The Weekend Five: Travel Tips for the New Year

Wandering around a Kibbutz!

Wandering around a Kibbutz, 2011

As many of my readers know, I have always loved visiting new places. Whether I’m traveling across the Atlantic or simply a few miles to a local attraction I’ve never visited, I’m constantly looking for ways to broaden my horizons and see something new. Although I don’t foresee any far away trips in the near future, I do hope 2014 brings plenty of exciting adventures and opportunities to explore!

Over the years, I have been fortunate to visit the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and many of the wonderful states right here in the U.S. During that time, I’ve picked up a lot of tricks for having a better travel experience. Let’s kick off this weekend with a few tips to help you plan your upcoming vacations. (Tweet this!) Bon voyage!

 The Weekend Five: Travel Tips for the New Year

Dinner in West London, 2012.

Dinner in West London, 2012.

1. Do your homework.
Research and planning are two of the most important things you can do prior to any trip! If you can, talk to people you know who have been to the place you’re about to visit, and get their advice for the best sights to see. For most popular destinations, you can find guidebooks at your local bookstore, where you can flip through and learn more about some of the hidden gems. (This also allows you to avoid showing up at a museum on a weekday when it is closed!) Browse travel blogs as well – you can find a lot of good information and photos from those who have already been! (You can check out my blog for some suggested destinations in London, Paris and Rome.) Plan out a basic itinerary or list of must-see attractions for your trip, but allow for changes along the way as you make your own discoveries!

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2. Find a hotel slightly outside of the city.
If you’re visiting a city with good public transportation, your best bet is to stay in a hotel near the metro but slightly outside of the city. These hotels tend to be less expensive but still very accessible. I picked up on this trick through some of the organized trips I’d gone on, once I saw that there were still some exciting things to do and that a trip to the more bustling tourist areas was only ten minutes or so by train. Buy a temporary metro pass if you can to avoid long lines and travel with ease throughout the city!

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Sunburned at the Pantheon, 2012

Sunburned at the Pantheon, 2012

3. Keep your chargers handy.
My biggest regret when I went to Israel was not charging my camera enough. After spending the night in a Bedouin tent in the desert, we woke up at the break of dawn to climb a nearby mountain, and as the sun rose, the battery in my camera died. I was all set to take a beautiful sunrise photo at the top of the mountain, but because I hadn’t been charging my camera at the hotel in the days leading up to our desert trip, I had to settle for photo-bombing my friends’ pictures instead. Even if your camera dies, of course, you still have your memories – but the photos are definitely great to look back on once the trip has long since passed. Bring extra batteries just in case!

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4. Eat normally when possible.
For many people, food is one of the more exciting aspects of travel. However, when you’re adjusting to new time zones, it’s a good idea not to stray too far from your normal diet. In France, for example, many of my friends and I were tempted to start the day off with lots of pastries, but after a while, too much indulgence slowed everyone down. Because I eat a lot of scrambled or hard-boiled eggs when I’m at home, I tried to gear my breakfast toward those when possible, enjoying the occasional croissant here and there. Don’t be afraid to try new things and treat yourself every now and then, but don’t stray too much from your usual diet, either. You don’t want to let unhealthy food choices take away your energy to see the sights!

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Hanging out by the love padlocks near Notre Dame, 2012

Hanging out by the love padlocks near Notre Dame, 2012

5. Be kind and respectful.
This may sound simple enough, but you’d be surprised at how few people truly remember to say “please” and “thank you.” I’m always shocked to see how some people will behave in another country or when dealing with the staff at airports, hotels and attractions. Remember that you are in another person’s home state, country or city, and treat him or her with the same courtesy you would expect in return.

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Travelers, what are some of your tips? Where do you hope to visit in the new year?

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved in Paris

Bon jour, readers! For those who are wondering, yes, that’s me in the picture, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day. 🙂 (More on that later!) As Part II of my study abroad trip to Europe, my classmates and I spent a week in Paris, where we filled up on carbs, brushed up on our merci‘s and au revoir’s, and visited some breathtaking sites throughout the city.

Although I had been to Paris twice before (at ages 15 and 16), my experience this summer was unlike any other. This week, I’ll share five of my favorite attractions and memories from my most recent visit, and my recommendations for those who plan to travel to Paris in the future. Share your own experiences in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Paris

1. Musee d’Orsay.
When it comes to famous works of art, everyone tells you to visit the Louvre when you’re in Paris. Now, I’m certainly not knocking the Louvre — you could spend days in there before you’ve seen everything! — but I found during my most recent trip to Paris, I enjoyed Musee d’Orsay even more. Orsay houses some amazing impressionist works, and you’ll have the chance to see paintings by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, van Gogh and more. The building itself is a work of art, formerly the Gare d’Orsay railway station, and is also home to plenty of sculptures, photography and other media.

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2. Palais Garnier.
As a huge Phantom of the Opera fan, I always love visiting the Palais Garnier — the famous opera house that served as the backdrop in the original novel. Located near some of the high end Parisian shopping (Galleries Lafayette), the Palais Garnier is beautifully decorated and absolutely worth a visit. One of my goals is to eventually see a ballet or an opera there, but until then, I’m happy peeking into the auditorium and snapping photos in the venue’s various rooms. An added bonus is that Box Five is actually “reserved” for the Phantom… you can look at the box’s inscription to see for yourself! Even if you hated the book/musical, you’ll still appreciate the opera house’s gorgeous architecture and interior.

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3. Boulangerie Tour.
One morning, a smaller group of us visited a bakery called Le Petit Mitron, thanks to a tour we booked on Viator prior to leaving the States. For the next hour or so, we learned all about how bakeries produce croissants, pain au chocolat, and baguettes — and we had the chance to make our own! We had a very passionate baker and tour guide/translator, who both made the experience fun and interactive. Although I’m not much for food and beverage, I loved having the chance to create my own signature on a Red Label baguette, and I was very proud of my croissant-rolling skills! At the end of the visit, you get to take home a few creations for free.

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4. Tim Burton Exhibit at the Cinematheque Francaise.
My fascination with Tim Burton and his work probably began when I was three years old and Nightmare Before Christmas had come out. A lot of people will criticize his work nowadays for being too much of the same, but there’s something to be said for the dark worlds he weaves together (usually with the help of Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp), and I’ve always loved his cinematic style. That’s why I was very excited to see his work being exhibited at the French Cinema Museum, where they include early drawings and stories, notes from various film scripts, sketches of characters, short films, costume pieces from some of his movies and even the famous scissor hands that everyone knows from Edward Scissorhands (one of my all-time favorite movies). The exhibit will give you a deeper insight into Tim Burton and his work, and is definitely worth the visit.

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5. Bastille Day.
If you are ever planning a trip to Paris in July, Bastille Day (July 14) is a very exciting day to do it! Because it would have been difficult to attend the Bastille Day parade and have a decent view of everything, we decided to watch the parade from our hotel television… but little did we know that the jet fly-bys on TV would soon occur right outside our window! After the parade, we went to the Eiffel Tower for a bird’s eye view of Paris. But the best part of the day? Sitting on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower (pictured) for the remainder of the afternoon with friends, waiting for the fireworks show to begin. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Paris, but watching the fireworks with so many thousands of people from around the world was such a wonderful experience, and I know I’ll have to do it again someday.

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To learn more about my study abroad trip, read my last blog post about London! Tune in next week to find out what I loved in the third and final city of my tour.