A long time ago, I asked for suggestions for the blog. One of the best questions has taken a long time to answer. Mostly because I wanted to make sure I had enough experience to consider it a “learned thing” and not just a “wow, next time…” item.
So, here is my list of Things We Have Learned:
Always, always be flexible.
Trains do not always run on schedule. We were in Amsterdam waiting for a train to take us to Brussels, Belgium, and for whatever reason it was delayed. And delayed. And delayed until after an hour it was finally cancelled. I had figured after 45 minutes of waiting that I should just plan on taking another train, and so I had looked up when the next train was leaving and was already walking to the platform when the cancellation was announced. Flexibility is built into our schedule to some extent, but changing our schedule is not always to the best advantage. Forrest asked me once what we would do if we missed the important train we were about to take (a crowded one that we needed reservations for). I told him that we would figure out when the next train we could take was leaving. It wouldn’t be convenient, but we would have to be flexible.
Always have a backup plan.
There have also been times when we’ve gotten on a bus and the bus does not go the way the route is shown on maps. You have to keep track of your movements carefully when on public transport as this has happened on more than one occasion due to construction in every major city in Europe! We have also had occasions where the museum we were hoping to visit was not open. What to do now? One day in Paris, we ended up having a fun day at Galeries Lafayette and seeing the Palais Garnier, both lower priority items on our list, but still great for a backup plan.
Always be polite.
If you have to, be self-deprecating when you are being polite. This will make the person you are interacting with go easier on you (usually) because they will believe you are a fool and need to be guided gently. Claiming ignorance is also sometimes not an accident.
A scarf can dress up anything.
I have a very limited supply of clothing. I have 4 shirts I call my “good shirts” that can be used anywhere (museum, dinner, shopping), 2 t-shirts along with 2 polyester workout-type shirts. I have worn all of these shirts at one time or another with my scarf either to dress up the “good shirt” for a night out, to cover the “workout shirt” so people don’t think I just came from the gym, or to cover the writing on the t-shirt because it was the only thing I had clean and I really just needed to look a little better. My scarf (a pastel Alice in Wonderland theme number from Hot Topic) has proven invaluable in keeping me warm, dressing up my shirts, and eventually where I will need it to cover my head to enter holy sights we hope to visit.
Never discount the power of food.
Something that has happened many times is that we either didn’t get breakfast as planned, or we couldn’t get lunch until very late, or we are running ragged by 4 in the afternoon. In all of these cases, it is worth it to put food as a priority. Any way you can get it, grab a croissant/waffle/soda/candy bar or whatever it takes to get something in the belly so that the mind and the mood will change. The power of a good meal cannot be overstated either. After a day with many ups and downs in our activities and moods (teenagers/PMS/being tired) a really good meal can save the whole day. I know you are saying, “Why don’t you pack things to take with you?” But you are not the one carrying a purse with wallet, phone charger, umbrella, guidebook, gloves and bottle of water. Who wants a crushed croissant?! My purse seems to weigh 15 pounds some days, and we often can’t/don’t want to take a backpack due to museum restrictions. Also, there are times when we just didn’t foresee the conditions of the day and didn’t have time to go to a grocery store beforehand. So many times food has been the game changer in the day.
Always take an umbrella.
This is for the California friends. Yes, rain is cool and really fun for the first few times you get caught in it. But man, the rain can really, really come down hard and you can get drenched in a *very* short time. And it might not let up. So weird, right?
Always have plastic bags.
Yes, you should take a ziplock or two on any trip and when you get a plastic bag from a grocery store, keep it. These come in handy for wet clothes (washing underwear in the sink) or packing things that might leak. This is a no-brainer, but sometimes you just need to be reminded.
Black never goes out of style.
Going around the world does limit clothing choices (see #4 above). The one color that has been a staple in the clothing I’ve seen on the women in all of the 16 countries we have now visited is black. A basic outfit for the European woman is black shoes (short boots in Germanic countries, long knee length in Paris and London, flats and oxfords in England and Russia, also stilettos in Russia – Russia is bipolar), black tights (yes, black tights or don’t wear a skirt at all – I’m serious), and black coats. I can’t tell what most people have on underneath the coat, but I’m guessing it’s got black in it. The black tights thing was what surprised me most. Plain black tights. No designs, no light/see through nylons, no, no, no! So I guess the point of this “learned” item is that if you are in doubt about what to take around the world, make sure you bring something black.
Decide what you are willing to sacrifice.
Do Not sacrifice a person (well, the kids have been getting on my nerves a bit…) but sacrifice things and standards. For me, the things I have been willing to sacrifice to save money or space have been the amount of clothing I have with me, the amount of things I can buy and the type of food I eat. We just can’t afford to eat out at decent (sit down) restaurants all the time, so most days we only have one meal that would be considered “going out”. The rest of the time it’s grabbing sandwiches, pastries, fruit or a drink from a store and eating on the go. When we had an apartment in Paris, we ate out only once a day (lunch) but cooked breakfast and dinner at the apartment.
Sacrificing standards is a bit harder. Our biggest one is privacy. I share a room (almost always) with both boys. Triple rooms or family rooms as they are sometimes called are the easiest and cheapest way to stay in Europe. This does mean that I am often sharing a full/queen bed with Forrest (my preferred slumber partner) as many rooms don’t have 3 twin beds. Luckily, he doesn’t kick or punch me too often and if he rolls over on my side, I just push him back. It will be great to have my own room again someday, but for now, that part of my life doesn’t really exist (except online and in my head). Still, for what we are doing, I’m willing to sacrifice privacy for a while.
Always apologize and remember what you are thankful for.
We have had our share of arguments, conniption fits, and really big “disagreements”. We have to apologize to each other quite often but this is important so that we can move on and remember why we are here. Remembering why we are here happens every single night when we turn out the lights. As I said in #9, I am always sharing a room with the boys, so when the lights go out, we take turns saying our “Roses, Buds and Thorns” to each other. If you don’t know this tradition, I first learned it in scouting. We usually start with our “Thorns”. Whatever went wrong that day, or made us upset, will be a “Thorn.” Past Thorns include: waiting for a long time to get somewhere, meals that really sucked, bad weather, bad wifi, and body aches. A “Rose” is the best part of our day. Past Roses include: museums, amusement parks, snorkeling, special tours, and meals. A “Bud” is something we are looking forward to in the next day or week. Buds usually include an upcoming country, event, tour, or seeing Grandpa! In this way, we get to go over what we enjoyed and look forward to what we have coming up. We know how lucky we are and we want to never take it for granted.