Tax savings spread on French bread

Written by admin on April 30, 2009 – 5:55 pm -

If your travel plans include a trip to France after July 1st, you’re going to be in for a cost savings treat when you go out to restaurants and the bill is presented. But be forewarned — the discount will only apply to certain dishes (such as the menu of the day) and you won’t be raising your wine glass in celebration of the reduction since it’s not applicable to alcohol.

France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy has instructed the country’s estimated 200,000 restaurant owners to pass on a portion of the 19.6 percent VAT (value added tax) that will be reduced to 5.5 percent. France has one of the highest tax rates in the European Union.

For years, this has been a bone of contention among hoteliers and restaurateurs, who said the added cost discouraged consumers by inflating meal costs. The high taxation has also been an impediment for hotel and restaurant owners, as well as potential ones, who want to invest in the hospitality industry.

Sarkozy is banking on the reduction giving a needed boost to restaurateurs who are feeling the effect of the weakened economy. French residents are cutting back on meals out and tourists are eating out less or at less expensive restaurants. Restaurants and bistros have lost between 20 and 50 percent of their income between January and March. Many have introduced more modestly priced “crisis menus” to lure patrons back.

It’s also anticipated more workers will be hired and it will give France’s restaurants a jump-start. Sarkozy’s campaign promises included this cut and he’s making good on it. The tax-cut agreement includes a commitment by restaurant and hotel owners to work with the government to improve pay, training, and working conditions.

Christine Pujol, President of the Union des Métiers et des Industries de l’Hôtellerie, the largest industry union says, “We’ve been working for 15 years for this and we’re most satisfied. It will provide a needed boost.”

Some critics feel the cut may not be judicious in the long run. It’s easy to lower taxes but hard to subsequently raise them.

Something of something is a whole lot better than a lot of nothing or having to shutter a restaurant’s doors.

Chain restaurants may have a bit of a cushion but what about privately owned establishments? No matter where you live, people are feeling an economic pinch and many are buying frozen pizza at the grocery store rather than ordering carry-out or taking the family out to dinner.

In the meantime, enjoy the savings. Don’t anticipate not having to tip the service staff.  You’ll still be expected to leave them 15 percent – and more if you think it’s merited.

Do you think restaurants in the US will follow suit if they haven’t already?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

And Then There’s the Month of May

Written by admin on April 25, 2009 – 12:13 pm -

Anyone who lives in France is the first to admit the month of May is pretty much a non-month.  Let me rephrase that. Even though it has 31 days, many of them (and I am not including weekends) are vacation days and not a whole lot of work gets done. The French are used to it. But it’s unnerving for business people coming to France and finding that the decision makers aren’t around. 
This year, the calendar isn’t cooperating with people who want to take mini-breaks and deduct a minimal number of days from their guaranteed five weeks of vacation.  Pity, because the French will take mini-vacations wherever and whenever they can.     

This year, May 1 (Labor Day) falls on a Friday. The second May holiday, Armistice Day, is Friday, May 8th.  Naturally, this isn’t ideal, but these are moveable feasts and the days they fall on change every year. Some years are simply better than others. It’s the luck of the draw.

The next holiday, Ascension, falls on a Thursday. Who wouldn’t take that Friday off since the majority of their colleagues would have built the pont (bridge) and made it a four-day weekend?  They wouldn’t be able to accomplish any business even if they were sitting behind their desks. If you do the calculations right, people can get away for five days and only need to declare Friday as vacation day.

That sounds pretty good to Americans who generally start with ten days of vacation (two working weeks) and work their way up to somewhat longer periods after being with a company for so many years and gaining seniority.

The last May holiday is Pentecost which is celebrated on May 31st—alas, always a Sunday. But don’t despair; Whit Monday, June 1 is a holiday so all isn’t lost. But if we assume that this holiday is really an extension of May (May 32?), then things look glum because there are no holidays in June, the next being Bastille Day, July 14.

The majority of them aren’t glamorous or necessarily expensive. Frequently, they go and visit parents or other members of the family. May is one of the most pleasant months of the year. People take advantage of it and take to the rails or the roads. Be certain to reserve train tickets as soon as possible and don’t be surprised if you encounter more traffic than normal on the autoroute.  

