Prepping for Paris: trip planning edition
The prospect of going on a trip invites all sorts of daydreaming. Over the last year or so, my wife and I have fantasized about our honeymoon in Paris. We’ve used language learning programs to burnish our high school French, accumulated a worrying amount of cookbooks about French cuisine, binge-watched French TV shows on DVD, and read piles of travel memoirs. But at a certain point, the dreaming must stop and the planning must start.
Passports have to be acquired, airfare and hotels booked. And much as we might wish otherwise, our honeymoon is composed of a finite amount of time; there’s only so much we can do and see. This inevitable process is, for me anyway, slightly melancholic. Our trip is no longer, as I wrote in the first Prepping for Paris post, an endless vista of possibility with anything and everything on the table. Yet, there’s a different sort of excitement that comes with setting down in stone what were once merely daydreams. Now the daydreams start making their way from your mind to your itinerary. The trip becomes real, a thing that will happen.
Still, planning a trip is enough to flap even the most unflappable. So in this, my last “Prepping for Paris” post, I will briefly discuss some of the resources my wife and I have used to help plan our honeymoon.
As a teenager I used to sneer at Rick Steves. He was square, lame, his nerdy “dad jokes” an easy target for my adolescent derision. As an adult, I have to admit, I kind of like the guy. Oh, why couch it in relative terms: I do like Rick Steves. Perhaps the day you admit to liking Rick Steves is the day you officially become an adult.
Joking aside, Rick Steves Paris 2017 has been an essential and ubiquitous part of our planning process. We’ve used the book to help decide when to purchase airfare, narrow down which neighborhoods in Paris we wanted to stay, determine the landmarks and sights that are worth seeing and the ones we’d rather skip. Wondering whether your credit card will work in Europe? Curious about a particular museum tour? Need a few emergency phrases to order competently in a restaurant? Rick Steves’ guidebooks provide answers to these questions and more, and all of it written in Steves’ friendly, enthusiastic prose.
It’s perhaps this latter quality – Steves' unabashed love of travel – that converted me from skeptic to acolyte. His guidebooks make a point to include a history of the city or country you’ll be visiting, which helps to contextualize your travel. Best of all, Steves espouses travel “as a temporary local.” He doesn’t want you to make easy, familiar or comfortable choices. “Travel is intensified living,” as he writes, and you’ll get far more out of your trip if you embrace the culture and practices of your destination.
And if you can’t get enough of Rick Steves, his YouTube channel includes dozens of free episodes of his TV show, as well as videos about travel skills. He also hosts an immensely listenable podcast called Travel with Rick Steves that you can download free from his website or from your podcasting app of choice.
Speaking of podcasts, aside from Rick Steves, the resource that’s been most indispensible in our planning is the Join Us in France Travel Podcast. Hosted by Annie Sargent, a tour guide and native French woman who’s also lived in the UK and America, Join Us in France is formidable – informative, charming, funny, entertaining and eye-opening. Each week, Annie tackles a different topic of French culture or tourism. As the podcast has grown in popularity, Annie has included “trip report” episodes where she’ll speak with listeners who recently traveled to France. Your interest in these trip report episodes may vary – some travelers are more engaging to listen to than others – but the opportunity to hear firsthand recommendations from travelers just like you makes the podcast an invaluable resource.
What I enjoy most about Join Us in France, though, is its spectrum of topics. A recent episode offered 50 potential phrases for travelers to use in restaurants. Other episodes range more broadly, discussing cheese, or Marie Curie, or whether the French reputation for rudeness is deserved. After the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks, the show devoted episodes to staying safe in France as well as French secularism and freedom of speech. Other podcasts may also offer you travel tips, but Join Us In France distinguishes itself by being just as interested in culture, history, art and gastronomy as it is in helping you decide if you should go to the Eiffel Tower.
So whether, like us, you’re planning a trip to France, or simply want to learn more about Voltaire or French table manners, Join Us in France is a must-listen podcast for savvy travelers and Francophiles alike.
We have, of course, utilized dozens of other books, videos and websites to help us prepare for our trip (some of which are listed below), but I want to close things out by thanking anyone who’s read these blog posts over the last few months. It’s been a pleasure to share the items we’ve used to help our trip planning, and I hope some of the books, CDs and other services I’ve mentioned will prove helpful whether you’re going to Paris or Prague or anywhere else in the world.
Merci beaucoup et à bientôt.
Books and Guidebooks: