Cross-Cultural Relationships – Playing with Fire?

Written by kvfawcett on July 20, 2010 – 5:36 pm -

It’s June and based on the questions in Bonjour Paris’s in-box, love must be in the air. Or, at the very least, like—okay, lust. There are so many e-mails that begin, “I’ve met someone who lives in France (or remplissez le blanc) and am considering…”

Perhaps it’s because people are more mobile and even though air travel may not be glamorous or pleasant, it’s easy enough to fly wherever you want for the person you want than ever before. And with the advent of Internet and email, it’s simply easier to maintain long-distance relationships.

And that’s only the beginning. Anyone can instant message, Skype and spend as much time (at least) communicating with someone else as if you were in the same city. The main impediment to whether or not you should pick up the phone is the time difference. I don’t care how much you love speaking, not everyone feels like talking at three in the morning.

Some conjecture that on-line dating has opened up a whole new world. People who would never have “met” twenty years ago are striking up cyber relationships that may develop into something substantially more.

Can two people from different countries see eye to eye and agree on little things such as where to live, how to raise children, who’s responsible for doing what and how? Factor in religious and political differences and you’re asking for double (a conservative estimate) trouble. If you don’t speak the same language, a lot gets lost in translation.

Will these relationships work? For some people yes—and for others, forget it. Unless they’ve been raised with the same set of values and references, cross-cultural relationships are too much of a stretch.

Some people are truly better off marrying someone from their community and (with luck) living happily ever after. The fact that fifty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce seems to be lost on a lot of people. Marriage, or just getting together with reasonable seriousness, is, well, a serious matter. And who remembers the quaint thought that it’s ’til death do us part?

The divorce rate is lower in France, which doesn’t mean that people are necessarily more content. But, because France is a nominally Catholic country (all right, Catholicism ceased to be the state religion a century ago, and attendance at mass is on the slim side most Sundays), perhaps people are less likely to divorce for the sake of the children or their status within the community. And many couples opt not to marry for all kinds of reasons—including being able to establish a civil relationship, which is more common among heterosexual couples than homosexual ones.

But what’s different now and interesting to me (and perhaps this is due to the somewhat older demographics of our readers) is that many of these emails are coming from Baby Boomers. We’re the post-WW II generation of people who are (possibly) easing into retirement and many are “empty-nesters.”

There’s a good chance you like to travel if you’re reading this site. So what about falling in love or like or lust and changing your lifestyle? Are people more willing to take a chance and move to another country? There are certainly a lot of reasons not to. But as I reminded someone who was chastising me for living in Paris because my grandchildren are in Washington, DC, I reminded them that the commute is an hour longer than if I were living in California.

Many of my American friends in Paris came to France for their college junior year abroad. So many of them stayed, married and have become more French than the French. Have their marriages worked? Not each and every one—but I am surprised how many have and how many of their children speak English with very French accents.

So much in relationships has to do with expectations and the ability to compromise. Can you be flexible in the way you approach life? Are you able to give the other person space to do what he or she needs to do—most especially when it comes to dealing with family who may live on the other side of the world? Are you capable of doing with someone from another country what is hard enough to do with someone from your own?

Real life situations cross us up, and unless you’re a take-charge type, you may need to assert yourself. I was just speaking with someone who commented that even though he’s 50 percent Italian and 50 percent American, he and his Italian wife don’t understand one another all of the time. Duh—who does?

When I questioned a friend who’s a therapist and does mediation training and conflict resolution, his first comment was that men and women tend to speak in different languages, and people (no matter their sexual orientation) get out of synch. And yes, there are some real negatives to being involved with someone from a different culture. On the other hand, there can be real pluses. Some people thrive in different cultures and may turn out to be more interesting than if they’d never left home. I like to think that’s my case.

What’s the best way to approach cross-cultural relationships? I have no idea. Only you and your other can have a clue. Try to figure it out, but look at the person, not the scenery, not the material. So what if he or she has the most spectacular apartment in Paris? You don’t make love—or even like or lust—to an apartment. On the other hand, if you feel right together, where you live, isn’t the be-all to end all—and there are worse places than France.