One of the reasons the French have started staggering winter and spring break school  vacations according to specific areas of the country is because it’s better for families as well as tourist destinations. But May is May and so are July, August and Christmas and New Year’s holidays — so you can expect everything moving as slow as a snail.  

May 1 is a date that will be indelibly etched in my heart and in my mind. This year it marks the 21st anniversary of my move to Paris. I’ll never forget landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to start my husband’s six-month-long consulting assignment. I hated the idea of being a “trailing spouse,” but he persuaded me to look at the sojourn as a Sabbatical and I’d be back at work before I knew it.  

The ride from the airport into town was eerie. There practically weren’t any cars on the road and it felt as if the taxi were entering a ghost town. In my jet-lagged condition, I wondered what we’d find at the rental apartment.  Would it be as I’d remembered? Would there be sheets on the beds? Why weren’t any stores much less restaurants open? What had I done? It sounded so romantic but I was in for culture shock supreme.

It wasn’t until I saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance that I realized I was actually in Paris.  My life and I were embarking on a radical change and turning to a new and dramatic chapter. But that’s another story. Perhaps even a book.

In the meantime, I’ve learned to adjust to the month of May—and to the French and their frequent absences.

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Posted in Around the World |

10 ways to save when feeding a family on the road

Written by admin on April 24, 2009 – 5:58 pm -

You’re traveling with hungry kids whose stomachs aren’t precisely timed to breakfast, lunch and dinner. They’re hungry whenever, and frequently, at inopportune times.

Here are some suggestions as how to return home from your vacation with some coin in your pocket. Remember, fast food isn’t free food; anything but.

Go inclusive: Take an all-inclusive vacation where food’s available for the asking. Many cruises offer nearly non-stop meals and appear to have on-going buffets. All-inclusive resorts do the same.

Breakfast is important: If you’re not renting an apartment, stay at hotels where breakfast is included. Instruct the kids to get a good start on the day and bulk up. Most hotel staff members are gracious and agree (if you ask) to give you extra fruit to take with you as you embark on the days’ excursions. Do request a refrigerator be in the room.

Carry snacks: Never leave your lodgings without a stash of power bars and drinks. Some people visit Costco or other bulk chain stores and stuff the corners of their suitcases with these high protein snacks.

Go fixed-price, or free for kids: Surf the Internet and see which restaurants offer fix-priced lunches, early-bird specials and free meals for kids.

Clip coupons: Many restaurants offer discount coupons. They may be accessible on the Web. Or inquire at your hotel, check the local papers and the town’s Chamber of Commerce.

Snap up happy-hour specials: Some bars lure people in during happy hours when they serve more than adequate food and reduced priced drinks. Just because your charges are underage, doesn’t mean they can’t have yummy non-alcoholic drinks and eat at the same time.

Plan a picnic: It goes without saying that picnics are godsends and hotels (especially in the U.S.) are generous when it comes to allowing you to fill a Styrofoam chest with ice. Go to the local grocery store and buy all the makings for a picnic. During nice weather, it can be a wonderful way to eat and enjoy nature simultaneously.

Fabulous fruit: Eat a piece of fruit before your stomach screams empty. Grocery stores have plenty and if you happen to be at a local market in Europe at closing, many vendors sell at a big discount, rather than having to pack them up.

All you can eat: Look for restaurants (and many of them are “ethnic”) that offer refills. Moroccan restaurants frequently keep bringing out trays of couscous until you’ve had more than your fill.

Street food: Some of the best food (and most reasonably priced) is found in street markets where locals eat. There are certain rules that must be followed to avoid possible Montezuma’s revenge.

• Never drink the water (or any drink) unless it’s come from a bottle that’s been completely sealed. Use straws rather than drinking directly out of the bottle.

• Eat food only if you watch it being cooked and the hotter the pan, the better. A discerning eye can spot how sanitary the conditions are and it’s important to be careful. It’s amazing what foods children will try and more than likely enjoy it.

• Use sanitized hand wipes before and after eating.

If this sounds risky, remember your kids are probably eating more dangerous food when they’re munching on hotdogs purchased at school bazaars.

