Calling All Fellow France Lovers: I need your help!

Bon lundi!

It’s a little bit scary to be write down this next sentence and publish it into the black hole of the Internet. My time living abroad in Paris is coming to an end soon. There. I said it.

I’m not going to harp on it right now, though I’ll fill you in later if you want to hear the emotional side of it. (Re: It’s an roller coaster of sadness, bitter-sweetness, excitement, mixed in with periods of denial, fear, and overall stress.) The point today though is that I need some help from my fellow France lovers and France travelers!

Michael and I are planning a goodbye trip, or a “Tour de France,” if you will. We need some time to process our unexpected love affair with France and get some closure, and we’re choosing to do this in the form of a month-long road trip. The problem is there is so much to see, and as you can imagine, we have a lot on our plate with the move, never mind planning a month-long journey.

So this is where I’m hoping you all can share some France love! These next two weeks I’ll be sharing some of my highlights so far of the parts of France I’ve seen. Perhaps it will inspire some of your own French adventures. And my hope is that you might put on your thinking caps and help me brainstorm some of the must-sees of France. We’re focusing our road trip on Dordogne, Basque, Languedoc, a touch of Midi-Pyrénées, Provence, and then returning back towards Paris via the eastern border of France, hitting Alsace on the way. That’s the big picture - now we need to fill in our route with the specifics.

So please let me know during the next two weeks where you think we should go! Merci!!

There's plenty of France to see outside of Paris - like catching stunning Mediterranean sunsets in Marseille 

Starting This Week: Spotlight on Poland

Bon lundi!

Last spring I went on a trip I had wanted to go on for so long when at last Michael and I finally made it happen. It was a 16-day trip all around Poland. We had an incredible adventure which ranked as one of the highlights of 2014, yet I haven't said much about the trip other than my initial thoughts in my 10 Most Memorable Experiences in Poland post.

That's going to change this week. You see, when we told people that we were going on our big trip of the year to Poland, one of a few possible reactions followed. Surprise. "16 days?"  Shock. "Poland??" And more clarifying questions ensued, usually boiling down to: 1. Why Poland? and 2. What's in Poland?

Today I can cover the why. I have Polish ancestry on both sides of my family, and I've always been interested to visit the country for personal reasons as a way to connect on some level with family roots. (And Michael is questionably Polish - he keeps telling me he is, but no one can tell me who in the family was from Poland. But I'll share Poland with him, regardless.) That and I've always had an interest in history, especially surrounding WWII. I felt the need to see Auschwitz just once in my lifetime, initially  for its historical significance and later on more so once I found out a portion of my family died in similar camps. All of this made me want to set foot in and explore Poland, but it took awhile to sit down and figure out how to best spend our time in such a large country. 

These next few weeks I hope to answer the second question on what there is to see and experience in Poland. I think this country is massively underrated as a travel destination, but has so much to offer curious tourists. So stay tuned for more on this wonderful country but be warned...you just might be inspired to consider it as a travel destination before the secret really gets out to the masses! 

Coming this week - some of my favorite spots in the city I fell absolutely in love with - Krakow! I especially enjoyed its cool Kazimierz district filled with fun evening spots like this one called Singer.

Have you ever been to Poland? What attracted you to travel there?

2014 Recap: The Gift Year

I know that by this time, we've all stopped rehashing 2014 and have started looking ahead to 2015. But I can't just summarize last year with pretty photos of Paris and Europe - I need to pause and share my reflections of a special year.

21 Trains
19 Flights
5 Buses
5 Rental cars
14 Countries
21 houseguests
131 blog posts
2 camels 
And countless sheep

2014. I think of this year as my “gift year.” That’s not to say that every day we get on this earth isn't a gift, because it is. I mean it in the sense that when I think about 2014, I think “we shouldn't still be here.” Michael had a contract to work on an assignment in Paris for almost two years, ending in December 2013. Except by the end of that year, we had realized that Paris wasn't merely the home base for our travels throughout Europe. We had somehow built a life here, entered into community, and fell in love with life in the city. Things were looking bleak for a while and it seemed that we did in fact have to move back to the US as planned. Until things turned around and we were able to stay. We weren't supposed to still be hanging around the City of Light this year, but somehow in the end we were gifted with more time.

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Assembling a Trip to Iceland: The Toolbox

I love doing travel research for European trips. I have a grasp on how to find interesting historical sites, museums, markets, local food specialities, and other things to do when visiting cities and small towns. But give me the span of the great outdoors and I don’t have a handle on the first thing to do.

My trip to Iceland this past October was one of the most incredible and wonderful trips I’ve taken in all of my time traveling through Europe, yet it almost didn’t come together. I was intimidated to plan, information seemed less accessible than other destinations, and the possibilities of what to see and do seemed endless. When the entire country is gorgeous, how do you narrow it down?

