Having just returned from Paris, I had some thoughts on traveling. I have always believed that traveling makes us global citizens and shrinks the world. Here are five tips to travel well.
Set a couple of priorities. The rest is gravy.
For this visit to Paris, my second, I decided that my top two destinations were going to be St. Chappelle and the Rodin Museum. Everything else that I saw and did was extra. I made sure to schedule my days around these two things and let go of whatever else I didn’t manage. The new kiosk appointment system for climbing the towers of Notre Dame didn’t work with my schedule, and as much as I may have wanted to visit those lovely gargoyles keeping the Hunchback company, I let it go.
St. Chappelle in the morning.
The Thinker at the Rodin Museum.
Have an open mind and be curious.
I saw many people who seemed to view Paris and all its sights as part of a tourist checklist. Eiffel Tower. Check. Notre Dame. Check. Louvre, esp. Mona Lisa. Check. And on and on (there’s a lot to see in Paris!) Moreover, they wanted to get through their list with all the comforts of home.
Instead, appreciate the shoe box-sized, creaky elevator in your quaint hotel. Pay attention to your surroundings and find out what the cultural differences are between your home country and the country you are visiting. Then accept them as part of your travel experience. Embrace them if you like them.
Get some historical background of the place you are visiting. Do something simple like take a walking tour in the center of the city and listen to your guide. They function as bridges between you the visitor and the city they love. Ask questions. Nothing will endear you more to your hosts than asking about the city and its history. If you like something, gush about it.
I know you thought that the Moulin Rouge was just a dance show or a musical film, but actually in French it means “red windmill.”
Buy blister patches, if needed.
On my first day in Paris, I got a monster blister. It could have ruined my whole trip unless I liked the idea of walking for hours with a limp and in pain. In Europe, I’ve found these amazing things that specifically treat that annoying blister on the back of your heel. Usually the patch can stay on for 2 to 3 days and your heel is like new. They are kind-of expensive, but totally worth it if you have a painful blister.
I have French ones and Danish ones.
Roll with it.
Sometimes things don’t work out. It rains on your only day in the Highlands. The statue you came to see in the museum is not on display. The tour you show up for is only in Spanish. These things actually happened to me. On the Highlands tour, I met someone from China who I still keep in touch with. I saw different versions of the missing statue and I was able to appreciate the lesser known works more because they were no longer in the shadow of the more famous one. I walked in a lesser-known neighborhood and found an excellent Korean restaurant.
Bulgogi (beef), side dishes, and Korean beer. YUM!!
Sometimes your plan doesn’t work out, but if you roll with it, sometimes an even better plan appears.
Stay in the moment.
I read an article recently that suggested that if you take too many pictures and videos, you lose the experience in the present by trying to document it for the future (or for social media).
On one walking tour, we saw racing lights on the Eiffel Tower. It happens every hour in the evenings and it’s really worth seeing! I took a couple of pictures and a few seconds of film. And then I put my camera away so that I could just enjoy it. I noticed out of the corner of my eye a man spending the entire light show trying to get just the right shot. Will he remember looking at the lovely lights of Paris with his wife or will he remember fussing with his camera and his wife’s framing suggestions?
15 seconds of racing lights. Go see them for yourself!
A concluding thought for Yom Kippur
This is my late dad’s (z”l) favorite story about Yom Kippur. The original is much longer, but this shortened version gives you the main idea.
Heavy. The Yom Kippur prayers were heavy and try as he might, the rabbi simply could not lift them up to Heaven. A young man came into the synagogue. He only recently became aware of his Jewish heritage and knew only how to recite the aleph bet. He didn’t know what day it was or what was going on, but with pure and focused intention he recited the only thing he knew. Aleph. Bet. Gimel. Dalet. …
The rabbi noticed that the prayers were suddenly lighter. They floated like feathers on the wind straight up to Heaven. And he knew that is was because of the young man who prayed with all his heart in the only way he could.
As we travel the world and live as global citizens, we don’t have to be multilingual or the most knowledgeable, but if we approach the world with pure intention and genuine love, perhaps we can lift up everyone around us.