What suggestions do you have for stretching your food budget when vacationing?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Four appetizing (and less expensive) alternatives to room service

Written by admin on April 21, 2009 – 6:00 pm -

For some travelers, hotel room service is the-be-all to end-all. It is considered the height of indulgence. Guests staying in a swanky hotel with a very special lover may not want to leave the room after dark, or for that matter, during the day. It may be a sybarite’s dream when the waiter appears with an iced bottle of champagne and silver trays of assorted delectable nibbles.

But many business travelers find room service a nightmare.

They dislike how the room smells after the meal. Some develop a sense of claustrophobia from eating and sleeping in the same place, especially if the quarters are small. Travelers often resent the cost of in-room meals and few know the precise tipping etiquette. (Do they give the waiter one when a service charge is included?  FYI, the answer is yes.)

Here are some alternatives to room service for intrepid travelers either looking for a way to save a few dollars or searching for a local experience.

Buy take-in meals at a local store. Skip room service by picking up something to eat at a local grocery store and eat in the room. Remember to beg, borrow or steal some utensils, a plate and a napkin (OK, use a towel).

• Get local take-out. Ask at the front desk, the staff frequently has a list of restaurants that deliver in case you’re craving a deep-dish pizza with all of the trimmings or chicken and cashews from a nearby Chinese restaurant. The meal may or may not be good but it probably will be accompanied by a fortune cookie that might give you an indication as to how successful the trip will be.

• Get out and try the local cuisine. You may score a great meal or one you wouldn’t want to foist off on an enemy. But it might be interesting. Never eat at chain restaurants is a rule some people hold near and dear. The food tends be mediocre to good; but why should you eat at someplace you can find at home?

During nice weather, diners often prefer to go to restaurants, especially ones with outdoor sitting, where they can park themselves and people watch. When traveling on business, few people have enough time for sightseeing. This is a good way to observe people in their daily lives. Sitting at a sidewalk cafe is certainly one of my favorite things to do.

• Try a meal at a local bar. They may or may not be on the hotel’s premises but usually one makes for good people watching and who knows, you might strike up a conversation. Whether or not you want to be chatty is up to you. Most bartenders are very good at picking up your signals and may let you veg out watching the bar’s TV or expedite a conversation or two.

Left to your own devices, which do you prefer? Do you eat in the room, hit the town (more or less) or isolate yourself in cyberspace even though you’re surrounded by people?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

10 bizarre, hilarious and surreal border-crossing adventures

Written by admin on April 17, 2009 – 6:03 pm -

Some of the funniest stories I’ve heard have been from people who’ve had to deal with airport security in these post 9/11 days. The incidents only add to the adventure of going through border controls.

Perhaps the parties involved weren’t amused at that moment. But in retrospect, they make for amusing party conversation. We have to laugh, or we’d cry.

Your place or mine? A businessman landed Seoul, Korea, admittedly punchy after the trans-Pacific flight. The male passport agent extolled how handsome he was and after the perfunctory “business or personal” exchange, asked him for the name of the hotel where he was staying. Not being quick on the draw or knowing the name of another hotel in the city, the new arrival blurted out the name. Realizing he had possibly put himself at risk for an unwanted visitor, he locked every lock to his room in case he received an unsolicited knock on the door. He didn’t. But one can’t be too careful and it did give him a bit of an unsettled stay.

Do you feel lucky? In the Dallas Fort Worth airport, a woman was asked, “Do you have any firearms on your person, ma’am?” She did a double take asking him to repeat the question.  As it turns out, business travelers in DFW forget to unload their Colts from their briefcases often enough the TSA makes a practice of asking that question of everyone as they approach security. When she was unable to wipe the incredulous look off her face, the TSA guy offered a final explanation, “You’re in the Republic of Texas, ma’am.”

Victoria’s secret. Another woman recalls the time she landed in Mexico City. The immigration officer asked if he could inspect her hand luggage and naturally she agreed. He reached in and the first things he pulled out were her portable CD player, a book and her make-up kit. The next thing to emerge from the sack was a black lace bra. He was instantly mortified and all but shouted, “Oh God! I’m sorry, ma’am!”  He quickly stuffed everything back in the bag and couldn’t look her in the eye as he waved her through security.

