I'm planning for a trip to France in the coming week. Having been lucky enough to go through this several times, one would think I'd have the packing down to an art. And I almost do. Here are a few tips for those of you contemplating a voyage to the continent.
It is not uncommon for the French to have only a few, good outfits, and accessorize with scarves, tights, etc. So I adopt this practice, too. A black or navy dress, two jackets in different colors, a good black or navy pant, and several tops will cover almost any occasion. With pearls and the jacket thrown casually over your shoulders, you'll look chic enough to take tea on Île St. Louis or un petit café at the Place des Vosges. Tie a good scarf over the handle of your bag for a little extra color and Parisian chic. These few articles of clothing will easily allow six or more combinations. They also permit extra layers in case the weather is cooler than you planned for.
Paris is beautiful, but fair warning, it is hard on the feet. For some reason I feel the sidewalks of Paris are harder than those in New York, London, or my little home town. And the sidewalks are outdone by the floors of the Musée d'Orsay. So make sure you wear comfortable shoes, but do try to avoid white athletic shoes unless they are retro soccer style and you are under 25. I have found Aravons to be extremely comfortable (I always look for them on sale), as they are basically a New Balance athletic shoe built into a classic street shoe. Even so, I always pack two items for my trips: friction block (runners use it to prevent chafing on legs, feet and chest), and liquid bandages. I have small bony feet (alas, the only bony part of my body!) prone to blisters. More than prone, actually - they can almost form just by sitting in one position too long! The friction block has worked amazingly well to prevent blisters, without the uncomfortable feeling of petroleum jelly or other heavy moisturizers. And if I do get a blister, I cover it asap with the liquid bandage, and it heals practically overnight.
If you suffer from a blister or other uncomfortable irritation, it can create enough misery to blot out all the fun you should be having. Don't hesitate to venture into a French pharmacy and ask for help, if you haven't packed your own first aid kit. I have found the French pharmacists to be compassionate, knowledgeable and sincerely interested in relieving what ails you - personal service is a true hallmark of the little neighborhood "Pharmacie." Plus you can pick up some great fragrances and skin care items. But do be warned: if you need aspirin, bandaids, or anything of the like, you will not be able to buy it easily on a Sunday. It may be a little easier in Paris with the larger grocery stores now carrying beauty and health items, but in the country or smaller cities, forget it. So do bring a small first aid kit along: bandaids, aspirin or other pain reliever, antiseptic cream, and anything else you may need like antihistamines.
Here is a list of some other helpful items you might not think about:
Opera glasses or small binoculars - for the Opera or those architectural details.
Extra pair of glasses - just in case. Sunglasses too, as you'll be outside quite a bit. You'll be less tired if your eyes are protected and you aren't squinting in the sun.
Small umbrella you can carry in your bag.
Good costume jewelry - leave your good jewelry home; if you lose it abroad, you've probably lost it forever
Ziplock or other sealable bags - great for separating soiled from clean items, packing clothes to minimize wrinkles, storing creams, shampoo, etc.
Corkscrew - buy yourself one in France and use it. It's so easy to make a picnic lunch or dinner at the marché. Top it off with a good glass of wine, possible only if you can open the bottle!
Buy a beautiful fragrance and wear it every day on your trip. When you wear it at home, a host of happy memories will flood your brain.
Cardboard suitcase from the UPS store. Pack it in your suitcase for all those gifts you'll bring back. You can recycle it when you are done.
What NOT to bring:
Toiletries. You can't carry reasonable amounts on the plane, and they can leak and make a mess. Buy some French shampoo, conditioner, lotion and shower gel at the local Pharmacie or Monoprix. It's all part of the French experience. You'll find the French soap is gorgeous and moisturizing, and will make you smell great.
A great big camera, unless you are a professional photographer. You are much more likely to take spontaneous pictures with a little, light camera you can pack in your bag and use discreetly. If you want to take someone's picture, do ask. And if you want to make friends or strike up a conversation, ask someone if you can photograph their dog. The French love their canines, and are flattered if you admire them.
A hairdryer. Almost every hotel will have one. If they don't, it's usually easy to get a cheap one that doesn't need a converter.
"Pretty Shoes." You won't wear them. If you decide to wear them for a night out, your feet will protest mightily anyway. Put on a little extra glitz where people can actually see it (sparkly earrings or necklace), and spare yourself the pain!
I'll follow my own advice and report back once I'm home. Until then,