© Paris New Media, LLC

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Posted in Paris |

Follow the Bouncing Dollar

Written by kvfawcett on July 12, 2010 – 4:35 pm -

The U.S. dollar hasn’t been this strong against the Euro in more than five years. That isn’t a shabby incentive to motivate Americans to take to the skies and head to Europe. There’s no question there’s been a pent-up demand to travel—and why not do so when your money will go a whole lot further?

According to a survey conducted by, which polled more than 1200 Americans, 60 percent of them are planning to come to the E.U. in 2010, up 50 percent from 2009.

(Surprisingly, only six percent of the people surveyed stated they were reconsidering their travel plans because of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland even though volcanologists are predicting it isn’t dormant and won’t be for quite a while.)

The favorable exchange rate makes a trip to Europe more manageable—or may just put it back in reach if you’ve been feeling priced out of the market. Bonjour Paris has been saying that if you’re coming to Europe for a short vacation, a few dollars here and there do not make a live-or-die difference. But it’s a real difference and it’s your money. Here are a few numbers.

A little over two years ago, a euro cost $1.60. Today, it costs a little less than $1.25. That’s like getting a 22-percent raise or, to make it very practical, 100€ spent in restaurants costs you about $122 (today’s exchange rate), not $160. Does that sound real enough?

Apparently it does to quite a few people. We conducted a very quick poll on our Bonjour Paris Facebook Page and queried our readers about their plans. Some people commented that, because of the current exchange rate, they’re booking tickets to France since it’s simply too good to pass up. Others posted they’d planned their trips when the dollar was at $1.40 to the euro and would go anyway, stating that the elevated airfares are the real sticking point.

Those truly (under $300 round-trip) deep-discounted fare wars seem to be a thing of the past, which makes sense because of the cost of fuel. Fares may look good until all of the add-ons are factored into the price.

Kathleen Delgado commented that she travels to France four to five times a year on business, so the exchange rate is not the deciding factor. But Kathleen commented, “Since I’m not made of money and have respect for the money I earn and the people who help me earn it, the exchange rate does impress me.”

Other Bonjour Paris readers say they’re feeling some respite from when the dollar didn’t buy as much. Dorothy Bain Raviele plans to make improvements to her home in Europe and do some more traveling thanks to the lower euro.

Some of our most faithful readers (merci) Barbra Timmer and Richard and Kathy Nettler posted they’re currently in France and enjoying the dollar’s increased buying power.

Hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the service industry that target an American clientele are seeing a definite increase in business.

For American expats who live in the E.U. and whose income is dollar denominated, we feel as if we’ve come into a small inheritance from a relative who worried about whether or not we’d be able to pay our bills. Yes, we’ve received a slight reprieve from what’s felt like poverty, especially for those of us who have lived in France since its currency was denominated in francs. It’s been a financial roller coaster, whether or not we were prepared for the ride.

On the other hand, Americans who invested in property in the E.U. with the idea they might return to the U.S., sell their homes and convert their profits into dollars aren’t so happy today because of the limp euro. Few of us anticipated we’d need to be experts in currency arbitrage when buying our primary residences. Well, you can’t have it both ways, have your cake and eat it, and (for good measure) on ne peut pas avoir du beurre et l’argent du beurre.

Not being an economist, I don’t pretend to know whether or not the euro has been overvalued—although given the way all the members of the currency union have been fibbing about their deficits, there’s some good evidence that it has been. If that is the case, then, on the one hand, it’s overdue and, on the other… well, as Harry Truman said, it would be nice to find a one-handed economist. But the facts of the moment are right in front of us. The euro is down and likely not to rise very far any time soon.

So, here’s a question for everyone. Is the lower value of the euro having any effect on your plans for travel? If so, how? Let us know. We’re always glad to hear from you.

© Paris New Media, LLC

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Posted in Around the World |

Up in the Air

Written by admin on June 16, 2010 – 11:56 am -

If you’ve been wondering what’s it’s been like, George Clooney had an easy time when it came to being a road warrior.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. George Clooney had a great time—believe me. He wasn’t trying to fly his way around volcanic ash or sleep on a cot in an airport for six days. Airport hotels? Heaven on earth given the alternatives.

Goorge Clooney could watch TV in his hotel room or the bar without being bewildered and depressed by cancellation notices, dire forecasts, and overflowing toilets. Nor did he have to deal with people sleeping everywhere or children crying. His life was good—or kinda.