Farm aid. When returning to Atlanta from Tuscany, a woman was honest about the fact she’d spent two weeks on a farm while there. She was sent to an area where she was nearly hosed down and had to have her shoes and feet washed. She also admitted to bringing Panforte (a regional cake) into the U.S. After having to wait for an hour, the mystery was finally solved since the representative of the Department of Agriculture thought Panforte was meat – which is a giant import no-no. In the meantime, they’d made her open every suitcase, surveyed each and every item and didn’t seem to care she had more than her fair share of leather goods. She says she’ll probably skip the honesty bit on her next trip to the Italian countryside.

Tell it to the judge. One man admits to having committed a serious mistake when he was leaving Russia because he shaved off his goatee and his passport picture showed him wearing it. When he arrived at passport control in St. Petersburg, the young woman at the counter asked for his documents and started stamping away. After noticing the discrepancy, she called her supervisor who started the inquisition. What was he doing in Russia, etc.?  The head of the passport control desk came in and started asking even more questions including what he did for a living and whether or not he was married. He answered honestly but was more than perplexed when this woman suggested the two of them get married. He politely turned her down and explained his fiancé was a Russian Federal Court Judge. Hearing that, he was immediately escorted to the terminal and was able to forego waiting in line.

What kind of terrorist are you? One woman reports that no matter where they travel, her husband is singled out by security since he has a dark and swarthy complexion and apparently has the M.O. of a terrorist (whatever that means). On one very early morning flight, he opted not to shave and was a prime target for being frisked. The TSA officer asked them to take everything out of their carry-on luggage, which they did as instructed. The new and young TSA inspector was embarrassed by some of the “dainty” items contained in her carry-on and started blushing bright red. She offered to repack the bag. But that didn’t stop the other inspectors from having a good laugh at his expense.

It coulda been me. A noteworthy story from LAX (Los Angeles). A woman was using a pay phone to contact her ride. The person next to her kept stepping on her toes until she asked her neighbor to stop backing into him. As chance would have it, it was Ray Charles who smiled and said, “Dear I am so sorry. I can’t see you. I’ll try and anchor myself more.” That was some brush with fame.

Oh, this is exciting! A public relations executive recounts the time she was escorting a group of journalists on a press trip. As everyone was in the process of having their carry-on bags x-rayed, one bag started moving and shaking. The bag is question contained a (back?) vibrator and the owner had forgotten to remove its batteries. Naturally, the trip began with a bang.

One love. A consultant who was returning from Jamaica where he was working for a large multinational bank was stopped by customs. The inspector proceeded to pick through his belongings and the search took hours. The customs agent apologized but explained that anyone who travels alone to Jamaica, on a ticket purchased 24 hours before and who was carrying very little luggage containing a laptop computer and wearing a suit was bound to be questioned and searched upon arrival in the U.S.

Banned. The last story is very personal. I was on my way to Morocco on assignment. My husband decided he would accompany me. It wasn’t until we were in the taxi approaching the Paris airport that he realized he was traveling on an expired passport. He decided to take the chance and go anyway. He cleared Paris security and customs in Morocco while I was busily pretending I didn’t know him. As we were leaving the Morocco, a customs official noticed the problem. He said he would have to exile him from the country. This was fine with my husband since we were on our way back to Paris. I didn’t breath during the entire return trip assuming he’d be arresting by French authorities. Happily, he sailed through French customs. Men of a certain age with gray hair (I guess) look less threatening. It goes without saying I have become a compulsive checker of passports. I might have been visiting my husband in jail. French jails leave a lot to be desired.

OK, here’s a start and I’m certain there are a million other such stories as the above. Post them and (possibly) we’ll have a good laugh. Or a cry.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

10 sensible rules for women traveling alone

Written by admin on April 14, 2009 – 6:05 pm -

Why am I differentiating between men and women traveling solo?  It’s a bit of a mystery since I frequently hop on a plane and enjoy being my own boss.

I love the freedom. Waiting for others to make up their minds (or get dressed) can negate some of the pleasures of being able to be spontaneous.

Traveling alone can be lonely, but the new people you meet without a “friend” tagging along, are certainly different. It’s one of the ways a trip may be enriched by not having a companion (or more) joined at the hip.

