Where To Begin

Old Aug 15th, 2001, 07:21 AM
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Where To Begin

My husband, 13-year old son and me are planning our first trip out of the U.S. next summer. Believe it or not, although we are educated, middle class people living in a pretty sophisticated city, we have never even been on a plane! It's embarassing. But that's not the point. It's time to see some of the world. We're planning a 7-day trip to London definitely, and probably/possibly taking the Eurostar to Paris for a couple of days. It's a start. I am reading this forum like mad, collecting guidebooks, etc., and although I am an excellent organizer, list maker and distiller of information, I am overwhelmed by what we need to learn about just travelling (what do you do when you get to the airport? how do I get a passport?), logistical details(what day of the week to fly/arrive/depart? and how that relates to hotel deals and hours/days of attractions) and what there is to see and do. Let me take a deep breath and ask you: what would be your 3-4 top recommendations for learning, planning, and organizing this trip? Resources to tap, reality of time and expectation, do's and don'ts ... should I just sit down and buy a package from a travel agent? I'm especially intimidated by the vast differences in "deals" on airline tickets -- from what you see as "list price" to the amazing bargains I read about. Oh dear, maybe we should just stay home.
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 07:40 AM
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I have just topped "How do you plan your European trip" for you. If you haven't read it yet, you should do so. It has lots of good advice for a "beginner".
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 07:49 AM
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For a 10 or so day trip, don't overwhelm yourself. You don't have time to explore either London or Paris in depth, so any guidebook with the major attractions will be fine.

Use a travel agent for your plane tickets; if you've never flown before, the choices through the Web are too confusing, and you don't have the experience to wade through them. You'll waste energy and frustrate yourself.

Make a list of the attractions in each city, then find them on a city map (lots of websites for this, or use the one in your guidebook); organize each day so you aren't zigzagging across the city to hit the sights; stick to one neighborhood a day.

Unless you're on a special diet, don't worry about looking up a list of recommended restaurants. Buy a TimeOut when you get to London, or just wing it.

For hotels, look in Bloomsbury, Notting Hill or Kensington; choose 2 or 3 hotels in each area, look 'em up on the web, pick one and reserve either over the web or by fax/phone. Don't agonize over your choice.

You can buy Eurostar tickets in London or through RailEurope and your travel agent. I suggest this; you'll pay a fee, but you won't be worried about getting the tickets, etc. Peace of mind is worth a few dollars.

In Paris, look for a hotel in the 6eme or 7eme. Again, pick a couple of hotels in each arrondissement, look 'em up on the web and pick one.

Don't agonize over transportation in each city (do we get a pass? what kind?). Just buy carnets (packet of 10 tix for the price of 6 1/2) for the subways and buses. When you run out, buy some more.

You get a passport through the U.S. Government. You can download an application, and get instructions, from the web

Paris is easy, London is easier. Don't make this trip harder than it needs to be.
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 08:12 AM
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Each of Elvira's tips I second! My addtions are:
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 08:21 AM
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Get your passports now. I know you have almost a year, but passports take a couple months to get sometimes and it's better IMO to already have them well in advance so as your trip is approaching you don't have to think about whether they are going to arrive... Go get a passport photo for each of you, (got my daughter's passport photo taken at Target about a year ago) then go to the post-office and they will give you the necessary forms. Easy.
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 08:22 AM
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Betsy??? What are your additions...
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 08:41 AM
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I too look forward to reading Betsy's additions, but so far ... THANK YOU! Especially you, Elvira. I feel better already!
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 08:55 AM
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I went to Paris for the first time in 2000 and just went back this year. I've traveled extensively in the US, so I have been on a plane many times, but it still was very intimidating to think I'd be going out of my "element" so-to-speak because I'd be going to another country and you hear so many rumors about what they think of us and what we think of them. It turned out to be so much easier and people were so much nicer than I thought it could be. So don't worry. Do your homework and you'll do fine (I agree with the person that said get that passport early- my husband did his last minute and we were checking the mailbox every day for his passport to arrive). Elvira has listed some excellent tips and this forum is absolutely great for questions on packing, what to see with a teen, all kinds of stuff. I think this is the first of many trips for you!
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 09:09 AM
Mr. Go
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If you go to Paris, learn to say the following phrases...

Parlez-vous Anglais? (Par-lay-voo On-glay)...Do you speak English?

Ou est le toilet? (Oo ay luh twa-let)...Where's the can?

Je ne comprend pas (Zhuh n'com-prawn-pah)...I don't understand.

S'il vous plait (See voo play)...Please.

Oui (wee)...Yes

Non (no')...No. Pronounce it as though you have post-nasal drip.
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 09:12 AM
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great suggestions, do you know of any map websites that are helpful for trip planning? Particularly ones that can be edited and saved/printed with travelers notes,etc on them.
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 09:23 AM
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Yikes, Christy,I cringed when I read your first sentence. "My husband, 13-year old son and ME are planning"??? It's "My husband, 13-year-old son and I are planning". You wouldn't say "Me am planning" would you? Sorry, it drives me nuts when I see such blatantly bad grammar (and I'm not an English teacher).
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 09:29 AM
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Sorry to make you cringe, Susan, it's called a TYPO. I caught it too late after hitting "post." Forgivez-moi!!!