Not wanting to miss the drama, I managed to arrive in Washington, DC in time for my granddaughter’s seventh birthday on the 24th. My flight wasn’t impacted in the same way as people who couldn’t take off last week and until Wednesday of this week. That’s when the airports officially opened in most of the E.U., even though flights were departing from some parts of Europe, depending on the day and the hour.

Please don’t think I’m making light of a dreadful situation. Rest  assured most people have concerns over the impact of volcanoes and climate change. But after all, volcanoes are natural and happen—honest—every day; they just tend to be smaller and politer. In any case, let’s hope we’ll never experience this type of travel disruption again.

Not only were the lives of passengers and flight crews disrupted, but planes weren’t where they were supposed to be. When the skies were declared safe, many flights were cancelled because there simply weren’t aircraft to transport people from here to there.

Robin Worrall, who writes special reports for The Danish Centre for Energy Savings in Copenhagen, was heading to Washington, DC. His initial flight from Denmark to London was cancelled. Luckily he was able to get a connection and made the first scheduled United flight to leave the U.K. on Thursday the 22nd, just when the ban was lifted.

Worrall admits to feeling a wee bit guilty, as well as lucky, as the plane departed, because he’d had a reservation on that specific flight. People who’d been stranded since the time Heathrow closed on the 14th surrounded him.

The flight attendants were in excellent spirits since many of them were returning home. They welcomed everyone as the passengers were boarding. Some commented about how expensive London was compared to the U.S. At least their housing was covered during the paid but unwanted furlough. That wasn’t the case for many others who had no option but to wait it out. No matter what was the reason for their trips, it was as if people had been handed “get-out-of-jail and pass-go-collect-$200” cards.

Before the DC-bound flight took off, the captain assured everyone that United wasn’t taking any chances. Off they went and after a few minutes, everyone clapped. The French aboard naturally shrugged and said, C’est normal. You’d think the plane would have had every seat filled, but much to Worrall’s surprise, there were two empty ones next to him in the Economy Plus section of the cabin. “I was lucky in every way,” he said. “The flight over was pleasant and we landed only eleven minutes late.”

Bonjour Paris’s events‘ editor Lisa Buros didn’t have the same luck. She and her fiancé were headed to the U.S. for their dream wedding, only to have to call it off because the guests would have arrived in time, but they wouldn’t, since their flights from London were cancelled and cancelled again.

Lisa adopted a stiff-upper-lip British attitude and has rescheduled the event. “We’re going to have a hurricane wedding in Las Vegas and do anything we please.” she said. The pair can’t wait to be surrounded by family and friends. Gee, this type of agony might have split some couples up. But I suspect this one will be dining out on this story for many years. And then some. No doubt the grandkids will roll their eyes.

As for me, I managed to make it to my granddaughter’s birthday and on time. But, I would have flown half way around the world to do so—and darn near did.

Please post your stories if you were inconvenienced by the volcano or were waiting for anyone who was. Let’s hope this will be the one and only occasion you’ll have the opportunity to rant this way.

If you were the recipient of an act of kindness while stranded, please share that as well. We’ve been hearing those stories too. Someone was musing as to whether or not there will be romances (even weddings) resulting from chance meetings in airports.

© Paris New Media, LLC

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Posted in Around the World, Paris |

Medical Musts or Maybes When Traveling

Written by admin on November 15, 2009 – 3:33 pm -

Anyone who’s traveling these days should take extra health precautions. This isn’t targeted only to people going from one continent to another. They may be taking a driving or train trip—or for that matter, going to visit friends or relatives during the upcoming holiday season. But that doesn’t negate the need to be prepared.

Driving long distances can play havoc with people’s bodies. Do stop every couple of hours if only to take a walk around the car even if you don’t need to use the facilities. Some rest stops are cleaner than others, so it doesn’t hurt to take some baby wipes with you, even if you’re not traveling with the infant or toddler set.

Whichever way you’re traveling, having a bottle of water with you is a good idea and even if you’re the best of friends or family, don’t share them. Take individual ones and fill them from water fountains when you stop for gas. I’m not implying you do this in Mexico – but if you’re close to home, chances are the water’s safe to drink. If there’s any question about this, buy a gallon bottle and fill your personal bottles from it. During these days of coughs, colds and flu, why chance catching something you might not if you’re extra cautious?