However, some friends have reprimanded me for being so loose and fancy-free and advised me to take prudent precautions. In many countries (and unfortunately even here in the U.S.) women are seen to be the more vunerable sex. In order to make peace with friends who tell me I need to be more careful when on the road, here are 10 safety rules to follow for women traveling alone.

1. Let family, friends or co-workers know where you are going and where you will be staying.

2. Be alert to your surroundings. If something or someone doesn’t seem right, take action. If necessary, call 911 or its equivalent. If you’re in a foreign country, it’s up to you to ask for the help number.

3. If you’re staying in a hotel, ask to change rooms if the desk clerk blurts out your room number for all to hear. It’s no one’s business but yours and should stay that way.

4. Some people are nervous about hotels that use magnetic keys. That’s not one of my anxieties. But if I lose one, I ask for a new reprogrammed set.

5. Elevators that require you to insert your key to get to your floor are an extra safety precaution many women appreciate.

6. Does the hotel have a full-time security staff that has been trained and bonded?

7. When you’re in the room, insure all of the safety locks are securely bolted. Some security specialists suggest you travel with a personal door lock. That’s going a bit far – unless you’re staying someplace you shouldn’t be.

8. Some people leave the radio or television on after they’ve left the room. If it makes them feel better, so be it.

9. Prudence says you should use the safe in the room or if you’re traveling with real valuables, or the hotel safe. Don’t leave things out for the staff to see.

10. If someone knocks on the door, don’t feel you have to open it even if the person says he or she is an employee of the hotel. There’s nothing wrong with calling the front desk to ascertain whether or not it’s valid. You might miss a turndown chocolate but it won’t be the end of your life.

Now that I’ve thought these precautions through, they are not only advisable for women. Men could certainly stand for a bit of caution at times.

These are a few dos and don’ts for personal security. To be sure, I’m missing some of the most important ones. Please add them in the event I’ve been careless or forgetful.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Political Parties Aside

Written by admin on April 11, 2009 – 12:16 pm -

As an American whose adopted home is France, it’s so refreshing not to have to make excuses for a U.S. administration that views it as the “Old Europe.” American Expats feel a new sense of pride, even if many of them are experiencing personal financial uncertainty.  

My days of having to explain that the French like Americans, even if they don’t approve of the government’s policies, have come to an end. President Obama abandoned the previous administration’s pose of mutual (and inevitable) hostility between the French and the Americans. This seems to be part of a broader spirit of friendship and cooperation.  

The president was emphatic during the G-20 Summit meetings, which took place in London on April 1st, that the time has come for its members to form a strong alliance and work together. He said, “The U.S. can’t operate in a vacuum, politically, militarily, in the global financial markets or in the realm of terrorism.” 

It was a remarkable trip and meeting of the minds even if no country got what they wanted. But during the most difficult period the U.S. has experienced since the Depression, it’s time world leaders join forces. Clearly, everything isn’t going to be smooth sailing and there will be on-going dissention. Hopefully new and increasingly open channels of communication have been created. Obama has set a lot in motion. Now he has to see it through and it’s going to heavy lifting.  

Whether or not it’s superficial, what has so many people talking—and it’s going to be on-going—is the impact Michelle Obama had on her first official visit to Europe as the wife of the President. 

Perhaps there were a few tongues wagging (and who cares?) as to whether or not she should have returned the embrace of Queen Elizabeth. The London tabloids were fast to report it’s simply not done. Perhaps that’s “old” protocol and Michelle (or rather the Queen) broke that barrier.  

Michelle Obama is breaking a lot of barriers and doing the U.S. proud. Her style and her sense of (moderately priced) fashion are being noted. But it’s her down-to-earth honesty that’s making the real impression. She’s willing to say to a group of students in a school in the UK and the US that they are this generation of doers. And just because they’re black or didn’t come from a well-to-do families aren’t reasons not to succeed. Education is a vehicle for creating a better life and not something of which to be ashamed. The First Lady didn’t come from a privileged family—other than having parents who loved her and were supportive. 

Michele Obama, a lawyer, has shelved her profession for now to be the wife of the first black president of the United State plus a stay-at-home mother. Her daughters certainly don’t have her at their beck and call as they did before their father started running for office. But their grandmother has moved to the White House to fill in some of the obligatory gaps. 