By the way, quote marks are supposed to appear after a period in a sentence.
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 09:30 AM
dan woodlief
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For other resources:

Some people like him and some don't, but you might want to see if you can check out Rick Steves's videos (www.Ricksteves.com) from the library. He does a popular travel show and has lots of guide books. The shows on how to travel in Europe and the specific ones for the areas you are visiting would be most helpful. Rick's main claim to fame is that he has inspired confidence in people that they can travel successfully on their own. His Mona Winks book is good for museums all around Europe. For planning what to see, consult something like Frommers, Fodors, or Lonely Planet (Access is good but very detailed) that will concentrate on the main sights (Rick Steves has too few listed in his books but will give you some idea of the main sights on a very short stay). Eyewitness Guides will show you what many sights look like, as will the Web. Look at the city guides and the country guides.

I am planning a trip right now. Here is how I plan the sightseeing part. I go through the guidebooks and list what I want to see; I prioritize them with a rating of 1-4 (1 = must see, etc.); I map them out; then looking at their hours, I plan what to do on each day, making sure to allow some time for walking between sights and doing the unexpected. I use a spreadsheet so I can order the sights by neighborhood when I finish listing them. I also include notes on each sight in my list and take the relevant section with me when I am out and about. No matter how well you plan, things will usually not go exactly as planned. You can only know spatial relationships and other factors but so well from looking at a map.
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 11:20 AM
David White
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I understand what you are going through, but, as others have said, London is one of the easiest overseas visits for Americans. Although you MAY want to consider working with a travel agent, or booking a package from British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, etc., there is no reason that you can't plan and execute the trip on your own. It does pay to compare...some of the package deals are good, some are overpriced (and under-quality).

You did not say when you are planning to travel, and my advice may differ depending upon your answer. If your travel time is a long way off, then you can plan before you get airline tickets. If you want to go soon, or if your dates are not flexible, then you will need to lock in tickets earlier.

Probably the most difficult decision to make is where to stay in London. Hotels are quite expensive and they are often not up to par for what you must pay. In general, I suggest you look at hotels in the most central part of London, so you don't spend vacation time commuting. You may want to look at familiar chain hotels (Holiday Inn, Marriott, Hilton all have London properties) unless they are over your budget. But London has thousands of hotels, b&bs, etc. to choose from....just make sure you cross-references from guidebooks, websites, and/or other visitors, before you decide on a particular hotel.

I'd be glad to give you some more specific info, or answer questions, if you email me at the address below. By the way, I suspect your 13 year old son will love London (mine does).


David White
[email protected]

Old Aug 15th, 2001, 11:23 AM
David White
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If I could only READ....

You DID say you are going next summer, so you can wait quite a while until looking for airline tickets. Higher summer fares usually apply for travel after June 15, or thereabouts, so if you can leave earlier, it may be less expensive. On the other hand, if the UK travel market is still hurting next year, there may be summer sales that you can take advantage of....

Dave White
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 11:31 AM
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Christy: at the risk of staing the obvious check out Fodors Guidebooks. They are still the best place to start. And I do agree with the posters who suggest picking one city only...we spent 10 days in Paris in October and it was just about right for a first time visit there.
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 11:58 AM
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Hi Christy,

Elvira's list was top notch, but I've helped a few 'first timers" and for my own list:

Though ATM's are everywhere, you might want to go to a Thomas cook or similar place and get a bit of English or French currency, just to familiarize yourself with it's different look and feel(also helps you to get excited about the trip!). There is nothing worse then touching down in a different country and trying to buy a newspaper and some bottled water with a different bill.. and not knowing how much change you should get back, or what to give the vendor.. and there's locals behind you... it can be a less then ideal intro to a new city.

Pack extremely lightly! You will need half of what you think you need, and nothing spoils a terrific trip faster then lugging and worrying about 8 pieces of luggage.

800 numbers are not recognized overseas, call your credit card companies and ask for an overseas number that you can put some place in your luggage.. be sure to let them know you will be out of the country, sometimes if they see a lot of weird charges they freeze your credit cards. Send them a letter in writing notifying them of the dates you will be gone and where to.

Get an email address that you can access overseas.. yahoo, aol, excite... then send emails rather then calling all the time it's way less expensive.

Keep copies of all of your hotel confirmation letters.

Be flexable.. sometimes when a top attraction is closed or the restaurant you had your heart set on is booked, you can find a magical out of the way spot that is only yours, or a nice uncrowded museum, that is off the tourist trail.. keep an open mind!

Listen and don't just talk, be as polite in their country as you would wish them to be in ours.

Congratulations on your first trip.. it will be wonderful.
Pack lightly and open your heart.. the first time overseas is the hardest... the next will be easier!
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 01:16 PM
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Check out www.ricksteves.com and buy his book Europe Though the Back Door. It is invaluable for the first time European traveler.
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 01:38 PM
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Although I was on a plane by your age, I had never been to Europe until last month. I was 50 and it was time.
You have received alot of great advice here but I think that probably the MOST valuable advice was to "keep it simple".
Once you have your hotels and flights, you can be as "in-depth" as you want.
You are in the best place to start this wonderful journey...the Fodors site.
I can tell you that I have received the most wonderful information here and people are so willing to share their knowledge.
Keep asking questions as you go along...someone will answer them.
If I could do it...solo
anyone can.
Enjoy your planning .
Old Aug 15th, 2001, 04:43 PM
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And, Christy, the one other thing to remember is that every well-traveled person on this site had a "first time" too. And some of us did it as an adult, without mommy holding our hand. We felt apprehension, maybe even total terror, and we made a few mistakes along the way. But we learned, and we all lived to tell the tale. Not only that, but we did it again and again, so the experience must have been at the very least pleasurable. (After all, how many sane people pay to inflict pain on themselves?) Just keep telling yourself, "Everybody has a first time and if they did it, I can too." Relax, and enjoy your first experience out of the States.

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