I’m not one who sees germs everywhere. But having just flown in three planes for cumulatively 24 hours, my antenna is at an all-time high. Considering the hacking and sneezing going on, I bet some people are feeling not so hot (or perhaps they’re feeling too hot since they’ve come down with a fever) because they contracted someone else’s germs and made them their own. Airplanes (whether or not the air is circulated) can’t help but be breeding grounds for infections and one sneeze may be enough to do the trick.

When I take long flights, I use an ointment (a type of menthol one) in my nostrils. My others musts are my own blanket, pillow and items the airlines may have cleaned but have not 100% sanitized.

My travel kit includes earphones, a tiny bottle of Purell and hand wipes. Many people tend to have sensitive stomachs when confronted with new foods – so pills for any and every GI problem are in my survival kits. Ditto for antacids. There’s nothing worse than a sour stomach when embarking on a new adventure.

Don’t forget throat lozenges in case you feel a tickle in your throat. A friend takes an entire sack of homeopathic drugs. She swears by them and come to think of it, never gets sick when she’s away from home.

Some people definitely have better immune systems than others. Not departing on a trip exhausted definitely gives most travelers a step up on overcoming jet-lag, adjusting to food, water and air in new environments.

Be sure your shots are up to date. Contact your doctor or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for a list of necessary vaccinations. Allow plenty of time for this step in case you need to get vaccines that require more than one dose if you’re headed overseas. Even if you’re just going camping, be certain your tetanus shot is up to date. A cut shouldn’t necessitate your making a trip to the nearest hospital if you’ve encountered a rusty nail.

When traveling to a location where I may contract an exotic disease and won’t have access to an English-speaking doctor, I pack Tamiflu and Cipro with printouts with when and how to use them. Happily, I’ve never had the need.

This may sound crazy but pack a bar of soap, one you usually use or have tested. I should confess that I caused a houseguest to contract (what felt like) a killer case of hives. He was incapacitated from welts and the subsequent itching. When I had to ask my Paris pharmacist for some cream so this person could move without being miserable, I had a case of serious humiliation.

Even though houseguests may not be a blessing, death by savon isn’t polite. Plus, it’s embarrassing when the story is told – and retold. And this type of happening invariably makes the rounds. “She did what?” is said with giggles and more than a bit of incredibility.

What do you pack when you’re traveling? Prescriptions (and always get a written one for refills from your MD if you’re going to be away for any period of time) and your usual medications are givens. But do you have other musts? There’s no way I could have included everything.

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Posted in Around the World |

Are airlines responsible for bad passengers?

Written by admin on September 25, 2009 – 4:47 pm -

After reading this article about unruly fliers, I wondered how many air travelers had seen other passengers misbehaving.

I’m not referring to parents who allow their children to run up and down the aisles. Or people who cram so much in overhead bins that if they open mid-flight, your life may be at stake. Annoying as those things are, they’re not federal offenses.

Perhaps it’s being a contrarian, but are there times when clearing security, the pre-flight and in-flight experience has been sufficiently exacerbating, that by the time passengers board, they’re ready to riot.

What could airlines do to make travel easier? How would you improve going through security? What measures would you like to see adopted when you’re going from here to there?

If airlines were to serve everyone meals on flights that are longer than two hours (or after you’ve been sitting on the tarmac more than an hour) would that lessen the pain?

In these days of massive cutbacks, are airlines being penny wise and pound foolish, by not offering more customer service when most passengers feel as if they’re being delegated to sardine status  — especially if they’re seated in the far, far back of the plane.

Should airlines stop serving alcohol? Sure, drinks are moneymakers on the P&L statement. But, are there statistics as to how many trouble-making events are directly attributable to passengers’ alcohol levels? Even if they’re served only one drink in-flight, some people are cheap drunks while others may board flights already sloshed.

Should passengers be required to take a Breathalyzer test before boarding? Drug tests?

We’ve been on flights when the crew hasn’t given enough information or when they’ve shared too much — especially in the middle of the night. Plus, there can be communications problems when people don’t understand announcements in a foreign language or they’re so garbled that even if the announcement is in your native language, you’re lost.