Every news medium is filled with long commentaries about the Obama’s trip. Would France’s president Nicholas Sarkozy boycott the G-20 meeting? Why didn’t his wife, the infamous Carla Bruni, accompany him to London? She’s already met the Queen when she curtsied ever so demurely. But did she opt not to attend because she didn’t want to be compared to Michele? Was she setting herself apart from the “Wife’s Club?” 

And gossip being a fact of life, why hasn’t Carla Bruni adopted special causes? For a woman who has consistently loved the spotlight and created it, she’s stepped back and is rarely seen unless she’s accompanying her husband. And when she’s with President Sarkozy, she’s beautifully decked out in elegant haute couture French clothes.  

One thing that’s for certain is the French are “gaga” over Michele Obama. They may not approve of baring her biceps (who cares) but they are overwhelmed by her vitality and openness.  

When Obama was campaigning, he promised change. Ditto for Sarkozy. It’s going to be fascinating to see how things play out in this new environment. Is this the beginning of greater global understanding and cooperation? Has the tide turned? All we can do is hope.

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Posted in Around the World |

Are Air France and British Air’s Open Skies starting a trend?

Written by admin on April 9, 2009 – 6:08 pm -

How can travelers get from here to there without feeling like pretzels sitting in the back of the plane especially on long-haul flights?

Is Air France going head to head with British Air’s Open Skies by introducing a private cabin called Premium Voyageur? Scheduled to debut this fall, the twenty-two seat private seating area will be located between the Economy and Business class sections. Previously, there would have been 40 seats. Having fewer seats will give Premium Voyageur passengers 40 percent more space than if they were flying coach.

The seats are fixed shells with an 18.9” wide seat that reclines 123 degrees and has a pitch of 38.2 inches, plus a leg rest that may be raised. Each seat will have 3.9” leather armrests so you won’t need to wrestle with your neighbor.

All of the seats will have a 10.4-inch wide individual video screen and passengers will be able to access 500 hours of on-demand viewing. Those flying this class of service will receive business class amenities including a travel kit, a bottle of water, noise-reducing headphones, a feather pillow plus a pure wool blanket.

At the airport, passengers receive priority check-in, increased weight allowance for their suitcases and their bags will be delivered to the carousel at the same time as Business Class luggage.

A sample round trip fare for the New York to Paris route starts from $1,431 including all taxes and fees.

Air France’s first available destinations will be New York-JFK, Tokyo and Osaka. But the Premium Voyageur cabin will ultimately be on Air France’s entire international long-haul network of Boeing 777s, Airbus A340s and A330s.

At the same time: Open Skies has completed its merger with L’Avion, creating the first all business class airline that operates nonstop flights between New York and Paris and between New York and Amsterdam.

Having taken this flight, I gave it thumbs up and could find no fault in terms of comfort, service, food and more.

Do you think other airlines are going to hop on the band wagon when it comes to establishing more moderately priced seating than Business Class fares?  First class and business class compartments appear to be fairly empty these days unless people are using upgrades. Or frequently the seats are occupied by employees of the airlines. I’m raising my hands and crossing my fingers that other carriers get the idea.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

7 steps to planning a great family vacation

Written by admin on April 7, 2009 – 6:12 pm -

Many parents have been known to say a specific vacation will be the last they’ll ever take as a family. As their children approach college age, many of them have no patience for the older generation — especially if they happen to be authority figures, for example, parents.

Plus, teens develop lives of their own, want to do things with friends, hang out or (hopefully) get summer jobs that preclude leaving town.

If, in spite of these hurdles, you’re planning a getaway as a family unit, there are ways to facilitate making it a trip everyone enjoys. The magic is called planning. Plus, throw in a little TLC, some to give and take, compromise, cooperation and free time.

The first decision is what type of vacation you’re going to take and where the family will be headed.

1. Chose a Destination: There are plenty of questions when it comes to this decision.

Do you want to go near or far? Will you need air transportation, train or by car? Are you looking for an all-inclusive vacation? For example, a cruise, a vacation at a dude ranch, a Club Med, a safari, a biking or hiking trip? Do you want a resort that has camps targeting different ages and interests?

