when you’re not traveling

Exploring, planning, dreaming…

I was grounded last year. Has it been awhile since you considered “being grounded”? In the business travel world, it’s not necessarily punitive the way it was when you were a teen. I wasn’t caught smoking or staying out past curfew. We had a re-prioritization of funds and discretionary travel was off the table. Twenty years ago, curtailing “discretionary travel” was different. Just to have a productive meeting meant traveling hours to be around a table together – that’s not now. Nowadays, you can, in fact, have a pretty productive meeting using Skype. You’re all talking in (almost) real-time with only minor delays. And, if you can muster the energy to dress from the shoulders up, you can use your camera and even see faces. So, it is literally the next best thing to being there. Thus, “essential” travel NOW means – there was no way to accomplish what I needed without being there. And, that’s few and far between these days. So, for those of us who truly love the nature, process, and experience of actual travel – it’s a little less fulfilling. How do we spend our time? Planning the next excursion.

I mentioned in a prior post that I had 7 trips on my TripIt for 2020 so far. One has now been completed, and there are 7 new ones on the horizon. A few of them require pretty extensive exploration and consideration, so that’s been an active process. Active in the sense that I use all my resources:

  • Ask friends
  • Consult TripAdvisor
  • Google-ize it
  • Delve into travel guides
  • Look at maps and airline/train routes
  • Consider Airbnb Experiences
  • Plot out open/closed dates for attractions; this is key

If you believe that the adventure is in the journey rather than the destination, then this is it – at least half of my journey begins well before I ever approach my Clear ambassador. And, I’ve found through trial and error that the destination is made exponentially better by having a plan in-place prior to arrival.

We used to laugh that my Disney trips came with Excel spreadsheets. By “laugh” I mean, they actually came with spreadsheets and some people laughed at me. But, you know what didn’t happen? We didn’t languish amongst the parks missing shows, lacking coveted dinner reservations, etc. We don’t live and die by the schedule, mind you. I provide a structure that becomes our fall-back. If your fall-back is pretty desirable, then you have absolutely nothing to lose. If, however, you say “let’s wing it” and you find yourselves eating dinner at a counter-service restaurant dining over high-boy stand-up pub tables, you’ve done it wrong. The goal on a “nice” vacation is not to get the food in as quickly as possible on-the-go. At least, it’s not for me.

So, I plan. I’ve recently decided that having 1-2 touristy adventures per day that are scheduled (booked with tickets purchased if necessary) and 1 sit-down dining experience per day is sufficient. That gives us a lot of time to flex and build in whatever catches our fancy. In Hawaii, this means that my husband and I might hike Diamond Head and then explore Pali Lookout one morning and spend the rest of the day on the beach, or taking a massage under a cabana while listening to the waves. Leisurely, we can make our eventual way to cocktails on a lanai somewhere en route to a dinner reservation I’ve been holding for weeks. If, as we did on our last trip, we decide to switch up the dinner location for another that’s caught our eye, we can. At worst, we end up at a place we carefully selected awhile back. What doesn’t happen is our ending up at Burger King or some walk-up window for fried shrimp because all the restaurants are booked up. The same was true in Paris – I scheduled a tour that would span a few hours and check off several must-see boxes on our wishlist while the rest of the day was ours to shop, sip, and wander until dinner. Each night before we wrapped for the day, my girlfriend and I would review the next day’s itinerary and decide what to keep and what to switch up. My point is, planning ahead gives you options. Keep them, or change them up. If you know me, you know that having options is one of my defining characteristics – being left with NO options is just the worst, IMO. THAT’S when I get flustered. And, grasping for a solution can lead to my ‘shut-down’, which manifests in my being short-tempered and irritable. It’s pretty ugly if I’m completely honest. To avoid this, just plan. It’s that easy.

Have an itinerary that includes everything – your lodging, your meals, excursions if any and combine it with your traveling companion for full transparency and collaboration.

