while presenting my papers, I appreciate the way my clothes and suits travel without wrinkling. I am big and tall and my clothes still fit into this bag. SkyRoll is easy and quick to pack, and always fits into the overhead bin”. RK, Philadelphia, PA
“My husband loves the BankRoll bag (SkyRoll’s design for Jos. A Bank stores) I gave him at Christmas. He recently took it to the U.K. and it worked nicely holding enough clothing for 2 weeks. It can be used as a carry-on or a checked bag. It is absolutely amazing at how many pieces of clothing can fit into this luggage.” DB, Asheville, NC
If you take advantage of this special discount, we hope you'll share your experience with us!
4 Countries + River Cruise = 1 Carry-on Bag
By Susan Foster
I’m busy organizing my clothes for our 18-day trip to Europe in early October. I’ve started monitoring weather in our destinations and know the monthly temperature averages. I’ve noted events that require specific attire, and am trying on and setting aside items in a section of my closet, doing a little bit each day.
Our trip takes us first to Vienna for a few days, Prague and then Nuremberg, where we meet our ship for our first river cruise aboard the Scenic Amber for a 7-night cruise on the Danube, ending in Budapest. My husband and I will pack into our 22” rolling bags plus one personal item each (a backpack for him and a shoulder tote bag for me) as we are taking trains for several legs of this trip.
The biggest concern at this time of year is changeable weather so we are packing things to span temperature swings and enable us to be outside no matter what happens. I always pack a short-sleeved tee-shirt in case of a heat wave, but cold is more likely and this piece can also layer under a shirt or sweater for warmth. In addition to our packable Patagonia down jackets and hooded raincoats, we will both take items that pack small but make a huge difference in keeping warm and dry:
Pre-trip research shows that the river cruising dress code is much more casual than most ocean cruise ships — no formal wear required and just a simple “tidy-up” is all many do for dinner. My husband and I like to change out of our daytime casual clothes into what is called “country club casual” — pants and a nice top for women and a collared shirt and sweater or sport coat for men. We might also simply change shoes and add a scarf or jacket to our daytime clothes.
I’ve learned there is no laundry equipment aboard our river ship, so we will need to plan on doing hand laundry to help us pack light. Remember, the difference between packing for one week and one month is laundry. I’ve set out my “travel laundry tool kit” that takes little space and makes this an easy task:
- Laundry clips - hang socks or undies anywhere
- Flexo-Line clothesline - when more than one item needs to dry. This creative design does not require clothespins and can hang from any chair back, drawer or doorknob.
- Blow up hangers (2) - helps when hangers are fixed into the closet or have mini hooks. The fatness of the hanger also allows better air circulation for faster shirt drying.
- Sink stopper - I wear contact lenses so always pack one of these anyway, but it’s impossible to do hand laundry in a bathroom sink if there is no stopper.
So where is the laundry soap? Most hotels have small containers of shampoo that I don’t use for my hair but instead use for lovely scented hand laundry. I pack a small plastic bottle of liquid detergent when I know there will be no shampoo.
My travel outfit:
Black short-sleeved tee-shirt, black tights, long print blouse (will work for dinner on the ship), black cardigan sweater, black flat shoes, pashmina in tote bag.
* Tops: 4 tee-shirts (3 short sleeve, one long), 3 long-sleeved patterned shirts, 1 blouse, 1 turtleneck sweater
* 2 bottoms: Black jeans, black slacks
* Red cardigan sweater; black jacket
* Lightweight windbreaker jacket
* 2 pair walking shoes
* 3 pair socks
* 4 scarves, 2 pashmina shawls
* 3 pair undies (1 to wear, 1 to wash, and a spare), 2 bras
My husband is still dragging his feet about what he wants to pack, so his report will come in the newsletter following our trip, along with a full report and photos galore. Back to trip planning ... but first I must share my very personal travel tip below!
Having spent my life hunkering over a sewing machine and a typewriter/keyboard and lifting luggage, I have shoulder pains. My chiropractor suggested I pack lighter (which of course I do) and give myself massages when traveling. I place a tennis ball under my shoulders while laying on the bed, or insert the ball into a sock, toss it over my shoulder and lean on the ball while standing against a wall. Ahhh, this works! My trusty tennis ball slips into the heel of a shoe for packing and weighs nothing but gives great relief.
That’s all for this edition of "Tips for Travelers". We hope our ideas help you prepare for your next trip and that you will share your own smart packing tips with us. We love hearing from you…and especially want to know what you would like us to report on in the future.
As always, we invite you to share this newsletter with friends, family and colleagues by forwarding this message or they may sign up for "Tips for Travelers" at smartwomenonthego.com. We personally respond to every question and welcome your e-mails and comments.
Pack smart and travel well!
Susan & Leslie
Susan Foster, Author, Packing Expert, Speaker, Spokesperson
Leslie Willmott, Wardrobe Consultant &
Packing Expert; founder,
Smart Women On The Go
Smart Packing & Smart Women On The Go
- Asheville, NC 28804