My Method on How to Select the Perfect Airbnb Accomodations

How people travel is shifting. With sites like Airbnb, more and more people are moving away from staying in traditional hotels and towards a more local experience of renting apartments/houses or shared spaces with residents. There are lots of pros to using Airbnb for lodging - it’s often less expensive than a hotel (especially when split among a larger party, and if there is a kitchen that allows self-servicing some meals) and allows for a more local-feeling experience. There’s a lot of great material already written on this - like Adventurous Kate’s How to Use Airbnb and Have a Great Experience for a detailed explanation of the site, or Expat Edna’s post on 6 Airbnb’s I Loved Around the World to give some inspiration on the cool places you could stay worldwide. 

If you’re a huge fan of Airbnb like I am, you may not need convincing why to consider using it. The next question may be the how - how to land on the perfect place to rent and have a successful stay. This is the how to effectively use Airbnb, following my method on how I sift and select where to stay.

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London: My Gateway to Europe

Change is hard. But so necessary. If we were to always be in our normal rhythms and safe comfort zones, we wouldn’t experience all the lessons that new challenges hit us over the head with at times.

As I prepared myself for my move from Paris, I started trying to mentally prepare myself to leave this city that I loved so much. And something else unexpected came out of those months of turmoil. I realized that I needed to also have closure with London.

It sounds a bit weird, I know. Why would I feel compelled to bid adieu to a place I never lived? A place that I wrote about just last year when I was in a slump and wished I were in Paris instead- why now take away valuable time from Paris to spend it there?

I needed to go to London because for me, London was where it all began.

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Simply Sara Eats: With the Little Bro

My brother was born a foodie. Back before anyone was labeling themselves as such, he was one. While the rest of us “normal” elementary-school aged kids were requesting peanut butter and jelly, or perhaps the standard turkey sandwich, David was asking my mom to make him chicken cutlet sandwiches every day for lunch with a side of French dressing for dipping. He loved Idaho potatoes, boiled or mashed, and could taste if those spuds didn’t hail from the Gem State. Not only did he enjoy food like most boys do, but he had strong opinions as to what he was chowing down on when it came to mealtime.

Fast forward through school and college. My little brother is no longer little, yet at his core, he’s still that chicken cutlet and Idaho potato-loving gourmand. He lives in Manhattan and has extensive lists of favorite restaurants and ones to try on the horizon. So it should come as no surprise that when he came to visit with his fiancée one last time while we were living in Paris, the food scene was at the top of the to-do list.

To be clear, he didn’t merely say he wanted to try some French food, or eat croissants every morning, like most guests do. He wrote to me expressing the desire to go “belly to the wall.”

If you’re like me, you might not fully grasp the expression. Did he want to eat so much that his belly would extend to the wall? (A huge feat, if you saw my skinny brother.) I was unclear, but I got the jist. We were going to go all out for one last hurrah in Paris.

We had three full days to do it up, and if I say so myself, I think we accomplished our mission. If you’re like David and want some ideas of how to coordinate a foodie extravaganza in Paris, here are some of the places we hit during his visit:

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7 Steps to the Ultimate Paris Picnic

So...remember how I said that "the only way to get over moving away from Paris is to keep returning?" Well, I sort of jumped on that advice immediately and am going back in a few days! In honor of my last-minute trip, I'm going to share about an activity I plan to do every day in Paris if weather allows...

Going on a picnic is my all-time favorite thing to do in Paris, ever. It combines some of the very best elements that Paris has to offer - picturesque settings, delectable food and wine, and good company. The thing is, picnickers are not born, but raised...

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Discover Walks: Marais Walking Tour and Picasso Museum

One thing I love about Paris is that for as much time you can spend exploring and learning about the city, there is always more. There is so much history, so many details, and centuries worth of characters who have colored this city into the beauty it is today. That’s why even though I had lived in the Marais for almost three years, when Discover Walks offered me a tour of my neighborhood, I jumped. Certainly there had to be more to learn about that a guide could give a new perspective on.

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Park it in Paris: Jardin d'Acclimatation

In the "Park it in Paris" series, I write about the city's parks - some of the best spots to relax, people-watch, and mingle with the locals.