Please post some doable things the airlines could tackle to make trips more pleasurable.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Weekend in Sydney: Confessions of a mileage run junkie

Written by admin on June 15, 2009 – 5:30 pm -

Who goes to Sydney, Australia for only two days? I did. And there were specific reasons.

First, it was a mileage run. Since United Airlines has been holding a double your miles incentive program to entice people to fly (and that means qualifying miles that count towards one’s premium status) which ended today (June 15th, 2009) a trip to Sydney from Washington would add nearly 40,000 miles to my United account.  Some people access their bank statements on line. Others check their airline miles. Then there are those who do both.  I fall into the latter category.

More people than you think do mileage runs. A flight attendant told me she’d had a passenger who’d flown from San Francisco to Sydney and returned the day she arrived. That’s a bit extreme.

But, the man sitting next to me explained that being a 1K member of Star Alliance, enabled him to book the least expensive ticket (and since United was running a promotion, it cost approximately $800 round-trip) and use a system-wide upgrade. As a result, he was flying business class.

Second, it was an endurance trial. As a woman of a certain age, I wanted to test my stamina and how I would cope with jet lag. Would I arrive “down under” and spend my two-and-something days there in the hotel room? Not on your life, even though the 100-room The Blue Sydney was a more than tempting place to veg out.

So many business fliers and road warriors fly from one city or country to another and never give it a second thought. In the past when I’ve had to be lucid upon deplaning, I’d find myself nodding off during the presentation. But then, I was flying coach.

Third, I wanted to experience United Airline’s business class. I’d never flown on the new 180° flat bed seat with individual 15” monitors and plugs and enough room to work on my computer and even be able to look at some reference materials without dumping them on my neighbor or in the aisle. Most seats in coach don’t have plugs so people who want to work are out of luck when the battery goes dead.

From San Francisco to Sydney, I flew on the upper deck and sat downstairs on the return portion of that run. If I have the choice again, I’ll opt for the upper deck since it’s quieter and there’s not as much commotion. One caveat about the new seats: as wonderful as they are, there’s not a lot of overhead storage for suitcases and there’s no storage on the floor. And the person sitting next to the window needs to be agile enough to climb over his or her neighbor if the seat is configured into the bed position.

Fourth, I wanted to see how much I could see in two days of non-stop sightseeing. Thanks to some dear friends, I compressed a week’s worth of seeing into two fabulous days  — which I’ll write about sooner than later.

And lastly, as I have been on the road so much recently and have crossed a total of 18 time zones in the past month, I wanted to see whether or not a person could actually live in no (or all) time zones without losing their sanity. The resounding conclusion is yes – but they may need to resort to medicinal aid.

I’ve discovered, after spending so much time in the air that as soon as I hear the plane’s engine revving up, my body now goes into a sleep mode no matter the hour. After popping a pill, I use my own pillow, blanket, wear men’s cashmere socks, put on my noise canceling earphones and padded eyeshades, and slip into a cocoon. It’s essential to get as much sleep as possible, even if there’s a movie that’s been on your wish list forever or a book you’ve been dying to read. It’s not that you can’t do those things. But make sleeping your priority.

Other hints: Even if you have a drink or two of alcohol (and many people say it can be your ruination on planes), drink a lot of water. No matter in which section of the plane you’re flying, either request a big bottle of water or bring an empty plastic one through security screening and fill it when you’re in the safe zone from the nearest water fountain.

When you board the plane, set your watch on local time and hope your body takes the hint.

Other frequent flying things I’ve learned: Having to change planes and make connections can be the straw that breaks the camel’s (or your) back. Being a member of an airline club makes life easier so you can relax. Plus, if there are delays, you’re somewhat covered and less frezzled when you board the next flight. This is the time when buying a “day pass” to a club can be an excellent investment.

Another revelation: I must have the look of a terrorist or the customs officials at the Sydney airport are as strict as they come. I was stopped twice for a passport check before I was exiting with my luggage.

I thought I was all clear but was ushered into a line where a very polite young woman unpacked my suitcase, my carry-on plus my purse. Contrasted with some TSA officials I’ve encountered, she repacked everything with total precision. I never could figure out what she was hoping to find. I literally had nothing (not even nuts which are verboten) that could qualify as contraband.

