I must say, I consider myself a pretty savvy traveler, but after a recent international trip I found that I still have some things to learn. So I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learned the hard way — I’m talking blood, sweat and tears went into learning these lessons. (Mostly sweat and tears, the blood could’ve been avoided if I wasn’t so clumsy, but that’s another story.) And they just might be useful for all you holiday travelers.
1. Plan for the worst case scenario. Lost luggage? Who me? No way, that never happens to me. Except when it does and all you have to get through the next 3 days is your iPod, a copy of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and that industrial size Toblerone bar you bought at the duty free shop. Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on. It’s really fun to play dress up from your mom’s closet when you are 6, not as much when you are 26.
2. Make sure you have all the contact info on hand for whoever is picking you up. Especially important for international travel. Maybe your phone won’t turn on, maybe you don’t know the proper country code. Figure it out ahead of time and write it on a piece of paper. So low-tech, so clutch when you miss your flight. Also if you can avoid it, don’t use your credit card at the pay phones unless you are cool with paying $30 for a 5 minute phone call. Ask for a calling card at your airlines’s help desk.
3. Pick carry-on luggage that can be manipulated into a pillow or can accommodate some sort of comfortable sleeping situation. Naps during layovers are the best. Just make sure you wake up in time for your flight.
4. Do not fly with Air France. In fact unless your destination is Paris, avoid Charles de Gaulle altogether.
Problem number one: it’s like pulling teeth trying to get anyone to speak english with you. Even on the flight over, which boarded in the U.S. the flight attendant directed me to my seat in french. Luckily I can count to 36 and am pretty familiar with the alphabet, otherwise I would’ve been wandering up and down the aisle for ages. Throughout the flight, every time the attendant asked me a question she would start in french and I would have to ask her to speak english. I’m sorry I did not learn how to speak french in the 25 minutes since you last spoke to me. Then I asked her where I can get the boarding pass for my next flight issued and she looked absolutely confused and kept asking me where my ticket was. “How do you fly with no documents?” It’s called an e-ticket. Welcome to 2010.
Problem number two: they allow you to book flights with layovers that are so short it is physically impossible (like even when running through the airport at top speed) to make your connecting flight and when you do miss said flight they both scold you and shrug their shoulders when you ask them for help. I think I got more scoldings in the 3 hours I was in that airport than I did throughout my whole childhood. When I wasn’t being scolded, I was being dismissed. Pretty much each time I asked someone for help navigating the airport I got some vague answer and when I asked for further clarification, I got the shoulder shrug. One man never even looked up from his magazine the whole time he spoke to me. I guess that would have been too much effort and he was feeling le tired. Now this is in no way meant to be a Frenchie hatefest. I am sure there are a lot of wonderful, kind, helpful people in France. It’s just that none of them work at Charles de Gualle.