When I think about going to the parks of Paris, the first thing that comes to mind is my red picnic blanket - spread out over a green lawn with a baguette, some cheese and charcuterie, a bottle of wine and a fully loaded Kindle. My husband and I can sit for hours on end just people watching, reading, and grazing on our snacks. I've already written about two iconic Parisian parks, Parc Monceau and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which fit the bill for a perfect afternoon spent doing absolutely nothing of importance.

But I get it. You're on a vacation to Paris, time is limited, and you want to get up and do something! If that sentiment describes how you're feeling right now, the Jardin d’Acclimation is for you.  Located in the Bois de Boulogne on the western outskirts of the city, this park has it all - from peacocks roaming free to restaurants and even a museum.

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Paris' Newest Must-See Museum: Fondation Louis Vuitton

Famous architect Frank Gehry has created funky, imaginative buildings all over the world, like the playful Dancing House in Prague and the iconic Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. But did you know you can now see one of his newest works in Paris?

It’s the second mark he’s left on Paris, the first being the Cinémathèque Française at the edge of Parc de Bercy. And it’s quite an impressionable mark at that. If you thought that Paris was just about cream-colored Haussmannian buildings, you’re missing some of the city’s surprises.

This past winter Michael and I ventured out to the western reaches of Paris to check out the Fondation Louis Vuitton that had recently opened its doors in October 2014. It’s located in the Bois de Boulogne, just next to the Jardin d'Acclimatation.

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Keep it Classy - Your 5-step Guide to a Wonderfully Romantic Parisian Picnic

When you visit Paris, you want the whole package: delicious French food, complex French wine, and delicate French pastries, all to be enjoyed with in a perfectly romantic setting...at a price that inflicts minimal pain to the wallet. Unfortunately, dinner out (especially with the above elements) in Paris often comes at an inflated price tag. But now that summer has come, I’ll let you in on my warm-weather secret for inexpensive romantic dining with the best seat in the house - a jazzed-up picnic along the water.

The plan is pretty genius. It involves a self-service picnic with very little effort involved, while including a few key items that add class to the simplest of spreads.  Think of it as the little black dress of picnics if you will.

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Summer in Paris, 2015

Bon lundi!

Yesterday, June 21st, marked the official first day of summer! Paris always celebrates big with its Fête de la Musique celebration that fills the streets and parks with music all day and night (I'm still thinking back fondly on our epic festivities last year alongside the Seine). It's an impressive opening to the summer session full of free concerts, fireworks, long picnics, open-air cinema, and more! I've been working on the What's on in Paris page, so pop over to see my summer picks for Paris with more activities to be added soon! 

The space in front of Paris' Hôtel de Ville always has something going on during the summer - check it out to see what's going on, like volleyball courts or free concerts! 

Do you have any plans this summer?

Posing with Pictours Paris

Moving is hard work. There is the physical aspect of sorting, sifting, donating, and packing stuff. There are the administrative tasks of booking plane tickets, canceling services, and coordinating the check-out with the landlord. And then there’s the work that most of the time, we don’t even acknowledge much: the emotional process of mental preparation.

When I moved to Paris, I never would have imagined the real estate this place would one day take up in my heart. We moved initially with the intention of using Paris as a European home base to travel the continent. We would be residents, but the extent to which we would “live” there and be present remained to be seen.

As you probably could see, if you’ve spent any amount of time following our story, is that we grew to LOVE Paris. We would travel around and cherish the ability to explore Europe, but we would become homesick - not for New Jersey, but for Paris. We would eagerly anticipate the end of a trip because it meant we were returning home, to our city.

As our departure date loomed ahead of us, the inevitability and finality of the move to the US slowly felt more concrete. And while I couldn’t pack up my favorite places and take them with me like I wished I could, I decided to do the next best thing - to coordinate a photo shoot with a photographer to capture us in some of our special corners of the city. The fact is that photo sessions aren't just for wedding-related festivities. It could be for mother-daughter trips, family vacations, or a solo traveler looking to document an adventure. Or for two people who love Paris who wanted to bring home a little piece of the city.

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My Corner of the Marais

Bon lundi!