As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I made a fast run to the gym and worked out as quickly and hard as I could. The shower did wonders and off I went for 12 hours of touring.

No, I was not upgraded to business class on the U.S. portions of the flight. It would have been a nice bonus — but I managed to sleep anyway and went to bed at midnight after returning to DC.

It’s a bizarre feeling to have crossed so many time zones, the equator, lost and gained a day and still be alive to write about the adventure. And after two days in one place, I’m preparing to board another plane.

If I don’t make 1K this year, I’ll be one very unhappy person.  Come to think of it though, because of this past promotion, there will probably be so many 1K members that we’ll all be sitting in the back of the plane since there are so few upgradeable seats when flying domestically. The airlines are using smaller planes and cutting the number of flights.

I’ll never be a Global Services Star Alliance member since those are people who don’t buy discounted tickets or use miles to upgrade. It’s rumored they need to spend $50,000 on tickets per year to qualify.

People are welcome to post their tips as how to best deal with living in the skies as well as their jet lag secrets. And please confess whether or not any of you are doing mileage runs. Obtaining your preferred carrier’s top status comes with all types of perks. At least, let’s hope it does.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Staving off starving on domestic flights

Written by admin on June 4, 2009 – 5:35 pm -

It depends on the airline, but if you’re flying domestically, chances are good you aren’t going to be served food. Lord knows how much money the airlines are saving by cutting out the tiny packages of pretzel snacks that used to be served with your soft drink.

Before heading to the airport, check to see if there’s a meal included. Even if there is, you might want to pass. Airline food can be akin to food much in the same way as military music may be an ersatz form of music.

Yesterday I was on a scheduled five-hour-plus flight that took more than six hours. I’m usually fine without eating but realized I’d left for the airport three hours prior to the flight. My stomach was audibly growling.

I broke down and bought a “chef’s” salad and a beer for $15. The beer won the taste prize by miles.

Looking around, I could see and SMELL so many different meals. I am not a curry fan and the odor made me queasy. The people sitting next to me had raided McDonalds and smells of grease were intensified in the confined area with minimal circulation.

So what food should pack for flights? Here are some ideas:

Power bars, snack mixes, raisins and candy are compact. The later should be in moderation if you’re traveling with children. Sugar highs are great recipes for making kids want to run up and down the cramped aisles.

Peanut butter sandwiches, bagels with cream cheese or your favorite sandwiches cure lots of hunger pangs

Fruit (fresh or dried) is healthy and you’ll feel virtuous in the calorie department.  When grapes and cherries are in season, freeze them at home and by the time you’re ready to eat them in flight, they’ll have that fresh taste. Ditto goes for many sandwiches. Pack them in a small-insulated bag.

Raw vegetables with a dip can be filling and are good for vegetarians and the weight conscious.

If you’re watching your budget or are a quasi-gourmet, steer clear of buying food at the airport. Chances are it was made in an off-site kitchen hours before it reached its destination. And it may sit there even longer. The main exception is yogurt which may not make it through security.

Stop at your favorite deli and have them pack a picnic. Please steer clear of sauerkraut. People dislike food smells on planes. A business flyer said,  “It’s generally the leisure traveler who thinks it’s a good idea to bring barbeque food or chicken laced with garlic accompanied with cabbage.”

Other musts — and you’ll be sorry if you forget them:

Napkins, a plate or something that can serve as one, utensils (plastic – to insure they pass through security screening), a couple of plastic bags for leftovers and hand wipes should be on everyone’s list. And do bring a plastic bag so you can dispose of your garbage. It’s only polite to try to keep planes clean.

Some people go to extremes. On one Paris-New York trip and another between Los Angeles and Washington, DC, I sat next to passengers who had picnic boxes prepared by the glitzy hotels where they’d been staying. I was surprised since we were in business class. But they shared the religion of refusing to eat airline food and drank only bottled water.

How are you dealing with hunger without fainting from starvation on flights that are longer than a few hours? This is where the Boy Scout mantra of being prepared needs to be taken to heart!

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

5 think-ahead strategies that make travel easier

Written by admin on May 22, 2009 – 5:42 pm -

There are ways of minimizing stress when taking to the skies but sometimes, it takes imagination in addition to organization.