Do you want to stay in a hotel or would you rather rent an apartment? Is the trip intended to be educational or do you to relax on the beach? Is it going to be a sports or water related get-away? You get the idea.

2. Budget: Set a budget and have it fixed in stone. Depending on how small or how big, this will dictate where you may and may not go. Wear your brutally realistic hat when you’re using a calculator and doing the math. Anyone who says a family of four can “do” a city in Western Europe on $100 a day is dreaming.

Some frugal travelers might be able to pull it off if they’re willing to sleep on the pavement and confine their meals to bread, cheese, possibly some fruit, rotgut wine and tap water. Personally, I don’t consider that a vacation.

On the other hand, for the camping, biking or hiking types, it’s doable. I’ve camped in France and discovered parts of the country I would never have seen had I stayed in a hotel.

3. Involve your children in the decision-making process: If you don’t, you’re doomed. They’ll feel as if they’re being dragged to a destination they haven’t chosen. This is where it gets tricky since not all members of a family necessarily like to do the same things at the same time

There are different types of excursions and something for everyone. Let your children take ownership of specific days — One day (or more) might be dedicated to museums; other days might be designated to outdoor activities.

Have an agenda. But don’t be so rigid that nothing can be changed under any circumstances. The key to a successful trip is when everyone feels as if his or her preferences are being accommodated.

4. Give each member of the group specific responsiblies: Teens are amazing when it comes to doing research on the Internet. One may be fascinated by specific destinations while another may excel at identifying accommodations and places to eat.

5. Give children freedom: Clear boundaries need to be set about what’s appropriate and what’s not.

- acceptable norms of the people at the travel destination

- acceptable behavior of the family unit even as if they weren’t traveling

6. Keep a journal and take photos: Start at the beginning of the planning process and record everything until the end of the trip.

Photos are a great way to capture memories. In these days of digital photography, creating a trip website doesn’t take forever and is a means of sharing.

7. Include unscheduled time for spontaneous fun.

Vacations are experiences that will be with you far longer than the trip itself. Please add any and all ideas you may have for making a family vacation a memorable one. Times such as this deserve to be cherished.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

10 hotel bathroom fantasies

Written by admin on April 2, 2009 – 6:15 pm -

For some, hotel rooms with big beds, fluffy pillows and amenities are important. Others find their lodging pleasure in the bathrooms. Well, what used to be known as bathrooms. You remember – a toilet, a sink and a tub for a shower or bath.

It’s no longer sufficient for hotels to have free business centers, WiFi, Bose iPod docking stations, lush Continental breakfasts and a mini-store where some supplies may be purchased. Now the bathroom should be grand enough that you can invite people for a party.

Here are my 10 secret hotel bathroom fantasies:

1. A huge tub (preferably with a Jacuzzi) plus a separate clear glass floor-to-ceiling shower stall with multiple jets and a rain shower spray. Preferably, it should be big enough for two people.

2. Enough hot water that you can sit or stand forever and the pressure is super strong.

3. How about a flat screen TV visible from every angle?

4. Naturally  – a telephone. And please, a clock.

5. A powerful hairdrier.

6. Two sinks — it’s hard to share. Please include good lighting and a no-fog magnifying mirror.

7. More towels and washcloths than you can possibly use– the thicker and fluffier the better. So much for the green movement.

8. Robes – who wants to pack their own?

9. Designer toiletries and they shouldn’t be the mini-mini size.

10. Flowers in the bathroom in addition to the bedroom.

I remember when I was pleased to find a super clean bathroom, a high voltage hairdryer and water faucets that were correctly marked and turned in the right direction.

Clearly, those days are a thing of the past. Bring in the luxuries, giant mirrors and elegant marble décor. And yes, would the housekeeping staff leave candy or some cookies at night.

In Europe, I always found a bidets. But, they are a luxury that I’ve only used to cool champagne and to wash underwear and pantyhose.

My bathroom fantasies sound terrific to me and to other hotel dreamers. But I’m certain I’ve forgotten some of the true nitty-gritty necessities. Plus, I’m certain you have your own fantasies. Feel free to add them.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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