If Iceland at all appeals to you, I hope you don’t pass up the opportunity to go because it feels daunting to figure out. I am the least outdoorsy person out there (remember my appearance in Seefeld, Austria last December in a peacoat and jeggings among the Olympic-clad cross-country skiers?!), yet I can vouch it is possible to make this trip happen. So take heart! I’ve put together a few pieces of advice that would have encouraged me and helped me along the task of trip-planning an Icelandic adventure. So let’s do this together.

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Travel Inspiration Realized

Bon lundi! 

I’m back from a trip that encompassed northern Germany, Berlin, and Prague. As expected, I came across many wonderful things: places steeped in history, beautiful architecture, and plenty of well-made beer alongside hearty meat dishes. What I wasn’t expecting were sudden connections to people who inspired me to travel.

Of course, there was the run-in with Rick Steves as he was filming one of his travel shows in Prague. I’ve used his travel guides for years now and have appreciated his mission to make travel to Europe accessible for American tourists to navigate on their own and connect with the culture and history of a place.

It was really neat to see Rick in action. But before I ever watched one of his travel shows, there was another person who inspired me with tales of travel and wanderlust. My grandma.

My grandmother made her morning coffee with a lot of zucker, just one of those little hints of her 12 previous years living in Germany. She would play home videos of her travels throughout Europe for me, giving far more detail to her adventures than Rick Steves ever could. (Not only were her videos narrated by herself on film, but sitting with her she managed to dub over herself and “double narrate” the action, which was so her style.) Seeing the windmills of the Netherlands and the cuckoo clocks from medieval Germany made Europe come to life before my eyes, and I longed to experience all these things.

I never got to travel with her to Europe, but last week my uncle took me to see the two houses where my grandparents lived for the twelve years before I was born. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I felt a connection to the independent woman I lovingly called “my adventure grandma.” She was always up to go somewhere and took me often into New York City on day trips as I was growing up. She taught me to get out and see the world, and nothing held her back or slowed her down. With something as simple as passing by her old home in Germany, I wished that I could tell her about my own adventures in Paris, following in her footsteps and forging my own path to discover Europe. 

Thanks, Grandma, for infecting me with the travel bug at a young age!

What or who is your travel inspiration?

Paris Practicalities: Parlez-vous touriste?

In the "Paris Practicalities" series, I lay out some basic advice for the foundation of a trip abroad for the well-informed and savvy traveler.

Being a house guest (at least the kind who wants to be invited back again) means making effort to abide by the general house rules set by the host. While the host tries to make the guest comfortable, the house guest does things like take off his shoes at the front door and offer a hand clearing the dishes after dinner. 

I find traveling to be follow the same guidelines. When traveling, the host country will want to make an effort to welcome its tourists if for no other reason than to generate income from tourism. And yet the traveler must also work to observe cultural norms and learn what being respectful as a house guest looks like in the given host country.

France has been knocked for being a bad host - one recent article dramatizes its reputation as the "rudest place on earth for tourists." This sentiment is not new in any way - last year information was distributed to the tourist sector of Paris called "Do you speak touriste?" (link in French). In the manual 11 different nationalities are profiled with information on spending habits and preferences to keep in mind when interacting with them. And efforts are still being made to give tourists a warmer welcome in France.

But relationships always involve effort from both parties. We as tourists need to work on our part as well to be respectful house guests. So here are 6 tips to keep in mind the next time you visit France:

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Simply Sara Travels Light (and you can too with these 9 steps)

Before I even tasted a single pierogi in Poland, I had accomplished a new personal victory. I had somehow managed to pack in a carry-on for a 16-night trip. If you're not impressed, let me elaborate. Michael and I used a carry-on size suitcase and a backpack to cart our things around. Which meant that all of our clothes and toiletries between us fit into the same small suitcase with the backpack reserved for camera/electronics/miscellaneous souvenirs. Also you should know we flew with EasyJet to Poland, which has a strict policy of one carry-on per passenger - meaning I couldn't get away with hauling an over-sized purse and my carry-on bag.

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Announcing: Travel Simply

Bon lundi!

Today I'm announcing how you can travel simply. Planning a trip takes time, effort, and the right resources. Now you can simplify your next trip by letting me come alongside you and create a custom itinerary, or even just give a few insider tips to make good plans form an unforgettable vacation. 

I am excited to introduce three levels of custom itinerary consulting that you can read more about on the Travel Simply page, accessible on the site's main menu. I believe trip planning is as personal and unique as the traveler. I would love to get to know you and help create a dream vacation!

Check it out on my Travel Simply page and spread the love (and word)! And as always, feel free to chat with me via email at simplysaratravel@gmail.com. 

How can a custom itinerary be like a croissant? Find out here :-)