Today, I’m going to actively work on details for 2 upcoming trips. For me, this provides a diversion from my routine and it’s productive. It’s going to save me time and hassle in the long run and improve the relaxation we enjoy when the expensive trip kicks in. I don’t know about you, but when I’m buying hotel nights and every meal out (as you do on vacation), I want it all to be pleasant, not ‘serviceable’. There’s a time and a place for both.

So, back to being grounded. What does a road warrior do when her wings have been clipped? Getting the neglected house in order covered about the first weekend at home…..then, I started plotting. In the end, I made the most of the rest of the year by visiting friends and family, and thoroughly decompressing at a nearby destination spa. Come to think of it, I did that twice – once by using Marriott (or Bonvoy) points, even. Since about November, though, I started planning 2020. And, while it’s now chock full of much more personal travel than business, it’s shaping up to be a somewhat new adventure for me that incorporates more domestic destinations for a change AND the prospect of some potential and novel career avenues. There’s no telling where travel will lead you – one is never made lesser by getting out and seeing the world.

tips: planning work & play in paris

Normandy, France

Going to Paris for work cannot begin and end with a business meeting. My trip began with an historic side trip and ended with an extravagant, no holds barred, break-neck tour of all things Paris – with a business meeting sandwiched in the middle. And, with the 7 hours time-difference from US Central time zone, you can awaken in Paris, catch up on yesterday’s events state-side before getting dressed, and still manage to squeeze in touring while the states are sleeping. It’s an ideal situation for a work-play balanced trip. If planned well, you can keep a handle on everything back home/work and still accomplish superior sightseeing.

In this post, I’m going to discuss:

  • To tour or not to tour (with a guide)
  • Planning an ambitious itinerary
  • Selecting your launch point

I’m often asked whether I recommend booking tours for various places. In most cases, I d0 book a tour – and, I’ll tell you why. When I used to take my son places, there was so much I wanted to show him wherever we were going. My niece calls this: March or Die. I quickly learned that dragging him through each adventure was, while totally worth it in the end, WORK during my VACATION. So, I started turning it over to professionals. Can you pick where to go, what to see, and even enhance the experience with historical context? Of course you can, but for an added fee, someone else can do that FOR you (and your party) without your having to wear your bossy pants all day. Enter Viator, owned by TripAdvisor.

I’ve talked up TripAdvisor before. I find them to be a thoroughly well-informed app (crowd-sourced) that helps me pick where/what to see, stay, and eat within a city or even a neighborhood based on users’ reviews. I’ve written nearly 300 reviews myself. Their enhancements to include tours and restaurant reservations has been well worth it for me. Between them and Airbnb Experiences, I don’t have to look very hard to find someone who will come collect me, tour me, and bring me back again – and give me a pocket full of local tips and recommendations to boot. I’ve yet to ever book a trip through a travel tour company. They call to mind old couples with matching shoulder bags emblazoned with the tour company’s name so that they’re easily identifiable moving in lock-step with strangers onto buses and into hotels in unison. Rather Viator’s and Airbnb Experience’s individualized tours have become a great way for me to preserve the sanctity and serenity of my vacations while missing NOTHING. My vacation goals: Think less, worry less, organize less, enjoy more.

“If we arrive a day early, we could go to Normandy”, said my friend. My dad flew over Normandy on D-Day, so I was like: Yes, please. But, everyone’s always told me how far away from Paris Normandy is and everyone I know who’s gone has rented a car (ugh – driving). Once there, it’s a beach with a cemetery. This sounds like a lot to organize….there’s a solution for this.

Our guide:

  • Collected us from our hotel and brought us back in time for dinner
  • Told us great stories along the way
  • Provided cultural context about France and current events
  • Gave us tips and recommendations for restaurants, sights
  • Stopped along the way for refreshments
  • Took us to a local lunchery while in Normandy
  • Personally toured us through the cemetery, beaches and 2 museums
  • Shifted gears to accommodate poor weather – what a pain that would’ve been on our own….