Think ahead about packing
Pack the day before or even earlier, then take everything out of your suitcase and whittle down your possessions. Unless you’re going to be seeing the same people for two solid weeks (and who cares) and have to attend a black tie event, travelers can do with half of what they think they need to bring.

For city travel, black is always safe for women. Bring a skirt, a pair or two of pants, a jacket, some wash and wear tops, one dressy blouse and different accessories. Scarves, shawls, costume jewelry and a silk flower to pin on your jacket or place in your hair can give women an entirely different look.

Men have always had it easy. Unless they have business meetings that require a suit, a navy blazer and gray pants with a shirt and a tie is usually as dressy as they need to get. Add some khaki pants and knit shirts and most men are on their way.

Assemble a plastic bag containing pills and copies of the prescriptions (generic please) that you need to pack in your carry-on bag even if you’re checking a suitcase.

And give careful thought to electronic accoutrements. All the many cords, converter plugs, chargers, camera apparatus such as a memory card reader or extra camera batteries are some of them. Separate the cords with rubber bands or twist-em’s so you’re not confronted with having to untangle everything.

Whether or not you check a bag is up to you. I try to avoid doing so since I’ve arrived at a destination too many times without my luggage — or have had to wait longer than I care to for the carousel to cough it up.

One caveat — don’t try dragging such a large carry-on that your back hurts before boarding the flight, or you’ve alienated your fellow passengers and the flight crew before getting your suitcase into the overhead compartment.

Think ahead about clearing airport security
Some frequent flyers are opting to become members of CLEAR where they’re on an immediate fast-track to be waved through security.

The most challenging items are electronics and personal items that require screening. Clear plastic zip-lock bags are godsends.

Have your computer ready for inspection as well as your cell phone, camera, keys and anything that might set off alarms. This sometimes includes coins and sometimes not.

Then there’s the make-up, toothpaste, etc. etc. bag, which invariably contains liquids and has to be removed from the suitcase to be screened.

They should be placed on the top of the bag for easy removal. I place all of these items together in a cloth bag so I can pull everything out in one easy swoop.

Clearing security is stressful at best. But take your time while being as efficient as possible and don’t let people push you. Airport lost and found areas are treasure troves and there’s nothing worse than realizing you’ve lost an essential.

I never wear a belt, shoes that aren’t slip-off or heavy jewelry. If I had any “important” jewelry pieces, there no point in traveling with them and being worried about robbery. Also, there’s less to take off in line.

I also have succumbed (inelegant as it is) to wearing a neck pouch containing my passport and boarding pass. This isn’t high fashion. But after leaving these essential papers in a tray, I’ve come to the conclusion there are times to be chic and other time when being secure is more appropriate.

Think ahead about waiting at the airport
I’m a great believer in belonging to an airline club because I travel enough to justify the cost. Plus, it’s not unheard of when one of the employees is able to wangle a better seat or possibly an upgrade. There are occasions when you can buy a last-minute upgrade for substantially less money than it would have cost if you’d bought a business class ticket.

One-time passes can be purchased for airline clubs if you find you’re going to be delayed. As crowded as some may be, it’s more comfortable waiting in a club and if you want or need to work, you can get on line. Be certain that if you’re not flying internationally you keep track of time because many clubs don’t announce domestic departures.

Many people go to the bar, or in some airports where there are decent restaurants, eat before the flight leaves and thus avoid eating (or buying) mediocre airline food.

Think ahead about your seat on the plane:
Some airlines aren’t permitting passengers to pre-select their seats, while others save advanced booking for premium clients. If you’ve bought your ticket though a travel agency, they can arrange for a seat to be assigned. If you’re flying United or some other carriers, opt to pay the extra money for somewhat more legroom. Five inches can make a big difference.

Consult Seat Guru and you’ll be able to tell the seating configuration of specific planes. If you can pick and choose and there isn’t a plane change, you’ll have an advantage when selecting your seat.

There are different theories and if you’re flying coach (and most of us are these days) hope the flight isn’t full and you can stake out five middle seats and the armrests go all the way up. One of the best transatlantic flights I recall was when I lucked out and slept across the ocean.

