“Well, filet my ass and plastinate me.”
1. Pack half the stuff, twice the money. (Rick Steves)
2. Check at your bank about getting an international ATM card. Getting cash through ATMs is quick and easy.
3. You need a suitcase (or backpack) and a daybag. The daybag stays with you at all times (NEVER LEAVE IT FOR ONE SECOND), and includes your passport, your money, and anything essential that you couldn’t live without if it got stolen. (I’ve found most moneybelts to be cumbersome, inconvenient, and uncomfortable.) I use a Gap messenger bag: it was big enough for a guidebook, camera, bottle of water, and my identification. I could also wear it in front of me through crowds. It had a zippered pouch on the inside, which was where I stashed passport/money. No gypsy can get their hands in your bag, unzip your pouch, and steal your stuff without you knowing it. A backpack for clothes and toiletries is great, but totally worthless for day to day travel: thieves can access the zippers, and everything is behind you.
4. Keep small bills in your pocket for small transactions. You don’t want to be rummaging in your daybag for 2 euro at a bottled water stand.
5. Pretend like you’re back in elementary school, and cover any big guidebooks or phrasebooks with paper from a Kroger’s bag. That way, you can access your guidebook in public, but it’s harder for people to know what you’re looking at.
6. Your main goal is to look as little like a tourist (or American) as possible. NO windpants, net shorts or T-SHIRTS WITH ENGLISH WRITING. In American terms, comfortable business casual is probably the way to go. Dress in muted colors. Browns, khakis, blacks. If you’re in Paris, you can’t go wrong with black–especially leather. I travel in a leather jacket: it’s an extra skin, it looks badass, and it always makes people think I’m a local (and I feel like Indiana Jones.)
7. At the Eiffel Tower, you will get swarmed with North African peddlers and gypsies. They will get in your face, and might even thrust roses into your hands. They are aggressive and unrelenting. Here’s what you do when you see one: you look them right in the eye and you let them know they’re not getting a damned thing from you. You hold onto your bag with one hand, and with the other hand, you point to your eyeball or point at them and wave your finger, as if you were saying, “Naughty, naughty, nasty gypsy.” You firmly, and meanly, say, “no,” and you keep walking. Shout it if you have to. When a gypsy realizes you’re no kind of target, they will move on to some other clueless American with a fanny pack speaking English loudly and gawking at some attraction. Be mean and direct to the gypsies. And be prepared to have them put a hex on you. It happens.
8. Don’t go to see stuff just because you feel like you’re supposed to. Comb the guidebooks and find the places that look interesting to you.
9. Don’t talk loudly. The French despise stereotypical, loud Americans. Learn as much language as you can and try to speak it. They appreciate the gesture.
10. Take plenty of breaks and don’t wear yourself out. Don’t feel guilty about having lunch and going back to the hotel to take a nap. It’s your vacation, enjoy it.
FROM THE VAULT: the best voicemail I’ve ever received. Ever. Giving it a context or a backstory would only muddy the genius. (A____ B______, if you’re out there, God bless you.)