It wasn’t cheap, but it was 100% worth it. Look at all we got (above). These same friends took a similar Viator tour to Giverny and were equally satisfied. Again, Giverny is a place other friends had rented a car to visit – that’s really not what I want to do on vacation, but that’s a personal preference. I think you pay for the convenience of being pampered – and, the private tours on Viator provide pampering in my opinion.

Fast-forward to our aggressive itinerary. You can see (if you blow it up like 200%) that we blended guided tours with individual exploration. Our guide for Normandy said: You’ll never accomplish all of that. Nay-nay, we TOTALLY did.

  • We arranged our days by neighborhood to save transit time
    • Pick your days based on when attractions in that area are open. My first draft had us going to museums on days they were closed….not helpful.
  • We bought skip-the-line passes everywhere
    • If you buy combo tickets, be sure to read the fine-print/rules regarding when and how the tickets are valid – e.g. do they have to be used on consecutive days
  • We pre-arranged guides to the larger, busier, more overwhelming places
    • Versailles, The Louvre, Montmartre (where we didn’t really know what we wanted to do)
      • Guides hit the highlights – he/she knows his way around and explains what you’re looking at saving you time reading plaques, maps, guidebooks
  • We toured smaller sights on our own
    • L’Orangerie, Musée Cluny, The Conciergerie
      • Timewise – if I can explore a place efficiently without a guide, that’s my route – we spent only 30min in some places
  • We really only had 1-2 planned/timed events per day

Perhaps most importantly, we stayed in a great location. In talking with friends with a lot of experience in Paris, the Marais was most highly recommended as our launching point. It didn’t disappoint. We got an Airbnb directly across from the Picasso Museum (a great landmark for Uber drivers) and walkable to a variety of shops, groceries, cafes, bars, macarons….. It was a short Uber to anywhere and a longer, but doable walk to tons of places from St. Germain to the Tuileries. We even meandered back from the Louvre on foot one day – so much to look at along the way.

Residential neighborhoods like Le Marais in Paris are ….quainter…. than in the states.

To further economize time, we did a lot of walking and Ubering. While the metro is very accessible (and economical) in Paris, we opted to not be on a train schedule and dependent on specific drop-off and pick-up stations. There’s a bit of a trade-off here, though, because traffic in Paris is notoriously bad. Use the CityMapper app and weigh your options. Information is key – you have lot of alternatives. Of note – there are some local ride-hailing services in Paris. I tried a couple and found Uber to be easier for ME – it informed me ahead whether the driver spoke English, tracked their location on the app more precisely, etc. We also found cabs to be equivalent in price within the core of the city. So, if you’re wanting to be picked up and there’s a cab nearby – hop in. For the business portion of our trip, we stayed 3 km outside of the city limits in a part of town called La Défense – expensive to get in and out of, difficult to navigate on foot and impossible by car (professional drivers made circles for 20min almost every time we got dropped off). You can probably save money by lodging out a bit, but you’ll make up the difference in cost getting to and fro and in aggravation in my opinion.

Feel more like flying by the seat of your pants? A kind of non-schedule is “vacation” to some people and I get that. There are options for that, too. Lots of services allow you 24-hour cancellation without penalty. Viator is one of those, surprisingly. One friend recommends the Hop On/Hop Off buses. They go everywhere – once you buy the pass, it can be free transportation all over the city. There’s also Paris Walks. They have a set schedule that they post and those walks occur whether you’re there or not. Interested in one of their many 2-hour walks? Just show up at the train station they designate and join (you pay cash at the start). I’ve used their London-based sister too often to count and across a WIDE swath of topics from gardens, to museums, Ripper locations and cultural neighborhood tours. They’re just as knowledgeable in my experience to include experts by passion, education and even licensure. Relax and enjoy the freedom of being less committed upfront – wait, we’re still talking about tours and not relationships……right…?

Great things await you in this world if you are open to them. I know tons of people who travel to amazing locations for business, but don’t see anything beyond the airport and the hotel. Please don’t be one of those people – travel is a gift. Choose how to embrace it.