I’ve decided that Michael and I have a shopping problem. It’s not with online shopping, and if you are familiar with our fashion sense, you know it’s not related to clothes or shoes. It’s French wine.

Somehow, on that last night in Paris, we had quite a challenge in front of us. 20 bottles of wine, a bottle of champagne, and a magnum were lined up before us, waiting to be distributed between four checked suitcases. The result of the remains of our wine cellar, compounded with visits to 6 different vineyards during our Tour de France, left us in a bit of a pickle. And if you want to know how it ended, the laws of physics won. (Thank you to our friends who are safe-guarding our stash until our next visit!!)

Thankfully, not all of our souvenirs from our time in France took up such space and weight. One of our most precious tributes to our time living abroad didn’t have to be lugged back in our baggage. That’s because it is a digital souvenir -  the images from a photo shoot we went on that included some of our favorite spots in Paris.

Introducing this week some of our favorite spots in Paris! Starting with this special street, of course...

I’ve shared a few peeks from our photo session on Facebook and Instagram, but I’ve tried my hardest not to saturate the feeds with our faces. This week though, I’ll open up the floodgates and share all of my favorites from our morning stroll with Pictours Paris. If you want to see more, come back later this week for the reveal! 

Our photo session was a perfect way to channel my little corner of the Marais to my new home, wherever that ends of being ...

Do you have any souvenirs you like to bring home with you from your travels? Or do you have more self-control than us?!

In Those Last Days

[If you're new here, I just moved from Paris to New York City just over a week ago. There will be many more posts about Paris in the weeks to come, but for today, this is a quick peek at our final days living abroad.]

When Michael and I moved to Paris, the plan was initially to stay until the end of 2013. As we set out on this adventure, two years of life abroad loomed ahead of me. It felt like it was going to be a ton of time away from home. But as you might gather, being that it’s mid-2015 and solid year and a half past that date, that time flew by. And for as quickly as that time passed, the “extension” period came and went in a blink of an eye.

Paris is an amazing place. I never knew I would fall so in love with this city (or any city for that matter), or that leaving it would hurt so much. But even in those last few days. after three years of living here, I still learned new things about Paris and re-learned some truths I had been taught along the way. 

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Live from...New York!

Bon mardi!

Today I’m writing live...from New York! After three years and three months of living in Paris, Michael and I finally moved back to the East Coast. We stayed in Europe a good year and a half longer than we intended to, and we’ve finally ended the jokes about us never coming back as we packed up and headed stateside on June 3rd.

So what is it like to be back? Well, let’s just say that living in the midst of Midtown is a bit different than the Marais. (And if you’re interested in the Marais, check out my guest post on Expat Edna to see just why I loved my neighborhood so much!) It’s noisy, both on the streets and in restaurants, life is fast-paced, and it’s crowded. But it’s also air-conditioned, spacious, and convenient living with stores open 24/7 and English being the primary language and all. It’s been less than a week and I know it will take many more to transition back to this American life.

And while you may be wondering about the move, you might also be questioning the future of Simply Sara Travel. It’s a great question, and one that I would love to answer today. New York is now my day-to-day reality, and I may be sharing some of it occasionally here. But my primary focus still remains - I intend to use this space to continue writing about Paris, France, and all the places I have traveled to in Europe. There is so much still to share - just wait until we start to talk about our amazing “Tour de France” we embarked on during the month of May! (I should mention, if you are ever moving, I highly recommend taking a month off for travel if you can swing it! But more on that later.)

More to come on our month-long adventure through France! Here we are, celebrating our 12 year dating anniversary in the adorable town of Gordes, France - a place I never dreamed we would be together 12 years prior! 

Thank you for patiently waiting for me to get things in swing again! I hope you will follow along even if my adventures aren’t unfolding in real-time. And in the meantime, please let me know if you have any tips for Manhattan! I’m looking for cute coffee shops to write in, little parks and quiet corners to get reprieve from the noise, smaller museums to discover, rooftop bars, and...I’m on a quest to see if I can find a bagel that compares to New Jersey’s! And any ideas for things to do in the city this summer :-) It’s good to be back!