Planning a trip is a large part of the joy of travel. I’m always researching, reading travel articles, and checking websites for interesting places to go, and I know when I’ve chosen my next vacation spot when I keep coming back to it. I’ll veer in a different direction then find myself thinking about it again and again and know it feels right. This year I decided its France. I’m familiar with Provence from previous visits, and I spent a solo week in Paris in 2008, but this time it’s different because I have a goal and I’m going for two weeks.
The goal is to come back able to converse adequately in French so I can confidently speak to my French colleagues and become more and more fluent. The only way to learn a language is to practice, and the only way to practice is to go to the source for as long as you can (in my case work limits me to 2 weeks). I’m going solo so I can concentrate on speaking French only! I’ve chosen my dates to be the first two weeks of September, still beautiful but not as crowded as July and August.
With maps, books, and the internet to guide me I’ve decided to split time between Paris and Avignon. Avignon is a main train and bus hub for Provence, it’s loaded with its own history, and I think its small enough to feel comfortable, but large enough to be interesting. There is a high speed train from Paris to Avignon in 2.5 hours. Perfect.
After sifting through oodles of flats on Homeaway, Trip Advisor, and AirBnb, I settle on a lovely little one bedroom in the heart of Avignon for a very reasonable price on Airbnb. I like the site because it shows a street view. In this case I can see that the flat is surrounded by cafes and restaurants and the street is busy so I won’t be walking home at night on an empty street. The flat has numerous comments from past guests who rate it highly. (I read every comment looking for that red flag (loved the flat but climbing 5 flights was a killer? OR The flat was in a great location and our stay would have been perfect except for the barking dog next door!) This is my flat in Avignon.
Looking at the property calendar the dates are not idea so I have to adjust my plans a little if I want this listing. Instead of starting my trip in Avignon I’ll stay in Paris for the first 5 nights then move to Avignon for the next 11, taking the train back to Paris for the flight home. Finding a flat in Paris was a little harder – more choices, but the prices are higher and the location more important. Finally I settle on a one bedroom near the Eiffel Tower and a good Metro stop. It too has good reviews, no red flags and looks clean and modern, but with character AND the building has an elevator! Mind you I’m not opposed to steps, I lived through the lovely rental I had on the Amalfi coast with 108 very steep steps to the entrance. However I’d like to avoid carrying luggage and groceries up 5 flights if I can. In Amalfi steps are necessary to get the killer view – in Paris not so much.
This is my flat in Paris in the vii arrondissment near the Eiffel Tower.
Now onto air – yikes! I’m actually looking at spending more on air than for my accommodations for 15 nights! The least expensive Boston to Paris is on Turkish Airlines (who?), the flight flies direct to Istanbul then reverses direction back to Paris (what, are you nuts?). The next best price is Icelandair through Reykjavik, which I did two years ago on my way to Copenhagen and it wasn’t bad – but took about 9 hours with a very boring layover is tiny Reykjavik airport. For two hundred more I can take Air France direct Boston to CDG and get there in 6 hours arriving early in the morning. It’s a no brainer, especially with what I’m saving in accommodations avoiding hotels.
At this point I can only look at fares and schedules for the TGV train from Paris to Avignon through April, however it looks like there are numerous trains from both CDG and Gare Lyon in Paris center. I’ll keep watching to see when I can book my train reservations. In the meantime I’ll research French rail passes to see whether I’ll buy a pass or individual tickets. I plan to take local trains from Avignon to other parts of Provence while there, and I’ll need the train from the airport into Paris that first morning, a rail pass of some description is probably the way to go.
Being a very visual person while I’m putting together all the parts of the trip I rely on a blank calendar page to pencil each part and make sure nothing overlaps or doesn’t fit. After I’ve booked the various components I rely on the Tripit app to keep all the information on my iPhone so it’s always at my fingertips. You simple forward all your travel confirmation emails to email@example.com and they are automatically entered and placed in the correct order, then you can fill in other plans and appointments. For instance if there is a market you want to attend on a specific day you can add it as an event. If you booked a concert or tour you can either add them or have Tripit do it for you.
Tripit keeps the information for all your upcoming trips so you can see everything in one place. It’s not perfect, and you often have to fill in the blanks but it beats keeping everything on paper.
Voila, for the next few months I’ll research things to do and places to go – And I’ll keep up my French lessons! Tout va bien.