Think ahead about getting from the airport to your hotel
This tip, passed along to me by a wise traveler, has saved me time and aggravation countless times. Take a clear folder with your itinerary. Access or and print out a map of your destination including the directions from the airport. This will put a stop to a lack a communication or a joy ride should you encounter a cabbie with whom you don’t share a common language. And even if you do, some streets are difficult to locate.

Please add your hints for making trips easier. These are just a few.

Karen Fawcett is president BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Fur flies across the Atlantic, for a price

Written by admin on January 30, 2009 – 9:13 pm -

Many people wish animals would be banned from flying in airline cabins. Some people feel the same way about young children and badly behaved adults. Others are allergic to certain fragrances and the list goes on. Still, $200 for a cat who demands nothing and sleeps during the entire flight is more than steep.

I travel with Kitty. This is an expensive luxury. But for reasons many people don’t understand, it’s a given. Kitty was born in France, has a EU passport and can travel—even to London, that until recently, required  an animal spend six months in quarantine before entering the U.K. for fear of rabies.

Preparing her medically cost more than $800 and necessitated numerous trips to the vet for shots, blood tests and the insertion of a magnetic chip.

This feline adopted us and was my legacy from my deceased husband, whom I threatened to kill if he fed this pathetic looking kitten who was camping outside the kitchen door of our country home. I neither killed him nor disowned her.

Kitty has made at least 20 round-trip transatlantic flights. She goes to the vet on both sides of the Atlantic to obtain a health certificate within a week of traveling, has rabies shots plus a few extras and meets all of the health requirements for entry into the U.S. and the EU. This 10-minute check-up costs approximately $150 each visit. That is if she doesn’t need a shot or any extra attention.

If only my in-flight neighbors were as healthy or as quiet. Kitty, all nine pounds of her, sees her carrying case and immediately assumes a Zen state, definitely on a higher (and different) plane. She’s a frequent-flyer but can’t collect points or miles.

If I were French, I would strike. Being American, I grin and bear it — kinda. That was until United announced it raised the price of Kitty’s transport by $75 each way. She weighs less than most new born infants and the cost is now $200, the same price charged for an additional 50-pound suitcase.

When informed of this, I noted that as a Premium Executive member who was flying business class (thank goodness for the miles I’ve accumulated), I was entitled to check three suitcases and checked only one. The people behind the check-in counter looked embarrassed. But it wasn’t their rule.

Am I the only person who feels $200 for transporting a kitty in a mini-carrier is gouging? There are Expats who are forced to factor this expense into their budget and it’s a major factor. Other passengers may view these four legged animals as animals. But there are some of us who don’t. They’re integral parts of our families. What do you think?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Why am I landing in Brussels instead of Paris? Not enough fuel

Written by admin on January 27, 2009 – 9:16 pm -

Dear powers that be:

I am writing to protest my recent trip between Washington/Dulles and Paris, France.

My United MileagePlus account was credited with one segment and 3,861 miles. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Because there wasn’t enough fuel on board due to weather conditions, we were forced to make an unscheduled stop in Brussels. Rather than landing 30 minutes early as the Captain announced upon take-off less than six hours before, we landed in Paris approximately two hours after our scheduled arrival time.

I recognize things are tight at United and another 1000 employees are being laid off. There will be additional cutbacks and times are tough.

But how much did that unscheduled stop cost? Weren’t there landing fees incurred with our Brussels visit? What did it cost to file an extra flight plan?

Rather than a non-stop Paris landing, the plane was forced to fly an extra leg. This dictates additional fuel, not to mention wear and tear on the plane and the passengers. And what about the turn-around time for the aircraft?

Was United forced to pay extra to the French workers who were responsible for the aircraft’s inspection and turn-around? I don’t know about the French aviation union but if it’s like other French unions, a rush job probably carries a premium.

The crew was angry and conveyed the feeling this wasn’t the first time they’d made an unscheduled stop. One mumbled the flight’s captain was none too happy.

It’s becoming clear that the potential of saving some money is more important than catering to those who have boarded the flight. The crew did its best to smile but was having a hellava time.

What would your reaction have been had you been on that flight? Can anyone calculate how much that unscheduled stop cost United? Is this the future of travel especially when it comes to US carriers?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |